- Stress in College Students
- The College Student’s Guide to Stress Management [Infographic]
- Stress Management Tips for Students
- 22 Tips for College Students to Stress Less
- Tip to Avoid or Minimize Stress
- Tips for Relaxing When College Life is Stressing You Out
- Post Your Comment
- 5 Tips for Managing Stress in College
- 1. Hone Your Planning & Organizational Skills
- 2. Optimize Your Sleep & Nutrition
- 3. Routinely Exercise & Embrace Physical Activity
- 4. Practice Mindfulness
- 5. Take a Cold Shower
- College Stress
- Why are you stressed?
- How does stress affect you?
- Tips to reduce and manage stress
- Works consulted
- Top 5 stress management tips for college students
- What Is Stress?
- The Effects of Stress
- Causes of Stress In College
- Managing Your Stress
- Getting Help for Stress
- Additional Resources
- Stress in College Students: Recognize, Understand, and Relieve School Stress
- What Is Stress
- Causes of Stress in College Students
- How To Prevent Stress in College
- Managing Stress in College
- Stress Disorders: Extreme Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
- How To Get Help With Stress, Depression, or Anxiety
- Why are students so stressed?
- How to Deal with Stress at School
- 5 Ways to Reduce Stress in College
- Use a Planner
- Avoid Procrastination
- Take Breaks
- Eat Right
- 5 Tips to Reduce College Student Stress
- Being a student can be tough. With the transition to adult life, making new friends and busy schedules for studying college student stress is common place for most students. Here are top tips on how to reduce it.
- What is Stress:
- Effects of Stress:
- Causes of Stress:
- Wrapping it Up
Stress in College Students
Psychological stress among college students has been getting a lot of attention recently, thanks to articles this year in the New York Times, Huffington Post, and Inside Higher Ed. Research on student stress goes back at least half a century, to David Mechanic’s 1962 book Students Under Stress, which was on graduate students. Student stress research seems to have really become vigorous in the 1980s, however. One of the first research studies I ever worked on investigated student stress. In 1983, during the fall term of my senior year at UCLA, the professor of my survey-research course, Christine Dunkel-Schetter, had the class conduct a phone survey of stress on campus.
Think about what many college students go through. Leaving the family home, feeling intense pressure to obtain high grades in connection with career aspirations, taking final exams, trying to establish a romantic/social life, dealing with (often very high) costs of college and possibly working at a job during the school year. What kind of jobs (if any) students can get after college also remains tenuous given the multi-year recession. On top of all that, students in many parts of the U.S. must deal with snow and subfreezing temperatures that, in the words of a colleague who once taught in Buffalo, leave students “really dragging by December.”
I ask you: Considering the above, how can college students not be highly stressed out?
Some will argue that college students are in many ways advantaged, compared to those who don’t or can’t attend a university. Point well taken, but that shouldn’t diminish the stress experienced by students.
The New York Times article reports on Fall 2010 national findings from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute—based on students’ reflections on their senior year of high school—showing record levels of poor emotional health among incoming first-year undergraduates (UCLA press release). The actual survey questionnaire is available here (when the new page opens, scroll to “Questionnaire” under “The Freshman Survey”).
Researchers understandably want to keep their questionnaires as short as possible, to encourage participation. Because the UCLA survey probes many different areas (e.g., politics, values, in addition to school-related matters), the measures of stress and emotional health are limited to isolated items. On a checklist of feelings and behaviors experienced during the past year, for example, appears the item “Felt overwhelmed by all I had to do,” to which participants reply “frequently,” “occasionally,” or “not at all.” Elsewhere in the survey, respondents were asked to rate themselves on a set of traits, including “Emotional health,” compared to what they would see as the average person their age. Though brief measures may be necessary in some studies, I would recommend a more extensive one, such as the Undergraduate Stress Questionnaire developed by my friend and colleague Chris Crandall.
The Inside Higher Ed article focuses on studies of stress at Columbia University and the University of San Diego, which aimed to identify types of stress that different subgroups of students (e.g., according to field of study, race-ethnicity, sexual orientation, and holding a job while going to school) considered most pernicious. Examples of findings from USD are that “black students are the most stressed out by disrespectful remarks and property damage; campus climate is the only stressor with significantly worse impact for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) students than heterosexual ones; and students who hold jobs report much higher levels of stress from their families, finances and time management.”
In addition to sources and experiences of stress, there is also a great deal of research on how people (including college students) attempt to cope with and manage the stress they’re under. One general typology divides coping into two broad categories: problem-focused (attempting to tackle a problem directly at its source, such as asking one’s dormitory Resident Assistant for a room change to escape a bothersome roommate) and emotion-focused (attempting to manage one’s emotions, e.g., by putting things in perspective, when one cannot or chooses not to address the underlying source of the problem). As an example of stress-coping research, this 2009 article examines male and female college students’ strategies for coping with stress.
What can be done about stress? The University of Georgia’s University Health Center offers an online resource entitled “Managing Stress: A Guide for College Students.” It offers modules on several specific topics, such as sleep, healthy relationships, and time-management. In addition, the University of Illinois’s Counseling Center provides several stress-management tips for first-year students. At my university, Texas Tech, the Student Counseling Service has similar resources as at other institutions. Plus, rubberized stress-relief squeeze toys in the shape of the university’s Double-T logo are available.
With the help of family, friends, and perhaps campus stress-management resources, many students are able to keep their stress levels relatively under control or even thrive in the college setting. However, for some students, the challenges and frustrations of campus life appear to lead to severe emotional problems. I address this topic in next month’s column.
The College Student’s Guide to Stress Management [Infographic]
Today’s college students are feeling the strain of our busy modern world.
In fact, 45% of college students said they experience “more than average stress,” and 87% said they felt overwhelmed by all they had to do at least once in the previous year, according to the American College Health Association-2017 National College Health Assessment.
The effects of stress are, well, stressful themselves. Upset stomach, headaches, exhaustion, and difficulty sleeping are common effects of stress, Mayo Clinic reports, as are irritability, restlessness, and depression. Some people turn to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and food to deal with stress, but overindulging in these things leads right back to—you guessed it—more stress.
We know that trying to juggle college with the demands of family, work, and life can get a little crazy. This infographic showcases some stress management strategies for college students. Take a deep breath and enjoy.
The College Student’s Guide to Stress Management Content
Take an already-busy life that may include work and family obligations, add college classes and studying, sprinkle in exams, budgeting, and other interests, and then try to have a social life on top of it all…However, it’s not all bleak. Let’s look at some ways college students can alleviate stress, succeed in college, and live healthy, balanced lives.
Did you know that an unhealthy diet can increase your stress levels? When you eat healthy, you equip your body with the nutrition it needs to fight stress. Avoid high-fat, high-sugar foods and go easy on the caffeine.
This is one of the best things you can do to reduce stress. Exercise produces endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that act as natural painkillers, and it also improves sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Try walking, jogging, or yoga.
Have an Outlet
You need a break most when you believe you don’t have time to take a break. Find a new hobby, play sports, paint, draw, garden—do something that gives you an outlet from the tension of everyday life.
Build a Support System
Having a strong support system is vital to weathering stressful times and living a joyful life. Surround yourself with family and/or friends who lift you up, encourage you, listen without judgment, and provide sound perspective.
Make a Plan
Get organized, make a plan, and stick to it. Prioritize your obligations each week and then schedule time for each—time for studying, working, family and friends, and yourself.
Your thoughts create your reality, and it’s time to turn negative thinking around. Try saying positive affirmations such as, “I am relaxed and calm; I can handle this situation with ease” or “I will rise to the challenge, no matter the obstacles.”
Meditation is a simple way to lower stress that you can do anywhere, at any time. Begin with a simple technique such as deep breathing, do a guided meditation (find these on YouTube), or repeat a mantra.
Aromatherapy is the use of aromatic essential oils to improve one’s physical and emotional well-being. Lavender, lemon, jasmine, bergamot, and ylang-ylang are all reported to lower stress and anxiety.
You may already know that journaling helps you process life’s problems and deal with everyday stress, but did you know it may also strengthen immune cells and decrease the symptoms of asthma and arthritis? Give it a shot.
If Stress Gets Too High
Everybody needs help from time to time. If you’re experiencing depression or anxiety, if you’re unable to sleep or enjoy life, or if you’re turning to alcohol or drugs to cope with stress, it’s time to ask for help. Reach out to:
- Your university’s counseling services
- Your student advisor or a resident assistant
- Doctor or therapist
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline 1-800-662-HELP
- The American Institute of Stress
- The top 3 mental health concerns facing college students are anxiety, depression, and stress. Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2017 Annual Report
- 45% of college students say they experience “more than average stress.” American College Health Association – 2017 National College Health Assessment
- 87% of college students reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do at least once in the previous year. American College Health Association – 2017 National College Health Assessment
Stress Management Tips for Students
Students are one of the most common victims of stress. Factors such as financial expenses, overcommitment, family expectations, deadlines and workload all induce stress in students. While a mild amount of stress is very useful and acts as a motivation for students, too much stress can interfere with their daily lives.
When built over time, stress can give rise to a host of serious problems such as depression and anxiety. Managing stress in its early stages can help maximize the college/university experience and opportunities for students.
There are three kinds of common stress triggers students experience:
Social stress puts serious peer pressure on students. Dealing with new relationships, balancing academic life with social life, living with or without family members, adjusting to the new environment, all trigger stress in students.
Strict schedules, deadlines, low grades, challenging classes, exams, responsibilities, and poor time management all lead to a buildup of academic stress.
- Daily life.
This stress is associated with issues that are not related to academic or social life. These can include daily commute, part-time job, financial burdens, and so on.
Practical stress management can help students deal with their worries and become more productive, competent and efficient. Here are a few tips for managing stress:
- Manage time.
Proper time management is one of the most effective stress-relieving techniques (Macan et al., 1990). Whether it’s relaxation, work or study, time must be spent wisely. Students must be able to design and stick to a timetable. Choose a relaxing break between work and study, even if it’s just taking out time to breathe.
- Exercise and get some air.
A healthy lifestyle is essential for students, especially at university level. Instead of partying at night and being cooped up at home studying throughout the day, take out time to get some air and exercise. Stress is generally lower in people who maintain a healthy routine.
- Stay positive.
If you keep focusing on the negative aspects of a situation, you will be burdened by mental stress (Thompson & Gaudreau, 2008). Instead, try to look at the glass half full, and stay optimistic through tough times. For example, instead of feeling upset over a bad grade, try to maintain a positive attitude and look at ways to improve the next time.
- Organize your academic life.
Organization is very important in academic life for dealing with stress (Sinha, 2014). By keeping academic notes organized, turning in assignments on time, and keeping track of all deadlines, stress can be reduced to a great extent.
- Stop procrastinating.
