Monday, August 20, 2012

Back to School Stress

The beginning of a new school year is an exciting time for most of us.

Growing up, I remember some kids looked forward to going back to school and others dreaded it. I myself didn't want to start first grade because I was going to miss my Kindergarten friends. But after my mother informed me that I wasn't the only one moving on, I was more than happy to go back to school. I associated it with friends, a change in seasons, getting new school clothes, and just getting out of the house.

This year my husband will be teaching first grade after having been a second grade teacher for the past nine years. Going back to school for him has meant the end of summer vacation and meeting a new crop of precious children. This year he will also be changing rooms, learning a new curriculum, and getting used to a new teaching team and routine. Soon, on Back to School Night, he will meet parents who are dealing with a variety of back to school anxieties.

Transitions are exciting but also difficult for most of us. Last year I discovered the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale which scores common stressful events with numerical “life change units.” The top three stressful life events are the death of a spouse (the highest rating by far with 100), divorce, and marital separation. But even happy changes like getting married or taking a vacation and small revisions of personal habits earn points on this stress-o-meter.

It might explain some things if you knew that beginning college is worth twenty-six “stress units.” In fact, according to my calculations, a typical freshman moving into the dorms this week will easily score over 200. The atypical adult online student returning to school because of changes in their work, financial, and/or family situation, will score at least 180 – even without experiencing any of the top thirty life stressors on the list! (Take the test yourself on
Speed Friending event. HIU New Student Orientation. August 19, 2012.
There is ample evidence that stress suppresses the immune system and therefore can lead to physical illness. This instrument quantifies it by saying that “you have a moderate to high chance of becoming ill in the near future” with any score over 150, whereas a 300 score or above puts you at a high or very high risk.

If asked to list the core competencies of a librarian, counseling skills may not even come to mind. But academic librarians actually have a lot of experience dealing with people under stress. At the beginning of a term we commonly see it in adult online students who are returning to school after a long absence. They assume that they are at a disadvantage compared to the traditional college-aged students, who grew up with laptops in their backpacks. If they only knew.

The traditional undergraduate students with whom they compare themselves deal with stress differently. We see the effects at the end of the term when their common coping mechanisms such as denial, withdrawal, and procrastination catch up with them.

Nevertheless, we are excited to have students back on campus full of energy and ready to take on the semester. We look forward to learning what changes they bring with them – everything from new iPhone apps to new ways of thinking about the world.


No comments: