Everyone gets stressed. College students, however, tend to experience multiple stressors at the same time. Because of this, recognizing the signs of stress, along with finding ways to manage it, should remain a top priority among students. However, treating stress doesn’t cater to a “one size fits all” solution. Since stress looks different for everyone, coping mechanisms do as well. Yet finding ways to cope with intense stress can make a world of difference for college students.
Read on for 10 expert-approved tips for managing your stress levels.
1. Join a club
You can find one of the most beneficial resources for students to reduce stress within the university itself. Joining clubs allows individuals to meet new people with similar interests. Clubs not only look great on your resume but they also offer you the opportunity to find a sense of belonging on campus. When you find your community, you can reduce feelings of isolation that can lead to stress. With some universities offering hundreds of clubs to pick from, any student can find a group of peers that enjoys the same activities that they do.
“Time and time again, belonging to a group that the individual feels is supportive is one of the most successful methods for students to laugh, decompress, share their frustrations, find tips and resources on how to manage the challenges others are facing; and even if solutions are not evident, the simple act of sharing those challenges is therapeutic and cathartic,” Salem State University Professor Steven Dion said.
Attending club meetings can add something for you to look forward to your college schedule. Even if the idea of meeting new people sounds intimidating, try pushing yourself anyways. The options for extracurriculars in college cater towards a wide range of interests, ensuring that anyone can find something they enjoy. By heading to your university’s next career fair, students can meet with different clubs to pick which one(s) feel the most like home. When college life feels too stressful, spending time around a group of likeminded people can effectively reduce your anxiety.
2. Spend time with loved ones
Spending time with people you love can help lower stress levels. This might get challenging for students attending school far away from home. However, taking the time to plan a simple phone call with those you care about can brighten up your mood. So, whenever you find your stress levels climbing, talk to your friends about it or call your family back home. Whether you need advice, want to rant or simply just miss their voice, maintaining a strong support system helps make college seem a little less stressful.
“If relationships are demanding, erratic, not trustworthy, harmful, etc. they will add to an already demanding college experience. You should be able to laugh with your friends and cry with your friends without criticism and judgement. Mutual and positive support is a necessity at any stage in life,” Social Worker Kathy DeWitt said.
When students attend college for the first time, many face intense pressures to make the right connections. After all, you spent high school getting to know people who might not attend the same college now. However, you must remember that the quality of friendships matters most, not the quantity. Try to find a few quality friends who you can trust. That way you can lean on them when times get hard. Reaching out to someone you trust when you feel stressed can help you in dark times.
3. Take a break
College students constantly find themselves trying to develop a social life while balancing the tasks from school. With endless assignments to complete, finding time to do the things you love presents a challenge, especially with only 24 hours in a day. More often than not, students sacrifice their own wellbeing to keep up with their busy schedules. Yet, an overwhelming schedule won’t feel like your biggest enemy if you plan correctly. By carving out some time each day to take a break, you can complete your to-do list while also enjoying activities you love. Whether you give yourself 30 minutes or an hour, use that time wisely to take a break from the stressors college can cause.
I’m sure you heard that exercise can help reduce stress. Despite this knowledge, students find the busyness of college preventing them from hitting up the gyms on campus. Yet, even if you spend only 15-30 minutes each day exercising, students can find many benefits from the process. For example, exercise can release the tension stressors cause, which in turn increases your mood. Finding ways to keep active can easily fit into your daily lifestyle. Instead of driving everywhere, try taking a walk with your friends. If you feel adventurous, consider attending a yoga class.
5. Get organized
When students leave for college, they often also leave behind their support system at home. Due to this, the many invitations to go out in college might feel hard to pass up, making it difficult to prioritize everything that needs to get completed in a day. However, taking the time to create a schedule can make a tremendous difference. By writing out the due dates of assignments, you can turn all-nighters into more productive studying habits. Plus, getting enough sleep each night reduces stress in itself.
“There are times when school/work demands may dominate. Recognize and accept that. There are times when family/personal issues dominate. Recognize and accept that. Balance will become unbalanced at times, we can’t control everything. We need to control what we can,” Psychologist Kristi Ravet said.
Whether you decide to create an elaborate bullet journal or digitally plan out your days, developing a sense of organization relieves stress. By blocking off enough time to complete work, students can spend less time worrying about school. This gives them more room to take care of themselves. Without a schedule, students often sacrifice important elements of self-care that can help reduce stress. So, kiss those all-nighters goodbye. Getting organized may seem daunting, but the benefits include stress-free living.
6. Take care of yourself
Stressed out college students tend to forget how to put themselves first. Yet self-care remains one of the most essential ways to maintain your overall wellbeing. For those who participated in an intensive skincare routine before college but lost track of it, consider starting it up again. If you used to read all the time, find one or two books every month that you love. College students face many adjustments when stepping on campus for the first time. However, taking care of yourself should always remain a top priority on the list.
7. Prepare for exams early
Picture this: you forgot about a big midterm approaching in two days. You plan on spending the next 48 hours doing absolutely nothing but studying. However, when the exam time approaches, you still feel unprepared. Exam anxiety causes lots of stress for college students everywhere. If you need ways to help alleviate intense stress from exams, consider changing your studying patterns. Starting to prepare for an exam weeks in advance helps student retain information better. This will result in you feeling more prepared when walking into the classroom. Taking an hour or two to review notes in the weeks leading up to an exam not only opens up your schedule but also reduces anxiety.
Since stress varies for every student who experiences it, the effectiveness of coping strategies differ too. If you find your stress levels rising too high in the moment, consider implementing short-term coping mechanisms like mindfulness meditation. Using this strategy, students develop an awareness of what they can sense in the moment. However, you must approach this without any interpretation or judgement. When done successfully, mindfulness relaxes the body to prevent the effects of stress.
“There are short-term coping mechanisms which can be used in the moment you are experiencing stress…focusing on your senses: name five things you can see, four things you can touch around you, three things you can hear around you, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste,” Social Worker Jordyn Miller said.
Many apps today work to spread awareness about mindfulness by providing activities for students to try. For example, Headspace and Calm help people cope with stress online for free. Downloading Headspace ensures hundreds of guided meditations ranging in length for people on all levels from beginners to pros. Calm, on the other hand, offers either guided or unguided meditations to relax the body, keeping you calm during tough times. With an increasing amount of resources to pick from, mindfulness meditation can easily fit into your daily routine.
9. Eat healthy, if you can
Students often struggle to eat healthy in college. When money runs low, cheap dinners seem convenient. However, your diet also impacts the amount of stress you face. One way to help reduce stress levels involves eating a well-balanced diet. Although we don’t expect college students to eat five-star meals each day, implementing items like fruits and vegetables into your daily diet can make a huge difference. By replacing unhealthy foods with more nutritious options, students will feel more energized to take on everything throughout the day.
10. University Services
Students experiencing stress might reach a point where it feels like too much. Rather than trying to stick it out, speaking to someone about your struggles can make a world of difference. Consider reaching out to University Health Services if the stresses exceed manageable levels. Oftentimes colleges offer stress coping services. However, speaking to a psychologist or a trusted adult works equally well. Taking advantage of the help your university offers can put you on the right track to successfully managing stress.