How to manage stress in college

Attending college and furthering their education is an exciting time for most students. But even exciting things can carry a certain level of stress. This is completely normal. Four out of five college students struggle with stress according to the American Institute of Stress. Learning how to be out on your own for the first time, deciding what you want to do career-wise and balancing academic responsibilities with social activities can be challenging. 

No matter how much a student has prepared academically or put aside time to learn life skills, such as essential money skills, there will still be unexpected challenges that add to student stress.

Developing new relationships in a new space also adds an element of stress that you may have never felt before. This can be especially stressful if you’ve left your hometown to attend school. You may feel as if you’ve lost the deep connections that once kept you grounded – that comfort zone created by people who have celebrated you at your best and supported you during challenging times. Establishing new friendships is an important part of combating stress in college students. However, creating healthy relationships alongside studying, working a part- or full-time job and having time to reconnect with yourself is a tall order. It’s no wonder that student stress is through the roof for many of those attending college.

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Causes of stress in college students

While stress is a universal feeling, the causes of it will vary depending on the person. Some leading causes of stress in college students include:

  • High tuition, housing and living expenses
  • The inability to balance work and school schedules
  • Homesickness
  • Roommate conflicts
  • The unfamiliarity of their environment
  • Overwhelming social obligations
  • Family turmoil and changes at home
  • Romantic relationships
  • The advanced nature of their coursework

All of these situations will add to a student’s feeling of stress and anxiety.

effects of stress on students

Effects of stress on college students

Some stress at school can be expected, but if the stress is impacting other areas of life, it’s time to find better solutions. Too much stress in college students can lead to a breakdown in emotional, physical and mental health, which can ultimately hinder student success. Stress can lower immunity and increase the chances of contracting viruses or other illnesses. It can also raise blood pressure and affect your cardiac health. 

college stress in students

Stress can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Loneliness
  • Increased worrying
  • Hostility
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Erratic sleep habits
  • Memory loss
  • Dissociation

If you’re a student feeling any of this stress, it’s time to look into some lifestyle changes.

Some students will reach for support in substances like alcohol or tobacco instead of handling stress in a more productive way, potentially putting them on the road to substance use disorders. Some who experience student stress also develop anxiety disorders, depression or other mental health conditions that can negatively impact their overall well-being.

How to manage stress in college

Finding ways to manage stress in a healthy manner is the key to combating the effects of stress on college students. Finding tools to deal with stress is beneficial fors students far beyond college and is one of the keys to unlocking an extraordinary life. When these skills are developed early, they carry into adulthood. This will benefit you as you start to build your life after college too.

Rather than wondering how to deal with stress in college, learn how to deal with it before you embark on your higher-education adventure. Here are some tips on how to manage stress in college.

1. Focus on your purpose

When you arrived at your university, you wanted to experience as many things as possible. In addition to your classes, you might have done things like take a part-time job or internship, join a sorority or fraternity, sign up for an intramural sports team and found a group of friends with whom you attend parties and go to dinner.

Being well-balanced is an important part of life, but when you stretch yourself too thin, you’re not able to excel in any one area. Focus on your ultimate purpose. Do you want to secure an exclusive internship with an esteemed professor so you can boost your résumé for grad school? Focus on what you need to do to get the position. Is networking within the communications program your best bet on landing a job after university? Become well acquainted with the staff and students.

One of the ways to beat student stress is to understand that energy flows where focus goes. Identify your main goals and direct the majority of your energy to those areas of your life.

2. Get comfortable saying “no”

When it comes to college students and stress, the key is to become familiar with a word that many people don’t like: “No.” You might be afraid of saying no to situations, be they related to your academic or social life, because you don’t want to miss out on opportunities. You also may not want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Let go of these falsehoods. People will understand when you say no. Most importantly, you owe it to yourself to respect your own time enough to know where you want and need to spend it. By centering your thoughts and energy on what it is you really want, you’ll find more fulfillment and peace during your college years. There is only so much time in a day. You can’t be everywhere for everyone, so choose to align your interests with your goals to effectively manage student stress.

girl dealing with stress in college students

3. Take responsibility for your state

What’s the first thing that happens when you get stressed? You start listing the reasons why you’re feeling tense and irritable. It’s your professor’s fault for assigning so much reading. It’s your manager’s fault because they’re not accommodating your class schedule. It’s your roommate’s fault because their messiness is distracting.

It’s easy to push the blame for your stressful state on someone else. It’s a lot harder to own what you’re feeling and try to change it, but it’s ultimately much more rewarding. The next time you find yourself working into a stressed state, stop. Breathe. Ask yourself why you’re feeling so much pressure. Is it because you’re on a deadline for a project? Did you wait until the last minute to start studying for a test? Take note of the words you’re using to explain your situation – changing your words changes your life. Don’t use dramatic words that make you feel more stressed. Instead, tell yourself you can handle the situation and give yourself permission to slow down and relax. 

Oftentimes, student stress can be avoided with enough forethought. Take note of your emotions, try to shift your mental state by changing your physiology and get back to work. Remember that are in charge of your emotions. No one can make you feel a certain way unless you give them permission to do so. 

Once you become a master of your time and emotional habits, you can better predict and avoid these situations. This cuts down on one of the leading causes of stress in students.

4. Use time management tools

college students and stress

Stress in college students is common in those who haven’t worked out the time management principles that work for them. It’s understandable. Chances are this is the first time you not only had to manage school, but also things that come with living on your own like grocery shopping, laundry and setting personal appointments, like doctor’s visits.

It can take a while to get into the swing of managing your time efficiently. The first step is to learn which time management tools work best for you.

  • Rapid Planning Method (RPM)

This results-oriented, purpose-driven, massive-action plan is a strategy that enables you to define your goal, establish the purpose behind your “why” and then set specific steps as to how you’ll measure your results.

  • No Extra Time (N.E.T.)

What are you doing when you’re making dinner, commuting to school or vacuuming the house? While completing these everyday tasks, you could also be listening to an informative podcast or doing something else educational that will feed your mind. That’s the concept behind N.E.T. time – you use moments we often view as “downtime” to simultaneously feed your mind with valuable information.

  • Chunking

Does looking at your to-do list cause you student stress? Try chunking. Chunking is the process of grouping together tasks by desired outcomes. By shifting your focus and tackling these related tasks, you’ll feel less stressed or overwhelmed by what you need to do and be able to be more productive with your time as well.

stress in college students

Time management skills are important to learn – not just for college, but for your future career and personal life. Those who have effective time management skills can get more done, have a better work-life balance and avoid the possibility of stress making them sick.

Stress is a normal part of life. The key is to learn how to manage this feeling of pressure. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by all you need to accomplish – shift to a growth mindset. You’re facing these challenges because you’re growing as a person, as a student, as a son or daughter and as a friend. College is the time when you can pursue your passions and feed your spirit. Instead of wasting time feeling stressed and worn out, view this time as a vital, thrilling experience that will shape your future successes.

Important note

The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. See full disclaimer.

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