Strategies for Coping with Online College Stress

Stress is one of the biggest challenges online college and distance learning students deal with.


Stressed by her Online Courses

Stressed by her Online Courses



While we celebrate the many benefits and massive growth of online education, there is little or no discussion about the challenges of stress that online students deal with.


I teach two or three online college courses every term. Half-way into the term, I will start receiving emails and phone calls from students who have started falling behind on their school works. Many of them are showing signs of being stressed out.


Of course, it should be obvious that stress is a major challenge that confronts online students. Most of them are already working full-time jobs (many with additional part-time employments) and have families. Many are additionally stressed out by this particularly bad economy … some have had their work hours cut down, many had been laid off from their jobs or are under fear that they may soon been laid off. Some are under the threat of losing their homes to foreclosure. And to think of adding school work on top of all that!


Students have complained about work schedules, project deadlines, travels, un-cooperating bosses, and unfriendly co-workers – all making it difficult for them to stay focused on their school work.


I have had soldiers fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan taking my online classes. Now talk about stress!


Some other students are dealing with marital problems, or issues with their children or their health.


Yet, some students’ stress is caused by technology challenge. Difficulty operating the computer, or not having up-to-date hardware and software could contribute to serious stress for many online students.


Other students have anxiety caused by the fear of dealing with new content and material. Many online students have been out of school for a long time and they feel stressed out about going back to start working on school works again. Yes, they are terrified about home-works. One student told me she was scared about taking an economics class because she could not stand math.


I don’t know what the data say, but my hunch tells me that stress could be one of the key reasons for high drop -out rate among online college students.



Strategies for Coping with Online College Stress


Many experts believe that stress is mostly based on an individual’s perception. In other words, what may appear stressful to one person may be perceived as just challenging or even enjoyable by another person. We all have different stress tolerant level. You therefore, have to understand your body and your own condition when dealing with stress.


The following advice and strategies may help you cope with stress associated with online education:


  • Have a heart-to-heart talk with your spouse and children – online education requires commitments from them too.
  • Secure the support of your boss and colleagues at work – you will need them for friendlier schedules and cover at work during exam times or project deadlines.


  • Embrace new technology – don’t be scared or dismissive of new technologies. Embrace them, learn to use and enjoy them. If you encounter difficulty with certain features on your school’s course delivery platform, don’t panic, just pick up the phone and call the IT support desk at your school. They will work you through.


  • Keep in touch with your professor – if you are stressed out because of the course content, contact the professor and reach out to other students in the class. Most professors are glad to help. Keep your professor informed of the challenges that are preventing you from completing your assignments on time. I often work with students by giving them extra time to finish their work, or directing them to certain support services within the university that they may not have been aware of.


  • Pace yourself appropriately – recognize very early that you must give the extra time that your online course commitment requires. Do not live under the illusion that because it’s an online course, that it is going to be easy. While online courses may be convenient, they are not easier than traditional courses.


  • Reach out to other students in your class – Join communities of online learners to help break the isolation and monotony of online education. By chatting with other students in similar situation, you may learn how they are coping. Network communities are always very helpful in dealing with stress.


  • Invest in technology and productivity tools that work – there is nothing frustrating sometimes than working with a computer that freezes on you while you’re in the middle of a final research paper report. Keep the software in your computer up-to-date. Subscribe to online back-up service. Many are free up to certain size. You do not want to go through the nightmare of losing a finished project to computer virus or computer crash.


  • Tutoring Services: Do not feel shy about using tutoring services. They might help you brush up on your writing skills, or that dreaded math or statistics which you last studied some twenty odd years ago! Your school might offer tutoring services for free. Take advantage of them. Or you may have to get one for pay. There are many good and affordable online tutoring services.
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