How to Reduce and Maintain Low Stress Levels in College

Can you recall a time you’ve felt pressure to perform to high standards? The stress in high school is different from what comes in college. With the stakes higher, academic stress can sneak up and create many issues for students transitioning into college.

What is Academic Stress?

It’s inevitable that students in college will be stressed, and for many different reasons. Maybe your scholarship requires you to have specific grades to remain eligible, or you’re a first-gen college student, and you feel pressure from your family to do well. The cost of tuition alone can be a financial burden on college families, and maybe yours is also feeling the strain.

This can bring anxiety and thoughts that higher education isn’t worth it or that the responsibility will be too much. We want you to know that feeling this way isn’t unusual and is even shared among many students. But don’t worry, you are not alone in this. We are here to help!

According to The JED Foundation, when students feel overwhelming stress related to school, it pulls them from doing the work. Research shows it can reduce overall academic achievement and increase dropout rates. If left unattended, the damaging health implications can include depression, anxiety, and insufficient sleep, and can even lead to substance abuse. How this translates in the long term can affect our ability to sustain employment and decrease our earning potential over a lifetime. But, there’s hope and help. Figuring out how to manage your stress starts with being able to recognize it.

Tips for Managing Stress in College

One thing that is often misunderstood is that not all stress is negative. It can push us past barriers we unintentionally set for ourselves and perform better than we thought possible. However, too much stress can cause us to feel overwhelmed, resulting in psychological and physical problems like depression or anxiety, negatively impacting our academic efforts.

Here is our advice for college students who may be feeling the strain of academic success alongside maintaining their personal lives:

Try to Determine the Source

Obviously, this may be easier said than done, especially when you are potentially facing feelings and situations that are new to you. However, you must be able to identify the stressors in your life, so you are able to find a solution or coping tools.

Once you have figured out what is causing your stress, you will be better able to understand how it’s affecting you. Then you can create a plan to help better manage these feelings in the future and set yourself up for success.

Don’t Skimp on Sleep

College is full of events that can keep you up at night; studying for an exam, working a late shift, hanging out with friends, or maybe late at night is the only time you have available to pick up your favorite book. These are good for your mental health but shouldn’t cut into your valuable sleep schedule.

Sleep is typically first to go in terms of priorities, but it’s imperative you get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep can make you more irritable and unable to focus, which is the opposite of what you want if you are trying to cram for a test.

Now, this doesn’t mean that when stressed out, you can just stop what you’re doing, push off important tasks, and sleep for several hours. But a quick nap may help you recharge! Know that if you push yourself too far and don’t allow your body the proper amount of time to recuperate and recover, you will never be able to get ahead of your stress.

Stop Relying on Stimulants

A bad habit college students can develop is using outside sources to boost energy, but they can do more harm than good.

Don’t try to force focus and energy with external stimulants like coffee and energy drinks. It will only lead to a crash later from its strain on your body. The extra boost in cortisol levels in the body from too much caffeine actually increases the physical effects of stress. It can make you feel far more anxious and stressed out than before. Start with cutting back on your afternoon pick-me-up with a decaf coffee or green tea instead.

Coping Tools to Maintain Stress

  • Regular exercising
  • Journaling
  • Learning a new hobby
  • Spending time outside: hiking, running, or even just sitting
  • Reading your favorite book
  • Spending time with friends or family
  • Taking regular breaks to relax your mind
  • Talking something over with a friend

If You Need Additional Support

According to a recent Gallup and the Lumina Foundation survey, emotional stress was one of the top reasons students considered leaving school in 2021. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut that you just aren’t able to get out of, it may be a good idea to consider utilizing additional resources.

Your university’s student health center should have counseling available to you. If the matter is small and will come to an end quickly, talking it through with your professor or a friend may be enough. However, it can be beneficial to talk your stresses through with someone unbiased if you cannot find a solution to your stress on your own. 

Therapists are educated and trained to build upon the natural coping skills everyone has. Going to therapy will give you a safe space to work through your issues and provide life-long coping skills. These skills will help you through various tricky times, whether it’s the weight you feel to perform in school, financial anxiety, or more personal matters that can affect you during school, such as the death of a loved one. 

Final thoughts

College life can be stressful when juggling so many responsibilities. Being aware of the sources of stress will make the ride much smoother to navigate. Remember, what you feel is normal, and you are not alone in your worries.

Take care of your mental health and give yourself the time and space to think through your issues.

  • Evaluate what is causing your stress and think of possible solutions
  • Get plenty of quality sleep
  • Don’t rely on outside sources of energy to force focus

There are many different ways to cope with and manage stress. Try a few different methods to see what works best for you, and if you need some help figuring it all out, see what resources are available on campus or speak to a medical professional.