12 Ways to Reduce Stress For College Students

in Research   Posted on April 7, 2021  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

Stress is a normal part of life. Everyone experiences stress almost anytime, at any age, in any place, and in any situation. Since change is known to create stress, major life events like going to college are among the most stressful experiences anyone can undergo. The burden to sustain one’s GPA, beat submission deadlines, organize schedules, and even pass short quizzes are just a few of the common sources of stress for college students.

Certain levels of stress are in fact beneficial, motivating college students to better develop their skills and competencies. But still, when excessive stress lingers for a long time, it can become troublesome and even dangerous to one’s health. We’ve gathered 12 of the most effective and workable ways to help students better cope with the overwhelming stress that college life brings.

12 Effective Ways to Reduce Stress for College Students: Table of Contents

  1. Do Not Overload Yourself
  2. Get Emotional Support
  3. Avoid Artificial Stimulants
  4. Continue Your Hobbies
  5. Exercise Regularly
  6. Abstain from Alcohol
  7. Take a Deep Breath
  8. Follow a Healthy Diet
  9. Get a Massage
  10. Talk to Someone
  11. Get Enough Sleep
  12. Think Positive

Nobody is born with a natural resistance to stress. However, youngsters who are in their collegiate studies are especially defenseless from it. Because stress happens when one’s energy level is not enough to handle the level of tension, a person feels overloaded. Stress is quite common on American campuses and is actually one of the most hostile problems that beset college students.

College is a time when one must try to envision her or his future while at the same time struggling to balance her or his studies, job, family, and friends. Dealing with such a huge undertaking is making college students quickly feel anxious and stressed. Anxiety disorders, based on the findings of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, are among the most prevalent mental health issues on college campuses nowadays (ADAA, 2015).

Key College Stress Statistics

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Source: Anxiety & Depression Association of America, 2015

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The shift from high school to college is a relatively massive change in a student’s life. In most cases, being in college is likely the first time a person will be on her or his own. All of a sudden, one becomes free from direct parental supervision. And this shift tends to create an overpowering sum of options for anyone.

If you are a college student feeling the pressure of your new responsibilities and meeting family expectations, do not lose your mind. Follow these proven stress management tips and you will be able to ease the pressure and even allow you to enjoy your college life more.

1. Do Not Overload Yourself

Students who overload themselves tend to experience academic stress. However, overloading was also found to adversely affect the physical and mental health of students, which eventually results in poor academic performance. The 2019 National College Health Assessment reports that many students felt overwhelmed by all the things they have to do in school (ACHA, 2019).

Aside from heightened stress levels, another study found that overloaded students tend to experience psychosomatic illnesses (Stenger, 2018). The research, conducted by Galloway and co-researchers (2013) and involved over 4,300 students, found that too much academic load causes sleeping disorders, fatigue, stomach problems, headaches, and sweating.

An effective way to address this is to refrain from overcommitting to academic and extracurricular activities. If you think you cannot handle one to two classes in a semester, do not be hesitate to drop them. When you need to refuse a friend’s invitation to join a school club, be firm in saying no.

The approach to prevent stress from overloading is actually simple: just be kind to yourself. Since you are “in charge” now, use that opportunity to care for yourself by having more time to rest, study, and relax. Do not overcommit to many things at once.

factors affecting college students' academic performance

2. Get Emotional Support

It is healthy to seek emotional help. In fact, having a strong social network of family, friends, neighbors, and/or peers improves your ability to cope with life’s stressors. Your network need not be large, quality is more important.

A recent study found that college students tend to perform better in their studies when they receive more emotional support from their significant others (Roksa & Kinsley, 2019). Since adjusting to college can be hard, sharing a student’s good and bad experiences will help a lot in easing the burden.

Studies indicate that emotional support from family is the most helpful in alleviating college-related stress of students. Emotional support from parents and siblings is found to be helpful to a student’s academic performance since it expedites increased student engagement and fosters psychological well-being (Harper et al., 2012).

When family emotional support is absent or not accessible, it is advised that students seek professional help if the need arises. Student health centers usually offer help in this area, either by providing an in-house advisor or by recommending trusted practitioners.

Students who receive more emotional support from their families

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Source: Roksa & Kinsley (2019)

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3. Avoid Artificial Stimulants

When in college, it is normal for college students to have all-night study sessions or go almost sleepless for a couple of days to complete a term paper. Studies indicate that many students resort to using energy boosters or artificial stimulants to help them stay awake and complete the task or requirement (see, for instance, Helmer et al., 2016).

