Student life can be stressful. Most students juggle heavy course loads with work, family, and other commitments. Chronic stress is often made works by crises: unforeseen events that can catch you off guard.
Crisis can tax your personal resources and lead to “burnout” or even depression requiring intervention. Often students do not realize they are in crisis until they find themselves facing academic difficulty, perhaps facing academic warning or suspension from their studies.
Students face many kinds of personal pressures, a few of these pressures are outlined below.
- New students may be away from home for the first time and may find they are homesick and miss the close support of their family and friends.
- International students may find it challenging to adjust to a new culture.
- Mature students may have difficulty maintaining balance between work and personal responsibilities.
- Some students deal with disabilities or physical or mental illnesses.
Each one of these pressures can lead to feelings of inadequacy. But when life situations are intensified with the demands of trying to succeed academically and complete a university degree, some students may experience a crisis that requires additional social support or professional intervention.
Everyone experiences a crisis at some point in their lives and each one of us deals with crisis differently. However, there are several warning signs that indicate you may need additional support, including:
- a sudden drop in grades;
- increased absences from class;
- lack of participation in class discussions;
- isolating yourself from friends or classmates;
- missed assignments or inability to complete assignments;
- loss of interest, lack of energy, or difficulty concentrating;
- disruptive or unusual behaviour, aggressiveness, emotional outbursts, or crying;
- increased irritability; and
- increased use of alcohol or use of recreational drugs.
Traumatic life experiences can trigger depression in people who might not otherwise be susceptible and this can affect your ability to cope and focus on your studies. Often the effects of a traumatic experience do not manifest immediately and do not become problematic until some time after the event.
The following may be signs of a more serious problem that should be addressed immediately with a health care professional:
- irrational thinking (“bizarre thoughts”);
- sleeping too much or too little, excessive fatigue, early morning waking;
- decrease or increase in appetite or excessive weight gain or loss;
- expressions of hopelessness or despair; and
- suicidal or homicidal thoughts or feelings.
Be Prepared and Proactive
There are a number of ways that you can be prepared and proactive to help you avoid crisis situations while you are studying.
- Study skills and academics: With larger class sizes and different academic expectations, including a more demanding workload, university can be challenging. To help cope with the pressures of academic life, you can make an appointment with an academic advisor in the Academic Advising Centre or participate in study skills workshops in the Centre for Student Academic Support (CSAS) that cover topics like note-taking, active reading, and exam preparation. Students can also sign up for a mentorship program at the Student Experience Office.
- Time management: Keeping up with lectures, readings and assignments, financial pressures, part-time jobs, extra-curricular activities, and social engagements will challenge you to manage your time appropriately. Time is your most precious resource and if you manage your time properly you will be better able to cope in the event of a crisis. Academic Advising Centre also offers time management study skills workshops.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Part of a balanced lifestyle includes taking care of your physical health and well-being. Proper nutrition and adequate sleep are essential to learning. The benefits of exercise for stress management are well documented so try to incorporate some exercise into your daily schedule. The Department of Recreation and Athletics offers a wide range of programs and facilities for students. You can also drop by the Health and Counselling Services Resource Centre or on-campus display booths to pick up health and wellness resources and information.
- Find a balance: Proper balance is the key to success. If any one area of your life becomes too demanding, then the other areas can suffer as you try to compensate. This should not stop you from taking on new challenges and learning opportunities, but be aware of your limits and don’t take on more than you can manage. Also, set aside leisure time to help restore your energy.
- Get involved: Finding balance between academic and extra-curricular activities is another way you can relieve stress. Find out more about the leadership development and community service learning opportunities available to you at the Student Experience Office and find out more about how you can get involved in clubs and societies.
- Money matters: Students often underestimate the amount of money needed to finance their education. When expenses mount, working more hours at a job seem like the only way to make ends meet. However, working full-time and going to school full-time is extremely challenging. Use the resources available at the Awards and Financial Aid Office to help create a budget and find alternative sources of funding, like scholarships, bursaries, and financial aid.
- Support network: A strong support network can help you cope. Your peers, professors, teaching assistants, academic advisors, counsellors and other support staff on campus are all in a position to help you deal with crisis situations. Often it is someone in your support network who notices the level of stress you are experiencing, so stay connected!
First Steps for Dealing with a Crisis
It is essential that you address crisis situations as soon as possible to give yourself adequate time to take action. The first step is to talk to someone. You may not be aware of the gravity of your situation while you are in it. Talking to someone can open the door to the healing process. Talk to a friend, family member, one of your professors, a counsellor or physician in Health and Counselling Services or contact Student Affairs to speak with the Case Manager. If you are dealing with an academic issue, you may wish to talk to an academic advisor in the Student Academic Success Centre or your departmental advisor.
Next Steps for Dealing with a Crisis
When dealing with crisis, it is hard to predict how long it will take you to recover completely. You may need to reduce your workload temporarily meaning working fewer hours at your job or reducing your course load. It is important to take the time you need to resolve the issues before getting back into your usual work load. If you return too soon it can interrupt your recovery process and potentially lead to further problems.
If you find yourself in academic difficulty because of circumstances beyond your control, it may be appropriate to withdraw from courses or apply for a deferment of final exams or assignments through the Registrar’s Office. You may also need to contact the Awards and Financial Aid office to determine if changing your course load will impact your OSAP status. Make sure you have documentation of your circumstances and apply within the deadlines. If the deadlines have passed, you may be able to petition Carleton University for special consideration. You can book an appointment with an academic advisor in the Academic Advising Centre or visit the Registrar’s Office to discuss these options.
There are many offices on campus that support students and can help you cope with stress or a crisis should it arise. We all work together and will often refer students to other offices as appropriate. Please note that all offices observe strict confidentiality.
- Awards and Financial Aid
- Equity Services
- Health and Counselling Services
- International Student Services Office
- Paul Menton Centre of Students with Disabilities
- Spirituality Centre
- Student Academic Success Centre
- Student Affairs
- Student Experience Office
- Ombuds Services
- Department of University Safety