Surviving College Stress: Rebecca’s Story

Rebecca is a Junior in college in Western Massachusetts. She is pursuing a BS in engineering with a minor in Environmental Science and Policy.


What led you to seek counseling? 

stress in college“The thing for me was that I had a really bad spring semester and there were a lot of things going on in my personal life that I really didn’t know how to deal with – those being my mother’s health, general politics, and there was a school shooting back home where my father is a teacher. Also, general stress.

Being in college is stressful because you’re making the transition from being like a child to going to college to get ready to go out on your own. And you’re realizing that your parents are getting older and might need your help. It’s just a really weird stage of life. I was like: “I don’t really know how to properly handle this and not just end up in my room stressfully playing video games because I don’t know how to handle my problems.” So I was like, “you know what, I’m going to go to counseling.'”

During this time, did you get any kind of diagnosis?

“That’s not really what my counselor does. If I needed a diagnosis, I would need to go back to see my Primary Care Provider. So, no, I didn’t get a full diagnosis; I just showed up at her door and was like, “hi, I’m having problems.” And she was like, “okay, do you want to talk?” So we’d talk through situations that I’d been in and things that I was feeling and stuff that had happened, especially with my grades, my work, the things I was doing. Like, I wasn’t having panic attacks or physical stuff; it was always just more stress and not feeling good about myself. Never feeling good enough – the stuff inside your head.”

Would you say that talking with a counselor helped you come into your fall semester with better mental health?

stress in college“Yeah, definitely, 100%. I’m going to office hours more, going to tutoring sessions more, talking to people more, and being more open about what I’m doing and what I’m feeling. And I think the quality of my schoolwork has gone up. I feel better! It’s not all about my grades, but I definitely feel better, especially  now at this high stress point: finals. I think there is a correlation between my stress levels and the amount of time I spend trying to escape reality by playing video games.

You know, today I was in a German review session for two hours. Yesterday, I was at the Fluid Mechanics tutoring session, then I worked on my Fluid Mechanics project with a friend. This evening, I’m going to work on another project and might also hang out with my friend in that class. It’s things like that: it’s the difference between me going out and doing stuff, opposed to me just sitting in my room and playing video games because I don’t know what to do. But I definitely feel much better, which is good.”

What kind of role did stigma play in your experience of getting counseling?
stress in college

“I think, in the past, I didn’t really need counseling. In high school, the way my counselor describes it, people who are stressed have to be really high functioning and be go-getters. But when they hit a roadblock, that is when they really struggle. What happens in the transition between high school and college is that the bar in high school is different than in college. So these high-functioning, go-getters get to college and their bucket overflows. Then these do-everything, go-getter type people just fall apart, and you don’t know how to cope with it. And because you’ve never had these problems before, you think “oh, there’s something wrong with me. I’m not doing my work, it’s because I am lazy or I’m not doing things right.'”

We blame ourselves. The reality is that we just need to learn how to handle it and for that, you go to counseling. Circling back to the idea of stigma, there was never a stigma in my house, but I think that there is definitely a stigma in general. Especially here in college because you’re surrounded by amazing, intelligent young women from all over the world. All these different ideas and all these different trajectories through life , and we don’t see the struggle. We don’t see that it’s okay to do the bare minimum you can do sometimes. We just don’t see the struggle, and that makes people feel bad. I think the important thing is for us to change that. Make it okay to ask for help, and change that. What you’re feeling is valid.

If a friend was experiencing the same stress and challenges that you were facing, what would you tell them?

“First, take a second to stop and breathe. I would take them through some breathing exercises that my counselor taught me. Then I would help them focus on the most immediate stressor, like a project or a paper, or what-have-you. Then I would make sure that they get counseling. I just went to counseling over the summer, but that does not mean I have the training to help like that. I would definitely recommend counseling”

Check out Part 2 of Rebecca’s story Here!

For more information on counseling and seeking help, check out the Resources page.

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