10 Healthy Ways to Manage Stress: College Edition

By Alice Chandler, Casey Jo Gough, Kayla Hogan, Tesa Ingram, & Mattie Joseph


College is stressful, like, REALLY stressful. Getting zero hours of sleep and chugging 5 mugs of black coffee aren’t going to help. You won’t have time to research how to minimize stress through effective coping especially since you still have to write that paper due at midnight, so we did it for you.

Pitch Perfect / via GIPHY

You’re welcome.  😉

1. Time Management

One of the main factors contributing to stress in most people’s daily lives, especially college students, is procrastination. The solution to this is learning how to manage time wisely.

Spongebob Squarepants / ruinedchildhood

In a recent study, researchers found a correlation between performance and time management. Making lists, pre-planning, and creating schedules are only one aspect of managing time. The most important thing is to follow through with those commitments. By managing your time wisely not only you can minimize stress about deadlines, but also gain skills in efficiency and task management, and make more time for things you enjoy. Juggling everything that comes along with life as a college student can be difficult. Luckily, many universities offer counseling and mentorship services that will help students come up with ways to manage their time and will provide continued support so that students stick to those plans. To learn what your school has to offer, you should talk to your admissions counselor, RA, or any of your professors!   🙂 

2. Sleep

Sleep is incredibly underestimated, mostly because we don’t have time for it but believe me, even a little rest drastically impacts our mood, productivity, health, and stress levels. Choosing to complete homework or binge a new Netflix series instead of sleeping isn’t a good call.

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Sleep deprivation induces many negative effects such as sluggishness, a lack of control over emotions, and impaired performance on tasks among many other symptoms according to this review of over 100 scientific studies. When you sleep for less than the recommended 6-8 hours a day, you may see an increase of blood pressure as a result of your body not falling into a deep slumber which is restorative to your health. A lack of sleep can also raise the activity in your brain’s stress systems which causes the impairment in performance and lack of control over emotions.

Getting a healthy amount of sleep can result in having more energy, a more focused attention, an improved ability to recall information, along with other benefits that can help to make a day go by smoother.

So, please GET SOME SLEEP. If you are having a tough time managing your schedule to complete work and get a healthy amount of sleep, reach out to an academic coach. They will help you manage time to match your academic needs, as well as keep your sanity.

3. Talk to Your Family

As an independent college student, emerging adults are often hesitant to reach out to their family in time of need. But studies have shown family support can be particularly helpful in college.

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Dealing with the everyday stress of college life can often be daunting, and many college students minimize family contact to feel strong, independent, and keep up appearances as parents can have great expectations of their children. According to a recent study, family support has been correlated with less stress overall, specifically for college aged women. The relationship served as a buffer for both psychological and physical strain, and resulted in a more easy-going-attitude. College students with greater family ties have also been shown to have higher self-efficacy levels. Self-efficacy is a person’s confidence and belief in their capability to perform tasks well, which is important to success in college. So, although it may seem counter-intuitive to the independent college kid lifestyle, connecting with family may actually reduce stress levels and improve your performance in classes. Putting aside expectations and overthinking to reconnect with parents and siblings can be a great experience of love, support, and de-stressing.

4. Watch What You Eat

Some people turn to food when dealing with a stressful situation. If your college has a buffet-styled cafeteria or you are prone to doing midnight food runs, then this form of stress management is right down your alley. Generally, stress leads to unhealthy eating decisions so reaching for some ice cream while you finish that 20-page paper may not be the best idea.

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Studies show that around 40% of people in the United States are obese, which is associated with a variety of negative health impacts. One factor that has been found to strongly contribute to obesity is stress. When we experience stress, we are more likely to crave comfort foods to help alleviate negative mood. Unfortunately, comfort foods are typically highly-processed, often high in sugar, and not terribly good for us.

So, how do we reduce stress-eating and prevent its negative effects on our health? One study suggests that practicing mindfulness may have positive impacts on both stress itself, and on stress-eating behaviors. Researchers found that a 4-month mindfulness training program, which focused on both stress reduction and on eating awareness, significantly decreased anxiety and improved eating patterns among participants. They also found that although the training program didn’t reduce weight or abdominal fat overall, participants who were obese at the beginning of the study showed significant decreases in abdominal fat by the end. If you’re interested in trying this out for yourself, look for a free mindfulness app for your smart phone!

5. Spend Time in Prayer

Church may not be your thing, and I know by the time the weekend hits no one really wants to do anymore learning on Sunday, but religious behaviors in college have been linked to positive adjustment and lessened stress.

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Religiosity is correlated with decreasing the amount of stress you gain from everyday activities. Everyday stress can be hard to tackle, especially in college when everyday brings a new assignment, another deadline, and no time to complete it all. College students can turn to spirituality as a comfort to the constant demands of student life. 

For example, one longitudinal study suggests that increased levels of religiosity is correlated with decreased levels of stress and physical illness, two things that we know do not bode well for college success. Listening to music, engaging in prayer, or spending time in religious community may be a good way to manage everyday stress. Increased religiosity was also linked with decreased risk-taking behaviors, minimizing the potential for other stressors. Taking prayer as a moment of quiet time and self-reflection can give your mind a break, and engaging in religiosity opens up a community of church, service, and bible studies, allowing for more social interaction. We are social beings- building up your relationship with Jesus, and enjoying the community of other people allows us some comfort and peace in the chaotic world that is college, overall there is some stress relieving power in the higher power.

