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The cure for the common stressor

Everyone deals with stress. At a college campus stress can become emotionally or mentally dangerous. Especially one like Northampton Community College, where many are “non-traditional students” in the workforce, raising children, or having to split their time in some way while still fulfilling obligations to school. That doesn’t begin to cover the pressures of “traditional students;” adulthood, classes, grades, transfer programs, career decisions, and part-time jobs. Pressure bearing down on all sides.

An alternative view? Eric S. Klein’s job is stress. And he’s excited about it.

“The pressure of succeeding when you might not have had anybody mentoring you into ‘how’ to go to college…It’s very intimidating to make this big a life change, no matter what your age is.”

Klein is a Graduate Intern in Northampton Community College’s Counseling Department. He took classes at NCC before transferring to Cedar Crest College, where he got his Bachelors Degree in Social Work. He’s one of several counselors in NCC’s Counseling Services office handling a heavy flow of traffic these days. As September became October, more students had trouble adjusting to school life for a variety of reasons, and stress consumed them.

The American College Health Association reported in 2012 that “60% of students report that they are dragging, tired, or sleepy (during the daytime).” Students are not getting enough sleep. Stress, along with depression and anxiety, are leading reasons why.

The Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA (HERI) released their annual National Norms report of college students at the end of 2014. It found “in 2014, students’ self-rated emotional health dropped to 50.7%, its lowest level ever and 2.3 percentage points lower than the entering cohort of 2013. Additionally, the proportion of students who ‘frequently’ felt depressed rose to 9.5%, 3.4 percentage points higher than in 2009 when feeling ‘frequently’ depressed reached its lowest point.”

Klein acknowledges all the stressors that converge in a college student. He is systematic in detailing them.

“You come here and all of a sudden it feels overwhelming—the pressure to succeed—and you add stress and time management to that, and all of a sudden you’re one assignment behind, and one assignment becomes one assignment and two readings, and one assignment and two readings becomes you have a quiz coming up in biology, and then the next thing you know…”

However, Klein’s solution to this problem is simple. “The answer is you need to relax, and just be in a moment, and take each assignment one at a time.” He adds that people come to Counseling Services to talk about these things, something the Department is fully equipped to do.

Some students may feel uncomfortable talking to someone of the same sex, the opposite sex, or older or younger, etc. Counseling Services has “a diverse staff” to fit the preferences of any student.

“You’ve got male and female (on) staff. We don’t currently have anyone transgender, but who knows what the future will hold.” Klein said. “We also have bilingual staff, so if people are coming in, sometimes with counseling one of the challenges isn’t saying what you feel, it’s saying what you feel in a language that you’re comfortable saying in. So we do have Spanish speaking staff to help.”

If any student worries about going to the Counseling Services office out of embarrassment, or a fear of exposing weakness, Klein offers this basic comfort. “This is a very open environment.” He uses the phrase “general personal anxieties” as an umbrella term for issues with romantic relationships, family, body image, sexual orientation, or even freedom and changes that come when away from home at college. Klein simply wishes students take solace in knowing that someone is there offering support.

“We will help you with any kind of related issues that might be creating distress,” Klein said.

(This is the first in a three part series on NCC’s Counseling Services. Part two is scheduled to run in our December issue.)