College is filled with promise and excitement, but it can also be stressful. Many college students easily express stress and learn to cope. (Reference 1) Sometimes, however, physical symptoms can arise from stress. When students do not even realize that they are under stress, the physical symptoms can be more difficult to decipher. College students encounter a range of stress, including academics, homesickness, parental expectations, social relationships, dating, sex, uncertainty about the future, self image and finances.
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Health Effects of Stress
Stress can manifest with sensory changes anywhere on the body. Symptoms may include anything from aches and pains to numbness, tingling and weakness. (Reference 2) College students may be more susceptible to infections during stressful times. They can develop skin problems such as rashes, skin discoloration, bumps, acne and itching. One of the severe but less common physical symptoms of stress is hair loss, while menstrual irregularities due to stress are common among college students.
Stress in college students can produce a variety of digestive symptoms. Different types include stomach discomfort, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, nausea or vomiting. According to an article in the November 2011 issue in the journal, 'BMC Nursing', most college students who experience digestive symptoms as a manifestation of stress exhibit an irregular and inconsistent combination and pattern of symptoms. (Reference 6)
Stress in college students may cause obesity or weight loss with or without digestive problems. (Reference 6, 9) Additionally, eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia may develop as a consequence of stress in college students. Severe weight loss, accompanied by menstrual changes and malnutrition usually result. The vomiting that accompanies bulimia may cause damage to the esophagus, which can produce blood when vomiting or chest pain. Electrolyte imbalance due to eating disorders can cause a variety of physical symptoms, including dizziness, kidney failure, seizures and loss of consciousness.
College students may experience sleeping problems as a symptom of stress. This may manifest as trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, sleeping too much, restless sleep, nightmares and daytime fatigue. (Reference 7) According to a study published in the January 2011 Journal 'Sleep,' nightmares may specifically be associated with an increased risk of suicidal thinking, and therefore should trigger arrangemnts for stress support and counseling.