Why the real world is different: managing stress in post-secondary

Post-secondary might be the best time to learn how to manage stress, but it’s not an easy place to do it

I’m no expert in managing stress. I feel it pretty bad at least twice a year. I start having problems sleeping, I don’t feel as good about the work I’m doing, I get more anxious and my eye even starts to twitch a little. I’ve come to take these as warning signs. They tell me that I need to figure out how to manage my stress before things get worse. I take them pretty seriously and make whatever changes I can. I’ve found a few coping mechanisms, but still no easy solution.

The thing about stressing out at these times of the year is complicated by one thing, though: the source of your stress? It ends. It ends pretty abruptly, in fact. Your semester is over, your assignments are done, your tests written and a weight is off your shoulders. Now all you have to worry about is what you’re going to do for the summer or over winter break. It’s still some things to consider, but you now have some time to breathe – something unfamiliar following the semester-long rush you just went through.

That’s why post-secondary stress isn’t like stress in the real world. After school, when you (hopefully) find a job in your field and get to work, it’ll dawn on you that you’re probably going to be at this for a long time. Your life is no longer a string of four-month chunks of time that simply end.

The need to manage stress is real. In TRU’s 2013 National College Health Assessment, 37 per cent of students reported that stress was affecting their academic performance – something that undoubtedly made them even more stressed. As many as 45 per cent of students reported “more than average” stress levels in the year prior and 22 per cent of students said that they “felt things were hopeless” at least once in the same period.

As a student, it’s far too easy to simply not manage your stress. You know that the semester will end and that you’ll have a break, so instead of figuring out how to decrease your stress level and still get your work done, you just push even harder and wait for it all to be over for you.

But in the real world, it’s different. If you find yourself stressing out in your day-to-day work life, you’ll have a luxury students don’t: time to figure it out. Work-life balance is not something easily accomplished. It might take you years, but when you do manage to figure out, not only will you be less stressed, but your life might feel more fulfilling, too. After a while, you might even have the opportunity to lower your workload or change your schedule to something more manageable.

Post-secondary is where we learn a lot of things, but work-life balance is not one of those things. The school schedule just isn’t compatible with figuring something like that out, especially when it only lasts 2-4 years for most students. Even those who do figure it out find themselves at the end of their fourth year, never to return to this kind of schedule again.