College requires significantly more effort from students than high school. Once you enter college, you will probably find that your fellow students are more motivated, your instructors are more demanding, the work is more difficult, and you are expected to be more independent. These higher academic standards and expectations are even more evident in graduate school. As a result of these new demands, it is common for college students to experience greater levels of stress related to academics.
Many students find that they need to develop new skills in order to balance academic demands with a healthy lifestyle. Fortunately, the University of Michigan offers many resources to help students develop these skills. Many students find that they can reduce their level of academic stress by improving skills such as time management, stress management, and relaxation.
The Pros and Cons of Stress
Stress is anything that alters your natural balance. When stress is present, your body and your mind must attend to it in order to return you to balance. Your body reacts to stress by releasing hormones that help you cope with the situation. That in turn takes energy away from the other functions of your brain, like concentrating, or taking action. There are two different sources of stress: external triggers, like getting a poor grade or breaking up with your girlfriend/boyfriend, and internal triggers, like placing high expectations on yourself.
Watch this music video which shows how six college students deal with stress.
Stress is a part of everyday life. There are many instances when stress can be helpful. A fire alarm is intended to cause the stress that alerts you to avoid danger. The stress created by a deadline to finish a paper can motivate you to finish the assignment on time. But when experienced in excess, stress has the opposite effect. It can harm our emotional and physical health, and limit our ability to function at home, in school, and within our relationships. But the good news is that, since we are responsible for bringing about much of our own stress, we can also do much to manage stress by learning and practicing specific stress-reduction strategies.
Click here to learn more about academic stress. This link will take you to information and helpful tips including a study skills checklist.
Are you experiencing too much stress?
Here are a few common indicators:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased worrying
- Trouble completing assignments on time
- Not going to class
- Short temper or increased agitation
- Tight muscles
- Changes in eating habits (e.g., “stress eating”)
- Changes in sleeping habits
People with mental health disorders are more likely to notice that their specific symptoms reemerge or grow worse during stressful times. In many cases, stress can act as the “spark” that ignites a mental health episode. But this does not mean that every time you are busy or face a difficult challenge you will have a mental health episode. Not everyone responds the same way to potentially stressful circumstances. For example, during final exams many students feel very overwhelmed and anxious, while others are able to keep their stress under control. If you are one of the many people who have difficulty managing stress during difficult times, look for some helpful tips below.
Ways of reducing and managing stress
- A feeling of control and a healthy balance in your schedule is a necessary part of managing stress. Learning how to manage your responsibilities, accomplish your goals and still have time for rest and relaxation requires that you practice time management skills.
- Try setting a specific goal for yourself that will improve your mood and help you reduce stress. Start by filling out a goal-setting worksheet.
- Avoid procrastination. Putting off assignments or responsibilities until the last minute can create more mental and physical stress than staying on top of them. Procrastination can affect many aspects of daily life, such as the quality of your work, the quality of your sleep, and your mood.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you burn off the energy generated by stress.
- Practice good sleep habits to ensure that you are well-rested. Sleep deprivation can cause many physical and mental problems and can increase stress.
- Try mindfulness meditation.
- Limit (or eliminate) the use of stimulants like caffeine, which can elevate the stress response in your body.
- 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.
- Start a journal. Many people find journaling to be helpful for managing stress, understanding
emotions, and making decisions and changes in their lives.
- Realize that we all have limits. Learn to work within your limits and set realistic expectations for yourself and others.
- Plan leisure activities to break up your schedule.
- Recognize the role your own thoughts can play in causing you distress. Challenge beliefs you may hold about yourself and your situation that may not be accurate. For example, do you continuously fall short of what you think you “should” accomplish? When our minds continuously feed us messages about what we “should” achieve, “ought” to be, or “mustn’t” do, we are setting ourselves up to fall short of goals that may be unrealistic, and to experience stress along the way. Learn techniques for replacing unrealistic thoughts with more realistic ones.
- Find humor in your life. Laughter can be a great tension-reducer.
- Seek the support of friends and family when you need to “vent” about situations that bring on stressful feelings. But make sure that you don’t focus exclusively on negative experiences; try to also think of at least three things that are going well for you, and share those experiences.
- Try setting a specific goal for yourself that will improve your mood and help you reduce stress. Start by filling out a goal-setting worksheet then help yourself stay on track.