Trying to do it all

Young adults juggle demands of parents, friends, school

Young adults juggle demands of parents, friends, school

May 29, 2009|By NATALIE BRANDON / Special to The Herald-Mail

It's tough to be a college student.

Out of their parents' home, holding down a job and trying to do well at school, today's college students work hard to achieve goals their parents, communities and schools have set for them.

The everyday pressures they feel to succeed are high. And then there's the economy and a person's first career.

According to a poll conducted by CBS News and MTV of young adults between the ages of 18 and 29, young people expect that economic problems will be the main concern their generation will have to deal with over the next 20 years.

I have just finished my junior year at Shepherd University. I have a 4.0 GPA. I hold offices in various academic organizations. I tutor students during the school year to pay for tuition, bills and food. And I work full-time while I live at home over seasonal breaks.


As a college student, money is a major stressor on top of a stack of everyday expectations. At the beginning of the next school year, I will have a balance of more than $80,000 in outstanding student loans.

A recent study by Sallie Mae, a federally funded provider of college loans, shows college graduates are leaving school with 41 percent more credit card debt this year than did graduates four years ago.

Meanwhile, there are signs that student-loan default rates are rising. Credit-card and student-loan debts work as a one-two punch that hit students when they graduate.

Pressure to be independent

My situation is not uncommon in the lives of today's young adults. Lawren Hill attended high school in Hagerstown and this past school year was a junior and vocal performance major at Shepherd University. She has been a part of many academic organizations, ensembles and musical productions while maintaining a high GPA.

Alongside these commitments, Hill also worries about about paying for school and must work during the school year.

"My mom works very hard to try to maintain a healthy and happy household," Hill says. "She doesn't need the extra stress of trying to take care of me when I could focus on taking care of myself. Worrying about her can sometimes stress me out."

Lisa Shaffer, a graduate of North Hagerstown High School and a sophomore at Shepherd, says she feels pressure from her parents as well.

"They not only expect me to go to school and get good grades," Shaffer says, "but they want me to work a full-time job. If I slack in either, they tell me I'm irresponsible. Sometimes I feel like I will never be able to reach the goals my parents have set for me."

According to Eric Jensen, author of "Brain-Based Learning," stress opens up an intellectually crippling can of worms he calls "threats." In a threatening situation, the brain focuses on the perceived threat and becomes more automatic in its responses. It loses some of its ability to index, store and access information. It is less able to perceive relationships and patterns. It is also less able to use higher-order thinking skills and loses some long-term memory capacity.

Learning to deal with stress

Anxiety and stress are inseparable ingredients of college life. But stress is part of life. Learning to manage and handle stress during young adulthood will benefit the individual later on in life.

Accept that stress will never go away. You can't avoid it. So learn to deal. There are times when everybody feel bouts of stress and burnouts. It's best to work with stress frankly and honestly.

First, determine what stresses you. Try to alter your daily routine to address them. Are you taking on too many tasks? Working long hours? Out partying? Bad relationship? Something has to go.

Prioritize your time to make it benefit you. College students can create a budget, talk to campus counselors to evaluate concerns about college major or career path. Find a partner to plan and manage time. Take some time to reflect in a journal or by talking with a friend.

College can be an overwhelming experience for a young adult. Whether dealing with freshman year or senior year, it is important to remember to stick to your primary goals and make them work for you.

How to deal

Stressed? Here are some stress-management tips from

  • Write. It might help to write about things that are bothering you. Write for 10 to 15 minutes a day about stressful events and how they made you feel. This helps you find out what is causing your stress.

  • Let your feelings out. Talking with friends, family, a counselor, or a member of the clergy about your feelings is a healthy way to relieve stress.

  • Do something you enjoy, such as a hobby, gardening, crafts or volunteer work.

  • Focus on the present. Meditation and guided imagery are two ways to focus and relax your mind.

  • Exercise. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress. Walking is a great way to get started.

    Yoga, tai chi and qi gong combine exercise and meditation. You might need some training at first to learn them. Books and videos are also helpful.

The Herald-Mail Articles