When is your stress level an urgent issue? Practical tips for students

Credit to Author: Geneviève Beaupré and Susan Qadeer| Date: Wed, 05 Oct 2022 14:42:25 +0000

Stress is common among students. It is not unusual for a student who has moved away from home for the first time to feel bouts of homesickness. Post-secondary students often struggle to focus on schoolwork when there are new people to meet and intense socializing going on. The expectation that students need to monitor their own time and efforts may leave some students feeling overwhelmed and unsupported. The first semester of the first year can be a major adjustment, but many students eventually manage this despite its difficulties.

When is your stress level an urgent issue?

When students experience bouts of anxiety and low moods, there may be a negative impact on their studies. While problems with mood and anxiety may be managed,  they shouldn’t be ignored if they are prolonged, extending into several weeks or even months. Particularly, suicidal thoughts and self-harming behavior should be treated as urgent matters. In addition to personal discomfort and loss of pleasure, academic achievement and progress may be in jeopardy. The school schedule with its assignments and exams continues despite a student’s need to take a break to look after their health and stress overload. An inability to concentrate, agitation, sleeplessness, pessimism, obsessive worry, and other challenging issues may leave students far behind in their academic work and unable to catch up. That is why these symptoms, when stretching into weeks, may need urgent intervention.

What should you do?

If the issues you are experiencing last for weeks or months, it is important to get help, either from a mental health professional such as a school counsellor or from a physician.

Some symptoms such as fatigue, poor concentration, sleeplessness or excessive sleeping may be due to a medical condition and seeing a physician should be prioritized to rule out possible causes. If a problem with anxiety or depression is diagnosed, treatment should be considered since it may be far easier to turn around a more minor problem than a major one, if left untreated.

Since time is a factor, a good first step is finding out if your school has a health centre with medical staff or a counselling office. If you would like to see a doctor and there isn’t one at your school, counsellors can assist with finding one in the community. While they can’t provide a diagnosis, counsellors can help determine if your symptoms could be signs of a mental health problem. They can also help you find solutions to problems causing stress and develop strategies to cope.

There is often high demand for these services and students shouldn’t be satisfied with an initial appointment that is months away since their academic work could be seriously impacted. Inquire about the availability of drop-in or same-day appointments at school or call various clinics in the community, if a timely appointment is not available. Getting help when it is needed is also serves as verification as to when the problem started and when the student sought help, so students have it should they need to document this later for their school record.

While they are in the process of getting assessed, students may find out if their teachers or the school’s accessibility office can provide some flexibility or temporary academic accommodations. The school’s counselling services can usually support students with navigating these requests. If you choose to approach your professors to ask for flexibility and accommodations, consider the kind of help you need and what faculty need to know. Generally, professors do not require a lot of details about your personal health and life issues, but they may ask for documentation to support your request. 

If a student is unable to continue with some or all of their classes, schools usually have policies and procedures for taking time off, issuing a temporary incomplete grade, dropping a course without academic penalty, or taking a more extended leave from school.  An academic record is a student’s history and there shouldn’t be academic sacrifices when a problem is out of the student’s control and when efforts have been made to rectify it.

Other non-health related urgent concerns

There are other situations that can put students’ academics in jeopardy such as an ongoing family or housing crisis or financial problems. Students shouldn’t make the decision to leave school without first seeking help and documenting their circumstances. Personal problems can lead to loss of time, money as well as credibility.

Services are provided at school to help students cope with problems that interfere with their academic work, to avoid disruptions to their school year, and to determine a student’s best options given their circumstances. Seek help when you need it.

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