City College senior Michelle Frank is in her fifth year of college and on her second major. Juggling engineering classes and a part-time job, she found herself at the breaking point last fall. “I was always tired,” says Frank, “but somehow could never sleep well.”
She also noted a change in her social behavior which she attributed to having too much to do.“Even when I had no work I didn’t want to go out,” she says. “I didn’t care about having fun.”
Frank didn’t know it at the time, but her stressful life was leading to the first signs of depression. “I used to feed off of the stress,” says Frank, “but after a while I felt like it was killing me.”
According to the American Psychological Association, unhealthy levels of stress can sometimes lead to serious emotional problems, including depression. Frank noticed signs such as tiredness and insomnia; others include tension headaches, increased irritability and anxiety.
Dr. Brett Silverstein, a CCNY psychology professor, confirms that he has seen the connection between stress and depression among students. “Some depressed mood might result from stress, such as [the stress of] several weeks of having to write papers and study for exams while holding a job or caring for a family member.”
While major clinical depression isn’t widespread among students, a survey by the Healthy CUNY Initiative reveals that nearly 20 percent of the CUNY student population reported feeling depressed in the last 12 months. The research also shows that this can cause up to a small, but significant decrease in a student’s GPA. For this reason it is important that students are able to manage their stress levels.
Frank learned to control her stress. Her first step? Switching her major from engineering to Spanish. “I always tried to fit Spanish classes into my schedule since it has always been my passion,” she says.
She advises other students not to force themselves to do tasks that they feel are compromising their well-being. “It’s good to push yourself,” she says, “but if it doesn’t feel right anymore, just stop.” Additionally, she advises students to evaluate the things in their lives other than school to eliminate unnecessary stressors. By doing this, you can decrease the risk of developing a more serious condition that could impede academic success.
This article is one of a series on stress, written by students in the Spring 2012 Ad/PR workshop.