Jan 302005
 
Authors: Jennifer Johnson

The stress of college life may have a greater impact than some students may realize. When dealing with psychological issues like stress and depression, a student's physical health could be on the line.

"Students can be at greater risk for health problems for a number of reasons," said Jenifer Thomas, graduate student assistant of the Stress Management Program. "The stress of being in college, and being away from home, can cause health problems because of the effects of long-term stress on the body."

Thomas works with students at CSU to help them deal with problematic issues related to stress and its physical impacts.

"I believe that there is a direct relationship between your psychological state and health," Thomas said. "Most research that supports the mind-body relationship is based on what we know about the physiological effects of stress."

The stress response, or the "fight or flight" response, is activated by people's feelings and thoughts in order to protect their minds and bodies from danger.

"When we are experiencing stress for a sustained period of time we can feel the impact on our bodies. We may have headaches, stomachaches or we may have difficulty sleeping," she said. "In addition, healthy behaviors such as proper nutrition and exercise are difficult to practice when one is feeling depressed, stressed or overwhelmed."

According to www.helpguide.org, recent research has shown that 90 percent of illnesses are stress-related because of its negative impact on the immune system.

Thomas believes one of the best ways to work on controlling responses to stress is to become more aware of how thoughts and perceptions influence the functions of the body.

"Learning ways to relax the body and refocus the mind away from thoughts that are contributing to stress can be helpful," she said. "However, this takes practice. Seeking help with a counselor to deal with psychological problems that may be contributing to stress can also be very important."

While stress has a major impact on people's health, other psychological issues, such as depression, also produce severe physical effects.

"Unexplained physical symptoms may be a manifestation of an underlying mental health disorder," said Dr. Thomas Dieringer of Hartshorn Health Service. "The greater the number of unexplained physical symptoms, the more likely an underlying and treatable mood or anxiety disorder is present."

Dieringer said it is important for students who are suffering from unexplained health problems to have a medical exam as soon as possible to identify any illnesses that may be causing the symptoms.

"Individuals may use physical symptoms in order to communicate their distress because they are unable to put their feelings into words," he said.

Karen Baumann, a study skills counselor at the Learning Assistance Center, said it is extremely difficult for students to learn during class when they are suffering from psychological issues.

"When a student is stressed and panicked about school, or suffering from depression, it is hard to be able to take anything away from what they are learning," she said. "Such psychological issues have a great impact on an individual's motivation and entire state of mind, making it difficult for them to change."

Baumann said everyone responds differently to stress and other psychological factors, and it is important for a student to have strong self-awareness in order to address the issue.

"Students affected by a negative psychological state should set better boundaries, get plenty of rest, set more time for themselves, exercise and address relationship, or any issue, head on," she said.

Baumann also feels depression does not go away on its own and students should take the time to get help.

"I think it is important for students to know that there is something they can do," Thomas said. "The University Counseling Center and the Stress Management Program can help students to understand the psychological processes that may be contributing to their health problems."

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