The best way to stop procrastinating is to get the most difficult tasks out of the way first. Most people procrastinate because they dread the task they’re putting off. Get rid of the dreaded deed, and you’re good to go.
- Take one step at a time.
Don’t put too many eggs in one basket. Instead of feeling overwhelmed about all the deadlines, it’s best to make a list and sort them out one by one. This helps you to be more efficient and productive with your time.
- Spend time with friends.
A cup of coffee with family or friends is all you need to bring your stress levels back to normal. Stress can also get worse if a person feels lonely. By letting out all your thoughts to someone you trust, you immediately feel a lot better.
- Water therapy.
Water therapies are effective for reducing stress and relaxing the body (Lewis & Webster, 2014). By drinking lots of water and treating yourself to hot baths, you can help your body relax. By adding aromatic oils in your bath, you can double your relaxation effect and improve your academic performance.
- Do something you love.
If you feel extremely stressed out, take a break and do something you love. Whether it is painting or listening to music, doing something you enjoy can cheer up your mood and distract you from a stressor.
A general rule of thumb is to moderate your workload and avoid taking on too much. Following the tips above can ensure you find and maintain a good balance in your academic life. If normal management tips do not help, seek advice from your university’s student support services or other professionals.
Lewis, J. & Webster, A. (2014). Sort Your Brain Out: Boost Your Performance, Manage Stress and Achieve More. Capstone.
Sinha, A. (2014). Stress vs Academic Performance. SCMS Journal of Indian Management, 11(4), p. 46.
Stressed student photo available from
Stress Management Tips for Students
- Practice time management skills to manage your academic schedule, social activities, and making time for yourself.
- Set and implement specific goals for yourself that will improve your mood and help you reduce stress. Start by filling out a goal-setting worksheet.
- Avoid procrastination. Procrastination can create more mental and physical stress. If you have trouble staying on task, consider downloading apps that will help keep you off things that are distracting. To learn more about procrastination, .
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you burn off the energy generated by stress.
- Practice good sleep habits to ensure that you are well-rested. Sleep deprivation can cause many physical and mental problems and can increase stress.
- Try mindfulness meditation. Attend a guided meditation with [email protected]
- Limit (or eliminate) the use of stimulants like caffeine, which can elevate the stress response in your body.
- Pace yourself throughout the day, taking regular breaks from work or other structured activities. During breaks from class, studying, or work, spend time walking outdoors, listen to music or just sit quietly, to clear and calm your mind.
- Start a journal. Many people find journaling to be helpful for managing stress, understanding emotions, and making decisions and changes in their lives.
- Realize that you have limits. Learn to work within your limits and set realistic expectations for yourself and others.
- Plan leisure activities to break up your schedule. for a list of fun things to do on campus.
- Recognize the role your own thoughts can play in causing you distress. Challenge beliefs you may hold about yourself and your situation that may not be accurate. For example, do you continuously fall short of what you think you “should” accomplish? When our minds continuously feed us messages about what we “should” achieve, “ought” to be, or “mustn’t” do, we are setting ourselves up to fall short of goals that may be unrealistic, and to experience stress along the way. Learn techniques for replacing unrealistic thoughts with realistic ones.
- Find humor in your life. Laughter can be a great tension-reducer.
- Seek the support of friends and family when you need to “vent” about situations that bring on stressful feelings. But make sure that you don’t focus exclusively on negative experiences; try to also think of at least three things that are going well for you, and share those experiences.
- Try setting a specific goal for yourself that will improve your mood and help you reduce stress. Start by filling out a goal-setting worksheet then help yourself stay on track by using your weekly motivator worksheet.
Research has shown that relaxation techniques are an effective way to reduce not only stress but many of the symptoms associated with mental illnesses. Try one or more of the following techniques for relaxing your mind and body and reducing the physical and psychological tension associated with stress. Take the time to experiment with these techniques to find out which ones work best for you.
- Breathing Exercise: Place one hand on your abdomen right beneath your rib cage. Inhale slowly through your nose, drawing a deep breath into your lungs. Your chest should move only slightly, while your stomach rises, pushing your hand up. As you exhale, just let yourself go and imagine your entire body becoming loose and limp. It should take you twice as long to exhale as it does to inhale. Practice three times per day for two to three minutes. For more information and resources on this technique, .
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Pay a “mental visit” to your muscles, stopping at each area of the body from head to toe (or toe to head), paying attention to individual areas where tension exists. As you pause at each area, tense and relax each muscle, trying to release unnecessary tension. Spend a few more minutes on those areas that seem to be holding the most tension. For more information and resources on this technique, .
- Visual (Guided) Imagery: Imagine tension flowing out of your body from top to bottom. Visualize tension draining down your shoulders and arms and out through your fingertips into the air, down your thighs and legs, and out through the soles of your feet into the ground. It’s also helpful to take a mental “vacation,” imagining yourself in a pleasant, relaxing place such as on the beach or in the woods. This can be a place where you’ve been or a place you’d like to be. Take time to imagine the specific details of what you see, hear and feel in this place. For more information and resources on this technique, .
❖ Mindfulness: Mindfulness is about noticing our thoughts, feelings or bodily sensations without judgment. It’s a helpful tool in managing stress for those with a mental illness.
➢ Being Mindful of Everyday Activities. As a student, your life and your mind are often so busy that you forget to take notice of the everyday occurrences that keep your senses ‘awake’. For example, as you walk across the Diag, you may be lost in thought while drinking a latte. You may not be aware of how you arrived at your destination or of the steam of the latte as you take a sip. Rather than allowing yourself to miss the moment, pause, take a breath and notice what you are experiencing. Your experiences may be pleasant and worth savoring. But even if they are unpleasant, you will be better able to cope if you face your experiences directly and strive to live “in the moment.”
➢ How to practice Mindfulness through Meditation.
- Find a comfortable position.
- While focusing on your breathing, allow your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations to flow over you, entering and leaving your awareness at their own pace. Recognize each sensation, but then let it fade away, allowing the next thought or feeling to enter your mind. Continue to acknowledge each sensation, then let it go.
- You will likely find that your mind is very busy with thoughts about all kinds of things – some pleasant, some unpleasant. Each time you notice that your mind has wandered, gently and without judgment shift your awareness back to your breath.
- It can be most helpful to practice mindfulness for 30 minutes a day until you become comfortable with the technique.
The goal of mindfulness meditation is not to change your thoughts in any way, but simply to notice them and as best you can, continuously returning to your breath. Learning mindfulness meditation is similar to learning any new skill. There are an abundance of website and apps for guided meditations. Keep it simple. Be patient and kind with yourself. Do not expect that you will be able to “empty” your mind of thoughts and enter a state of deep relaxation. Try starting with ten minutes each day, setting a timer to see what happens. Remember that each moment is a new opportunity to begin. With practice, meditation can allow you to develop clarity in your thoughts and feelings, decrease your negative thoughts, and promote a sense of peacefulness and centeredness. You can also contact The University of Michigan Psychological Clinic for information on mindfulness-based cognitive group therapy for depression, which is an eight-week course developed to prevent depression relapse.
22 Tips for College Students to Stress Less
Resources / College / 22 Tips for College Students to Stress Less
College students feel more than their share of stress balancing classes, dorm life, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs and social lives. While you can’t erase stress completely, you can fight it on two fronts, taking measures to avoid or minimize stress and developing coping skills to help you relax when college life becomes too stressful.
Tip to Avoid or Minimize Stress
- Keep a Detailed Calendar – A calendar that includes class schedule, assignment due dates, study times, social events and anything that will take up your time is a must. Start each semester by pulling class syllabi and adding in important dates to your digital calendar — or paper if you still prefer the written word. Color coding by class, due date and importance can help your organize. Set up automatic reminders on your phone if you’re prone to procrastinate or forget dates.
- Prioritize – When you add an item to your planner or digital calendar, color-code it with a “must do” or a “want to do” color. This will help you set priorities and make choices about how to spend your time. Make sure to build some flextime into your schedule so you have time for some fun opportunities when they come up.
- Schedule Backwards – College has more long-term assignments than high school. Even if that paper isn’t due for another six weeks, get it on your calendar now and work backward from the due date. Set smaller, self-imposed due dates along the way to have parts of a large project complete so that you don’t have to pull the stressful all-nighter.
- Start a Routine. You set your own schedule in college, and it’s important to get in a groove. Figure out some basics as early as possible. How early do you want your first class? Where and when are you best able to focus studying? Where will you eat lunch and dinner? The fewer questions you have about these, the less stress you will feel when midterms and finals roll around.
- Exercise – Unless you’re on a college sports team, this one might not become an immediate priority. Even high school athletes can quickly let exercise fall to the wayside — but that’s a mistake. Join an intramural sports team, check out a group exercise class at the student gym or find a running buddy. Exercise will improve your mood and ward off the Freshman 15. Genius Tip: SignUpGenius can help you organize a walking group or a running club.
- Say NO – In high school, participating in a ton of activities might have been standard to beef up your resume, but you need to be more focused in college. Dip your toe into several groups if you’re not sure what you want to do, but hone in on your passions and choose a couple that mean the most to you. You may also be tempted to overload your schedule with parties and social events, but don’t let your new friends dictate how you spend your time.
- Know Your Sleep Requirements – Remember when your parents used to set your bedtime? Those days are over. Ideally, you’ll get eight hours of sleep each night, but it’s not just about quantity. If you get eight hours of sleep but don’t go to bed until 2 a.m. each night, your body is bound to feel out of whack.
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- Choose Nutritious Foods – A healthy body is less stressed, but with all the freedom that comes with college, nobody is making you eat your vegetables anymore. A diet of pizza and caffeine won’t help you feel or perform you best. Fill and carry around a large water bottle, and try foods proven to fight stress, such as avocados, berries, nuts, tea, oatmeal and bananas.
- Keep Your Space Tidy – It’s easy for your dorm room or apartment to become disorganized. The last thing you need is to be searching for your charger when you’re immersed in writing a research paper. Set up a time each week to straighten your room, recycle old papers and do a load of laundry. Consider buying a low maintenance houseplant to add some life to your space — and freshen your air.
- Communicate with Your Roommate – Odds are you will be living with at least one other person in college. Even if you’re best friends, fights are more likely to arise if you don’t understand how the other person thinks. Start the year off by agreeing about logistics such as cleaning, bedtimes, guests and bills (if you’re off campus). Buy a whiteboard for notes if you rarely bump into each other and don’t want to text.
- Know Your Physical Stress Indicators – Everyone reacts to stress differently: some get headaches, others get a panicky feeling in their stomach and others lash out in anger. Do some self-analysis, and figure out how you respond to stress. When you feel it coming on, it’s time to try a coping technique.
Tips for Relaxing When College Life is Stressing You Out
- Adjust Your Schedule – What isn’t working? Maybe you’ve spent too much time at an extracurricular activity this semester, and it’s time to recalibrate. Take a deep dive into what’s causing you the most stress then reprioritize.
