MONACA, Pa. -- Experiencing a certain amount of stress or anxiety is normal, especially when it comes to certain tasks or times of the year, like semester finals. Sometimes you may feel like stress and anxiety have become overwhelming.
There are resources available at Penn State Beaver to help students, including four on-campus counselors who students can visit. In some cases, a student may only need to make one visit just to get their problem off their chest and get some feedback, said campus personal and career counselor Brenda Schultz. Other people may want or need to have multiple appointments.
If a student does not feel comfortable seeing a counselor on campus, there are additional resources off campus that can be made available.
Professor of Psychology Kevin Bennett said there is a difference between stress and anxiety: Anxiety is the psychological element, and stress is the bodily response to that anxiety.
As anxiety heightens, one may become aware of physical symptoms such as chest pressure, shortness of breath, or what Bennett calls “noodle legs.” He said once someone is hyperaware of these symptoms it can become a cycle where they worry even more, and that can become especially problematic.
In the past three years, students have reported stress and anxiety as the primary reason why they’ve sought services on campus, Schultz said. She said that is a trend across college campuses everywhere and not just at Penn State Beaver.
As far as the best way to manage stress or how to know if you’re experiencing something more serious, there’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all answer, according to Schultz.
There can be good stress, known as eustress, that helps people do things like take college seriously, Shultz said. It’s not overwhelming and helps us prioritize what we need to do. We often don’t pay attention to eustress, she said.
Then there’s distress. That type of stress occurs when we make bad choices, like going to a party instead of studying for a test, Shultz said. Distress can also be caused by things beyond our control, like a family situation or your car breaking down on your way to class, she added.
There are times where it is expected that students will experience stress, like during final exams. Schultz said the exams are often high stakes for students, and just the nature of the term “final exam” can create stress.
At a certain point, stress or anxiety can become more chronic and move beyond occurring at just a specific time, like exams. When or how that happens is different for everyone because each person tolerates and processes stress in a different way, Schultz said.
The big question, according to Bennett, is: “At what point do you acknowledge something is wrong here?”
Bennett said if stress and anxiety are interfering with how someone wants to life their life on a daily basis and is impacting their ability to interact with their friends and family, they may want to talk to a school counselor.
As far as managing anxiety and stress as the semester wraps up, Bennett recommends students stick to the "old folk wisdom": Getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising and taking breaks while studying really do help to manage anxiety, he said.