Student mental health in higher education has been an increasing concern over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this problem into main view yet again, and Wartburg students feel that as well.

Mental health data based on a survey from Wartburg students. Graphic by Katie Hirv.

“The pandemic has added another layer to the stress that college students deal with,” Stephanie Newsom, Wartburg director of counseling services, said. “For example, first-year students have an even harder transition. For other students, classes can already be stressful and now we’ve added another layer of challenges.

According to a study done by Texas A&M University, of the 200 students involved in the study, 71% indicated increased stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The increased number of stressors contributed to increased overall stress, anxiety, and depression, the study said.

The increased amount of stress for college students is worrying considering that the number of mental health disorders have been on the rise for years. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) study from 2019, which included 14,000 first-year students from eight countries, as many as 35% of students are struggling with some form of mental illness  — up from 29% in 2015.

Apart from the normal stressors that college students face, new difficulties caused by the pandemic include fear and worry about their own health and of their loved ones, difficulty in concentrating due to anxiety or online schooling, disruptions to sleeping patterns, decreased social interactions due to physical distancing, and increased concerns on academic performance due to changed schooling methods.

Wartburg College Counseling Services hosted two “Managing COVID Stress” sessions on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18. There were in-person and online options for both workshops. The goal of the workshops was to control and manage the stressors that the pandemic has brought to campus.

“One of the things that we talked about at our workshops was: what are the things that are in your control, and what are the things that you have no control over.” Newsom said. “You have to try to remember to put your energy into the things that you can control, like yourself safe, wearing your mask, making sure you’re logging into your classes, and doing your part.”

To reduce stress during the pandemic, Newsom said she suggests students control their “information diet”, making sure they limit their exposure to news media and use reputable sources, as well as relaxation techniques and coping strategies such as minding your breathing, getting outside, exercising, listening or practicing music, journaling, yoga and guided meditation. Newsom suggests apps like “Calm” and “Headspace” for guided breathing exercises and meditation. 

Newsom said that Wartburg Counseling Services will continue offering “Managing COVID Stress” workshops if there is a need among the student body. Counseling services are regularly offered either in person or over Zoom, and safety measures will be observed. 

Students can schedule an appointment with a counselor by stopping by the counseling office, located in the Pathways Center on the third floor of Vogel Library, calling the office at 319-352-8596, emailing, or can request an appointment online at

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