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Stress in college is inevitable. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80% of college students frequently or sometimes experience stress daily. Stress is also a contributing factor to poor academic performance for one in three students. College students can develop coping strategies to combat stress triggers and improve their experience while in school.
What causes stress in college students?
According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), 44.9% of college students experience more than average stress levels, while 12.7% experience overwhelming stress levels. With so many academic demands and responsibilities as a student, it’s expected that you might feel high levels of stress from time to time. But, when stress disrupts daily activities, you need to determine the cause of your stress and how to manage it.
These are some of the most common causes of stress for college students.
Living away from home
Transitioning from high school to college is exciting for many students because it’s their first time living away from home. However, with independence comes new responsibilities and taking accountability for your actions. It can be overwhelming adapting to a new environment and learning how to take care of yourself. It’s normal for students to experience sadness and high stress levels when they realize how far away they are from their support system of family and friends.
The rising cost of college is a significant source of stress for many low-income families and students who put themselves through school while working. One study found that 70% of college students experienced financial stress. This stress comes from working out how to manage college expenses, including tuition, textbook costs, meal plans, and general expenses, on top of a full course load. For many students, this additional stress increases the chance of dropping out of school.
One of the most common stressors in college is academic performance. There is enormous pressure placed on students’ academic performance, which can negatively affect mental health. This pressure can stem from maintaining certain grades to keep a scholarship, not wanting to disappoint parents, or personal expectations. If academic stress isn’t managed, it can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, substance use, burnout, and declining health and well-being.
Conflict with a roommate
While some colleges provide the option to choose a private room in a residence hall, most schools only offer shared living spaces. Putting a group of strangers together in a small room can easily lead to tension and conflict if the individuals don’t get along or become friends. Research has shown that roommate conflict impacts grades and increases the chance of a student dropping out.
College is an excellent place for students to form new relationships while still maintaining relationships that existed before leaving for school. Connections with family, friends, and partners can be a great stress reliever. But, if these connections go awry, a student may experience significant stress and anxiety. It’s crucial to identify if a relationship is making you feel supported or more stressed out. Stressful relationships can impact academic performance and mental health if a healthy solution can’t be found.
It’s common for students preparing to graduate to start thinking about what comes next, but it can also be stressful and scary. Post-graduation stress disorder can make you feel emotionally and mentally drained when making decisions on the next chapter of your life. It can be daunting to think about leaving behind the life you created in college and taking your first steps into the real world. For students dealing with this type of stress, it’s important to find coping mechanisms before symptoms get worse.
Accessible virtual care improves campus well-being
Stress management tips for college students
Long-term stress can have detrimental effects if left unmanaged. Not only can it affect your mental and physical health, but also grades and relationships. Identifying and understanding where your stress comes from can help you better manage it. Consider these twelve ways to manage stress when you feel anxious or overwhelmed.
1. Get proper rest and sleep
American Psychological Association notes that good sleep allows our brains to recharge, repair our muscles, promote memory consolidation, and boost the immune system. In fact, 21 percent of adults feel higher levels of stress from not getting enough sleep.
Many college students pull all-nighters, studying through the night to prepare for an exam, but this type of habit can lead to sleep deprivation and insomnia. Depriving your body of sleep can lower cognitive function, academic performance, and mental health. If you have trouble sleeping at night, try techniques such as avoiding excess caffeine, turning down the lights, or putting away technology at least one hour before bed.
2. Focus on health and nutrition
When you think of college weight gain, it’s usually associated with the “freshman 15.” However, it’s not necessarily true that you’ll gain 15 pounds in your first year of college. According to Harvard Medical School, stress can both shut down the appetite by releasing a corticotropin-releasing hormone and increase the appetite by releasing cortisol.
When you pair the freedom to choose what and when along with academic stress, college students are more likely to cope by overeating or undereating. Developing good habits like eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can help manage stress and prevent dramatic weight loss or weight gain.