- Take a Road Trip – Chances are you have at least one friend at college with a car. Your trip doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but it’s nice to get off campus to gain a fresh perspective. If your campus is in the country, take a trip to the city for lunch and to window shop. If you spend most of the time in a city, flip your perspective and drive out to eat at hole-in-the wall Mexican or BBQ restaurant.
- Adjust Your Expectations – If you’re used to overachieving, you might need a reality check. Did your first midterm come back with lackluster results? Take a deep breath and think about what you can do to improve. (Don’t blame other people.) Reach out to your professor or teaching assistant for suggestions.
- Take the Day Off – This can seem counterintuitive when your head is swirling with stress, but often the best way to clear your mind is a change of pace or routine. Spend Saturday tailgating and watching the football team play or taking in a movie, and you’ll be surprised how productive you are when you’re ready to return to work.
- Plan Alone Time – Now that you have a roommate and lots of new college friends, you may get stressed out from the social overload. Find a place, such as a quiet corner of the library or the quad on a sunny day, and spend some relaxing time by yourself. Turn on your favorite playlist or read a book for pleasure.
- Go to Class – This one might seem self evident, but you’d be surprised how many students stop attending once extracurriculars or internships start piling on. Take good notes and pay attention when you’re there, and you’ll save yourself a lot of late-night heartache.
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- Laugh – What makes you laugh? Whether it’s a cheesy sitcom or a favorite comedian that you follow online, take time out from your serious college learning to laugh out loud. More into telling jokes? Audition for a college improv troupe.
- Try Yoga – Yoga isn’t just for your mom. Find a studio — or download an app — to learn some stretches and poses that you can do to alleviate the stress. Some poses for stress relief: supine twist, supported bridge and downward dog. Genius Tip: If there isn’t a yoga studio nearby, then consider hiring a yoga instructor to come to you! With SignUpGenius, you can invite others in your dorm and share the cost of learning this great technique for relieving stress.
- Talk to Someone – Sometimes stress becomes more than we can handle alone. Make an appointment with your school’s psychological services, so you can vent and talk about your anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out and getting techniques to manage your stress.
- Focus on Relaxation – Focused relaxation requires that you lie still and focus on relaxing one particular part of your body after another. This 10 to 15 minute exercise will seem to melt the stress right out of your body.
- Call Home – Sometimes it helps to call mom or dad or talk to a friend from back home about what is causing your stress. Remember, everyone feels stress, so be sure to be a good listener when your friend is stressing out!
Make a conscious effort to learn what works for you. Whether it’s meditation, a relaxation playlist or a good workout at the gym, being aware of what best alleviates your stress will allow you to de-stress quickly and get back to enjoying college life.
Stacey Whitney is the mother of two teenagers and owner of WordsFound, a content company.
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5 Tips for Managing Stress in College
Regardless of how many credit hours you’re taking in a semester, managing stress in college is never easy. Not only is there stress that comes with handling your course workload, but there’s social stress, emotional stress, and other forms of personal stress that can weigh you down over time.
While it may be impossible to completely eliminate the things that are stressing you out, there are effective ways to help you better manage and overcome feelings of stress while in college. Much of these practices are rooted to cultivating resilience. It’s a defining characteristic of many of the world’s most successful people. But becoming a resilient individual is not an overnight transformation. It takes discipline and practice. However, in applying some of these tips to your day-to-day routine, you’ll notice profound changes in your ability to manage college stress, and rather immediately.
1. Hone Your Planning & Organizational Skills
A common characteristic across most successful college students is the ability to effectively stay organized with assignments, projects, and exams. Diligent planning and organizing will pay dividends in managing stress while avoiding feelings of being overwhelmed. Procrastinating to study until the last minute, or failing to submit an assignment on time, can create stress that could otherwise be avoided. This kind of stress can have residual effect, as later in the semester these mistakes can leave students scrambling to make up lost ground.
One the most traditional tools for planning and organization is to use an actual planner or calendar system. This can be a tangible planner book that you pencil in all of your assignments and due dates. A digital alternative is use the suite of Google apps online, specifically Calendar. The nice thing about Google Calendar is that you can set reminders and notifications to let you know when is something is due. For instance if you know you have a big test in few weeks, you set a notification to email you when you’re 5 days out from test day.
2. Optimize Your Sleep & Nutrition
If you’re not getting adequate hours of quality sleep, then your performance will suffer in all aspects of your life. Likewise, if you’re diet is poor or your nutrition is off, both your mental and physical performance suffers.
College students in particular need to be mindful of their diet. It’s all too convenient to opt for something quick and easy at the expense of nutrition. Overtime, a poor diet can lead to diminished cognitive functioning, weight gain, and poor dietary habits. Additionally, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies can wreak-havoc on the body, causing a lot of physical and mental stress. Conversely, students who are conscious about eating healthy are likely to perform better in many aspects of their lives. They’re often sharper mentally, physically more active, and better organized with their lives as a whole.
Next to diet and nutrition is sleep. Sleep is one of the most important variables that influences a number of systems impacting how we operate. However the relationship between stress and sleep is that the former (stress) has a massive impact on how well we sleep. According to research distilled by the American Psychological Association, “More than one-third of teens (35 percent) report that stress caused them to lie awake at night in the past month.” This information, which can be found here, highlights a number of compelling points about the relationship between stress and sleep, thereby reinforcing the need for college students to minimize and manage stress.
3. Routinely Exercise & Embrace Physical Activity
Physical activity has been considered vital for maintaining optimal mental health, and as result, its been shown to reduce stress. Studies show that exercise is very effective at improving alertness and concentration, reducing fatigue, and enhancing overall cognitive function. Conventional wisdom holds that exercising at a low to moderate intensity makes you feel energized and healthy. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) “Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.”
When stress begins to affect the brain, with its numerous nerve connections, the body itself can feel the impact. In turn, it stands to reason that if your body feels optimal, so does your mind. Exercise produces endorphins (which are feel good hormones in the brain that act as natural painkillers) which reduce stress and can also improve one’s ability to sleep.
Interestingly parallel to some of the previous tips, meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, and even deep breathing can enable your body to produce endorphins. So there’s strong overlapping evidence that supports exercise (as well as mindfulness and cold exposure) as effective means to mitigate stress. For college students, these tools can be strong weapons in your arsenal to becoming a more resilient and stress-free individual.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a natural quality that we all possess. While it may seem like some heightened-state of awareness that requires hours of meditation to achieve, mindfulness is available to us in every moment, if we take the time to appreciate it. Best defined by Mindful.org, “(Mindfulness is) becoming more aware of where you are and what you’re doing, without becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.”
When we practice mindfulness, we’re practicing the art of creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions. In turn, we can better manage how stress affects us throughout the day. Big projects, unexpected assignments, social drama—things that typically induce feelings of being overwhelming are embraced with less reaction.
So how does one practice mindfulness? There are a number of overlapping techniques, but most practices center on returning your attention again and again to the present moment, which is rooted to your breath. Our minds are wired to get carried away in thought. Mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the breath. Yes, meditation or sitting quietly and drawing your attention to your breath is one common way to practice mindfulness. But our breath-focused attention can also be practiced while running, exercising, doing Yoga, or other forms of movement. Ultimately, it comes down to being more conscious of your breath throughout the day, especially when faced with stressful moments that might feel overwhelming.
5. Take a Cold Shower
This last tip might seem like crazy and painful, but if you’re feeling stressed out, taking a cold shower one the quickest ways to enhance your state of being. The primitive challenge of exposing oneself to cold has been shown to provide a number of incredible benefits, beyond stress-relief. From aiding in fat loss and sleep quality to strengthening the nervous system and immunity, there has been a wealth of scientific research supporting the many benefits of cold exposure. In turn, it’s become a more mainstream and widely known practice, as some of the world’s top performing athletes and entrepreneurs swear by cold exposure.
In terms of stress, exposing yourself to a brisk cold shower is a form of stress in itself. But it’s a natural form of stress that instantly shocks the system into a conscious state of deep breathing and mindfulness. According to Joseph Cohen, who has compiled a number of research studies supporting the benefits of cold exposure, “Nobody wants to get in a cold shower. Getting under freezing cold water every morning trains your brain to do things it doesn’t want to do if the rewards are big enough. This attitude then translates to other areas of your life.”
Not only is taking a cold shower one of the most effective means to cultivate resilience and conquer stress, but it’s also one of the most effective (and natural) antidepressants. According to an abstract on PubMed.gov supporting the hypothesis of using cold exposure for depression “Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain.”
Norepinephrine is an adrenal hormone that enables individuals to feel more “up” naturally, and the increased production of beta-endorphins (or “feel good” molecules) can give a sense of well-being. Overall, taking a cold shower, even for just a few seconds, is worth trying.
At the end of the day, effectively managing stress is all about how well you prepare and react to things in life. There’s no avoiding the stress that comes with a big exam. But we can control how we react to it and plan for it. These five tips will enable you win the long-game in managing college stress, all while giving you a few effective techniques to help win the day.
Almost everyone experiences stress to some extent, and college students are certainly no exception. Many college students report dealing with varying levels of stress throughout college for a number of different reasons. Stress affects everyone differently and for different reasons, and people respond to stress in many different ways, but it doesn’t have to cripple you or prevent you from reaching your goals. Below you’ll find strategies to reduce and manage stress in college.
Why are you stressed?
College students commonly experience stress because of increased responsibilities, a lack of good time management, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and not taking enough breaks for self-care. Students tend to experience elevated stress during predictable times such as studying for exams, competing for admissions or internships, and trying to master large amounts of content in small amounts of time. Transitioning to college is also a source of stress for most first years. Students are expected to make decisions about their careers and academic life and foster new meaningful relationships. Take a moment to think about the things in your life that may be causing you stress so that you can better address it effectively.
How does stress affect you?
Small amounts of stress for short periods of time can be healthy, as good stress can help us motivate ourselves to prepare for exams or make positive changes in our lives. However, stress becomes harmful when it occurs for too long or is chronic—when our bodies don’t have a clear indication of when to return to normal functioning. Chronic high stress has several negative affects on our bodies and brains. It can:
- interfere with studying or class attendance
- interfere with cognitive processes such as attention and concentration
- contribute to major health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and anxiety.
Tips to reduce and manage stress
Knowing how to properly and healthily manage stress is a crucial tool for college students. Using effective stress management techniques can help you moderate and calm yourself during stressful times and help your academic, social, and emotional experiences in college be more positive and successful. While there is no perfect way to completely eliminate stress, here are a few tips to try to help manage and reduce it:
Manage your time
Research shows that students who manage their time are less likely to feel stressed. Use a weekly planner, priorities chart, or semester-at-a-glance calendar from the UNC Learning Center’s Tips and Tools page to better help manage your time.
