Let’s face it … if you’re in college, you’re probably stressed out! College students typically experience high levels of continuous stress, so it is important to understand exactly what it is and how to manage it.

Stress is a mechanism for survival that can be both positive and negative. It is our body’s response to both real and perceived harm that has evolved from our early ancestors’ need to protect themselves from predators. While most of us are no longer in danger of being eaten by animals, we continue to experience other types of threats to which our bodies react with the same same “fight or flight” response.

Short-lived, or acute stress is normal and can even be positive. This is what allows us to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident, finish a final paper, or perform well in sports and job interviews. Long-term, or chronic stress can cause our natural “alarm” system to become stuck in the “on” position, which can lead to serious emotional, mental and physical health problems.

Symptoms of Stress

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Quick agitation, frustration, or moodiness
  • A racing mind that is difficult to quiet
  • Overwhelming feelings of loss of control, or the need to take control
  • Inability to relax
  • Feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, and/or depression
  • Avoiding others

Physical Symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and/or nausea
  • Fatigue, Muscle tension, body aches and pains
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or functioning
  • Nervousness, shaking, ringing in the ears, cold or sweaty hands & feet
  • Dry mouth, difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw, grinding teeth

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Catastrophizing, constantly thinking negative thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Inability to focus or concentrate on tasks
  • Poor judgment
  • Pessimism

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Changes in appetite: under- or over-eating
  • Poor decision making and impulsivity
  • Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
  • Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing

What to do if you are stressed

  • Learn your own stress signals. Recognize the signs, whether they are emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, or any combination of these. Monitor these signals and look for recurrences.
  • Identify what is causing your stress. Consider things related to your family, health, finances, work, school, relationships, etc. Anytime you feel stressed, write down the cause, your thoughts, and your mood. Once you know what's bothering you, develop a plan for addressing it.
  • Recognize how you deal with stress. Try to identify your patterns or immediate responses to stressful situations. Decide if these responses are general or specific to certain events. Acknowledge the use of any unhealthy behaviors (such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and over/under eating) to cope.

Manage your stress effectively

Engage in healthy behaviors

  • Prioritize regular rest and sleep.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Engage in regular exercise or yoga.
  • Train yourself to stop negative thoughts when they become overwhelming.
  • Forgive yourself for your mistakes. Let go of things you cannot change.
  • Avoid perfectionism. Give your best effort and be satisfied with that.
  • Speak up and take control. Stress increases when we feel helpless. Not expressing needs or concerns may worsen negative feelings.
  • Try meditation, massage and/or aromatherapy.
  • Prioritize your own self-care.
  • Write about your feelings and concerns.
  • Talk with trusted friends or relatives.
  • Laugh
  • Nurture your spirituality in ways that fit for you.

Learn to manage your time

  • Set reasonable expectations for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with tasks.
  • Prioritize your commitments and eliminate anything that is not really important.
  • Curtail “time bandits” such as phone, text, email, internet, and television. Limit the time you spend with these activities. Be mindful and intentional in your involvement with them.
  • Pace yourself: Nobody can run at full speed all the time!
  • Learn to say no.

Make time for activities you enjoy

  • Hobbies
  • Sports
  • Volunteering
  • Outdoor activities
  • Reading, watching movies, listening to music
  • Revisiting activities you enjoyed as a child

Walk away

Stress can elevate emotions. Before you react in a stressful situation, take time to regroup and reconsider. Impulsive, emotionally driven actions can make circumstances worse and increase stress. Take time for rational consideration of positive solutions to problems.

Build strong relationships

Let family members or close friends know when you are struggling. Ask them to be a sounding board of support or seek their fresh perspectives.

Seek help

If you find yourself unable to manage your stress, consult with a licensed mental health professional to help you identify factors that contribute to your stress and develop a course of action to overcome it.



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