Feeling stressed? This post is all about dealing with stress in college.
You deal with a lot while you’re in college. Assignments, deadlines, tests that came way too fast and often out of nowhere. So, let’s break it down and give you manageable ways to dealing with your college stress.
While college can be a huge source of stress that you have to learn to deal with, it should also be a time for significant personal growth, individuation, memories, and fun.
Rather than getting bogged down by the stress you’re experiencing (remember that stress is healthy and useful, not inherently harmful), you deserve to enjoy your college experience while you work towards the future you want after college.
This post is all about dealing with stress in college.
1. Practice deep breathing exercises
Deep breathing exercises feel the most impossible when you’re in the middle of a panic attack because the test you’re taking asked a question you didn’t prepare for. But, this is also the best time to practice deep breathing.
The better time to practice deep breathing is before you’re taking that test, while you’re studying for that test, and anytime that feels right. The important part of deep breathing to relieve stress is making sure you get into the habit of it before you absolutely need it.
2. Take breaks and go for a walk
Taking breaks by going for a walk, listening to a podcast, or calling up a friend is a great tool to implement into your study routine. If you use the pomodoro method (try it if you’ve never heard of it or used it), your walks will serve as a great way to hit fill that five-minute break time.
While you don’t have to walk, you do want to involve some type of movement into your study routine to engage other parts of you other than your over-stressed brain.
3. Prioritize tasks and create a schedule
The single best tip to navigating college while succeeding at your classes is writing everything down and prioritizing. You can use an online planner like Google Calendar or your Notes app.
You can also use a cute planner app like Zinnia (my personal fave for the iPad) or a real, paper planner. However you do it, you’ll want to write down everything you have to do.
This includes assignments and personal to-dos like showering (if you’re struggling to fit that in), sleep, and class time. From there, you can mark the times you complete the ones that are scheduled and mark the level of urgency of the ones that aren’t.
From there, you can easily make a list of what’s most important finish the fastest and go down the list.
4. Make time for self-care activities
When you’re in college and just figuring out the alone-adult life, go easy on yourself. Have compassion because you’ll make a lot of mistakes and learn from them to make better choices in the future. One of those choices will likely be about where self care fits into your schedule.
Likely, you’ll get busy with friends and homework to the point where self care seems silly when you could be hanging out or getting work done. That’s when you 100% need to do it and prioritize it. Check out this list if you need some help coming up with ideas.
5. Join a campus organization or club
For most of us, college will mean leaving a lot of our friends and family behind no matter how far away they are. It’s intimidating to make new friends when literally everything about your college life is new. That’s why joining a campus org or club is a great idea!
Beware that some of them charge dues (AKA fees to join), and that may not be feasible for you. But, there are definitely lots of recreational clubs that get together to play sports or practice hobbies. Look out for the type of org that appeals to you and fits your needs.
6. Seek support from someone you trust
When in doubt, always reach out. The people in your life care, even if you’re on the other side of the country. So, let them know if you want to talk or are struggling.
While you can keep some of the details to yourself, you still need to talk to someone and you might find that sharing everything feels pretty good. This someone you trust can be a parent, friend from high school, or a professional therapist.
Whoever you choose, take this as an opportunity to rely on them because they’re in your life to help you (and they probably relate to struggling with a big life change).
7. Write in a journal
10 minutes a day. No matter what you’re doing, where you are, or what you’re involved in, you have ten minutes to dedicate to journaling. Journal when you’re in bed and about to sleep (maybe even instead of going on your phone for an hour 😉).
Find a time of the day when you can journal and schedule it in because you’re almost guaranteed to forget about it if you don’t. Check out some cool journal prompts if you’re unsure where to start.
8. Practice mindfulness techniques
Now is a great time to start meditating and doing yoga. Your school might even offer yoga classes included in your tuition, so take advantage!
If you’re nervous to try meditation around other people, find a beautiful place on campus or around your home (preferably in nature and relatively secluded) and try it there. You don’t need to cross your legs and sit on the ground.
You can simply sit on a bench, close your eyes, and follow a guided meditation. Keep mind that practice makes perfect, so you could try and make it a regular occurrence.
9. Attend campus events and activities
Go to the events that your school hosts for you. Get that free food, do the fun activities, and meet some people if you’re comfortable with that. You’re paying for the school in one or another, so you might as well take advantage of the stuff included in your cost.
10. Take advantage of campus resources
Most campuses will have tutoring in various subjects (including academic writing), exercise classes, and counseling services. They also have a lot of resource centers like the Black Resource Center, Women’s Resource Center, and LGBTQ+ Resource Center.