3. Be active
The Mayo Clinic suggests that regular exercise increases overall health and can reduce stress. Exercise is also effective in reducing fatigue, improving mental clarity, and enhancing cognitive function. After physical activity, the brain produces feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins that act as natural painkillers. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, and deep breathing can also produce endorphins.
If you’re having trouble getting motivated to be active, try inviting a friend, changing up your routine, or exercising in short-time intervals. Adding just 15 minutes of physical activity to your daily routine can help your physical and mental health.
4. Have a stress outlet
Having a healthy outlet to turn to in times of stress can help calm your mind and clarify how to move forward in a stressful situation. Things like a hobby, social club, or physical exercise can all be outlets for relieving stress.
5. Find connections
There are numerous benefits of having a solid support system while in college. Personal connections provide stress-relief hormones that counteract the body’s fight or flight response. Surrounding yourself with people that you trust can also help you feel safe and calm.
The Mayo Clinic says that “social isolation and loneliness are associated with a greater risk of poor mental health and poor cardiovascular health, as well as other health problems.” College is a great time to make new friends. Joining a club or organization, talking to classmates, volunteering, or being on an intramural sports team can help create connections on and off-campus.
6. Practice self-care
Stress causes tension in the body through stiff and sore muscles, headaches, or lowered immune systems. Setting aside time in your busy schedule to prioritize self-care helps reduce tension and stress. Having a spa day, taking a bubble bath, meditating, or taking yourself on a date are just some of the ways you can practice relaxation.
7. Manage time effectively
Ineffective time management can cause significant stress for college students. Approximately 87% of college students said they would perform better in their classes if they had better time management skills. Experiencing college life for the first time can make it tempting to choose social life over schoolwork.
Developing time management strategies helps you stay organized and better prioritize your most important tasks. Writing down your upcoming assignments and exams in a planner or on your phone can help you know what’s next and prioritize your time. When you know you have to study or do an assignment, you can schedule your day accordingly. Effective time management can help improve academic performance and keep you organized, which, in turn, can lower stress and anxiety.
8. Stay organized
It may seem overwhelming to keep track of everything with a schedule crammed full of classes, assignments, extracurricular and social activities. But, not having organizational skills will only add more stress and pressure to your plate. Unorganized students typically have less academic success than organized students.
Before assignments start piling up, it’s crucial to find ways to stay organized. Calendars and planners are valuable organizational tools. Try to keep your living environment and workspace tidy and organized as well to reduce distraction and anxiety.
9. Practice positive thinking
Research has shown that there are numerous benefits to positive thinking when you’re feeling stressed out. Positive thoughts can improve physical well-being and provide a clear mind. When you feel yourself thinking negatively, counteract these thoughts by giving yourself positive encouragement. Positive reinforcement during stressful times can lessen the chance of developing chronic stress.
10. Try mindfulness exercises
College students are busy and constantly distracted, which makes it challenging to be present in the moment. Mindfulness helps to drown out the background noise and increase awareness. Meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness, but you can also incorporate it into daily activities. This will not only improve memory and focus but is also a beneficial way to relieve stress.
11. Start journaling
Journaling can be very therapeutic and lower stress levels. Write down your daily thoughts and feelings or keep a stress journal. This type of self-reflection can help you find a pattern of regular stress in your life and examine how you deal with it. This will help put things into perspective so that you can effectively manage these stressors.
12. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help
Even before you feel like the stress has become too much to handle, reach out for help. Find out what mental health resources your school offers or take the time to talk to a professional. A mental health professional can determine your stress triggers, develop a mental health plan, and strategize healthy ways to cope with stress.
How telehealth can support students who need help managing stress
Focused on improving the health and wellness of students, TimelyMD offers colleges and universities virtual mental health resources and services powered by telehealth. TimelyMD’s total health and well-being solution is an extension of on-campus health services. With 24/7/365 access to providers in all 50 states, TimelyMD helps students manage stress anytime, anywhere.
Contact us to explore TimelyMD’s telehealth programs that deliver high-quality, on-demand mental health care for students.