6. Think Positive

College is an emotional roller coaster, but don’t worry- you do have some control. Use positivity as your super power to get through the day and think positive to fight off stress!

Positive Bunny Post / Chibird

Recent research indicates that positivity can be beneficial in coping, and our happiness might be easier to grasp than we think. Focusing on positive things over negative things in a stressful situation may help us build a sense of hope and get through a stressful situation much smoother. In short, positive emotions help us cope with stressful situations, and there are a number of coping mechanisms that can help us cultivate positivity. 

For example, the process of reordering your priorities can help you to view your stress in a different light. Perhaps you’re stressed because your time is pulled between two important things (that paper you have due, and helping a friend with a personal problem). By stepping back and evaluating where you want to prioritize your energies, and accepting that whatever you choose will come at the expense of something else, you may be able to frame your choices and their consequences more positively. Although this process may itself be stressful at first, it promotes a new sense of purpose and generates positivity.

Another coping mechanism observed during stressful circumstances is infusing ordinary events with positive meaning, or in other words to be mindful of and take pleasure in the small, positive moments in our lives (like a beautiful sunset, or gratitude for the small kindness of a stranger). This strategy promotes positivity by helping us to notice and appreciate the positive events we experience. We can prolong the positivity generated by these experiences by sharing them with friends and family.  

7. Dealing with Burnout

Some of the most frequent things that cause stress in college students, according to one study, include: a pressure to do well, passing tests, meeting parental expectations, procrastinating on assignments, changes in living conditions, managing text messages among friends, identifying a major, picking a career, and having a lack of sleep. Being overwhelmed can cause various reactions such as fatigue, a lowered self-esteem, alienating yourself from social situations, and depression. 

If you find that you feel extremely tired or drained, that you can not focus on one task, are unable to make certain decisions for yourself, or are easily irritable, then you may be dealing with burnout. Interestingly, one study suggests that burnout has more to do with our perceived workload than it does with objective workload. Their results and the results of other studies (see points referenced below) further suggest that students can alleviate and prevent burnout by: 

  • Cultivating positivity (see #6)
  • Implementing a fitness regimen into your life (and doing it with friends so that you are held accountable for keeping it up; see #9)
  • Exploring your own identity by joining clubs and extracurricular activities
  • Maintaining strong social support and connections, especially with friends (see #10)

Speaking with a counselor or academic coach can help alleviate some stress caused by college, but other issues will involve talking to your parents or friends about what is or isn’t healthy for you!

8. Having Some Alone Time

Not everyone is keen on being alone or spending time by themselves. However, for introverts, alone time can be a refreshing way to relax and de-stress.

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According to recent research, introverts can be less resilient to stress, so it is important for them to maximize alone time to recharge, in order to buffer from negative effects such as stress, anxiety, and fatigue. For this reason, alone time can be an important de-stressor in the nonstop sprint that is college life, but can be especially helpful for introverts. This means that enjoying some quiet time regularly can take away the social and environmental stressors of day to day life. Research shows that solitude has been linked to lower rates of depression and physical illness, as well as higher rates of life satisfaction. Those with mental illnesses and social struggles have found that alone time can be especially helpful for reflection, mindfulness, self-awareness, and important coping strategies which are helpful in managing these conditions. Students often cope through typical stress relieving activities, such as: meditation, taking a bubble bath, reading a book for pleasure, listening to music, and more. All of these are great alone time strategies. It is important to note that although alone time can be good from time to time, the research is limited when looking at alone time, stress, and well-being. So make sure to utilize other strategies as well, as there may be other coping mechanisms better suited for your de-stressing needs.

9. Go to the Gym

I know it seems like there is no possible way you can fit the gym into your schedule on top of work, classes, and assignments, but it might be worth an hour out of your day to relieve stress, increase focus, and improve productivity.

Toy Story / via Giphy

Research has shown that when a person participates in vigorous physical activity, their body releases endorphins. When the endorphins are released, it elevates our mood and reduces perceptions of pain. There is also evidence that even moderate physical activity has positive effects on mood and overall health, possibly through reducing inflammation. By building physical activity into your regular routine, you can increase both your physical and mental well-being, and help you to manage and respond to stress more effectively. It even helps you sleep better! To increase physical activity in your daily life, make a plan that you can stick with, and try to choose a physical activity that you will enjoy (Pokemon Go, anyone?). Carving out just twenty-five minutes a busy day for moderate physical activity can help improve overall well-being and decrease stress levels.

10. Rely on Your Friends

Socializing is hard when there is so much work to be done, but social support is predictive of resilience. Whether it be an ice cream stop or just a study break, remember to step out of the library and talk to people- so get out there and socialize!  😀 

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Socializing has been shown as an effective buffer for stress, and can strengthen bonds around shared experiences. According to previous research students who perceived less social support from friends were more likely to drink and engage in risky behaviors, coping mechanisms which are counterproductive to well-being and adjustment. So how should we cope then? Friendship! Specifically for college students, the continued social support of friends was shown as an important factor all four years, more so than family support. Having a friend to lean on, study with, and laugh with can help to manage stress by lessening the frustrations and anxieties of college. So go out there and talk to people, learn about them–socialize! It may not be the obvious road to success in college, but friendship can buffer the hardships of late night papers, homesickness, and keeping up that GPA.