WOVEN into the pressure to do well academically is an intricate web of other reasons, including spoken or unspoken expectations, and uncertainty about the future. Trinity College Foundation Studies students Ariel Gao, Jeremy Wang, Nour Sallam unpack the reasons why students stress, and ask counsellors for advice on how to overcome it.
A poll of students at Trinity College Foundation Studies shows most of us suffer from stress at some point or another.
While it comes as no surprise that students report that the pressure to do well academically is one of the major contributors of stress – if you probe a little deeper, different aspects of that range from struggling to wake up for morning classes, coping with the academic workload, feeling the need to live up to parents’ expectations, or general anxieties about the future.
It’s included in kind of everything that people come to see us for. It can be worrying about exams but underneath that is all the other stresses. For example, ‘My parents expect me to do really well, I have to get into Melbourne Uni.’ All those pressures add to the stress. – Anita Krautschneider, Counsellor, TCFS
For student Stella, it all boils down to time management. “The lack of time management makes me feel so anxious, because we don’t have enough time to study for our final exams with a lot of essays to work on,” she says.
Apart from academic-related stress, loneliness and homesickness are other major causes of stress among students, as they adapt to a new environment and learn to get along with other students from different cultures and backgrounds. Some students find this particularly difficult. Student Mit says misunderstandings caused by cultural differences, including miscommunication, is a major cause for stress.
While some students have sought to manage their stress levels by talking to parents, student counsellors or mentors about their experiences, many students polled said they haven’t actively sought external help. Others have tried to manage their stress levels by ensuring they find time to relax, including getting enough sleep.
Initially of course there’s perhaps loneliness, fear, anxiety whatever it is that they go through, but most students will pull through. – Ian Teo, Lecturer, Pyschology, TCFS
For student Charlotte, it’s about learning to have better time management, and to “keep a balance between studying and relaxing”. To manage homesickness and loneliness, student Ke turns to activities such as shopping and eating.
Are these students on the right track? We asked the college’s student counsellor Anita Krautschneider and psychology lecturer Ian Teo, for their insights and advice.
Do you think that stress is a serious issue amongst international students?
Anita: “I do think stress is a serious issue. I think there is a fine line between stress and anxiety. Stress is usually about a particular issue. It might be in the beginning.. arriving in Australia, it might be the first exam, it can be an actual event that’s happening to people so stress can start with feeling minor, minor stress… of worry, a few headaches, some pain, but it can lead to longer term anxiety which is ongoing and not about a particular thing, but can be brought about by having numerous stressful events.”
How does stress affect international students?
Anita: “Well, we notice students are here without any support networks, without parents, brothers and sisters. All those things that make them feel at home, and at stressful times can be very good to have around. We notice that some students deal with stress better than others, but everybody has a limit and doing things that are hard without any family and support and without long term friends…is difficult.”
Ian: “There’s a number of ways. The first way is within the context of personal. There’s lots of research which suggests that international students coming to any country whether it’s Australia, America, UK, France, etc.. are very lonely and as a consequence, they’re more likely to suffer from psychological disorder symptoms or the diseases themselves, they are likely in particular to suffer from anxiety and depression and this is very concerning.”
Do you often get students who suffer from massive amounts of stress?
Anita: “I think so. It’s included in kind of everything that people come to see us for. It can be worrying about exams but underneath that is all the other stresses. For example, ‘My parents expect me to do really well, I have to get into Melbourne Uni.’ All those pressures add to the stress.”
Ian: “No, I don’t. I think most students are very resilient, in terms of dealing with their mental health issues. Initially of course there’s perhaps loneliness, fear, anxiety whatever it is that they go through, but most students will pull through. There will always be a proportion of students who are more at risk of suffering from mental health issues and of that proportion, an even smaller minority will probably go on to experience certain problems, but the good thing is that of course a lot of students will pull out of these things over a period of time and they will actually get better rather than get worse, given enough time.”
What are the common things that they talk to you about?
Anita: “Well, maybe they won’t talk about those underlying things, but they’ll talk about stressful events – ‘I’ve gotta do a presentation,’ ‘I’ve gotta do drama!’ So yeah a lot of it is about the studies, but some of it is about mum/dad are on their case or there’s some worry or stress about family, breakups or relationships at home or brothers and sisters going off the rail. Also ‘I don’t wanna really speak to my parents, I feel too much stress whenever I do so I’m ignoring them.’ All those things that young people have.”
Ian: “Everything. Their marks, their friends, their housing, whether they fit into Australia or not, whether their english is good enough or not, whether the locals like them or not, whether they feel scared when they walk down the street.”
What are the healthy ways to cope with stress?
Anita’s top tips
- Have a regular routine – this includes going to sleep and getting up at around the same time everyday.
- Regain control – instead of thinking about your studies and worrying, ignoring it or procrastinating, feel in control of your studies through regular study.
- Exercise – it’s a wonderful way of dealing with stress whether it’s swimming, gym or running. It also makes you feel better.
- Talk to people – it’s good to do this now and then, be it with long term friends or if you have a good relationship with mum and dad, .
- Do something nice for yourself – having some relaxation in your life is important, so have a massage or do something nice for yourself, or doing a small amount of work and then going out and having dinner with friends.
- Live a balanced life – life isn’t all about studies, it shouldn’t be. We should have a balanced life so good food, looking after yourself as if you would if you were feeling a bit unwell, taking care of your physical and mental health.
Ian’s top tips
- Exercise – first thing is go get some exercise and it does not have to be intense exercise. Just go for a walk, get some fresh air, go see the sun.
- Expand your social circle – don’t be locked away with the same people again and again, meet different groups of people.
- Learn to see the big picture – understand that life is bigger than your final score at foundation studies or university. Go do some volunteer work and try to maintain a healthy happy attitude.
This story was produced by Media and Communication students at Trinity College Foundation Studies as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org.