A Quick Fix: Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms in Response to Stress

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By Julia Corrie

College students are put under an overwhelming amount of stress on a regular basis. Whether it be from academic or social pressures, the feelings are sometimes never ending. There are plenty of resources and programs in place on college campuses to manage stress levels, but stress management is deeper than face masks and “self-care” events. 

When turning to stress relief, college students often succumb to substances more than anything else. Especially once students are over the age of 21, alcohol is incredibly accessible around college campuses. Other substances like prescription drugs, illegal narcotics and psychedelics are often used by young adults.

Substance abuse is one of the most common issues people face around the world in order to cope with stress and other issues. Being able to forget about life for a while — to feel a rush of adrenaline or serotonin — makes someone feel good for a limited time. However, when that rush wears off, the consequences can be deadly.

The repercussions of heavy binge drinking in younger years are bound to worsen over time. Alcoholic liver disease is the leading killer causing 19.1% of all alcohol-related deaths in the United States. 

According to John Hopkins Medicine, the liver performs many functions essential for good health and long life. If too much alcohol is consumed, the liver becomes badly damaged and sometimes unable to repair. 

Shadisha Bennett Brodde, a licensed therapist with Flagler College counseling services, said that she has worked with both college students and young adults not in a college setting. College students, in her experience, participate in substance abuse more than their peers not in college. 

“One of the ways stress impacts us is that we feel a lack of control,” Brodde said. “So students turn to things they feel that they can control, like food, but anything to excess would be unhealthy coping.” She said that prevalent coping mechanisms regarding control may include unsafe sex practices and the abuse of drugs or alcohol. 

Binge drinking is an issue that plagues college campuses and there are countless enablers to this issue. “College towns” have multiple bars or clubs where alcohol is cheap, and therefore extremely accessible to students. Small businesses and the local economy are heavily influenced by the student population of the school, and that’s why Flagler College and the city of St. Augustine are unique.

Within walking distance of Flagler College, there are approximately 31 bars, restaurants, and liquor stores that have alcohol available for purchase.

On Wednesday nights, The Tide’s Oyster Co. & Grill on St. Augustine Beach turns into a college bar. “Flip night” is what they call it when you order a drink and the bartender flips a coin. If it lands on your desired side of the coin, you get that drink for free. This is incredibly enabling for college students, especially when the drinks are $5.  

“Stress management is about getting back to basics,” Brodde said. “The problem for most of us is that when we are stressed those are the areas we’re most likely to cut corners.” Avoiding sleep in order to study, eating junk food and not moving your body enough play major roles in the increase of stress and the decline of health over time. 

Grace Kiser, a senior at Flagler, detailed her experience with stress and how it has affected her academics over the past four years.

“I don’t think I realized what the course load was going to look like in college until I felt like I was drowning in it,” Kiser said. “It was incredibly difficult for me my freshman year because I thought that all four years were going to resemble that feeling.”

Kiser majors in psychology, completing her required internship this past semester working with young developmentally challenged children. Adding another high-impact activity like an internship puts increased pressure, especially on fourth-year students.

“Figuring out my schedule for the internship was insane,” Kiser said. “I was given the run-around for multiple weeks due to different COVID-19 restrictions and I ended up having to change my internship entirely. Trying to move the rest of my schedule around it has been the  most stressful part of this semester by far.”

When coping with stress, there are many ways to do so. Setting intentions every day will make the challenges of the day seem more attainable, especially if these tasks are completed one at a time. These could be as meticulous as brushing teeth, getting dressed — anything that enables control over everyday routines.

Shadisha Bennett Brodde said that stress management is going back to basics. Whenever someone stops drinking as much water or moving their bodies, resorting to junk food and sleep loss, there is virtually no way to be positively productive or present throughout the day. Learning how to be mindful, Brodde said, is a majorly effective stress management approach.

While alcohol is a detriment to college-aged people, there is also an ongoing threat of over-the-counter prescription drug abuse.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when prescription drugs are used often, there is an increased risk for overdose in the future. Many college students in particular will use their prescriptions for drugs like adderall to make some money from peers during high-stress periods like final examinations.

Stimulants such as adderall and depressants like alcohol are drugs that are often abused by college-aged students and tend to be a result of academic stress and social pressures. While the accessibility of illegal drugs and alcohol is increasing steadily over time, the issues related to substance abuse are not likely to change. 
By limiting the amount of alcohol consumed throughout one’s life, it can prevent countless health conditions and ultimately improve the quality and length of life.

For more information on substance abuse and finding support, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline.

Flagler College Counseling Hours: Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Email: counseling@flagler.edu to schedule an appointment.

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