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5 Essential Tips for Managing Stress in College


Sure, college is fun and exciting, but it can also be stressful. You’re on your own for the first time, and your new lifestyle is a challenging adjustment. You may struggle with time management, leaving you with too little time for adequate sleep or self-care.

Many college students especially experience stress around final exams, competing for internships or jobs, and meeting degree requirements. You’ll be making important decisions about your future and career, which can naturally lead to some anxiety.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to proactively manage your stress and maximize your ability to learn, focus, and achieve your goals. Here are five top tips for stress management in college.

1. Get organized

One of the best ways to manage stress is to manage your time. Print your schedule and pin it to a bulletin board or put it somewhere prominent.

Buy a planner or calendar that will help you stay organized, or dedicate a calendar on your phone to organizing your school life. List important test dates and deadlines, and block out chunks of time for studying.

For instance, if you have a big test coming up, schedule an hour or two of studying over the course of several days. Don’t force yourself to have an all-night cram session. These are not only stressful, they’re also ineffective. If you plan ahead and stay organized, you’ll be far less likely to feel overwhelmed.

In addition, do your best to avoid procrastinating. Putting tasks off until later only creates more stress. Use checklists with items listed in order of priority, then tackle one item at a time. If you get distracted easily, download apps like Forest or Freedom to help you focus.

You can also try the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and work with extreme focus until the timer goes off. Then, take a short five-minute break before setting your timer again. If your phone is a major distraction, silence it and check it only during these breaks.

2. Find hobbies you enjoy

Break up your busy schedule with leisure activities that help you relax and have fun. Hobbies give you an outlet from the stress and worry of your everyday life.

When you think you don’t have time for a break, that’s when you need a break the most.

Paint, hike, swim, play an instrument, or join a sports team. Take a dance class or go cheer on your school’s athletic teams. Cook with your roommate, join a surfing or gardening club, or take up Quidditch.

If you’re looking for a quiet activity to rest and rejuvenate, try journaling or meditating. Meditating can feel a bit strange at first, so download an app like Headspace to guide you through it.

When you think you don’t have time for a break, that’s when you need a break the most. It doesn’t matter what the activity is; the point is that you make time for enjoyment and relaxation.

3. Build a support system

In times of stress, it’s important to have friends and family to turn to for support. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people who will motivate you and raise your spirits.

Call your parents when you need to vent, create a study group with some friendly classmates, or ask a trusted friend to keep you accountable and focused on your goals. Talk to people who share your struggles, but remember not to dwell too much on the negative. Discuss what you’re grateful for, too.

Don’t give in to the temptation to isolate yourself — it’ll only make you more stressed. It’s always helpful to have friends who make you laugh, put you at ease, and remind you that college isn’t all bad.

4. Practice self-care

When you’re stressed, you may neglect sleep, exercise, and healthy eating. But practicing self-care and maintaining your health are some of the most important factors in feeling good and limiting stress.

Be sure to:

  • Get plenty of rest. If you follow the first tip and get organized, you can create a schedule that allows time for adequate sleep (7-9 hours nightly). It’s also best to follow “normal resting hours,” meaning that you shouldn’t stay up all night and then sleep until mid-afternoon.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Avoid living on a diet of pizza, Ramen, and soda. Treat yourself from time to time, but eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Your school’s dining hall should have a variety of healthy options, or you can learn to cook a few nutritious and delicious meals.
  • Get moving. Exercise is an excellent mood booster and stress reducer. Find a running buddy, take cycling or Zumba classes at the campus gym, or join a sports team.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. Too much caffeine can lead to energy crashes that make you more susceptible to stress, and too much alcohol prevents you from feeling your best. Whenever possible, be sure to drink plenty of water!

In addition, avoid overloading yourself. Understand your limits and don’t force yourself to push past them.

How to Make Your Freshman Year Less Overwhelming

When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and frazzled, calm yourself with deep breathing exercises or take a break to do a relaxing activity that you enjoy. The more you take care of yourself, the better you’ll be able to manage your responsibilities and perform at your fullest potential.

5. Ask for help

Whatever the source of your stress, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you’re struggling to understand course material, visit your professor’s office hours and ask clarifying questions. Find a student who’s doing well in the class and is willing to tutor you or study with you.

Ask older students for advice on how they handle the stress of college. Your school may even offer resources or classes on time management, adjusting to college life, and/or navigating stress. Search your school’s website or ask around to see what resources are available.

Finally, if your stress levels are affecting your quality of life, seek counseling services at your college or university. There’s no shame in getting help from a professional if you get too overwhelmed.

You want to enjoy your college experience, perform to the best of your ability, and retain information. If you’re too stressed, none of these goals are achievable. If the stress is too much, talk to someone who can give you personalized strategies to manage it.

Final Thoughts: Tips for Managing Stress in College

Life in general can be stressful, and college is no exception. While there’s no way to completely eliminate stress, there are plenty of tools you can use to effectively reduce and manage it.

Organize, prioritize, and avoid procrastination. By managing your time wisely, you’ll avoid the panic of last-minute studying or writing an essay 30 minutes before it’s due.

Build and lean on a support system, make time for relaxing hobbies that you enjoy, and take care of yourself by sleeping, exercising, eating right, and limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Know your limits, and don’t take on more classes or obligations than you can handle.

If you follow these tips and still find that the stress is too much, don’t hesitate to ask for help from professors, tutors, mentors, or counseling services at your school.

By following these tips, you’ll effectively manage your stress, ensuring that your college experience is both enjoyable and successful.

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Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.