These are included in the cost of tuition, so take advantage where you need it. Pro tip: resource centers can offer anything from computer access to printer access. So, don’t dismiss them.
11. Limit caffeine and sugar intake
All you see on TV is college kids pouring coffee and energy drinks down their throats. This is definitely a common phenomenon and it’s not the healthiest. Students who drink caffeine tend to experience more anxiety about school.
In other words, you can drink coffee. Sometimes, you need to for the boring lecture that always makes you fall asleep. But, you also should keep an eye on how drinking coffee affects you.
12. Practice positive self-talk
While our mental health problems are not caused only by negative self-talk, we don’t do ourselves any favors when we treat ourselves poorly. That’s why it’s a good idea to start changing that inner dialogue into something more positive by challenging negative thoughts.
This starts off by simply noticing the negative thoughts. The easier it gets to notice them, the easier it will be to remind yourself they’re not true. Challenge them by countering with a positive thought. Over time, this will become easier and a force of habit.
13. Develop a support network
Your support network includes old friends, new friends, family, professors, and peers. You can even get to know professionals in your desired field to keep you on track and make sure you’re going in the field that interests you.
You can use this support network to help you through both academic and personal challenges. Email your professor when you’re really struggling or text a peer that you’re too sick for class and ask if they can send you notes.
14. Set realistic goals and expectations
Be compassionate to yourself. You’re new at this. You may have been a student before, but college is different and you’re doing in a different environment now that you’re older and may not live at home anymore.
So, make sure you know the end goal. But, keeping that end goal in mind, make sure you’re also being realistic in how you reach that. Give yourself more time to study than you need in your schedule and be compassionate when you don’t pass a test.
You’re allowed to learn and that’s all failure is.
15. Take breaks from social media
Social media is the easiest way I’ve ever found to occupy my time while also almost always making me feel worse after I use it. While it’s important to stay informed, we can get a little too informed and repeatedly informed.
So, try finding non-social media activities to fill your time when you need to take a breath. Use social media when you want, but make sure it’s benefitting you more than it’s hurting you.
16. Declutter your study space
Get rid of the stuff in your dorm room that stresses you out. Put away the stuff that has a place (and it’s a good idea to get rid of anything that doesn’t have a place).
Pick up your desk and your bed to make studying easier. If you have a test coming up that’s getting you stressed on top of the stuff sitting out, set a timer. 15 minutes, 30, or 60. However long you have, use that time to tidy up. Whatever you get done will make you feel better.
17. Engage in creative activities
Write a poem, paint, draw, knit. Whatever creative activity you like or want to try, go for it and don’t hold back. Go wild with it and enjoy it. Challenge any negative thoughts that rise, like we talked about, and focus on the pure joy of creating for the sake of fun.
While it’s easy to get stuck in the “I have to be good if I try something new” mindset, challenge that and do what you want to do for the sake of doing it.
18. Identify and challenge stress triggers to develop coping strategies
It takes time to identify that you’re feeling stressed then trace that feeling back to its cause. A lot of time, we get stuck feeling the feeling without distancing ourselves from it.
We think, “I have so much going on that I’m stressed” and we want to start thinking “I’m feeling stressed” and ultimately “this thing is the cause of my stress.” So, start by noticing your stress than going from there.
19. Seek mentorship from professors
Raise your hand in class, go to office hours, and make friends with your professor. Have a conversation with them and ask them about their lives. Take an interest in them, ask about your assignments.
They’re people and the rights ones are usually the coolest, most grounded authority figures you’ll ever meet. One hand, it’s nice to have a new friend. On the other, you can benefit from their expertise, experience, and kindness in class.
20. Practice gratitude
When nothing is going your way, think about what you’re grateful for. Odds are your anxiety or depression or other mental health issues are helping you blow something out of proportion.
While it’s important to process your feelings, you want to focus on processing the necessary and realistic feelings rather than the ones that come from your brain stressing you out when you don’t need to be.
If you fail a test, that sucks. But, you can be glad you had the wakeup call you did to try something new. If you lose a friend, maybe they weren’t good for you.
21. Take care of your physical health
Get sleep. Eat some nutritious foods along with the snacks. Go for a walk once a day. You’re welcome to go further with your physical health, but be consistent. Keep your body moving and remind yourself how you can move in ways that feel good.
Exercise is should not be torture. It should activate your body in a good way, so get out there and have an impromptu dance party or join a recreational sports club at your school.