Engage in mindful leisurely activities
We all have personal needs that need to be met and leisurely activities that we enjoy (eating, sleeping, relaxing, reading, socializing). When we are mindful of these needs and take time to enjoy them, we are less likely to be stressed.
Plan for the worst case scenario
Planning out the worst case scenario can seem like an overwhelming task, and in some cases that may be true. However, when you are able to predict what will happen in the future, you are better able to put in supports to help you manage when the ‘worst case’ scenario happens. For example, if you feel as though you might be failing a class (worst case), you can talk to your professor about receiving an incomplete, talk to academic advising to see how that affects your grade, create a study schedule to help yourself catch up, and see a peer tutor to support you with the material.
Engage in self-care and self-compassion
We are often harder on ourselves when we are unsuccessful or when things get challenging. One way to combat stress is to engage in self-compassion. Extend the same kindness you would to a friend to yourself. Know that you do deserve to take care of yourself. Be aware of when you are distressed and create a self-care plan for when you are. Integrating leisure and social activities is a great way to take care of yourself. You can also do simple relaxation exercises—such as deep breathing—multiple times during the day to help alleviate some stress.
When in doubt, write it out!
Research suggests that when you are feeling stressed, rather than avoid the uncomfortable feeling, it is better for you to address it by writing about it. Studies show that individuals who write out the causes of their stress, thoughts, and emotions tend to do better academically. To do this activity effectively it is recommended that you write everything you are feeling with no hesitation or worry.
Improve your health
Healthy eating. The majority of the time, try to choose fresh whole foods, and limit your intake of fried, processed, and fast foods. The federal government has made it easier to determine how to eat healthier by creating the ‘my plate’ diagram. You can access more information about ‘my plate’ here. If you think you can improve your health by making changes to what, when, how, or how much you eat, consider meeting with a registered dietician at Campus Health to come up with a plan.
Hydration. Drink plenty of water, and be careful not to overdo it with caffeine.
Physical activity. Knowing how to properly work out and making time for it can be challenging. However, there are many ways to engage in physical activity—going to the gym, attending fitness classes, swimming laps, jogging, playing basketball or another sport you enjoy, or doing yoga. You can also add in some simple modifications to your day to increase physical activity without having to go to the gym or play a sport. Try walking rather than taking the bus, getting off a bus early and walking the rest of the way, using stairs rather than elevators, biking, parking farther in a parking lot, etc. There are also fun recreational activities such as gardening, dancing, hiking, etc that you can engage in. UNC Campus Recreation offers group fitness class that are FREE to UNC students. More information and schedule about the fitness classes can be accessed here.
Restful sleep. Sleep is often the first habit that is compromised when students enter college. However, time and time again research supports the importance of sleep—for memory consolidation and recall, increasing learning abilities, energy conservation, muscle growth, and tissue repair, just to name a few. Long-term sleep deprivation is associated with many illnesses and overall poor health and mental health. To work and live at your optimal level each day, build enough time into your schedule for 7-9 hours of sleep every night and protect and prioritize that time. Check out this handout on sleep for more tips to improve your sleep habits.
Create SMART goals
Often, students create grandiose goals that are unattainable. Use the classic SMART goals mnemonic when framing your goals: make sure they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound to maximize the possibility that you’ll complete them. If you are struggling, make an appointment with an academic coach to help guide you through creating SMART goals and staying accountable to meet them.
Use problem-solving techniques
Often, students find themselves in situations where they feel stuck. When a problem arises, they have a difficult time solving it. Students often ruminate about problems, which causes more stress and anxiety. Rather than engaging in negative thinking patterns, it is more helpful to strategically approach problems. This worksheet can help guide you through solving problems. While problem solving, focus on what you can and cannot control. Creating goals around things you can control will allow you accomplish more, while thinking or worrying about things you cannot control takes away energy you need.
Try relaxation techniques
While in the previous tips we talk more about preventing stress, using relaxation techniques will help calm you when you are actively stressed. Studies show that engaging in mindfulness significantly helps reduce stress. The following two are examples of mindfulness relaxation techniques that can help calm you when you are stressed:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Love and Kindness Meditation
These techniques are especially helpful during exam times.
Creating meaningful connections with other people fosters overall wellbeing. Two ways to do this is by providing service to others and creating a supportive network. Humans are inherently social; we need connectedness to survive and thrive. For this particular reason, peer support and self-help are often effective. There is great power in knowing that you are not alone. Everyone needs a supportive person with whom they can reach out to during the good and bad times. Belonging to a community is essential to handling stress. One way to engage with your UNC community is to join clubs and organizations. There are over 800 organizations on campus that you can be part of.
CAPs refers to Counseling and Psychological services, which is an on-campus services for students. They provide a variety of mental health services, and they specialize in helping college students. If you feel like you are unable to manage your stress effectively, visit CAPs. You do not need an appointment for your first visit, you can just walk in.
Lumley, M., & Provenzano, K. (2003). Stress management through written emotional disclosure improves academic performance among college students with physical symptoms. American Psychological Association, 95(3), 641-649.
Ross, S., Niebling, B., & Heckert, T. (1999). Sources of stress among college students. College Student Journal, 33(2), 321-327.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.
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Top 5 stress management tips for college students
Stress is the pesky antagonist in every college student’s life story. Learning how to manage it in healthy and effective ways, however, can decrease the effects of daily stresses drastically.
Make to-do lists
Making daily to-do lists is an efficient way to make sure you accomplish your short term goals, preventing forgotten obligations. To-do lists force you to remember every assignment, test, work shift and chore that you need to prepare for to complete the day, but in a compressed manner. These are especially beneficial for those who don’t necessarily profit from using weekly planners and can only focus on a day at a time.
Take study breaks
As important as staying on top of schoolwork, giving your brain a chance to rest is vital to your success and mental health. According to fastweb.com, students should take study breaks every 90 minutes to maintain better attention spans. Choose a positive activity to fill the time. Netflix and naps are great distractions, but they aren’t the best study break options. Try stepping outside for a change of scenery and fresh air or make yourself a snack.
Sometimes, all we need is time to decompress and escape from our thoughts. Exercise is scientifically proven to lower stress levels and increase endorphins. Going for a jog around the block or following a yoga video on YouTube in times of stress will not only boost your mood, but also act as a distraction from stress.
Maintain a healthy sleep schedule
What seems like a given to most people turns into a luxury for a stressed-out college student. Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is imperative to your success and overall mood. A full night’s rest will leave you rejuvenated and prepared to take on a new day’s task. Be sure to give yourself plenty of study and homework time throughout the day to prevent late nights that turn into all-nighters.
It is important to recognize when your hard work pays off. After receiving an A on the test you studied hours for, buy yourself dinner. Splurge on those shoes you’ve had your eye on if you land that internship you lost sleep over. Rewards encourage us to continue working hard to meet our goals and make the stressful moments that lead to success less bitter.
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Students are exposed to a barrage of stressors during the college experience, from growing pains associated with adjusting to college to everyday factors like social pressures and work responsibilities. A 2016 poll conducted by the American College Health Association found that 34.4% of college students reported that stress had negatively impacted their academic performance over the past 12 months. Stress was the single most common inhibitor on academic performance reported by students, followed by depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties.
These increased stress levels come with some dire consequences. College students exposed to chronic stress can suffer from several long-term side effects, including developing insulin-dependent diabetes. Additionally, suicide rates amongst college-aged students are three times higher than they were in 1950, as described by American College Health Association statistics published in Psychology Today.
The number of college students who suffer from stress-related ailments appears to be on the rise. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased 11% from 1991–2001 and another 32% from 2001–2011. What’s more, survey data from the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors suggests that many large institutions have not attained pre-2008 recession budgets. The cards are stacked against counseling centers that have lower budgets and fewer resources that must help more students than in the past.
Occasional stress is an unavoidable part of everyday life. Small amounts of stress can even have a positive effect, allowing us to push ourselves when we encounter a difficult task. However, high levels of stress over a prolonged period of time are linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, and other potentially life-threatening issues. This makes it all the more important to learn how to manage your stress before you suffer any adverse effects. The following guide will introduce you to potential stress risks, stress management techniques, and resources that are available to all college students.
What Is Stress?
According to Psychology Today, there are two different meanings for stress: the abstract psychological perception of pressure and the body’s response to stressors. When your body experiences stress, hormonal signals trigger the body’s automatic response system, the fight-or-flight response. This is the body’s way of preparing to meet a challenge head-on or to flee from it. The fight-or-flight response floods your body with hormones that increase heart rate and the circulation of blood, designed to allow the body to get a quick burst of energy, focus attention, and more.
Research published by Harvard Medical School describes how “the near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening.” Harvard researchers trace the beginning of the stress response to the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for processing memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions. The amygdala alerts the hypothalamus, which triggers a rush of epinephrine and cortisol:
- Epinephrine: Most people recognize this hormone as “adrenaline.” Epinephrine triggers increased lung and heart activity. The increased blood flow to your brain can make you feel more awake and aware.
- Cortisol: This hormone changes the way you metabolize glucose and regulate blood pressure. During stressful situations, Cortisol gives your body the burst of energy characteristic in a fight or flight response.
The Effects of Stress
When a person is exposed to stressors, or stimuli that provoke stress, we experience an array of physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive reactions. Two people might experience stress in very different ways. Here are just some of the symptoms that can occur when you experience stress:
Collapse All Sweating
The body reacts to stressful situations with a unique type of sweat. You are likely familiar with the watery sweat produced by the eccrine glands, which occurs during exercise and warm weather. Your body also has apocrine sweat glands that immediately respond to stressors and produce a sweat that is full of proteins and lipids. The result is a more pungent sweat that is believed to have developed to alert others of danger and increase alertness.
Increased Heart Rate
When your brain releases epinephrine, your heart rate increases to get your body ready to fight or flee.
Increased Blood Pressure
When you encounter a stressful situation, your body will surge with hormones. This surge temporarily increases blood pressure by narrowing your blood vessels and causing your heart to beat faster. This a short-term effect and there is currently no evidence that suggests that stress can lead to long-term high blood pressure on its own.
Your muscles contract when stress hormones trigger your sympathetic nervous system. This occurs because contracted muscles are more resilient to attack.
Tension headaches can be triggered by tightened shoulders and neck muscles.
The muscle tension, dietary changes, and hormonal shifts that occur as a result of chronic stress can lead to abdominal pain.
The fight-or-flight response floods your body with hormones that make you feel temporarily alert. However, this effect eventually fades, causing your body to crash after prolonged periods of stress.
Collapse All Hostility
Once a stressor triggers your fight-or-flight instincts, you might begin to perceive other stimuli as potential stressors as well. People sometimes lash out with frustration or irritability in order to defend themselves. Fatigue brought on by prolonged stress can have the same effect.
