WILL PINKSTON | The Sun
Murray State University senior Kristin Hobbs, 22, takes a brief moment to study on a warm, sunny day following an ecology class. Balancing two jobs, volunteer work and class work, Hobbs says the key to managing her stress is through planning.
MURRAY — Between juggling school, work and extracurricular activities, university students can be thrust into a very stressful environment that often can feel like it’s sink or swim.
For Murray State University senior Kristin Hobbs, 22, navigating a stressful college curriculum on top of two jobs, volunteer and research work, and after-school athletics, can be nothing short of overwhelming.
“It’s really stressful, I won’t lie,” she said. “With handling more than what you’re used to every day and encountering daily hassles, and then you got your family that you haven’t seen very much at all, yeah, it’s really, really stressful.”
In her last 15-hour semester of her pre-dental major before applying for graduate school, Hobbs works more than 35 hours each week, splitting time between a steady paycheck at a local grocery store and work-related experience at an orthodontist. Working seven days a week, it’s not uncommon for her to only get five hours of sleep after time to study and volunteer at the American Red Cross.
Paying her way through school, Hobbs’ tight schedule isn’t entirely one of choice, but one of necessity, like many other students in today’s college environment. Dr. Bill Allbritten, director of the counseling and testing center at the university, said stress tops the list of students’ concerns on campus.
“Obviously, in a broader context, time management and planning is one of the largest creators of stress in students,” Allbritten said.
To give freshmen a broader sense of their time commitment with coursework in a general week, the center provides students with a breakdown of scheduling during their university orientation.
For example, students are encouraged to spend 1-2 hours of outside studying per class and with 16 hours of classes plus a three-hour lab in a week, students are looking at more than 40 hours of purely scholastic work. Factoring in a part-time job and extracurricular activities, students are facing more than 60 hours of committed time, weekly.
“Oh, and by the way, don’t forget to sleep every now and then,” Allbritten said. “Time planning and keeping up is essential. Once you let classwork slide, it’s very difficult to get caught up in that class without other things slipping.”
Stress in itself is not a bad thing because it serves as a motivator, Allbritten explained, but when that stress becomes overwhelming and affects daily routines, then that stress needs to be dealt with. The center offers counseling options for students and the community.
Aside from managing one’s time wisely, Allbritten said exercise, proper diet and sleep can all help keep the body from becoming physiologically susceptible to stress. About 150 minutes of light to moderate exercise or 75-90 minutes of vigorous exercise, weekly; following a diet that avoids refined sugars and fatty products; and striving for 7-9 hours of sleep can all help.
With many students going to schools hours away from their families, there are factors parents can do as well to ensure their students aren’t overwhelmed with stress, said Dr. Sarah Shelton, a Licensed Clinical Health Psychologist in Paducah.
Keeping a routine of contact with their children throughout the week, parents can listen for changes in students’ behavior, such as their child losing pleasure in things they once enjoyed. When a student returns home, parents should look for the development of reckless behaviors, a lack of motivation, weight gain or unkempt appearance, as signs of maladjustment to their surroundings, Shelton said.
“Parents may initially feel frustrated and angry, especially if college came with a great financial sacrifice,” she said. “Parents need to avoid making their own distress and frustration the focal point of their relationship with the child. Instead, despite the understandable frustration, parents need to rally in support of the struggling college student.”
Though Hobbs has never sought out any campus resources to help her with her stress, she had already taken to heart many lifestyle choices to help. She works out frequently, maintains a healthy diet and plans out her schedule sometimes a week in advance, even if that schedule keeps her on-the-go from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. without a sufficient break.
But it’s Hobbs’ personal coping mechanism that helps keep her going through it all.
“I also stay extremely positive. I think if you ask anyone that knows me, they’ll say I always have a smile on my face. I am a happy person and knowing that all this hard work is going to pay off one day is a big motivator and gets me through each day.”
Call Will Pinkston, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.