Counseling Services on campus send tips for how to reduce stress

Illustration by Laura Baker

University Life’s Counseling and Psychological Services sent an e-mail to Mason students with tips on how to handle stress in hopes to help them during the high stress period of finals and the holidays.

The e-mail said that a student suffering with unhealthy stress should avoid isolation, make a plan, change unhealthy coping strategies such as substance abuse and take advantage of the resources offered on campus. These resources include Learning Services programs and workshops, the Office of Student Support and the 24 hour CAPS Crisis number at 703-527-4077. According to Executive Director of CAPS, Barbara Meehan, students can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Veterans’ Crisis Hotline and on-call clinicians from University Housing and Mason’s Police Department.

“This can be a time of the semester when students are particularly vulnerable to stress related to academics, which can negatively impact performance,” Meehan said. “While faculty and staff attend to student well-being year round, we wanted to remind all to be vigilant during this time of the semester.”

According to Meehan, on average, CAPS provides direct psychological services to over 1,250 Mason students annually, but student demand increases during midterms and finals. Meehan believes that Mason’s number of students using these services will increase along with the national trend.

“This increase in service utilization is attributed to a number of factors, including increased aware of services, reduced stigma around help-seeking and more engagement on the part of peers, faculty, staff and others in recognizing and supporting a student experiencing stress or distress,” Meehan said.

According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 40% of college students have felt more than an average amount of stress within the past 12 months. The website also stated that more than 10 percent of college students reported being diagnosed or treated for depression. Also the CAPS e-mail stated that stress can turn “into feelings of depression, or thoughts of self-harm or suicide.”

“Although college is an exciting time for many students, it is also a time of adjustment and change. Common stressors faced by college students include relationship difficulties, time management, feeling isolated or lonely, finances, and increased academic demands,” Meehan said. “In addition, we know that the average age of onset for depression and other mental health concerns is 18 to 24 years old, which corresponds to the age range of traditional age college students.”

There are academic, physical and emotional signs of dealing with stress in unhealthy ways, according to Meehan. Some academic red flags are an inability to meet deadlines or missing assignments entirely. Physical indicators include rapid heartbeat and sweating. Bad memory, lack of concentration, a short temper and anxiousness are all emotional signs to look out for as well.

Meehan suggests students could maintain physical health by exercising regularly, eating right and sleeping enough. Also, students can be emotionally healthy by practicing relaxation strategies, giving yourself short breaks, confronting challenges, changing negative thoughts to positive ones and knowing when to ask for help. All psychological and psychiatric services at Mason are free, confidential and not added to a student’s academic record, according to Meehan.

“I want to underscore, however, that early intervention for students feeling overwhelmed by stress or signs of depression or other mental health concerns can be pivotal in improving mood, developing healthy strategies to manage concerns, and reducing impact of symptoms on functioning. In short, help does help,” Meehan said.