Students exposed to a constant deluge of stressful events, environments, and obligations might feel they can’t do anything to remedy the situation. In fact, a significant amount of research has been conducted on the risks of learned helplessness in animals and humans. Studies have found that animals can become conditioned to take no action even when given the chance to escape from stressful stimuli.
Isolation and stress can become a vicious cycle, each feeding on the other. Research published in the British Medical Journal describes how stress and social isolation are tied to increased mortality rates.
Collapse All Binge or Reduced Eating
Stress hormones can temporarily halt your appetite. However, according to the Harvard Medical School, long term exposure to cortisol can also lead to cravings. This is just one reason why so many students celebrate the end of finals week with chips, pizza, and ice cream.
Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Students might turn to alcohol or drugs to escape from the effects of chronic stress.
Decreased Sex Drive
As noted above, cortisol is one of the hormones that is flooded into your system during the fight-or-flight response. Sustained high levels of cortisol can cause a lack of sex drive.
Erratic Sleep Habits
Stress can keep you from getting enough sleep and decrease the quality of the sleep you are getting. This can start a vicious cycle where being exhausted from a lack of sleep causes additional stress, which makes sleeping hard, which makes you more exhausted, and so on.
Collapse All Memory Loss
According to a study out of the University of Iowa, increased levels of cortisol can result in memory lapses as we grow older. The study found a link between high cortisol levels and the gradual loss of synapses in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for short-term memory. Additionally, if you aren’t getting enough sleep because of stress as described above, you may experience difficulty with memory.
Loss of Concentration
Research has found that stress can impair the short-term learning and concentration sections of the brain.
Stress can feed a negative outlook, which can in turn feed the cycle of stress. Mayo Clinic suggests breaking this cognitive feedback loop by practicing positive self-talk to pull yourself through stressful challenges.
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Clinical depression is marked by chemical imbalances that can be triggered by stressful life events. It’s possible that floods of stress hormones can make people more susceptible to becoming depressed. In Medlineplus magazine, Dr. Esther Sternberg encourages people to seek professional help if they are unable to control stress levels, because they might have clinical depression.
General Anxiety Disorder
This is just one of many anxiety disorders that can develop due to chronic stress, according to the American Psychological Association. This ailment is characterized by visible physical symptoms, such as muscle tension and shaking.
Sleep problems and anxiety issues appear to be intertwined. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains that sleep disorders can cause anxiety disorders and vice versa.
Some students attempt to take the edge off their hectic lives by turning to alcohol or illicit drugs. These dangerous coping attempts can lead to even larger problems of substance addiction and abuse. A Columbia University study revealed that 22% of college students compulsively use drugs or alcohol, markedly higher than the 8% of non-student populations exhibiting dependence.
Chronic Muscle Pain
Students might discover that their chronic neck aches, backaches, stomach aches, or headaches aren’t the result of pulled muscles or physical injuries, they could actually be symptoms of stress. The National Institutes of Health recommends yoga and meditation to relax your body and release muscular tension.
Causes of Stress In College
Students all respond to stressors in different ways and not all students will find the same situation to be stressful. However, there are several common situations that tend to stress anyone out. Here are some common stressors that college are exposed to regularly:
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Students often work while attending college in order to keep up with high tuition and housing costs. However, many student jobs only earn entry-level wages. If you’re struggling economically, speak to your financial aid office to see if you qualify for grants, loans, or federal work-study.
New Levels of Independence
On top of classes and exams and meeting new people, students also have to deal with growing up. Out-of-state students may be living away from their home for the first time in their lives, which can easily become a source of constant stress.
Living Among Strangers
Students new to campus life often feel isolated, especially if they are in a wholly unfamiliar city or state. What’s more, some students are naturally shy and have difficulties making new friends. This is made even more difficult in an unfamiliar and stressful setting.
Living With Roommates
Many students may not be accustomed to sharing a room with a roommate, especially someone they hardly know. This stressor can easily compound with the normal stresses of college life.
Coursework and Exams
Students are often overwhelmed by the increased workload associated with college courses and have a hard time adjusting to having less accountability to complete assignments. This realization can blindside students and create a lot of stress and academic anxiety. There are also several courses where exams make up a large percentage of a student’s grade, which can make finals week even more stressful than normal.
Family Turmoil or Loss Back Home
An NPR study reveals that the death of a loved one is the second highest cause of stress amongst U.S. adults after illness and disease concerns. A death in the family is often an extremely traumatic life event for students, especially if they study away from home and cannot afford to step away from their classes.
A survey conducted by Citibank and Seventeen magazine reveals that 4 out of 5 students work while attending college, with the average students spending 19 hours each week at work. Many students try to find a job that can accommodate the scheduling concerns associated with full-time college studies.
On top of being a good student, college places a lot of pressure on students to make new friends, seek out new experiences, and have a lot of fun. Don’t give into peer pressure or societal expectations if they are going to stress you out.
Romantic relationships take work, period. But when you and your significant other are both under the stresses of college life, the pressure can seem even greater.
Managing Your Stress
Diagnosing which situation are likely stressors is only half the battle. Luckily, there are quite a few ways that you can avoid getting stressed out, reducing the amount of stress you feel from certain situations, and to increase your ability to cope with and eliminate stress altogether. Here are a few ways that you can cope with college stress:
Collapse All Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough quality sleep can have a variety of health benefits, including reducing stress and improving mood. You’ll also be less likely to get sick, have better memory recall, and generally enjoy a clear mind.
Your body can better handle stress when you are as healthy as possible and eating well is a great place to start. Make an effort to eat nutritious meals and avoid eating on the run so that you don’t get indigestion. You can also try seeking out foods that combat stress.
Not only will regular exercise help keep you healthy, but the act of exercising releases endorphins and improves overall cognitive ability. Exercise can also help you fall asleep, which itself can help reduce stress.
Don’t Depend on Stimulants
Drinking coffee and energy drinks to fuel your late-night study binges will inevitably lead to a crash later on. These stimulants increase cortisol levels in the body, increasing the effects of stress on the body.
Set Realistic Expectations
A hectic schedule is one stressor that can breed several others. Consistently having too much on your plate can easily lead to a great deal of stress. Luckily, a busy schedule can often be easily dealt with. Try managing your workload and setting realistic expectation so that you don’t overwork or overcommit yourself.
While many college students swear by waiting until the last minute to write a paper or cram for an exam, this inevitably leads to stress. Avoiding procrastination and managing your time wisely can keep you from having to spend all night catching up on coursework.
Find a Stress Outlet
Realistically, stress can’t be completely avoided. Finding some way to reduce your stress will go a long way towards keeping it from overwhelming you. Common stress outlets include exercise, comfort food, spending time with friends and loved ones, getting a massage, and more.
Getting Help for Stress
Stress can compound to dangerous levels, threatening your physical, emotional, and mental health. Luckily, you don’t have to face these symptoms alone. Below are some emergency symptoms to watch out for, all of which might suggest an intense level of stress that requires intervention of some kind. We will also note some organizations and people you can contact to receive support and treatment.
If you regularly experience these symptoms, then you should seek out treatment and support:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Compulsive drug or alcohol abuse
- Abnormal social withdrawal and isolation
- Physically violent outbursts
- Uncontrollable crying or emotional outbursts
- Panic attacks
- Chest pain
Who to Contact
There are a number of resources for students struggling with stress and stress-related disorders. If you can’t or don’t want to contact an organization, start by asking a trusted friend, advisor, or family member for assistance. Here are some stress management options to explore:
- Campus counseling services
- College clinic
- Substance abuse prevention hotlines
- Academic advisors
- Residence hall staff
- Suicide prevention hotline
- Physician or therapist
- The American Institute of Stress: This nonprofit educates the public about stress management through research and professional training.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): This 24-hour treatment referral line can help you take control of compulsive substance abuse. The operators at SAMHSA refer callers to nearby prevention and recovery assistance facilities and resources.
- Veterans Crisis Line: Military service comes with its own stressors and it is important for veterans to connect with support systems that understands their situation. Veterans can receive help right away via chat, phone, or text message.
- Tuck’s Guide to Anxiety and Sleep – Tuck put together an in-depth guide to the most common types of anxieties and how to cope with them and improve sleeping habits.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to call this national support line. Operators provide callers with emotional support and information about local crisis centers.
- GriefShare: GriefShare is a national database dedicated to the bereavement process. If you or someone you know needs to talk with someone after losing a friend or loved one, GriefShare can help find a local support group.
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Stress in College Students: Recognize, Understand, and Relieve School Stress
For many people, college can be a notably stressful time. What you may not realize, though, is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Earning your bachelor’s degree can be a rewarding, exciting period where you see progress in both your professional and academic life. In fact, college can include some of the best years of your life.
The key to ensuring that you get the best experience out of your college education is to understand the kinds of stress that you might face in college, their causes, and stress management strategies that you can deploy to make yourself more comfortable and at ease.
What Is Stress
Scientifically, stress is characterized by a certain biological and psychological response to challenging situations that we encounter in our lives. In more plain terms, however, we all know what stress is. We’ve all experienced that feeling of anxiety, that sense of an impending deadline that causes our thinking to narrow and, even if we don’t realize it, our heart rate to increase.
Stress is what happens when you’re faced with a stressful situation. Sometimes stress can be a good thing; it helps us to focus and really get things done under pressure. However, too much stress can take a toll on our bodies and our minds. If we’re stressed too often, the biological response to stress starts to take a toll on our bodies. Meanwhile, chronic stress can make us more vulnerable to psychological conditions such as anxiety disorders or depression.
Types of Stress
It’s important to understand that not all stress is the same. Like we said earlier, some stress is good. Knowing about the different types of stress can help you understand when it can help you through your college career, and when it could actually be hurting you. The American Psychological Association identifies three kinds of stress:
Typically when we think of stress or stressful situations, we’re thinking of acute stress. Acute stress happens when we find ourselves in a demanding situation, such as the day before an important paper is due or during final exam week. In small doses, it can help us focus on these situations and push through to the other side of them, where our stress will be relieved.
Chronic stress is kind of stress that we all worry about having. While people with acute stress feel it in relatively short bursts, and that feeling can help them to focus on an issue or work hard on a challenging problem, chronic stress grinds down on people with problems that have no quick endings. If unresolved, chronic stress can lead to death through suicide, heart attack, or other illnesses. Chronic stress might be experienced by a student who faces financial problems in school, with no real end in sight.
Similar to acute stress, episodic stress crops up in response to particularly tense situations. However, unlike people who suffer from acute stress, those who feel episodic stress seem to face these stressful situations frequently, running into one episode of stress after another. While someone who periodically faces a difficult academic challenge might be said to experience acute stress, someone who is constantly putting off assignments to the last minute or consistently failing to study for tests will probably experience episodic stress.
