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Stress is a common and normal reaction to unusual or demanding situations. Some stress can be good; however, too much stress can result in negative emotional and physical reactions. Learning how to deal with excessive or unnecessary stress can reduce these negative effects. We all have stressful situations crop up from time to time, but learning to handle stress is the key to avoiding negative physical and emotional reactions. School can cause stress in students of all ages. Sadly, we sometimes hear of students as young as elementary school age having headaches and upset stomachs related to school stress. College students can also experience high stress levels related to school.

The two most likely causes of school-related stress are feelings of loss of control and fear. Loss of control is directly related to ineffective time management, which in turn, is a result of an inability to get everything done on time. This can also be related to having difficulty maintaining a healthy life balance in work, home, school, and personal health (eating right, exercise, and so forth).

The other most likely stress factor is fear, which can take many forms, such as fear of not doing well on assignments or tests, “looking stupid” when asking questions or participating in discussions, or missing deadlines. Another common stress factor is fear of technology. Some students are intimidated by communicating online because what they write stays out there in the discussion forums for everyone to see. Students experiencing any of these stress factors need to realize that they are not alone and the first line of defense is to contact the professor to discuss any such issues or concerns. There are specific behaviors that online professors watch for to help identify students who may be experiencing an undue amount of stress. These same identifiers can also be a signal to you, as a student, that it is time to ask for help.

Here are a few signs of stress that we see in the online classroom:

  • Missed due dates
  • Incomplete work (some but not all of the assignment is submitted)
  • Lack of interaction and engagement in the online discussions
  • Perfunctory discussion posts and assignments (a student has done the bare minimum just to get by so they turn in the work by the due date)

If you find that you are experiencing some of these issues, the question then becomes, what do we do about all this? All the health experts recommend exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep, and so on. These are important for everyone and students who are having difficulty with school-related stress know all this. The problem is finding the TIME to fit it all in.

The primary way to reduce stress is to take control of your time, not only with school-related study and homework, but also in your job, family, and personal time. All of these are ongoing aspects of your life and must be balanced in order to have time for everything, not just in the short term, but long term throughout your academic program. Time management from day to day, and week to week, must be fluid because sometimes your job will take more time and other times you’ll have family obligations that cut down on work or school time. The overall balance is the key to maintaining a time management system that allows for enough time to get all your school work done on time.

Earlier in the blog, I wrote about time management here and here. I urge you to review those posts. My strongest recommendation is to create a monthly calendar and write down all your obligations for the month. Then break it down by each week and write a more detailed description of what you need to do each day for the week, including specific times of the day or night. From the daily and weekly calendar items, make daily to-do lists.

Dealing with various fears we sometimes experience in online classes usually requires positive self-talk or, if that’s not enough, contacting a supportive friend, classmate, or your professor for some encouragement. I remember my first online class many years ago. I was so nervous about writing and posting something in the discussion that everyone would see, that it took me five days just to post a short introduction posting. I wrote and rewrote my first posting several times before I felt comfortable submitting it to the discussion forum. Just like everything we do for the first time, it’s normal to be nervous and experience fear of “looking stupid” or not doing something correctly. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone in those feelings. When fear or lack of time gets in the way of studying effectively or getting your work done on time, it’s time to contact your professor, or perhaps an academic advisor, to ask for help. Everyone has these challenges and one rule of thumb for all online students is to never be afraid to ask for assistance.