This is why one of the leading causes of stress among college students is their widespread dependence on energy boosters or nonmedical use of artificial stimulants. However, artificially removing the body’s natural need to rest or sleep will eventually lead to an energy crash, which further increases one’s vulnerability to stress.

When you really have no choice but to have less sleep for successive days, make sure you catch up on your sleep after. Our bodies need enough sleep to remain strong and prevent illnesses. Just like any abused machine, our bodies will eventually break down unless we keep them well-oiled and maintained.

Why study for an exam the whole night when you will just feel so tired and sleepy for the next day’s exam? It also helps to manage time wisely and refrain from engaging in too many unnecessary extracurricular activities. You can avoid cramming if you have proper time management. Remember, studying smart is better than studying hard.

prescription use among college students

4. Continue Your Hobbies

College students must sustain their focus on their studies. That is something universally important. However, they must also guard against study burnout, which is another prevalent cause of stress in college.

To help keep students from burning out, they must have some kind of break from their often busy schedules and serious study sessions. This is why experts suggest that students pursue other types of non-academic activities, especially hobbies, to help them recharge and refocus their minds and energies (Nelson, 2020).

Aside from helping relieve stress, hobbies have been found to help many college students to augment their financial resources as these leisurely activities can help them earn extra cash. A report by CNBC (2020) says that numerous college students are earning serious cash from their hobbies (Finch, 2020). In fact, a study found that nearly 26% of budding American entrepreneurs started their businesses from a hobby (Curtin & Reynolds, 2018).

How Enterprising Youths Benefit from their Hobbies

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Sources: Finch (2020)/CNBC; Curtin & Reynolds (2018)/PSED II.

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5. Exercise Regularly

Stress negatively affects brain function, especially learning and memory (Bernstein, 2016). Scientific studies indicate that stressful events, when improperly managed, can cause brain impairment. For college students, that means poor academic performance.

An effective way to prevent this is by undertaking regular physical exercise. Even short 20-minute exercises like jogging or brisk walking can go a long way in reducing levels of stress in college.

Moreover, regular exercise does more than relieving stress. It has been found to help college students perform better academically, enhance their memory, and improve their learning efficiency (AUI, 2012).

Aside from finding time for exercise, it is also important to choose an exercise that you like. Doing something one enjoys will help ensure that it will be done repeatedly. Be it yoga, biking, or swimming, engaging in a regular exercise program will be highly beneficial to college students, both physically and mentally.

importance of regular exercise to college students

6. Abstain from Alcohol

Part of young adulthood is gaining the freedom to consume alcoholic drinks. In fact, more and more students are resorting to drinking alcohol as a way to fit in among the college crowd or due to peer pressure when joining clubs or organizations.

While it is normal to drink beer and wine to unwind or to celebrate parties in college, it becomes a problem when the issue of uncontrolled alcohol intake comes in. According to AlcoholRehabGuide.org, alcoholism is a prevalent problem among college students aged 18 to 22 years old (Galbicsek, 2020). Moreover, attending classes with a hangover is not an ideal approach to doing well in school.

The best way to avoid becoming a victim of alcoholism and its outcomes is to avoid it. Abstinence from drinking alcohol also becomes more attainable if you associate with the right group of campus friends. In case you find yourself drinking more than usual, or taking a sip of liquor during unusual times of the day or when there is nothing to celebrate, it is best to seek professional help.

Alcoholism Among 18- to 22-year-old American College Students

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Source: Galbicsek (2020); AlcoholRehabGuide.org

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7. Take a Deep Breath

Rather than drinking to relax, why not try some deep-breathing exercises to ease the tension from too much school work? Other than being totally cost-free, deep-breathing can reduce stress, relax your body and mind, and allow you to have better sleep.

Deep breathing works efficiently against stress because it releases endorphins—the body’s natural pain killers—and helps boost immunity. It also enhances blood flow, which helps the body calm down and stop anxiety (Paul et al., 2007).

This special type of exercise, likewise, only needs to be done a few moments a day, at a student’s convenient time and place. Moreover, deep breathing is very easy to do. It only involves inhaling slowly through the nose, holding one’s breath momentarily, and then exhaling through the mouth. If necessary, repeat a few times more.

abdominal breathing vs. stress and anxiety

8. Follow a Healthy Diet

An all-nighter to cram for an exam the next day can make any student stressed and tired. They will eat anything easy to access—like pizza or anything from the nearby vending machine—and this decreases their stress threshold.

