College Freshmen and Stress

Stress and college freshmen

NY Times article by Tamar Lewin, January 26, 2011:

The emotional health of college freshmen — who feel buffeted by the recession and stressed by the pressures of high school — has declined to the lowest level since an annual survey of incoming students started collecting data 25 years ago.

This story has stuck in my craw all week. We have people of this age in the household, so it’s not an alien concept to me.

I am very sorry to hear about the depression and anxiety, because 18-year-olds shouldn’t be in the fast lane to Ulcerville. They have their entire lives ahead for that.

The article mentions the usual suspects: paternal unemployment, dim prospects for success upon graduation, the near solipsism that tells these kids they’re the only one with this problem. I understand and sympathize will all of that.

The worst part, I think, is that these kids dwell on it and succumb to hopelessness. I would like to see them talk about their feelings, but realize that that’s quite a stretch for the average late-teen male.

At the risk of sounding like a proponent of denial, I offer this counsel:

Don’t look down.

I posted last month on the tough lessons of 2010, one of which is not to look down.

Remember those cartoon scenes in which Elmer Fudd chased Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck off a cliff and into thin air? Bugs and Daffy made it to the other side, but Elmer made the mistake of looking down. He lost confidence and plunged body-part by body-part into the canyon below.

I think that the kids feeling all of this stress are looking down. They’re still figuring out what most adults have assimilated as second nature: Life is a tightrope-walk over a lake of piranha, and the more energy you devote to balancing and walking, the less time there is to focus on the piranha.

“I need to do something.”

Kids this age have boundless energy. It’s hard for them to take the long view and hunker down for all the preparatory work that is their lot. They’d rather build a bridge or belt out a song or nail a 250-pound bench press.

If you had that kind of energy but couldn’t get free to start your post-educational life, wouldn’t you feel anxious and depressed?

I’ll spend this life trying to understand the problem. Maybe in the next one I can come up with an effective way to deal with it.


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”

3 thoughts on “College Freshmen and Stress

  1. John – Sometimes I wonder if perhaps kids haven’t had the opportunity to look down enough, and learn from those experiences. Maybe, during their childhood, we have put them on such a high pedestal with an ironclad safety net, that when the new freedoms and responsibilities of college hit, they have little learned experience on which to draw…and the fall off the pedestal can be a bit precipitous.

    1. Lee: I don’t mind if they fall off – they have to sooner or later – but by “not looking down” I mean staring into the abyss and becoming paralyzed as a result. The students who keep chipping away at the work they have to do – dealing with financial aid forms, signing up for work study, getting a part-time job, doing their coursework – are too busy to look down. Most of us got here that way.

      I don’t know how all those stressed-out college students will get here, or what “here” will look like by then.

  2. You are describing a form of delayed gratification and few people under 30 seem to understand that concept.

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