How to Cope with Stress in College

Written by shirleym on October 3rd, 2010

College is a fun and exciting time, filled with countless opportunities, but it can also be a stressful and overwhelming time. Besides the usual grind of going to classes, studying for exams, and writing papers, many college students are involved in extracurricular activities that take up additional energy and time. Whether it’s tutoring kids at a nearby neighborhood, working a part-time job, pledging for a sorority/fraternity, or being president of a club, students must find ways to balance studying and work with their social lives and other areas of interest.

We’ve all had days where nothing seems to go our way. Maybe you stayed up until 5 in the morning the previous night to finish a paper for sociology, only to realize while you’re turning it in that you forgot to send an important e-mail to fellow club members about a fundraiser that’s happening next week, which makes you feel so anxious while you’re in class that you neglect to pay attention to anything the professor is saying. You may come back to your dorm room that night, hoping to get a short nap in before starting more homework, only to see that your roommate’s boyfriend is visiting that weekend, which inevitably exiles you to the floor lounge. Cranky and stressed from having too many things to do at once, you snap at your roommate and cause tension between yourself, her, and her boyfriend.

Fatigue, lack of sleep, and having a busy schedule are leading causes of stress among college students. Other sources of stress include paying for tuition fees, textbook costs, or campus accommodation, dealing with being away from home for the first time, long-distance relationships, and a general feeling of loneliness and lack of belonging. Stress among college students not only makes it harder to deal with every day tasks and relationships with others, but it can have an effect on academic performance and general well-being.

If you’re feeling stressed in college, consider doing the following things:

  • Identify your main source of stress. Whether it’s your heavy course load, juggling work and school, or an inconsiderate roommate, you can’t deal with your problems until you know what they are. Once you have an idea of what’s been stressing you out, focus on one problem at a time.
  • Prioritize. Trying to tackle too many things at once may increase stress and make the problem worse. Instead, make a list of the things that are bothering you and rank them in terms of how much stress each of them is causing, with the most stressful thing at the top. Then, look for solutions that target that specific problem. If you’re taking too many classes, consider dropping a course or lessening other activities in your arsenal so that it frees up time to study. As college students we are often tempted to do as much as possible in four short years, but realize that it’s the quality, not the quantity, of your activities that matter.
  • Exercise. Exercising is a great way to release stress. One, it can take your mind off whatever might be bothering you. Two, it releases chemicals, such as beta endorphins, that specifically counteract the effects of stress hormones. Beta endorphins basically tell your body that it’s okay to relax. Three, it’s a great thing to do with other people, so you don’t have to suffer alone or in silence. Tuition fees often include membership at the school gym, so make good use of it while you’re in college. If you’re feeling stressed, take a walk around campus, go for a swim, take a yoga class, or lift some weights. You’d be amazed at how much better you can feel afterward.
  • Make sure you’re eating right and getting plenty of rest. College students are predominantly night owls. We may stay up late to get some last-minute studying in, polish off that final paper, or simply have a good time at a party. But too many late nights and a lack of nutritious meals will undoubtedly increase our stress levels, not to mention make it harder to concentrate in class or feel attentive and alert throughout the day. If you have a stressful day ahead of you, try to eat a well-balanced breakfast, such as a bowl of oatmeal with some orange juice and an apple. Avoid skipping meals. During meals, make sure you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables and drinking plenty of water. When we are stressed, underfed, and sleep-deprived, our immune systems don’t work as well, which increases the likelihood of illness.
  • Maintain a healthy support system. Talking to someone about what’s stressing you out can be a great source of therapy. Friends, family members and classmates are not only great listeners but they can be invaluable during difficult or stressful times. For example, if a particular class is growing increasingly difficult and you find yourself stressed out about an upcoming exam, consider starting a study group with other people in the class. Anxious about your writing? Ask a friend to look over a paper for you before turning it in. Most universities also offer free tutoring services for those looking for more professional academic help. Make an appointment, or consider going to a professor’s office hours to clarify any questions you may have. Remember, office hours are created solely for students. Even the most intimidating professors love it when students go into their office hours for a quick chat.
  • Learn to balance work and school. Many college students work part-time while they’re in school to help pay for tuition, textbook and living costs, or simply to earn some pocket money. While this is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, it’s easy to feel overworked or overwhelmed doing both things at once. If you qualify for financial aid, look for work-study jobs offered by your university – often these jobs are close to campus and take into consideration your class schedule so that you can work around your classes, as well as keep hours to a manageable amount so that they don’t interfere with your schoolwork. They often pay higher than other jobs, and many places with work-study contracts prefer to hire work-study students because the government pays part of their salaries. If working a job while in school ever becomes unbearable, consider taking out student loans to help offset tuition and cost of living. Many student loans have low interest rates that don’t start for years after you graduate. Make a visit to the financial aid office and see if these loans are right for you. There are also scholarships available for students in most universities – talk to someone at the career center for more information.
  • Take some time to breathe and relax. College students are often on the go, zipping from one activity to another without pause. Remember, no matter how much you have on your plate, it’s important to take time for yourself every now and then. Maybe you’ve been feeling homesick for awhile – try to arrange a visit home every now and then to rest and rejuvenate. Instead of staying cooped up inside studying all day, take a study break and read a book on the beach. Go out with friends. Sure you’re here to learn, but who says you can’t have some fun while doing it?
  • If you can’t do it alone, get help. Don’t ever feel embarrassed about asking for help if you truly need it. College can be a highly stressful time, and there’s no reason why we have to go through any of it alone. If something is stressing you out and you don’t feel comfortable discussing it with family or friends, consider making an appointment at your school’s counseling center. They may have some tips for learning how to better manage your time or cope with stressful situations, or they can simply lend a sympathetic ear for your troubles.

8 Comments so far ↓

  1. dougm says:

    This is so true. College is hard enough. I think I’m going to print and put this on my refrigerator to remind me.
    Thanks for this!

  2. shirleym says:

    Hi Doug,

    You’re welcome. Glad it helped.


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