College is an exciting time, full of new challenges that drive you to expand your horizons. While some of these experiences can be thrilling, others may leave you feeling stressed.
Just as everyone experiences stress in their own way, we all have our preferred methods of coping with it. However, not all stress management strategies are healthy, and some may leave you feeling even worse than you did before.
Being able to manage stress is crucial for your academic success and personal well-being in college. After all, you can’t control the stressors in your life, but you can choose how to respond to them.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a normal and necessary part of life. It is your fight-or-flight response to challenges you see in the world. This natural reaction has certain physical effects on the body to allow you to better handle these challenges, such as increased heart rate and blood circulation.
According to the American Psychological Association, there are three types of stress: acute, episodic acute, and chronic.
Effects of Stress on College Students
Stress affects your entire body, mentally as well as physically. There are four primary types of symptoms of stress: physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral.
Some common signs of stress include:
- Restlessness or irritability
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in appetite
- Frequent mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
Managing Stress in College
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to stress relief. What works for one person might not work for another – so it’s important to have a variety of stress relief tools at your disposal.
How to Stop Stressing Out: Seven Tips for Conquering Stress in College
- Get Enough Sleep
Many college students find it difficult to get enough sleep because of busy schedules, late-night excitement, or stress. 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.
Plus, insufficient sleep can put you at risk for serious illnesses, such as diabetes, obesity, and depression. Adults typically need seven to nine hours of sleep a night for best health.
- Eat Well
While fast food and junk food are cheap and convenient, they don’t set you up to do your best. How does eating healthy reduce stress? When you eat healthy, you supply your body with the nutrition it needs to fight stress. Try to avoid high-fat and high-sugar foods, and limit (or eliminate) the use of stimulants like caffeine, which can elevate the stress response in your body.
Be sure to keep your dorm room or apartment stocked with a few fresh fruits and veggies, and high-protein snacks, and be sure that your main meals are healthy and balanced.
One of the best coping skills for college students, which can also combat weight gain and frustration, is to get regular exercise. Exercise produces endorphins, the “feel good” chemical that acts as a natural painkiller.
Knowing how to properly work out and making time for it can be challenging. However, there are many ways to engage in physical activity – like 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.
Even if you’re only able to work out in 10-minute increments, exercise can elevate your mood, release tension, and help keep your body (and mind) healthy.
- Build a Support System
Having supportive people in your life is the key to stress management. Surround yourself with family and friends who uplift you, encourage you, listen without judgement, and can provide sound perspective.
Some friends or family members may be good at listening and sympathizing. Others might excel at practical help, like bringing over a home-cooked meal or helping with child care.
You may need to expand your network. Join an organization, attend a support group, or get professional help if you lack supportive people in your life.
- Have an Outlet
Do you enjoy gardening, reading, listening to music or some other creative pursuit? Engage in activities that bring you pleasure and joy; research shows that reduces stress by almost half and lowers your heart rate, too.
Your schedule may be filled with lectures and study groups, but try to find at least a couple of hours each week to pursue a hobby or other activity that you enjoy. Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs!
Building time for leisure into your schedule could be key to helping you feel your best. And when you feel better, you’ll perform better, which means leisure time may make your work time more efficient.
- Practice Relaxation Techniques
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.
Meditation is a simple way to reduce stress that you can do any place at any time. Begin with simple techniques such as deep breathing, guided meditation, or repeating a mantra.
Deep-breathing exercises can help melt away tension. Try this exercise: Inhale slowly through your nose, hold the breath for three seconds, then exhale through your mouth, and repeat as needed. This helps prevent the short, shallow breaths that often accompany feelings of tension.
- Get Professional Help
Everybody needs help from time to time. If you find it especially difficult to adjust to the changes or ongoing challenges of college life, your campus likely has resources to help. Reach out to:
- Your college or university’s counseling services
- Your student advisor or a resident assistant
- A doctor or therapist
In college, stress is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to dominate your life. Do your best to understand what kind of stress you’re feeling, what’s causing it, and how you can respond to it productively. By addressing your stress in a healthy way, you are doing all that you can to make the most of your college education.
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