Loans, Facebook and no sleep equals stress

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By Sarah Williamson |

Frankie Lawton barely remembers finishing his public relations speech his sophomore year at Flagler as he fell to the ground, shaking uncontrollably. Classmates froze and a friend rushed to break his fall. Minutes later he was rushed away in an ambulance.

The cause was severe anxiety.

Lawton has suffered from anxiety-induced seizures since high school and he says they stem from his neurotic personality and strive for perfection. Lawton graduated from Flagler last December with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and communication. He says college student stress is more prevalent than ever.

“It is almost normal for students to feel like this nowadays, but they don’t go to the doctor or get help and they should. Stress takes years off of your life. I have this philosophy that everyone should go see a psychologist. The do-it-yourself, trial and error method, doesn’t always work,” said Lawton.

Not all Flagler students are having panic attacks but as spring graduation looms ahead, many are focused on the grim reality of post-college life—intense competition, underpaid jobs and large student loans.

“When our parents went to college they were ahead of the game. Now everyone goes. College has become high school with major debt,” said Lawton.

In fact, it’s the most student debt Americans have ever had.

According to the financial news network CNBC, student loans now exceed America’s credit card debt, exceeding $1 trillion last year.

In addition to debt, many Flagler College students say their stress comes from technology overload and lack of sleep.

Cassidie Corwin, a senior studying media production, enrolled at Flagler when she was 27-years-old. Corwin struggles balancing college and adulthood. Outside of the classroom she is remodeling her home, gardening, raising chickens, coordinating Flagler College Sustainability Committee events and working four days a week.

“I have to drink on the weekends to get a little bit numb to forget how I am not married, not graduated yet, almost 30 and my car’s falling apart. I am also deaf in one ear because I am so stressed I don’t have time to eat. My physical health is really jeopardized,” Corwin said.
Second to debt, Corwin believes that current college students’ technology addiction is another reason for increased stress. She does not have wireless Internet in her home or a smart-phone.

“People don’t budget their time right. They spend time consuming more products and more technology. The art of relaxation is gone because everybody’s got a case of the gimme-gimme’s and the too much,” said Corwin.

In 2012, a University of Worcester study found that smart-phone users experience increased stress by constantly checking messages, updates and alerts. The study even found people feeling “phantom vibrations” in hopes of receiving a message.

“I spend about an hour and a half a day on social media and on my iPhone. It’s so distracting. If you think about it, you log on and three hours later, crap, where did the time go?” said Estefania Mones, a senior and co-president of Flagler College’s Enactus group.
Being constantly connected has made college life more complex.

“Years ago if you were walking down the street texting on a cellphone or speaking on Bluetooth, you would have seemed psychotic. Now it’s a normal thing. There’s so many college students who spend hours and hours and hours social networking and on Facebook. I mean, they spend hours on that and they end up setting themselves up for a lot of stress. It was hard enough when people would walk in your office and ask if you wanted [to go] get a cup of coffee -now everyone is bombarding you,” said Glenn Goldberg, Ph.D., the director of Counseling Services at Flagler College.

Goldberg and his team organize stress-relief workshops but attendance is consistently low. Flagler administration has discussed requiring a stress-relief workshop for incoming freshmen with emphasis on time management.

“I talk to an awful lot of students who are stressed out and they don’t have any schedules. They end up trying to juggle it all in their head,” said Goldberg.

Mark Huelsbeck, assistant professor of communication, teaches a grueling introductory course in media production.

Two years ago, a student rushed into his office in hysterics. She hadn’t slept in three days and was worried her group could not complete its assigned news project. She was in an Adderall-induced panic, Huelsbeck explained.
He walked her straight to Goldberg’s office.

Adderall is a widely used “study drug” meant to treat ADHD but abused by college students looking for more energy. Non-prescribed abuse is on the rise among 18 to 25-year-olds, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“I think it’s a perennial problem on all college campuses. I think students generally do not get enough sleep and with the addiction of energy drinks and Adderall, it does not help,” said Huelsbeck.

Lack of sleep not only increases anxiety but also contributes to a lower GPA, according to a St. Lawrence University study, which also found that students who pull “all-nighters” do worse than those who don’t on assignments and exams.

Lawton has discovered the importance of sleep—10 hours every night, if he’s lucky. He has avoided seizures for almost two years.
“I have accepted it. I have accepted I have anxiety. I have accepted I am neurotic and I deal with it. I have learned to funnel it in the right way,” said Lawton.

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