Council of Pakistan American Affairs Student and Youth
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Adnan Ul Haq Khan
Council of Pakistan American Affairs
Student life has many benefits, but it also imposes inevitable stresses.
Check out common student pressures and problems to get tips on how to
manage them and avoid triggering or worsening stress or depression
It is well known that any such transition or change, however positive, entails a certain
amount of stress. Indeed, for some students – especially international students –
these changes can add up to what is known as ‘culture shock’. This means the
disorienting effect of suddenly having to negotiate the world without many of the
familiar cues, symbols, customs, values or even language. This can be exciting, but
also profoundly stressful and anxiety-provoking.
Some students need to be completely self-supporting while others have significant
family support, adding complex social pressures to the already-difficult task of staying
within a tight budget. Excessive worrying about debt can provide fertile ground for
depression. So can taking a head-in-the-sand approach and creating a huge future
burden of debt.
Most universities and colleges now provide financial advisers to help students find
their way through the maze of funding. Many will provide information and resources to
help with money and debt management. If depression is affecting you severely
enough to prevent you working, then disability support staff can advise about the
disabled students allowance.
Having a part-time job can help ease financial pressure, and may also be a source of
good ‘life experience’, fun and an alternative social life. Juggling work, study and
social commitments can, however, offer a difficult time management challenge. Make
sure your paid work still leaves realistic space for individual study time as well as your
lectures and seminars. Keeping busy can protect you from depression, but over-
committing and exhausting yourself works in the opposite direction. See the time
management section on the study page.
Identity & self-development
The student experience is very much about self-development as well as ‘training’ for
a career. It is an exciting time, but also potentially a stressful one.
Finding out who you are
Leaving home and striking out as an adult (or leaving a previous life to return to
study) can raise big questions about who you are – from simple things like having
more choice over how tidy you keep your room to more complex issues such as
exploring sexual identity or sexual orientation. This increased uncertainty provides
an exciting opportunity, but can also be disorienting and daunting. It is easy to
respond by falling into all-or-nothing thinking habits, offering depression a way in.
See ‘Depression and the meaning of life’.
Students have moved away from the direct pressures imposed by parents and
schools into an environment where they are expected to make their own decisions as
autonomous adults. The pressures from others which now play a greater role are
those of the peer group – other students. Student culture, and the dominant social
culture of your specific campus, can provide very strongly defining norms and
Aspects of dominant American student culture which can become problematic
include drinking and/or drugs culture, and pressure related to appearance. Both are
areas where problems can contribute to a depression habit spiral. Alcohol plays a
large role in most American student culture and this affects students who participate
as well as those who don’t. Social pressure around appearance increasingly affects
young men as well as young women and creates vulnerability to both depression
and eating disorders.
Finding your niche
Aside from these specific issues and as with any new culture, it can be quite stressful
adjusting to new expectations, values and norms – especially if the dominant values
are very different from the ones you are used to (perhaps as an international
student). However, most universities or colleges are big enough that there are a
wide range of social groups and a comfortable niche for most people. Take the
opportunity to explore what you really want/like, without having to fit in to what the
majority seem to be doing.
As a student you will meet people from backgrounds different to your own. Coming
into contact with different values, beliefs and expectations can be interesting and
educational, but can also be a source of conflict. Living in close proximity to others
also offers regular opportunities for conflict – different expectations about noise,
tidiness, money, sleep times etc can be profoundly challenging and uncomfortable to
live with. It isn’t surprising that conflict with housemates or others is a common
source of stress and depression for students. Learn about ‘Communicating
assertively’ as a good starting point for dealing with conflict.
Loneliness is common
Contrary to the stereotypical picture of students constantly socialising, many
students will experience bouts of loneliness during their time at uni. Depression has
a way in when people feel isolated, but being ‘friends’ with people for the wrong
reasons, or feeling pressured into acting differently in order to fit in to a friendship
group does not provide the kind of support that protects against depression either!.
See these tips for understanding and dealing with loneliness, as well as the building
support networks page.
Especially in first few weeks, making friends can seem of life and death importance.
Try not to succumb to all-or-nothing thinking, though – people continue to make
friends and get to know people throughout uni. It’s useful to be friendly with your
neighbours in halls, but you are likely to make your closer friendships by:
giving yourself time to meet a wide range of people
getting to know people in a bit more depth
making conscious choices about who you really get on with.
Homesickness can range from a mild sense of missing familiar things to a profoundly
debilitating pain – it can take you by surprise if you’ve been so looking forward to
starting uni that you haven’t prepared yourself for the sense of loss that always
accompanies a change.
Remind yourself that it is appropriate to feel homesick from time to time and don’t be
hard on yourself – self-bullying and other depressed thinking habits like this may
trigger a depression habit spiral.
Baggage from home
For some students, going off to uni or college is a welcome escape from problems
and unhappiness at home or in earlier stages of life. Yet in some cases escape from
a situation where you’ve been ‘hanging in there’ can also be unsettling, suddenly
bringing bottled up feelings to the surface. The student counselling service is a very
useful place to go for help with this – the issues you bring don’t need to be directly to
do with your studies. Things from your past are less likely to continue to have a hold
on you when you can work these feelings through and put them in their place.