Women in College Face More Stress; Anxiety

By: Mary-Bennett Sigal

It’s 5:30 p.m. The sun has settled behind the Dallas skyline, and a chilly wind has descended across the SMU campus, when Olivia Lovoi, a corporate communications and public affairs major, sits down at her dining room table to start research for a final term paper.

There are two weeks of class left before the semester draws to a close, and she, like so many college students in late November, is starting to feel the haunting pressures of final exams. Lovoi’s focus shatters when her phone lights up with dings of texts from her friends asking why she isn’t going out with them tonight. A shiver of anxiety rushes down her spine.

“There’s a lot of things that contribute to my anxiety,” Lovoi says. “But I’d have to say I struggle most with peer pressure and stress from school. And when you put the two together, it’s just a deadly combination.”

All college students suffer from anxiety, but women face unique challenges. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. The prevalence of anxiety in women was 23 percent, while in men it was just 14 percent, according to the site.

“Expectations today are tough on female students,” said Dr. Joci Caldwell-Ryan, director and senior lecturer of Women’s and Gender Studies at SMU. “The idea that one is expected to be as attractive as possible, to be as academically successful as possible, to meet the social expectations of others, and to make it all look effortless can be overwhelming.”

The American Addiction Center Resource surveyed 1,000 college students in 2015 to see what their greatest sources of stress were. Of the female participants, 28 percent reported most of their stress came from their workload in class, 26 percent said final exams, and 20 percent said their impending job search and future.

“Final exams are a major part of my stress this time of year,” Sarah Smith, an SMU senior and corporate communications and public affairs major said. “With so many tests packed in such a short amount of time, I worry that I won’t do well and my final grade won’t represent how hard I worked all semester.”

Students study in Fondren Library in preparation for finals. Photo credit: Mary-Bennett Sigal

College women must confront ideas about who they are and how successful they’ll be differently from the way college men think about these things. Why might this be? Because the world treats them differently, Caldwell-Ryan said.

“Depending on their field, some college women have legitimate concerns about gender bias in their field and how it will affect the hiring process, career ladder, and lifetime earnings,” she said.

SMU Journalism Professor Karen Thomas adds: “If you’re a young woman going into business, certainly you’re going to fear gender bias in a way that your male counterparts don’t.”

Thomas teaches a course about women and minorities in the media and has analyzed the ways in which misogynistic societal tendencies have affected her own female students. She also expressed concern for the way the culture at SMU affects its female students.

“There’s great pressure to present oneself in a particular way at SMU,” Thomas said. “Women come to class very polished and there is social pressure to belong to the right sorority or to have the right group of friends.”

Lovoi, a senior, identifies with the cultural ideals SMU women feel they need to uphold.

“Girls feel that they need to look a certain way,” she said. “They need to be skinny, appear like they’re put together. All of those pressures, whether socially, financially, or physically, play a huge role in anxiety for young women.”

“College women have so much they feel they need to live up to,” said SMU senior and finance major Langdon Grace Coen. “They need to make their families proud, themselves proud, while also being fun and having a good time.”

Dana Giles, an SMU senior and business major, has struggled first-hand with anxiety and the over-all pressures of being a young woman in college. In response to this, she saw an opportunity to create an internet platform, I Want The Real, where students can share the things they struggle with and not feel alone.

Senior Dana Giles started "I Want The Real," where students can share the things they struggle with and not feel alone. Photo credit: iwantthereal.com

“IWTR has such a refreshingly honest message,” said Phoebe Blond, SMU senior and an avid reader of the blog. “The world tells us that we should look a certain way and be happy all the time, but Dana’s blog defies that message and tells us it’s okay to not be perfect. We all have our battles even if they’re not obvious on our social media pages.”

The stories and interviews in Giles’ blog focus on students’ struggles with such issues as alcohol, prescription pills, relationships, drugs, and eating disorders. This reporter was recently featured on the blog in an interview about her brother’s death.

Griffin Sharp, Assistant Director of Health Promotion at SMU, urges the importance of practicing good time management, eating balanced meals and taking healthy breaks, as a way to reduce stress levels. He also said to never underestimate the value of a good night’s rest.

“Getting plenty of sleep during exams to keep stress levels low and productivity at its peak” is critical, he said.

Sharp provided a list of resources for SMU students when they feel academic pressures and stress increasing:

· The Office for Community Health Promotion, 214-768-2393

· Counseling Services, 214-768-2277

· Chaplain’s Office, 214-768-4502

· Caring Community Connections, www.smu.edu/StudentAffairs/StudentLife/CCC

· WellTrack, Download the WellTrack app and register for free with your @smu.edu email address

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