Published: Oct. 23, 2017

As midterms approach, stress levels for students can begin to rise. Students may experience stress at different times and for different reasons throughout the year, as they balance coursework, social lives, jobs and other responsibilities.

Students study in the Music Library during the fall semester finals weekOverall, a key point in recognizing signs of stress is observing significant changes in behavior or appearance. 

Recognizing signs of stress in students

When stress reaches a level where students aren’t able to meet obligations, they can become irritable, appear overly tired and fail to meet deadlines. Other signs can include:

  • Changes in academic performance or class attendance
  • Hygiene and appearance
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses
  • Depressed or lethargic mood
  • Social withdrawal
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns

How can staff and faculty help?

It can be helpful for faculty and staff to remind students they are available to talk about their coursework and encourage students to use office hours and ask questions or seek support before stress becomes unmanageable. Students may become overwhelmed for weeks; this can create a barrier when it comes to talking about their stress, especially if they are afraid of failing a class.

Also, faculty and staff members who create an environment of learning that is clear, stable and secure is helpful to student success.

If there’s a noticeable concern for a student, inquiring or sending a message that there are solutions can help a student feel supported and that they have an ally in managing their stress.

When to seek support

Counseling & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers individual counseling and a variety of free workshops and groups for students around stress management. CAPS also offers consultation services for staff and faculty who would like advice on how to best support a student.

When stress becomes too much to manage, students might begin to show signs of crisis. Signs of crisis include aggression, written or verbal threats to themselves or others, suicidal comments, extreme anxiety resulting in panic attacks and/or an inability to communicate. If a student is exhibiting signs of crisis, faculty and staff should then seek support Student Support and Case Management (SSCM).

If a student’s stress is trauma-related or based on a traumatic event, faculty and staff can refer the student to the Office of Victim Assistance for support.

Exploring Student Affairs is a series for discovering the roles of Student Affairs on campus as a resource not only for students but also faculty and staff. Read more from Exploring Student Affairs: "Supporting students and colleagues through traumatic events," "Supporting student resiliency," "Helping students get involved," "Talking about alcohol, other drugs"