Stress is a physical reaction to a person’s emotions. Both positive events (e.g., an upcoming wedding) and negative events (e.g., the loss of a loved one) can cause stress.
When you feel an emotion that triggers stress, your adrenal gland releases epinephrine — the hormone responsible for the flight-or-fight response — and then cortisol. In dangerous situations, this response can save your life. Too much cortisol, however, can have a long-term, negative impact on your metabolic rate, memory formation, and blood sugar regulation.
Stress can take one of three forms:
The most common form of stress, acute stress, is the result of day-to-day stressors, such as waking up late, running to class, or receiving a bad grade. Fortunately, most acute stress fades quickly and has little mental or physical impact.
Episodic Acute Stress:
As its name suggests, episodic acute stress develops when a student experiences acute stress multiple times over an extended period. Common symptoms include migraines and tension headaches.
Chronic Acute Stress:
Chronic acute stress happens when someone can’t avoid a long-term stressful situation. For example, students struggling academically in a major course may develop chronic acute stress, which can lead to weight gain, sleep deprivation, and anxiety. Students use Adderall to cope with stress, leading to severe consequences.
What Are the Causes of Stress in College Students?
College students respond to stressors in different ways, but some situations are almost always stressful. Here are some of the most common stressors for students.
Many students work while in school to afford high tuition and housing costs. Unfortunately, part-time jobs typically pay just minimum wage. If you’re struggling economically, speak to your financial aid office to see whether you qualify for grants, loans, or work-study.
Homesickness and New Levels of Independence
On top of classes, exams, and meeting people, many students have to deal with growing up. Out-of-state students may be living away from their homes for the first time in their lives, which can easily become a source of constant stress.
Living Among Strangers
Students new to campus life often feel isolated, especially if they’re in an unfamiliar city or state. Some students are naturally shy and may find it difficult to make friends.
Cohabitating With Roommates
Many students may not be accustomed to sharing a room with someone else, especially if their roommate is someone they hardly know. This situation can compound the normal stress of college life.
Coursework and Exams
Students often feel overwhelmed by the increased workload associated with college-level coursework. This realization can blindside students and contribute to stress and anxiety. In many classes, exams make up a large percentage of students’ grades, causing midterms and finals to be more stressful than normal.
Family Turmoil or Loss Back Home
A 2014 NPR study found that the death of a loved one is the second-highest cause of stress amongst U.S. adults. A death in the family can be extremely traumatic for college students, especially if they live away from home and can’t afford to take a break from classes.
According to a 2013 survey by Citibank and Seventeen Magazine, 4 in 5 students work while attending college. The average student works 19 hours a week. Many learners try to find a job that can accommodate the scheduling concerns associated with full-time education.
In addition to academic pressures, college introduces plenty of social pressures, such as the idea that you must make tons of friends and party every weekend. Peer pressure and societal expectations can exacerbate stress, especially for first-year students.
Romantic relationships take work. When you and your partner face the stresses of college life, the pressure can feel even greater. Additionally, many students may be in the process of questioning their sexuality and/or gender identity, which can impact dating and relationships.
How to Manage Stress in College: 7 Key Tips
Figuring out what situations might cause stress is only half the battle for college students. Fortunately, there are several tricks you can use to help you avoid getting stressed out, reduce how much stress you feel, and improve your ability to cope with and ultimately eliminate stress.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Getting both quality sleep and enough sleep offers a variety of health benefits, including reducing stress and improving your mood. What’s more, students who sleep well are less likely to get sick, have better memory recall, and enjoy a clearer mind.
2. Eat Well
Make an effort to eat nutritious meals and avoid eating on the run so you can avoid indigestion. You may also look for foods that are known to combat stress and boost your mood.
3. Exercise Regularly
In addition to keeping your body healthy, regular exercise releases endorphins and improves your overall cognitive abilities. Exercise can even help you fall asleep, thereby reducing stress. Keep in mind that exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous — yoga, short walks, and stretching can all lead to immense mental health benefits and help relieve tension.
4. Don’t Rely on Stimulants
Drinking coffee and energy drinks to fuel your late-night study sessions will inevitably lead to a crash later on. These stimulants boost cortisol levels in the body, increasing the physical effects of stress. Apart from stimulants, students may use Xanax to cope with anxiety.
5. Set Realistic Expectations
Consistently having too much on your plate can lead to a lot of stress. Try to manage your workload by setting realistic expectations and picking a class schedule that gives you plenty of time to study and relax.
Communication with professors is key — if you’re swamped with work, you might be able to get an extension on an assignment by simply asking and explaining your situation.
6. Avoid Procrastinating
Procrastination might feel good in the moment, but it often leads to stress. By managing your time wisely, you can avoid spending all night catching up on coursework. Additionally, habitual procrastination may be a sign of ADHD or anxiety.
7. Identify a Stress Outlet
Stress can never be completely avoided; however, finding a healthy way to reduce stress can go a long way toward keeping it from overwhelming you. Common stress outlets include exercise, spending time with friends and family, and getting massages.
You can also try relaxation techniques such as deep abdominal breathing, concentrating on a soothing word (like “peace” or “calm”), doing yoga or tai chi, and visualizing tranquil scenes.