College Stress: How Can I Help My Son Who is Stressed Out?

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College Stress

College life is difficult. Many stressors bombard the life of a college student everyday – school, work, priorities, friends, co-curricular activities, and emotional matters. It is a time when young adults will have to juggle every aspect of their lives wisely so as to survive and achieve their aspired dreams.

However, not all college students can cope. There are those who become overwhelmed by these stressors and therefore succumb to frustration and even depression. Parents who have witnessed the struggle of their adult children are often faced with the question, “How do I help my kids cope with the stress in college?" Indeed, even young adults still need the guidance and support of their parents to be able to overcome college life difficulties.

Where Does College Stress Come From?

College stress may come from a number of factors. The source of stress of college students may differ from one another, depending on one’s coping mechanism and resources. For instance, for a rich kid, money is not a cause of stress. However, for those who are less fortunate, working just to defray one’s tuition and expenses is definitely a stressor.

According to studies by Ross, Niebling, and Heckert (1999) and Dunkel-Schetter & Lobel (1990), one common source of stress for young adults going to college is financial instability. Financial problems require a young adult to find work. Consequently, students who need to work are physically drained and they are deprived of the time for study. As a result, they end up having low grades, which contribute to their frustrations and low self-esteem.

Emotional problems also make up the list of college stressors. In a survey entitled: “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” the number of college students who have rated their emotional states as below average has risen.

Aside from these, college students also experience stress because of the following factors: homesickness, peer pressure, time management matters, adjustment problems (like having a roommate), social anxiety, relationship issues, school pressure and even culture shock.

Is your Child Stressed Out?

Parents who would like to bring a significant answer to the question, “How to help my son who is stressed out” or “How can I get my daughter to loosen up” must first make themselves aware of their young adult’s level of stress.

Stress is actually a part and parcel of everyday living. It motivates a person to achieve something; it serves as a challenge, and a driving force to become productive. However, the level of stress needed to produce these positive outcomes must be manageable. If the level of stress is too much, it brings unproductiveness and negative outcomes.

Usually, college students who are under stress do not actually know that they are undergoing it. They may be too preoccupied with their job, school requirements, and other stress-points that need to be faced that they fail to see the signs.

Parents who are very well concerned with the welfare of their young adults must be keen enough to spot the signs of whether their sons and daughters are experiencing stress. The following are the signs and symptoms of stress:


  • Change in appetite – overeating or eating too little
  • Change in sleeping patterns – oversleeping or insomnia
  • Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Ulcers
  • Fatigue
  • Increased susceptibility to illness


  • Decreased concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion
  • Thought Disorders
  • Obsessions


  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Absenteeism
  • Decreased productivity
  • Isolation
  • Irritability
  • Emotional outburst
  • Increased emotional sensitiveness
  • Frequently blaming others
  • Hostility, anger, and resentment

These aforementioned signs and symptoms are the usual things that can be found in stressed individuals. However, in some cases, there are people who develop maladaptive behaviors in response to stress such as using prohibited drugs, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and resorting to violent actions. These maladaptive coping mechanisms are never healthy or in any way helpful. It is best to consult the right counsel to help the child with this kind of dilemma.

What Should Parents Do?

After evaluating their college sons and daughters, concerned parents should do the next step in the process – and that is to find a solution to the problem. One effective approach in helping college students cope with overwhelming stress is to get them to become indulged in stress management activities and relaxation programs.

Parents can always offer their moral support and guidance to the students in the form of encouraging them to “loosen up,” to seek guidance from proper resources and to do activities that make them feel relaxed. The following are means by which parents can help their children in de-stressing:

  • Give support. Even though young adults are expected to be independent individuals, parents can always go the extra mile and stretch a helping hand to their children. Especially nowadays wherein the recent recession has affected how the youth view their future, parents are expected to uplift the morale of the young generation. According to Jason Ebbeling, Southern Oregon University’s director of residential education, “Students know their generation is likely to be less successful than their parents’, so they feel more pressure to succeed than in the past.” (New York Times) However, fathers and mothers must see to it that they are only helping, and that their child will not depend on them too much.
  • Enjoy a sport or any bonding activity. If parents are living near their children, inviting their collegians to play a sport with them is helpful. Fun activities such as fishing or watching a movie from time to time can let the child loosen up.
  • Listen and be available. Sometimes, what stressed individuals really need is a good way to let out all the feelings and pent-up emotions that they have within. One way of helping a person cope with stress is to be available when he/she needs help as well as to give one’s full attention to the problem at hand.
  • Help the child identify his/her stressor. Identifying the major stressor in the adult’s life is important so that proper interventions can be formulated. Go sit with the collegian and discuss what makes him/her feel tired and unproductive.
  • Do follow-up. Occasionally checking one’s college son or daughter is helpful in seeing to it that he/she is not constantly in stress.
  • Suggest relaxation techniques. Therapeutic Yoga and other meditation activities are helpful to help relax the young adult. Let them have a time for themselves, even just to reflect on the present reality.
  • Help him/her develop good behaviors and techniques. Time management, praying and setting up priorities are helpful.
  • Refer. If the stressed individual could not develop healthy coping mechanisms to defeat stress, parents can refer their children to professional help such as counseling and psychiatric services.

Final Word

Every parent’s responsibility does not end up when the child leaves the family’s abode. Young adults, especially those who are working and financing themselves for college still need the guidance and protection that a parent can give. Helping the child in times of stress doesn’t equate to making the child dependent. However, parents should really first assess their child for the signs of stress to avoid over-helping. Remember, a little amount of stress is helpful, but if there’s none at all, the effect might become counterproductive.

Now, whenever this question pops up again, you have some answers.