Stress Management for Students
Ashley Jowett
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2021

Stress Management for Students

Stress among students is very common. As many as 80 percent of college students report feeling stressed often. Stress can be brought on by both positive and negative events. Financial worries, coursework, relationships (like those with friends, family, or a significant other), and work responsibilities all contribute to the level of stress students experience. For the first time, students might be living on their own or worried about failing to meet growing expectations.

Stress that comes and goes, like the stress of waking up late, doesn’t cause much long-term physical or mental harm. It can even help you achieve your goals, like inspiring you to study an hour longer for a test you’re worried about. Where stress becomes problematic is when it happens frequently or when someone feels like they are under stress almost constantly.

Here are my top seven tips students can use to cope with stress:

Learn to recognize stress. Stress is a physical reaction to a person’s emotions. People can experience sweating, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, muscle tension, headaches, stomach upset or diarrhea, and fatigue. A person can feel irritable, helpless, or lonely. They may change their eating habits (by eating less or more than usual), use drugs or alcohol, or sleep erratically. People who are stressed, especially over long periods, can find it difficult to remember things or concentrate and may develop a negative outlook.

You can prevent stress by taking good care of yourself. Just meeting your basic needs—like getting enough sleep, healthy and nutritious foods, and exercise—goes a long way in helping students (and everyone else) manage stress. When a stressful situation arises, you are more likely to have the physical and emotional resources you need to deal with it.

Avoid substances. While they might seem to help in the moment, different substances can make it difficult to manage stress. Beyond disrupting healthy sleep patterns, stimulants, like caffeine found in coffee and energy drinks, boost cortisol levels in the body, which increases the effects of stress on the body. Alcohol and drugs send your body on a physical and emotional rollercoaster that can distort your sense of reality and make dealing with stress more difficult.

Make a little bit of progress every day. So much stress for students is caused by delaying work on a major project or term paper or putting off studying until the last minute. When you learn about a project or test, make a plan. Set realistic expectations, and break the work into manageable pieces. Doing a little bit of work each day is far more enjoyable than trying to cram it into a day or two. And you will likely achieve a better outcome, too. 

Have some fun. While it is important to work consistently toward your goals, it’s also important to have some fun. Fun is a stress buster! Book a game night with friends, watch your favorite show or listen to music, join an intramural sports team, enjoy some silence by turning off your phone, spend some time in nature, make some art just for fun, or indulge in your favorite treat.

When you encounter a challenge, take a moment. Though it is very difficult, it is helpful to put the stressor in perspective. Whatever it is—a bad grade, the painful end to a cherished relationship, or something else—it is certain that you are not the first person to experience it. Talking it through with a trusted friend or journaling, relaxation techniques, and a growth mindset can help you put your challenge into perspective.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for more help. If you still find the stress unbearable, that’s a signal that you need additional help. At school, you can find school counselors. You can also reach out to your primary care provider for support. If you experience any emergency symptoms—including suicidal thoughts, compulsive drug or alcohol abuse, abnormal social withdrawal and isolation, violent outbursts, uncontrollable crying, panic attacks, or chest pain—you can call 9-1-1. You can also call 9-1-1 for a friend who is having emergency symptoms. After calling 911, you can also reach out to the suicide hotline at 800-273-8255.

If left unaddressed, chronic stress can lead to sleep disruption, headaches, and weight gain. It can also lead to more serious conditions, like depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. By recognizing stress, preventing it, and managing it in healthy ways, we increase our likelihood of happiness and success now and long into the future.

Kelsey Pierce, PA-C, is a certified physician assistant at SVMC Pediatrics at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.

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