Although most of us know stress as a kind of feeling that we get in certain situations, stress actually manifests in a variety of symptoms across the body and mind.
Physical Symptoms of Stress
- Digestive issues
- Trouble sleeping
- Pain in your chest
- Muscle pain or tension
Emotional Symptoms of Stress
- Depression or sadness
Behavioral Symptoms of Stress
- Emotional outbursts
- Decreased social activity
- Using drugs or drinking
- Eating too much or too little
- Getting less physical activity
Cognitive Symptoms of Stress
- Inability to focus
- Feeling worried constantly
- Losing sense of organization
- Constantly wakeful and alert, even when tired
Causes of Stress in College Students
For college students, stress can crop up in a number of unique situations. It’s important to know when you may begin to feel stressed to that you can avoid these kinds of situations, know the kinds of stress that you’re likely to face, and take steps to ensure that you have a healthier and happier college experience.
Grades are a source of stress for many college students. Whether they’re good grades and you’re worried about keeping them that way, or they are poor grades, and your’re concerned about not living up to expectations.
Fear of Missing Out
There is plenty of information out in popular media about what a college experience should be. According to some films such as Pitch Perfect or Animal House, the average college student should go to lots of parties, have lots of friends, play on a sports team, never have financial problems, and still get great grades. These unrealistic expectations for college life can start to stress you out if you apply them to your own experience.
Lack of Sleep
The thought of not getting enough sleep by itself might not really stress you out, but sleeping less than 7 hours a night can contribute to stress in other areas of your life before you even realize it. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t have enough energy to keep up with a busy class schedule, all while making time for a robust social life and after-hours studying.
It can be embarrassing to admit to your peers, but it’s perfectly normal to miss home if you’re a college student. In fact, according to NBC News, 69 percent of freshman students feel homesick. Being away from home for the first time can be stressful for many people, especially when you’re surrounded by other pressures of college life.
It’s not news that college is becoming more expensive than ever. Coupled with concerns like health insurance for students, it’s no wonder that finances are a big source of stress for people in college. Financial stress is often a form of chronic stress, so it’s important to identify it early so that you can figure out strategies to deal with this stress.
Coursework and Exams
Finishing assignments on-time and doing well on exams are critical parts of the college experience, especially for classes where your grade is determined by just a few papers and one or two exams. A single exam or paper can cause acute stress, which can actually help you complete the assignment or finish your studying. For students pursuing a master’s degree or earning a doctorate degree, anticipating a thesis or capstone project can have a similar anxiety-inducing effect. However, if you constantly find yourself getting swamped by coursework, then you may be suffering from episodic stress.
As we noted earlier, college is getting more and more expensive, so many students are finding that they need to take on at least one job during the school year to help pay the bills. However, these additional responsibilities can quickly begin to pile up, causing you to have less time for your school work, your social life, and your sleeping schedule.
College isn’t all paying bills and writing papers. It’s important and healthy for you to make new friends and maintain a healthy social life. However, if you don’t manage your social obligations, and your other responsibilities as a student, then you may find yourself in stressful situations.
College is a great time to find romance, but keep in mind that romantic relationships can also prove stressful if they interfere with your other obligations, or don’t turn out as well as you’d like. Romantic relationships can be healthy, but it’s important to learn your limits and know what is and is not a good idea for you when it comes to romance.
Members of a minority (such as LGBTQ students) may feel excluded from college life. This sense of exclusion can be stressful and minority stress makes it harder for minority students to make friends at school and succeed in their classes.
How To Prevent Stress in College
We’ll discuss several strategies for managing stress as a college student. However, the best way to deal with stress is often to avoid it completely. If you understand the triggers for stress in your life and how to avoid them or mitigate their effects, then you are well on your way to preventing it.
You don’t have to deal with stressful situations on your own. A good support system of family, college friends, and even understanding professors can help you to put an end to your stress before it becomes problematic.
Understand Your Triggers
Stress doesn’t happen for no reason. Think carefully about what might be causing stress in your life and what your options are for avoiding these situations. For example, if you’re stressed out by the idea of writing a paper just hours before the deadline, then it may be wise to work on your paper-writing strategies. Find ways to do the bulk of the work long before assignments are due, so that you are less stressed when it’s time to turn them in.
Manage Your Time
Time management is an essential skill in college. By managing your time well and leaving enough time for you to study and finish assignments, all while leaving room for a social life and sleep, you can avoid stressful situations before they crop up. Keep in mind that many of these situations are caused by not having enough time to keep up with all of your obligations.
Learn To Say “No”
One facet of time management is knowing when to say no to an obligation. This can be a social function, an additional class, or even a romantic opportunity. It’s important to recognize when you simply don’t have time to fit in additional responsibilities. By saying no, you can make sure that you avoid potentially stressful obligations.
Managing Stress in College
Sometimes stressful situations are unavoidable. However, this doesn’t mean that stress has to take over your life. There are things that you can do to manage your stress and ensure that it doesn’t get out-of-control.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for your emotional wellbeing. By getting enough sleep (at least 7 hours a night for adults), you can actually improve your mental health. More sleep can give you more energy, which could allow you to make it through stressful situations more easily.
Similar to getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet can also have far-reaching effects on your outlook and your energy levels. Like sleep, a good diet may improve your mental health, potentially making it easier to deal with stressful situations in your life.
Many students have access to a campus recreation center, where they can go to exercise while at school. Students who go to school online can find gyms and other recreation centers in their own communities, or try workouts that can be done in the home. By finding time in your daily routine to get some exercise, you can make your body healthier and give yourself more tools to fight stress. Eating well and getting enough physical activity are both essential for staying healthy in college and managing stress.
Find a Stress Outlet
Even if you have stress in your life, you don’t have to let it control your behavior all of the time. By finding ways hobbies to distract yourself from stress or let out stressful feelings, you can help manage the impact that it has on your day-to-day life. Some good hobbies might include sports that you can play with others, video games that help to distract you, or reading a good book.
Some students drink coffee to help them get enough energy for their days. However, research has found a link between caffeine consumption and stress levels, suggesting that drinking a lot of coffee to help you make it through the day may actually be related to elevated levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Skip the coffee and opt for a healthy diet, with plenty of sleep and good physical activity, in order to get more energy to power through the day.
Set Realistic Expectations
Taking an overload of credits each semester and acing every class isn’t realistic. It’s important to balance your expectations for school. Set goals for yourself, but make sure that your goals are attainable and can be reasonably achieved. This is especially important for non-traditional students, who may have more responsibilities outside of their schoolwork.
Learn Relaxation Techniques
Techniques like meditation can help you lessen the impact of stress on your mind and your behavior. Next time you feel stressed, just try taking deep breaths and telling yourself to relax. By calming your mind, you can work to manage your stress and make sure that it doesn’t control you.
One of the easiest ways to get behind on coursework is to become disorganized. Instead of letting deadlines and exam dates creep up on you, find a way to organize yourself more effectively. By using a planner or an online calendar, for example, you can keep track of all of your responsibilities in one place, helping you to make sure that you won’t miss anything. If you’re more organized, then you’ll be able to deal more proactively with stressful situations that may crop up.
Stress Disorders: Extreme Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
We’ve talked about how stress can be healthy for some people some of the time. However, there are also many ways for stress to manifest in unhealthy stress disorders. Being aware of the stress disorders that are out there can help you spot the difference between instances of healthy stress and dangerous stress-related conditions.
Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and PTSD are both stress disorders that can occur after a traumatic event. If you have ASD or PTSD, then you may experience dissociation from your daily life, re-experience the traumatic event that’s causing your stress disorder, feel tense or on edge constantly, and have trouble sleeping. You may be at risk for ASD or PTSD following a traumatic event, such as harassment or sexual assault, at your school or outside of it.
Stress vs Anxiety: Recognizing Anxiety Disorders
In addition to stress disorders, anxiety disorders can also make schoolwork difficult and have a negative impact on your mental and physical health. While stress is a response to challenging situations that we face, anxiety describes a precise set of physical and emotional symptoms, including restlessness, an increased heart rate, hyperventilation, a feeling of weakness, and sleeping problems.
Anxiety disorders are typically triggered by certain events or situations. It’s important to know what kinds of anxiety disorders there are so that you can identify them in yourself or in your peers. If you believe that you have an anxiety disorder, then you should seek treatment from a medical professional. Many schools also grant access to special mental health resources for students who suffer from any kind of stress, anxiety, or depression-related disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health condition where a person feels an ongoing sense of anxiety about everyday activities or events. The anxiety that a person with this disorder feels is often not proportional to the demands of the activity that’s making them anxious.
People with a social anxiety disorder feel a great deal of anxiety at the prospect of social interaction or being placed in social situations. People with a social anxiety disorder may try to avoid any social contact in order to manage their anxiety, which can hurt performance in school as they cut themselves off from their peers and stop attending classes.
Stress and Depression
While stress can be helpful in short bursts by encouraging you to focus on an important task or giving you the motivation to push towards a challenging deadline, chronic stress over a long period of time can lead to depression. Depression is often characterized by a sense of hopelessness, loss of interest in one’s hobbies or goals, trouble sleeping, a severe lack of energy, and a loss of self-worth.
College students are exposed to many stressors which can lead to depression, including stress over grades, financial worries, or even the fallout of a severed romantic relationship. By being on the lookout for depression in yourself and in your peers, you can identify it and seek treatment with a mental health professional before depression can hurt your grades or your college experience.
Panic Attacks and Disorders
Unlike an anxiety disorder, which is often triggered by a certain event or kind of activity, panic attacks have no underlying trigger, making them difficult to predict. Panic attacks can come on suddenly, causing a feeling of terror, chest pain, dizziness, and nausea. For students who suffer from panic attacks, help from a medical professional may be necessary in order to continue functioning well at school.
How To Get Help With Stress, Depression, or Anxiety
If you’re suffering from stress, depression, or anxiety, your first stop should be to see a medical professional or mental health professional to help you understand what you’re facing and the options available to treat it. Even if you believe that your issues with stress aren’t as serious as those that other people face, a mental health professional can still give you resources and techniques for managing stress and organizing yourself and your school activities.
- Medical or mental health professionals in your area
- Mental health resources and services provided by your school
- Community leaders such as church leaders or teachers
- Friends a family who can support you and help you manage your stress
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-8255
- National Institute of Mental Health
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
By Dave Tomar
Anxiety in college students — it’s something we sort of take for granted. School is stressful. College is particularly stressful. And don’t even get us started on graduate school. The pressure, workload, and expense of higher education all have a way of building up, leading to emotional distress, depression, and burnout. Indeed, anxiety and stress in college students are both potentially serious and often overlooked health risk factors. But why is school so stressful, and are there effective strategies for how to deal with stress at school? Read on to find out, and to learn ways of more effectively coping with college anxiety.
