Stressed Out Students Need Solutions

Posted September 3rd, 2009 by Maria Pascucci and filed in College Grad to Student, Stress

Every day, in both my personal and professional life, I deal with stressed-out college students and the fallout from their over-managed, ultra-achieving, anxiety-ridden lives.

From a college senior: Worry over GPA has caused me to suffer stomach problems, headaches, insomnia and panic attacks requiring medication. I am afraid to complete this huge project worth 50 percent of my grade because I’m afraid it won’t be ‘good enough.’ Why? I have a 3.95 GPA and now I’m terrified of ‘blowing it.’ AHAHAH. How can I give this up & not let it rule my life?

A new survey released last month by mtvU and the Associated Press reveals that 85 percent of students reported feeling stressed on a daily basis.  Academic concerns like school work and grades topped the list of stressors beating out other stressors such as financial woes even in today’s economy. The 2,200 college students polled across 40 colleges and universities paint a grim picture.

As 1.6 million kids walk across the stage at graduation, one wonders what their most salient college memories will be. Falling in love? Discovering Plato? Tutoring low income kids?  According to a new study, it might just be that overwhelming stress is the most resonant memory. It shouldn’t be this way. While I’m grateful to mtvU and the Associated Press for raising awareness of student stress, it’s time we all focus on practical, positive solutions that today’s students crave. We can start by telling young people:

1. “Being perfect in college isn’t the gateway to success and happiness; learning and creating relationships are. Building networks and being excited about something does translate into jobs.”

Eight years ago, I graduated summa cum laude from college while completing a double major and a minor. My résumé was perfect, but I was a wreck. I battled anxiety, depression and insomnia because of the unrealistic expectations I’d placed on myself to be the best. Today, I’m the president of, a national organization that empowers students to prioritize their health before they graduate. Employers look for resilient, energetic, creative young employees; not one hiring manager cared about the summa cum laude notation on the top of my résumé.

2. “You are more than the measure of your GPA.”

Too many students measure their self-worth by their academic accomplishments. They’re terrified to take a chance on learning if it means earning a less-than-perfect grade in the process. That is a tragedy because it undermines the whole purpose for being in school in the first place.

Here’s what we all can do: Pull a young person aside today and tell her why you think she’s great just because she laughs at your jokes, smears ketchup on potato chips, peanut butter and jelly on waffles (thanks Dad!), or sings rather badly in the shower. In other words, tell someone why they’re special in any way that cannot be measured by a letter grade.

3. “Success starts with self-love.”

Our society sends some harmful messages about what it means to be successful. A few years ago, I remember reading about a powerful female executive featured in Glamour Magazine. She said, “The secret to my success is Starbucks coffee. I think if you’re willing to sacrifice some sleep, you can do anything you’ve always wanted, whether it’s writing a book or running a marathon.” There is nothing self-loving about not giving our bodies the rest they need.

55 percent of college students reported experiencing sleep troubles at least several days in the two week period in which they were polled, and 69 percent reported feeling tired or having little energy.

Some well-intentioned parents, policy makers and educators worry that if they tell high-achieving students that it’s okay to not stress over every single grade, test, paper and résumé builder, their students will turn into slackers and their grades will plummet. Rest assured, high-achieving students will still reach their potential. They will still be leaders. But even if a student’s GPA happens to drop one semester from a 4.0 to a 3.65 but he learns resilience in the process, that student gave himself a gift far more valuable than a measly fraction of a point could measure.

America needs a cultural shift both inside and outside of the classroom. As a friend wisely told me, “Accolades and A’s are not what life, ultimately, is about.”

~ Maria Pascucci is the founder and president of and author of the award-winning book, Campus Calm University: The College Student’s 10-Step Blueprint to Stop Stressing & Create a Happy, Purposeful Life

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