stressed out college student cramming for final exams

How to Help With Stress in College Students

This post was written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original post here.


The next two weeks are the most difficult time of year for college students. The end-of-semester demands they face are unrealistic and can lead to unbearable pressure. How our children cope with stress in college can have a devastating impact on both their physical and emotional health.

For those of us who can say “been there, done that,” it is not a rite of passage we would wish on anyone — especially our own children.

Stress in College Students

An estimated 15 percent of the 20 million young people attending college in the U.S. are diagnosed with depression. Those who do not have a clinical diagnosis of depression still experience stress and may suffer in silence or resort to inappropriate behavior.

The biggest risk is the threat of suicide.

A recent study reveals half of all college students have had suicidal thoughts. Tragically, 1500 of them are successful each year, according to Dr. Victor Schwartz, a psychiatrist and medical director of The Jed Foundation. The mission of this non-profit organization is to “promote emotional health and prevent suicide among college and university students.”

Here is just a partial list of what college students face this time of year.

End of Semester Stressors

  • Cramming for finals
  • Writing term papers
  • Completing projects
  • Making presentations
  • Studying for Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
  • Applying for Internships
  • Preparing resumes
  • Scheduling job interviews
  • Packing up and moving out

Any one of these “added demands” is reason enough to need help with stress. The year-end stress for college students is heaped on top of their on-gong concerns about paying off loans, changing roommates, declaring a major, traveling abroad, finding off-campus housing, dealing with relationships, and so much more

When forced to try to deal with it all, students may “self-medicate” as the pressure builds.

Inappropriate Coping Strategies

  • Depression – abuses of “uppers,” such as speed, cocaine, crack, Ecstasy
  • Anxiety – abuse of “downers,” such as marijuana, hash, codeine, heroin
  • Rage or Anger – abuse of alcohol in the form of binge drinking
  • Sleep deprivation – abuse of caffeine from energy drinks, pills, espresso and coffee drinks
  • Meal skipping – over-eating high foods high in fat, salt and sugar
  • Dehydration – inappropriate use of medications for headaches, dizziness, lethargy

The American Psychological Association provides an online tool to test your knowledge about stress. Telling your child about it may be a good way to help him or her recognize what is happening and encourage them to take advantage of campus support services.

Unfortunately, stress doesn’t end after graduation. Learning how to cope with it while in college is a life skill that will pay off for your child no matter what career he or she pursues.

And for your high school graduate who may be starting college in the fall, check out my Tips to Prevent College Weight Gain adapted from my book, Fighting the Freshman Fifteen.

Pill dispenser filled with medications

Important Holiday Safety Message About Drugs

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.


If you are entertaining for the holidays and will have children in your home, there is something else you must add your checklist: Safe storage of all medications. That includes any drugs you have on hand for your pets, plus vitamin supplements, herbal medications and botanical treatments, too.

Why? Misuse of adult medication by children is a major source of accidents in the home.

This is a personal safety message that deserves our attention. The number of accidental drug poisonings in children is on the rise because the number of prescription drugs being used by adults is increasing. Since there are more drugs around the house, there are more opportunities for children to find them. And when they do, their curiosity takes over.

Accidental drug ingestion was responsible for 86% of Emergency Department (ED) visits for poisoning in children last year. Another way to look at this horrifying, and preventable, statistic is that every 8 minutes another child is being treated for medicine poisoning.

It’s frightening to think that the chances of a child experiencing a drug overdose from the non-medical use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs is equal to those for the use of illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine, but it’s true. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported in 2008 that both forms of drug abuse resulted in 1 million ED visits per year.

Holiday Precautions

The danger of accidental drug ingestion by children increases during the holidays when family and friends from out of town gather together. Whether you are hosting guests or are one yourself, you must take precautions to keep drugs out of sight and reach of children.

  • The easiest way for young children to sample medications is when guests leave them on night stands in those colorful pill dispensers. Stash them in a hard-to-reach place.
  • Older children may discover them if sharing a bathroom with a house guest who leaves them in plain sight. Zip them up in a shaving or cosmetic case.
  • A street-smart adolescent may rifle through suitcases, purses, and coat pockets looking for them. Count your pills to know exactly how many you have at all times.

Get Rid of Unneeded Drugs

Prescription medications have a job to do, and once, done, should be disposed of. They should never be shared with anyone else since the dose for each prescription is based on the user’s age, size and symptoms, plus any other factors that might interfere with the medication. If you aren’t a licensed physician, you shouldn’t be prescribing medication to anyone else.

  • If you have leftover medicine because you couldn’t tolerate what was initially prescribed or recommended, the old drugs are useless to you. Get rid of them.
  • If you missed a few doses of a prescribed medication and have some leftover pills, they won’t help if your problem reoccurs. Get rid of them.
  • Drugs have an expiration date. Some lose potency after that date, some become toxic. Get rid of them.
  • Prescription drugs and OTC medications that are no longer in their original containers with original their instructions cannot be checked for their expiration date. Get rid of them.
  • Any change in the color, consistency or smell of a medication indicates a problem, even if the drug is still within its expiration date. Get rid of it.

Most important of all: Don’t assume those child-proof closures that are so difficult for us to open will protect the little ones. Nothing is ever 100% childproof.