College Freshman Stress Statistics: How to Have a Healthy First Year

Ginger Abbot

Aug 15, 2022

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Imagine that you’re moving to a new place where you don’t know anyone. You’re leaving all your friends and family behind, and you don’t know who you’ll be living with when you arrive. College freshman stress statistics show how much these students can go through.

When you get there, you’ll be in charge of your finances, your schedule, and your groceries for the first time. It’s up to you to meet good people and build a strong supportive network. Every decision you make while at this new place will affect your future. 

This gives a glimpse into the level of stress and uncertainty college freshmen face as they arrive on campus for their first semester of college. Removed from their support network and given increasing responsibilities, it’s no wonder that many freshmen experience heightened stress levels. 

Fortunately, there are practical steps students can take to guard against overwhelm and manage their stress. In addition to improving their academic performance, managing stress will protect students’ health and prepare them to thrive in the future. 

College Freshman Stress Statistics

According to the American College Health Association, around 45% of college students have said they’re experiencing high levels of stress. Although 12.7% of college students say they feel tremendous amounts of stress while at school, it’s likely that these numbers are higher than reported. 

Students experience different kinds of stress depending on their academic year. For example, seniors are likely to experience stress about their future career path after school. Junior year is generally considered the most stressful year of college, based on coursework and financial strain. 

However, freshmen experience unique types of stress. For example, 69% of freshmen students suffer from homesickness. These feelings can affect your mental health and academic performance, especially when combined with few to no social connections upon arrival at school. 

Other factors causing stress for freshmen include a lack of sleep, the challenges of personal relationships, and the pressure to perform well. According to a 2017 study on freshmen, stress levels tend to peak at midterms and then skyrocket during final exams. Interestingly, student stress dipped right before finals, possibly because students went home for Thanksgiving. 

Freshmen who practice healthy coping skills can reduce their anxiety levels over time. Unfortunately, many students respond to stress with unhealthy behaviors like self-isolating, exercising less, and using alcohol and recreational drugs to numb their pain. 

Effects of Stress on College Freshmen

The word “stress” initially meant putting pressure on an object, like in a physics problem. Without some type of counterbalancing pressure, too much stress at a single point could break an object or destabilize a whole building. 

Although the word “stress” is now used to describe the weight of anxiety, the physics analogy still holds true. A little stress can be good and even important for creating drive and stability in a student’s life. For instance, without exams and deadlines, students would have less motivation to study. 

However, too much stress can cause students to crumble. In fact, chronically high levels of stress can damage almost every system in the human body, including weakening your immune system. Stress can trigger headaches and acid reflux and make it difficult for people to go to the bathroom normally. 

When your body is stressed, your heart rate and blood sugar increase. Your stomach creates more acid, and stress hormones flood your system, preparing your body for the fight or flight response. Stress is emotionally exhausting, and its effect on your hormones can make it hard for you to sleep well.  

Some women may experience abnormal menstrual cycles or lose their period altogether during times of intense stress. Chronic levels of stress keep your body in constant overdrive, suppressing some natural functions and heightening others to unhealthy levels. 

When students experience high levels of stress for prolonged periods, they’re more likely to get sick. Their risk for depression is higher, and their academic performance will suffer. If they’re struggling with insomnia, making good decisions will get harder due to exhaustion and brain fog. 

How to Reduce Freshmen Stress

Fortunately, there are many healthy steps that students can take to get a handle on their stress, protect their mental health, and improve their college experience. Although starting healthy habits can be challenging, every step students take will add up to reduce stress and increase wellness.

Many high schoolers are overworked and chronically stressed, so some freshmen may not even realize that their stress levels are abnormally high for the human body. It’s important for freshmen to understand the value of rest and take time to mindfully enjoy their surroundings.

In the human body, stress is regulated by the central nervous system. Your sympathetic nervous system is in charge of increasing stress so that you’re prepared to face challenging situations with focus. However, this system is in constant overdrive for many students. 

In a healthy body, the sympathetic nervous system is balanced by the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your body back down and offers rest. By slowing down, taking deep belly breaths, and getting enough sleep, students can help regulate their nervous systems and reduce heightened stress levels. 

Exercise can be particularly helpful in reducing stress and elevating emotional wellbeing while at school. Regardless of how you feel, going through the motions of exercise will boost your mood, improve your sleep, and help to regulate any nervous system imbalances you may be experiencing. 

College Freshman Stress Statistics

Although college students experience high levels of stress during their first year at school, there are many things they can do to reduce stress. Self-care through appropriate sleep, good nutrition, and exercise is their first line of defense. 

Students experiencing extreme levels of stress or tension should speak to a licensed counselor or ask adults in leadership positions for help. Hiding your symptoms or isolating yourself will only increase your distress and make the problem worse. 

With healthy choices and the right support, you can create a system that protects your body from high levels of stress. Building resilience will help you face school challenges with energy and determination every day. 

Although it’s normal for freshmen to experience stress, there’s no need for you to experience abnormal levels for a prolonged period of time. With the right habits, you can thrive at college during your first year instead of wondering how you’re going to survive the next three.

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