Being in college presents a lot of daily challenges and different aspects that may cause worry.
Everything from classes, studying, navigating the campus, part-time work, paying for school, new living arrangements, being away from home, dealing with a roommate, interpersonal relationships, navigating new environments and social settings, grades, writing papers, keeping up with existing relationships, mental health, etc.
The combination of these can become overwhelming and make college life very stressful. What can you do to help manage all the stress that comes with being in college? Read on for a quick guide on how to manage your daily stress!
Oxford Reference defines stress as “Psychological and physical strain or tension generated by physical, emotional, social, economic, or occupational circumstances, events, or experiences that are difficult to manage or endure.”
Three different kinds of stress
Bestcolleges.com defines the three types of stress as:
The most common form of stress, acute stress, is the result of day-to-day stressors, such as waking up late, running to class, or receiving a bad grade. Fortunately, most acute stress fades quickly and has little mental or physical impact.
Episodic Acute Stress
As its name suggests, episodic acute stress develops when a student experiences acute stress multiple times over an extended period. Common symptoms include migraines and tension headaches.
Chronic Acute Stress
Chronic acute stress happens when someone can't avoid a long-term stressful situation. For example, students struggling academically in a major course may develop chronic acute stress, which can lead to weight gain, sleep deprivation, and anxiety.
Stress can affect you both physically and emotionally
Emotionally, if the stress is not handled properly, it can lead severe issues like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, sleep disorders, eating disorders, unknown muscle pains, drug or alcohol misuse, and other ways to cope.
Stress can also make it difficult to concentrate and focus, which in turn can affect academic performance. A decline in academic performance can lead to more serious implications such as losing scholarships and financial aid that are dependent on maintaining a certain GPA.
Physically it can cause an upset stomach, diarrhea, stress headaches, irritability, and restlessness. If not addressed, over time it can slowly weaken your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to everything from the common cold to fatigue-related illnesses like fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses.
Fear of missing out (FOMO) can lead a student to try and do it all, including going out in the evening, when they may need to be studying or getting some sleep. The thought of missing out can induce a stress and panic response in the body and further induce agitation.
The fear of missing a social opportunity can lead to negative experimentation with drugs or alcohol. The student might fear they will be viewed differently or fear they are missing out on the same experiences that those around them may be partaking in. This type of social peer pressure can lead to severe consequences including addiction and even death and needs to be taken seriously.
Ways to combat stress
Habits and routines
Setting routines helps automate activities in your day-to-day life, and eventually they become second nature, like brushing your teeth. Making things become routine actions, like when you are going to study, when you have available free time, and when you wake up can ensure you complete the things you need to accomplish each day, without having to give them much thought, as they are already a part of your routine and daily schedule.
It is so important to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep to allow your body time to rest, recharge and get ready to face the day. Not getting enough sleep can cause fatigue, increased mental health issues, moodiness, laziness and weight gain. Prioritizing sleep can keep your system calm, your mood up, your body active, and keep your stress at bay.
As little as 20 minutes of exercise a day can help rid your body of excess anxious energy. Going to the gym, going for a walk, and taking a Zumba class are all great stress relievers. Make it a habit to set aside time to workout everyday. Your body, brain and stress levels will thank you.
Many college students like to wait until the last minute to write a paper or begin work on a project, claiming the pressure of the deadline helps them to work faster. However, avoiding this type of procrastination can allow you to systematically go through the different steps to complete these papers or projects, allowing you to calmly work on them, and avoid the dreaded feeling of doom with deadlines looming over your head. Procrastination may work for some, but if you have anxious tendencies, waiting until the last minute may cause unnecessary stress and worry.
Immediate ways to relieve stress
There are a variety of techniques that can help you relieve stress quickly and it’s important to find out which one works best for you. Some examples that can help alleviate stress include a yoga class, meditation, a walk-in nature, stretching your body, or trying something like EFT tapping. A great way to destress is by listening to a guided meditation, where you focus on your breath and become present. This will leave you centered and relaxed, and ready to take on your day, stress free.
Often if we are feeling anxious or depressed, if we take a minute to look inward, we may realize that we are feeling disconnected, either from ourselves or from others. Seek out a friend to talk with via the phone, or schedule a quick coffee break to be around others who are a calming force in your life. Sometimes all we want is to be seen and acknowledged by others, and this type of connection may be just the thing to help relieve some stress that has been built up.
Set realistic expectations
Set realistic expectations for yourself, your time, your accomplishments, and your short-comings. Realize that you cannot do it all, and set reasonable goals for your accomplishments, and know that sometimes letting other responsibilities slide is normal to ensure you take care of yourself and your own needs. If you set your expectations too high and are consistently not accomplishing them, this can lead to feelings of disappointment or stress.
Practice Self Care
When setting up your schedule and routines, be sure to include some self-care habits, like setting aside time to journal, where you can write out your feelings and worries to get them out on paper and out of your mind. Perhaps schedule a time to have a massage once or twice a semester, or schedule a pedicure with a friend.
Ensure that your calendar is updated regularly, so you know when papers or projects are due, and when you need to have certain aspects completed. Staying organized with your room, desk, paperwork, and calendar can all ensure that you stay calm and in control of your time and responsibilities.
How to get help
Sometimes students are nervous to visit the on-campus doctor or health clinic for any physical health or mental health concerns. However, they are professionals with expert experience with students and are ready to help you with anything! The health clinic is often included in your tuition, and sometimes University’s offer free therapy sessions as well. If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress and college life, it is crucial to discuss your stress level and the effects it’s having on your physical and emotional health with a trusted professional.
Seeing a therapist or psychiatrist
Seek out a therapist or psychiatrist to address any mental health issues that may be a result of chronic stress.
Having someone to turn to who will listen and give qualified advice is extremely valuable during times of transition and struggle. There is no shame in asking and accepting assistance with mental health. They may offer individual counseling, which is one on one between you and a therapist, counselor, or psychologist.
Another option that may be offered is group therapy. This is therapy done with a small number of other group members that meet at a selected time and share their experiences. Group therapy can be helpful to let you know you are not alone, and students can learn from each other. It might be beneficial to learn what has worked to combat the stress and anxiety of others. Together you can brainstorm additional ideas and techniques, and also have additional people to lean on during difficult times. You are not alone.
Similar to group counseling, you may be referred to an online help group, where people facing similar challenges can come together online for support, comradery, and friendship, as well as accountability in going through the necessary steps and suggestions to combat stress in your life.
Telehealth with a provider
After the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increased availability of telehealth. The ability to speak with a provider via video on your phone or computer is a game-changer. Avoid crowded waiting rooms and wait in the comfort of your own home, the provider will come on the screen when they are available at your appointment time and they can address a whole range of ailments, including stress.
Many physicians as well as counselors, therapists, and psychologists now offer telehealth appointments, which can save you travel time to the office, as well as lessen the anxiety of having to drive, wait, and return to what you had previously been doing.
Other External Resources
If you are experiencing a personal emergency, there are places to call that are available 24 hours a day, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, which gives students the opportunity to talk with trained professionals. This number can assist with conditions such as anxiety, chronic stress, depression, as well as thoughts of suicide and other personal harm-related issues.
Stress doesn’t have to ruin your college experience and taking steps to ensure you do not get overwhelmed can keep you calm, focused and on a track to success and happiness.