Britz and Pappas (2010) say that too much pressure from their studies can make college students develop unhealthy eating habits. While it is commonly accepted that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the same researchers found that more than three of four college students do not eat breakfast.

Obstacles to having a healthy diet include easy access to junk food, pricey healthy food, convenience high-calorie food, unhealthy snacking, and time constraints.

A sound food habit is essential to promoting good health in college and in the next chapter of a student’s life. Follow a healthy diet and try to always take your meals on time.

Breakfast Eating Habits of American College Students

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Source: Britz & Pappas (2010)

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9. Get a Massage

An instant bodily reaction to stress is muscular tension. Obligated to complete many requirements with limited time and resources, stressed-out college students often feel that their muscles are knotted and tight.

Increasing student burnout is among the reasons why massage therapy has found its way to college campuses across the U.S. (Salmon, 2019). One study indicates that massage therapy has become very popular that more than half of university student-respondents are interested to know more about it (Oswalt & Riddock, 2007).

So if you feel very exhausted and your body is aching, seek the help of a massage therapist. This professional can help to loosen cramped muscles, relieve pain, boost relaxation, enhance blood circulation, and promote overall wellness.

10. Talk to Someone

An often overlooked, yet effective way to manage college stress is communication. When stressed-out, most people can easily get angry and frustrated, which adversely impacts how they communicate. And this usually results in misunderstanding, even among family or friends.

Likewise, stress can make a person avoid making contact with other people, prompting them to withdraw socially and deal with their problems on their own. This could eventually result in severe depression and social isolation (Suwinyattichaiporn & Johnson, 2020).

Simply talking with someone about your stressful situation can help ease your stress. Or just having a friend to listen to your college-related problems can significantly lessen the burden of stress.

11. Get Enough Sleep

Seemingly countless exam days, part-time jobs, morningness-eveningness changes, and erratic daytime routines can make having a good night’s sleep a premium among college students. Their lack of sleep adversely affects their health and academic performance.

One study found that as much as 60% of college students sleep poorly, while 7.7% are found to suffer from insomnia (Schlarb et al., 2017). Because the human body needs enough rest to function properly, regularly depriving oneself of rest can escalate one’s stress level.

Like any young adult, college students must have around seven to nine hours of sleep per night to remain healthy enough to fight stress. Constant sleep deprivation also makes college students at high risk for illnesses such as depression, obesity, and diabetes.

Aside from having adequate rest every night, experts recommend aligning your sleeping routine with the normal resting time. This means sleeping before midnight like any normal adult should do, instead of going to bed in the ungodly hours of the night and sleeping during daytime.

Sleep-related Problems among U.S. College Students

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Source: Schlarb et al. (2017)

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12. Think Positive

Harboring negative thoughts can increase a person’s stress levels. The kind of stress that emerges from negative thinking is damaging and has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression (Martin, 2018).

On the other hand, positivity has been associated with reducing the impact of stress and enhancing health outcomes (Matel-Anderson & Bekhet, 2018). A Stanford University study has found that positive thinking increases the likelihood of a student’s success (Hess, 2018). Moreover, studies had indicated that positive thinking may generate lower stress levels, reduce feelings of depression, and enhance a person’s overall physical well-being (Matel-Anderson & Bekhet, 2019).

We live in an imperfect world, so problems and failures abound. But thanks to positive thinking, people can have a more healthy perspective of even the most dismal situations, enabling people to grow from negative experiences (Wang et al., 2017).

What is our final piece of advice to prevent or minimize stress and lead a healthy, productive college life? Try to always think positive thoughts.

Fight or Flight? The Buck Stops with You

College offers that special opportunity to prepare and transition to one’s future. It is also an occasion for many first experiences—training to be a professional, meeting numerous great people, leading group activities, and many more.

It is, however, also the time when students must deal with too many activities in such a short time. This is why student stress statistics indicate that college stress is inevitable, yet something manageable.

College need not be a totally horrible experience because of the overwhelming stress it brings. There are plenty of help within and outside your campus, you only need to decide that it is time to do something about it. Following these stress-management tips will help you discover that college can actually offer some of the most memorable and life-changing moments to any young adult like you.

 

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