Traditional college age students are uniquely vulnerable to stress and anxiety. According to Courtney Knowles, executive director of The JED Foundation, a charitable organization that aims to reduce suicide and improve mental health for college students, the average age of onset for an array of mental health conditions is in the range of 18 to 24. In fact, says the National Institute of Mental Health, 75% of individuals with anxiety disorders will begin to experience symptoms before reaching the age of 22.
Harvard Health Publishing confirms that a majority of college students struggle with anxiety. According to the American College Health Association Fall 2018 National College Health Assessment, “63% of college students in the US felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year. In the same survey, 23% reported being diagnosed or treated by a mental health professional for anxiety in the past year.”
These findings suggest that traditional college students are both at a particularly vulnerable age, and in a particularly risky environment, with regard to mental health. For those who are vulnerable or at risk, the many adult “firsts” that come with the college experience can prove especially challenging.
According to the JED Foundation, “When students can’t manage these firsts, they’re more likely to struggle.” Harrison Davis, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Counseling and Coordinator of the Community Counseling master’s program at North Georgia College & State University observes that “If students do not feel adequate or prepared to cope with the new environment of a college campus, they could easily become susceptible to depression and anxiety.”
But what aspects of the college experience are most likley to heighten your risk of stress, anxiety, and even depression? And what steps can you take to reduce your risk?
To hear from an expert on mental health in higher education, check out our Interview with College Student Mental Health expert and Director of the JED Foundation, Lee Swain.
To find out why college students are so stressed out, read on…
Why are students so stressed?
Going to college marks an exciting time in your life. Every fresh semester, program, or activity brings with it the promise of new experiences and unforeseen opportunities. And each of these experiences and opportunities moves you one step closer to the goals you’ve created for yourself, whether educational, personal, or professional. But with each step, you’ll also face new and unforeseen challenges.
You’re adjusting to an unfamiliar environment. Your classes, assignments, and exams are much harder than anything you experienced in high school. You feel a palpable pressure to succeed, both as a consequence of internal and external forces.
And even if your classes are a breeze, even you acclimate seamlessly to campus life, and even your parents are just proud of you for getting into a good school, this may well be your first foray into independence. If that’s true, it may also be your first real encounter with important things like responsibility, accountability, and laundry. Your newfound independence means that you’ll be making many of your own decisions for the first time about things like class attendance, social affiliation, sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, personal expression, and so much more.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re an experienced adult returning to college, or online college, after some time away. At least you’re done with those vulnerable quarter-life crisis years, right?
Well, as you probably know all too well, real life carries an array of stressors that are too encompassing to list. Briefly speaking, some combination of work, child-rearing, bills, home maintenance, taxes, personal commitments, social obligations, gym membership, heath concerns, and aging parents may keep you in constant motion during the day, and restless at night. Add grades, credits, exams, and tuition costs to the mix and it’s easy to see why this exciting and awesome time in your life can also be a crucible of anxiety.
Academic pressure may be nothing new for many students entering college, especially those who navigated highly competitive high schools and admissions processes to arrive on campus. But the costs associated with higher education create far higher stakes.
For many, college begins as a stressful proposition simply based on its high cost and the demands that this cost places upon you to get your money’s worth. And because the cost has risen so dramatically — to the tune of roughly 100% since 1989 — students who are already vulnerable to the impact of stress and anxiety must also contend with harsh economic realities not faced by previous generations.
According to Psychology Today, “In the past, higher education was considered a public good, not a private product. Until the 1980s, it was supported by state funding and federal grants, making it affordable for nearly all students who had the aptitude and motivation to attend college. For example, in the 1960s, tuition at the University of California was $86.50 a semester; it was only $35 a semester at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. Students could support themselves and work their way through college with part-time jobs — taking charge of their lives and embracing agency and adulthood in their late teens and early 20s.”
It would be an understatement to suggest that attitudes toward higher education have changed. Psychology Today notes that community colleges still remain affordable, but that four-year degree options — even at public colleges and universities — have skyrocketed in price. Psychology Today reports that “the University of California’s tuition, for instance, is $13,225 a year; private college tuition can be $50,000 and more. With room and board another $20,000, college has become out of reach for many of today’s young people…Students look to their parents to pay for college, remaining economically and emotionally dependent on them, which may leave them unprepared for adult life.”
Ironically, the high cost of college is making it harder for students to achieve financial independence and, thus, learn true financial responsibility.
Everybody faces stress and experiences anxiety. But how we manage these experiences can make a world of difference. Keep reading for stress-management tips on everything from affordability and time-management to self-care and mental health support.
How to Deal with Stress at School
Find Ways to Save
In light of the considerable psychological toll that college costs can take on students, one of the best preventative measures for dealing with stress and anxiety is to find ways of saving money on your education. Take advantage of all your financial aid and scholarship opportunities, learn how to effectively wield a credit card, and preemptively consider your eventual options for student loan refinancing. And of course, you can get the ball rolling in the right direction by choosing an education that balances excellence and affordability. We’ve got resources to guide you down each of these paths. To learn more, check out:
- The Affordable Colleges Source: Online Public, Private, Best ROI
- Financial Aid for Online College: Everything You Need to Know and Do
- Student Loan Refinancing—And Other Tips On Post-Graduate Adulting
- Credit Cards for College Students—9 Things You Should Know
- How to Find Scholarships—Scholarship Indexes, Directories & Databases
Get Academic Support
College will challenge you. It’s your job to rise to that challenge. But you don’t have to do it alone. That’s the whole point of being part of an academic community, whether on-campus or online. You have access to great minds, extensive academic resources, and dedicated support personnel. Take advantage. After all, you’re paying for it! If you’re struggling, don’t do it in quiet isolation. Before the stress becomes an insurmountable obstacle to your academic success, talk to your professor during office hours, visit your academic advisor, research tutoring options on your campus, even consider shifting your educational focus to areas more suited to you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for academic help. Sometimes, just knowing there are others who care about your educational journey can help to relieve your stress.
It also helps to be prepared, whether you’re studying for exams, attacking a writing assignment, or conducting online research. Take some of the stress out of your work with our handy classroom resources:
- How To Write a Research Paper (The Short Version)
- How to Write a Research Paper: 10 Steps + Resources (The Longer Version)
- 7 Quick Tips for Writing a Great Persuasive Essay
- 10 Tips To Improve Your Online Research
- Online Exam Tips You’ll Be Thankful For
For more homework help, including our awesome Study Starters series, drop by The Study Lounge.
Oh, and one more thing before we move on from the academic stuff…
Don’t place yourself behind the eight-ball by putting off until tomorrow what you could do today. Of course, this applies to homework and studying, but it should also apply to stuff like dealing with bureaucratic obstacles at school, setting up medical appointments, and attending to daily life responsibilities like taking out the trash before your dorm attracts vermin. Stay on top of your responsiblities by managing your time effectively, studying incrementally rather than cramming, and organizing your tasks in ways that actually allow you to get things done.
If you’re learning how to work independently for the very first time, check out Online College and Time Management.
Seek Mental Health Support
If you are a struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression, seek help immediately. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or self harm, call +8 (800) 273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) or text “HOME” to 741741 (Crisis Text Line). If you are experiencing an emergency or an immediate crisis, call 911 or your local emergency number.
According to the JED Foundation, “stigma remains the most significant barrier to seeking treatment.” The Foundation notes that students, in a study from 2006, cited embarrassment as the number one reason someone wouldn’t seek help.”
It’s important to recognize that stress and anxiety are common among students at every level. (In fact, if you’re in graduate school, the risk of anxiety and stress disorder is even greater.) Know that you aren’t alone. Don’t let perceived stigma or embarrassment prevent you from seeking the support you need.
If you have access to on-campus mental health counseling, begin there. If you lack such access, or are a student at an online college, there are numerous organizations, hotlines, and community support groups ready to help. To learn more about these groups, take a look at these Mental Health Resources for Online College Students.
And for additional resources supporting those in crisis, visit Preventing Student Suicide: Support and Resources for Students, Educators, and Peers.
For many students, one of the biggest stressors in higher education is a feeling of isolation. From those attending sprawling state colleges to those earning degrees through online courses, there are countless students experiencing college alone. This may be especially true for marginalized or minority groups. With this in mind, we offer an array of resources dedicated to student populations with distinctive needs. Use these resources to make the most of your educational experience and to connect with students, alumni, and advocacy groups who share your needs and experiences.
- Disability Advocacy for Students Online
- LGBTQ+ Student’s Guide to Choosing the Best College
- Military Education Headquarters
- Online College Resources for the Single Mom
- Support, Advocacy and Resources for Undocumented Students
Get Some Rest
Sleep deprivation may be a common part of the educational experience, but it’s neither healthy nor a productive way to pursue an education. Long hours of study, a demanding assignment load, a challenging work schedule, and chronic partying can all cut into crucial sleep time. And that sleep loss can add up to some real mental health consequences including depression, ADHD, and anxiety.
According to Harvard Health, roughly 50% of adults with sleep disorders were also diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Take steps to improve your sleep situation. Avoid caffeine and snacking in the evening, impose a mandatory “lights-out” time on your study and homework sessions, refrain from screen time before hopping into bed. For peak academic performance, make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
To learn more about the connections between sleep and academic performance, check out Hitting the Snooze Button On High School.
You might also be interested in knowing that College Kids are Sleeping in Pods.
Of course, there’s more to it than just a good night’s sleep. There are quite a few other health factors that could have a direct impact on your anxiety levels and your overall mental health. College campuses bring a number of unique risk factors from the prevalence of sexual assault and the dangers of hazing to the realities of bullying and the permeation of binge drinking. Each of these constitutes an area of student health that can have a direct connection to student stress and anxiety. If you are impacted by these, or any other health challenges, be sure that you’re seeking the proper treatment, therapy, or support.
For an overview of the numerous health risks faced by college students, and strategies for navigating these risks, check out our ever-growing Student Health Portal.
We don’t mean to patronize you. We know the responsibilities, pressures and stakes of college are very real. But we also know that there’s more to the college experience than just grinding through your homework. You are now part of a community; you have access to opportunities; and you have ways of growing that will take place entirely outside the walls of a classroom. So in spite of the blood, sweat and tears that you’ll be putting into your schoolwork, be sure that you’ve put aside enough time to do things you love. With that in mind, check out a few of the recreational opportunities made possible by your enrollment in college:
- College Sports in Focus
- College Clubs to Join
- Influential Student Newspapers
- 50 Crazy Campus Traditions
Remember that Grades Aren’t Everything
Again, we know grades are important, and that there’s a lot riding on your academic performance. Bad grades are naturally stressful. And those who thrive on good grades endure a constant drumbeat of anxiety over the need to maintain this high performance standard. But it’s really important to put grades into perspective. Grades do not have life or death consequences. And in fact, research suggests they probably aren’t a truly accurate measure of our knowledge and abilities. However, in most traditional academic settings, graded evaluations are central. Always do your best as a student, but also do your best not to take grades personally. You are more than your grades.
