Dealing with college stress

How to Cope with Stress in College

Updated By Staff Writer on November 20, 2020

Traditional college is synonymous with self-discovery, pizza as all five food groups, and . . . stress. Between all-nighters spent studying for finals, working a part-time (or full-time) job, and squeezing in a little time for a social life, college certainly has its share of cortisol-boosting moments.

So how do you manage stress in college? Luckily, there are plenty of tried and true methods that can help you handle stress like a pro. Take a deep breath and check out our guide on how to cope with stress for college students.

Causes of Stress in College Students

Learning how to cope with stress in college starts by understanding the root causes. Everyday life can be stressful enough, so it’s easy to imagine how college can tip the scale and make average stress levels feel overwhelming.

Trying to balance school, work, family time, and a social life is one of the main causes of stress in college students. Other stressors include worries about getting all of your course credits in, managing a class schedule, hitting due dates for assignments, and the financial worries that come with paying college tuition. Other students might deal with health concerns that pile on more stress—after all, you need to be healthy in order to be successful in school.

Types of Stress

There are many types of stress college students may experience over the course of their journey through school. Stress in college often comes from time stress, or the anxiety you feel about getting everything done on your to-do list. Many students also experience anticipatory stress—the worries about the outcome of a test, getting an internship, or even talking to someone at a career fair.

Situational stress is another common form of stress in college. This might occur when you get into a tough situation where you feel helpless. Maybe your teacher calls on you when you don’t know the answer to a question, or your car broke down on the way to class. Finally, college students might experience encounter stress, which happens when you feel social anxiety in the classroom or other social settings.

How Does Stress Affect College Students?

That fight-or-flight response certainly came in handy when running from wild beasts back in the primate days, but now, stress doesn’t seem nearly as useful. It’s not only hard on your mental state, but it can cause physical, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms, too. So how does stress affect college students? Here are some common symptoms:

  • Increased risk of depression
  • Tension headaches
  • Chest pain or stomach aches
  • Appetite loss
  • Nervous habits
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Trouble sleeping

Healthy Ways to Cope with and Manage Stress as a Student

Symptoms of stress only get worse if you let them build up over time, meaning it’s crucial for college students to develop healthy ways to cope with stress. While some students may turn to excessive eating, smoking, or spending money, these activities only numb the stresses for a time, rather than handling them in a healthy way.

The best stress-relievers often include physical activity, connection with others, and a chance to reset the brain. After all, you spend a lot of time with your nose in a book during college—your mind needs a change of pace every now and then.

How to Reduce Stress in College

Fortunately, there are many ways to minimize stress before it starts. Learning what to expect before you start college can drastically reduce your anticipatory stress. A little organization and planning can go a long way to help you avoid major stressors once college is well underway. Here are some ways you can reduce stress in college:

  • Organize your calendar once a week
  • Visit a therapist
  • Join an online community for students
  • Talk to a friend or family member about your stresses
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night
  • Visit your student success center
  • Exercise regularly
  • Don’t procrastinate
  • Set aside time for self-care

When Does Stress Become Serious?

Sometimes stress feels completely insurmountable—something no amount of sleep or time management skills can help you overcome. At that point, it may be time to seek professional help. Mental health is just as important as your physical health, so if you have any concern about your stress levels, take time to talk to a doctor or therapist.

Stress Relief Activities for College Students

You’re starting to feel tense, irritable, and anxious. You know your stress levels are rising, but you’re still stumped on how to blow off some steam. While everyone has their own preferences and interests, it can help to check out a list for inspiration. Here are some great stress relief activities for college students:

  • Go out to lunch with a loved one
  • Enjoy one of your favorite hobbies, or find a new one
  • Spend time in nature
  • Read for pleasure
  • Create art
  • Cook dinner with a friend
  • Go to the gym regularly
  • Dance
  • Take a nap
  • Meditate
  • Get a massage
  • Take a bath or hot shower

Get More Tips from Independence University

There are many more college success strategies you can try that will help ease your mind and lower stress levels. Check out Independence University’s blog for expert tips and tricks to help you make your way through college with your best foot forward.