Stressed Out!

By Siobhán Mitchell and Jacob Dennen

It only seems appropriate to end the year and our 127 experience talking about how stressed out Denison students are during perhaps the most stressful time of the year. Quickly approaching finals, the impending doom of post grad life, and the lack of a spring break are a few contributing factors that come to mind, but the list really does seem endless.

Denison students also aren’t known for being the ~chillest~ group of people as busy culture runs rampant on campus, so it can be easy to brush off stress as a facet of life, something normal to the college experience. Although this may be true, stress can be detrimental to one’s health and well being, and Denison knows all too well the struggles with campus mental health both open to and hidden from public conversation. Additionally, college students who experienced stressful life events (does a pandemic count?) reported worse health outcomes, showing stress is a very real factor in student health.

We asked students in mid-March, right about when midterms started to hit, how stressed they were on a scale from 1-100 with 1-25 shown below being cool as a cucumber and 75-100 being the most stressed out ever. The bad news is that our predictions were correct and Denison students are pretty stressed with the most common response being “more stressed than cool.”

Despite the fact that seniors are feeling the weight of post grad plans and first-years are in the middle of an unprecedented first year of college, sophomores report being the most stressed out. This certainly cuts against the conventional wisdom that the first year is the hardest and it’s smooth sailing thereafter. In fact, it almost appears to be the opposite, suggesting that Denisonians take on more academic, organizational, and social burdens over time.

Nationally, academics were reported to be the biggest stressor in student life, so we wanted to see if Denison followed the trend or if other factors contribute to stress on the Hill in more significant ways. Sure enough, academics took the lead as students reported academics being the most stressful aspect of campus life. Mental health followed in second with COVID-19 coming in a close third, leaving some hope for the future when (if?) COVID-19 and its stressors will eventually subside.

Since we’ve established that stress is all over campus, how does one “be less stressed”? Sadly, campus hasn’t found a cure-all for students’ stress as stress levels remain steady despite the amount of time spent exercising, social media surfing, or sleeping. Although exercise and sleep didn’t seem to alter stress levels, engagement in meditation practices in one study correlated with a significant reduction in reported stress. (Note to self: to try out mediation when I have some free time)

While sometimes billed as “blowing off steam,” binge drinking showed an increase in stress once students hit four days a week, with four, five, and six days of binge drinking showing increased reported stress levels. Those who binge-drink 7 days a week showed the lowest stress levels, but is probably not a sustainable option for four years of college. It’s important to note that those who binge-drink at all are just as stressed as those who don’t at all; it does not appear to be a reliable form of stress relief.

Ok boomer. Generations who came before may attribute student stress to the typical college stress they experienced in previous decades, but the reality is college students are more stressed than ever before, meaning students now may be at the highest risk for negative consequences of stress. COVID-19 can’t have helped this situation by piling a pandemic on top of the already heavy load of student responsibilities, but there is hope for the future that life on the Hill will soon return to “normal” and classes below us will enjoy their Denison years just as we did with ours.

Siobhán Mitchell is a senior Spanish major who is stressed about how quickly graduation is approaching. She is attempting to savor every moment she has left on the Hill by avoiding her academic work with runs in Granville, unnecessary trips to Whit’s, and driving loops around campus.

Jacob Dennen is a senior studying Political Science who is trying to ignore the fact that his time at Denison is quickly coming to an end and attempting to soak as much of it in as possible.

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