For a little more perspective on the subject, check out our theoretical discussion on Eliminating the Grading System in College: The Pros and Cons.
Anxiety and stress in college students do pose some real public health concerns, especially as they connect to rates of non-completion, depression, substance abuse, addiction, and suicide. There is a real need for mental health professionals — especially school counselors — who have the compassion and knowledge to make a positive difference. If you’re interested in a career helping others cope with or manage anxiety, stress, depression, burnout and the host of other conditions to which students are especially vulnerable, you might consider a career in counseling, especially as a school counselor. To learn more, check out the following counseling degree programs:
- Best Online Bachelor’s in Counseling Programs
- The 20 Best Master’s in School Counseling Online Degree Programs
- The Best Online Doctorate in Counseling Degree Programs
5 Ways to Reduce Stress in College
Ahh, stress. It is a well-known feeling for most college students. Between juggling schoolwork, jobs, relationships, a social life, and trying to decide what to do with their lives, it’s no wonder they struggle with mental, physical and emotional health.
While a certain degree of stress can be healthy and motivational, this threshold can easily be surpassed. It can take a real toll on a student’s well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic, excessive stress can reduce productivity, and increase sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety and even physical effects ranging from sore muscles to stomach aches. To avoid these symptoms, here are some tips to stay happy, healthy, and reduce stress while managing the demands of college life.
Use a Planner
Stress is often brought on by feeling overwhelmed with tasks, which is a common occurrence when attending college. List each assignment and allotting time to complete it. That way, you can stay on top of what you need to do and when. The most effective way to do this is by using a planner on a regular basis. Some students simply rely on themselves to remember due dates. Then they wonder why they miss deadlines or forget important information. By writing down each task, you can organize your work and better manage your time.
The best thing about planners is that you can actually plan out your schedule WEEKS ahead of time. Nearly every college class supplies a syllabus at the beginning of the semester. Take half an hour to go through each class’s syllabus. Write down all of the important due dates in your planner. Every Sunday, look at what you have to accomplish that week. Look ahead two to three weeks out for big projects, assignments or tests so that you are aware of them and can further plan for allotted study or work time.
It is one thing to write down assignments and due dates in a planner. However, it is an entirely different matter to actually do the work. Putting off tasks can lead to trouble very quickly. Have you ever decided to write a research paper at the last minute and then realized that there is no information on the topic? What about technical issues involving a computer crash or a broken-down printer? Odds are, you or someone you know has encountered one of these scenarios at some point in their academic career.
Waiting to study, start an assignment, or worse start a huge project, ultimately causes more stress. While you may act like binge-watching Netflix or going out with your friends is more relaxing than doing your schoolwork, your responsibilities are likely still lurking in the back of your mind waiting to be addressed. It’s no fun to feel guilty when you’re trying to enjoy yourself! Take the initiative to complete (or at least start) your tasks before lounging or hanging out, to avoid a potentially more stressful situation further down the road.
With that said, it is very important to take breaks when doing big projects and studying for exams. However, there is a difference between watching an episode on Netflix after you’ve been studying for two hours and watching an entire season after reading one chapter of your textbook. The key is to balance breaks and work time to complete assignments without losing your mind. Some good break activities could include going for a walk, calling a friend, watching (some) TV, grabbing a snack or cleaning. If you have any hobbies, be sure to take some time for them between studying! Whether it be playing an instrument, woodworking, drawing, painting, reading or writing, don’t allow your creativity to go by the wayside while you’re at school! Sneak them into your breaks and do something you really enjoy!
Usually, when we are stressed, our first instinct is to reach for comfort food such as ice cream, pizza, chips or really anything high in carbs and sugar. However, when our diet consists primarily of these types of foods, we are depriving ourselves of nutrients that our body and mind need to operate at an optimal level. Stress.org cites that eating a lot of sugar or simple carbohydrates such as white bread, rice, pasta, and cereal can cause us to crash and feel tired or fatigued which can negatively affect our productivity and overall health.
Additionally, Web MD indicates that those who are deficient in certain brain chemicals triggered by our food can actually become more susceptible to anxiety and depression. By swapping out “bad” carbs and sugary food items with fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain carbohydrates, we supply our bodies with essential vitamins and minerals. We thus sustain energy, improving brain health and fostering a positive mental state as opposed to feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed.
As with food, exercise also affects brain chemicals. According to the Harvard Health Blog, when we exercise, we release chemicals in the brain that decrease inflammation and foster the growth of brain cells and vessels. Therefore, regular exercise can help with sleep, reduce stress, and manage anxiety. Feeling healthy and strong physically can help us to feel healthy and strong mentally as well. However, it should be noted that people’s preference for stress-reducing exercise may vary. For example, some people may feel more relaxed after practicing yoga or meditation. Others may find that they can reduce their stress by lifting weights or running. Take the time to experiment! Find which exercise is best for you to keep your mind and body in working order.
Stressed about finding the right college for you at the best price? Use College Raptor’s free match tool to discover individualized college matches, personalized net price estimates, acceptance odds, and potential financial aid at schools around the country!
5 Tips to Reduce College Student Stress
Being a student can be tough. With the transition to adult life, making new friends and busy schedules for studying college student stress is common place for most students. Here are top tips on how to reduce it.
We all encounter the stresses of daily life, and college students in particular struggle with the adjustment to busy schedules and deadlines demanded from overwhelming courses and exams. The continuous pressure to achieve quickly during our early years of adulthood, leads to college student stress, anxiety, and mental health challenges.
The first time we leave home and start preparing for adult life, college presents intense pressure to achieve high grades and shape successful careers. Students tend to push themselves to the limit both in their academic performance and their recreational outlets.
Many college students ignore signs of stress and as a result experience a range of physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. Increased heart rate or blood pressure, headaches, or fatigue, for example, commonly strains our physical states. The “psychological perception of pressure”, on the other hand, influences our emotional reactions to unexpected situations.
Stress among college students can negatively impact academic performance, personal relationships, and overall well-being. However stress can have positive effects if managed properly with these 5 simple tips.
What is Stress:
Stress is your body’s response to uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations and can surface through a range of physical, emotional, or mental symptoms. The situations that lead to stress can be either negative or positive. Yes, even a high exam score can cause stress among college students, piling on the pressure to maintain the high average!
The important thing to remember about stress is that it should only be temporary otherwise it can lead to burnout, or physical and emotional exhaustion. If you find yourself stressed for long periods of time, take some time off and do something to distract from the pressure.
Watch this video for a great depiction of stress management:
Effects of Stress:
Prolonged stress is known to affect a person’s physical and emotional states, as well as behavioral and cognitive functionality. It affects our food and alcohol cravings, sleep patterns, and general relationships with those around us.
Some common signs of stress include:
Aches and pains.
Indigestion or acid reflux symptoms
Increase in or loss of appetite
Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders
Cold and sweaty palms
Trembling or shaking
Weight gain or loss.
Upset stomach, diarrhea
Causes of Stress:
Significant life events often lead to increased stress levels. Though among college students, the causes are often much more subtle. A heavy workload, public speaking, or long work or study hours, can lead to hostile behavior and tense reactions to unexpected situations.
By understanding the individual causes of stress, students can better prepare themselves for the academic challenges that lay ahead. College students should consider these 5 tips in effort to reduce stress:
1. Time Management:
Instead of focusing on your to-do list each day, focus on the free hour you have before your next class, or the time you can gain from completing a task ahead of schedule.
We often push things off until the last minute under the perception that our busy schedules don’t leave us enough time. However, what you can do to counter this procrastination is to make things bite size, break up tasks into smaller, more manageable sections. Make a designated space for work that isn’t your bed.
Use a planner to block sections of time throughout your day, but make sure to leave time for yourself to socialize and relax.
2. Positive Thinking
What if you actually scored an A on the exam you thought you failed? Just as easily as your mind imagines the worst case scenario, it can be trained to imagine the positive.
When we experience stress, we tend to interpret situations negatively. Pay attention to these reactions and avoid the unexpected by getting an early start to your day.
If you still notice yourself thinking negatively, pause for a second, and try not to engage those thoughts.
Tip: Try listening to music while you study to help calm you and focus you on your work.
Daily or weekly exercise routines will help balance your mental and physical reactions to life’s stresses.
According to a 2015 study by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 85% of college students reported feeling overwhelmed at some point in the previous year by everything they had to do; and 41.6% stated anxiety as the most pressing concern among college students.
Regular exercise can mitigate those concerns by promoting better sleep, improving your mood, and boosting your energy. Try 60 minutes of light walking, or 30 minutes of high intensity exercise. Sign up for yoga, join a gym, go climbing.
Keep the routines interesting by combining different variations of cardio with muscle-building throughout the week.
4. Ask for Help
One of the most important lessons you can learn during college is to ask for and accept help. Whether from a friend or a professor, being surrounded by a strong support system will help ease the transition into some of the best years of your life!
Admitting what you don’t know and studying with a friend could be the difference between a 60% and 80% on your next exam. Asking your professor for an extension on your next paper might give you the time you need to write that last page.
If the stress is becoming too much to handle, reach out to your university’s counseling or mental health center. The AADA, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, was created to prevent and treat stress and anxiety through education, practice, and research. They work with the world’s leading experts and provide a range of free services, including webinars, podcasts, and peer-to-peer support.
Remember: Try not to put so much weight on every situation and remind yourself that college is a time for clarification and exploration and should be enjoyed!
5. Manage Your Health
Eating healthy can make a huge impact on alleviating stress and positive thinking. Make sure you avoid alcohol (it only acts as a depressant), avoid energy drinks as the fix will be temporary and will cause you to crash. Instead eat lots of stress busting food such as:
- Green leaf vegetables like Spinach contain folate that produce dopamine a pleasure inducing brain chemical which will help you feel calm
- Protein food likes eggs and meat helps produce serotonin which regulates hunger and feelings of happiness and well-being
- Omega 3 foods such as salmon have anti-inflammatory properties that help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones
- Other foods such as blueberries, seeds, dark chocolate, avocado, nuts, yoghurt and oatmeal also help counter stress
A positive sleep pattern and healthy diet will directly impact your clarity throughout the day. Aim to sleep 8 hours each night, and if you struggle with this, take power naps of 30 minutes to 2 hour intervals, helping to balance your REM cycles.
Wrapping it Up
Yes, college can be a scary and overwhelming time in a person’s life, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. The stress that college students feel can often affect their academic achievements as well as their personal life.
By understanding the symptoms of stress we can learn to detect when the stress is a positive boost and when it is weighing us down. Managing your stress and your health will prepare you for the unknown situations and reward you with an exciting and engaging college experience!