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Stress is one of the most common concerns of college students. Stress is the body’s response to the demands of life, both negative AND positive. These demands can take up time, physical and mental/emotional energy, and/or finances. Some sources of stress in college include adjusting to a new routine, increased responsibility, living with roommates, facing new social and relationship experiences, financial constraints, and striving to meet expectations related to academics.

Stress is a normal part of life and important for success. A moderate amount of stress can be a positive influence when it motivates you to be active and productive, such as when you are working to meet academic deadlines. Too much stress can interfere with the ability to accomplish day-to-day responsibilities. Excessive stress that is not addressed can contribute to mental and physical health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. Some symptoms common in individuals who experience excessive stress levels are shown below.

Physical Symptoms Mood/Emotional Symptoms Behavioral Symptoms
Eye strain
Sleep problems
Muscle tension or pain
Chest pain
Gastrointestinal problems
Difficulty concentrating
Uncontrollable worry
Difficulty regulating emotions
Emotional lability (shifting)
Social withdrawal
Over or under-eating
Angry outbursts
Drug or alcohol abuse

The Difference between Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety is often confused with stress. Stress refers to the effect of the demands on our life (both good and bad) that can deplete our emotional, financial, time, and energy resources. Anxiety is an internal response to situations in which a person is overwhelmed with uncertainty, fear, and/or danger. In periods of significant stress, it is common to experience heightened anxiety and/or other symptoms listed above.

Managing stress involves a three-pronged approach:

  1. Altering the amount of stress you face (which is not always feasible)
  2. Proactively engaging in activities known to combat stress
  3. Reacting to stress differently with new internal responses and behaviors

These three approaches all involve engaging in self-care. Taking time to care for ourselves by attending to our physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health is an important aspect of stress management. The self-care activities listed below help us to find relaxation, connection, fulfillment, and peace by finding new ways to alter the amount of stress we face or engaging in activities to combat the effect stress has on us.

Physical Self-Care

  • Eat regular (breakfast, lunch and dinner) nutritious meals that you enjoy
  • Exercise: walk, ride, hike, swim, dance, play
  • Get adequate sleep by prioritizing the need for sleep and engaging in good sleep hygiene
  • Get routine medical care
  • Take time off from physical activity when needed
  • Play a sport
  • Engage in deep breathing exercises
  • Decrease use of alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes
  • Get a massage
  • Break large tasks up into smaller chunks and take action on one small piece of the task
  • Use relaxation techniques such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Psychological Self-Care

  • Write your feelings in a journal
  • Take time away from your cell phone/social media
  • Try something new
  • Identify realistic goals and work toward them in small steps
  • Put time into relationships with people who are supportive and contribute to your wellbeing and minimize time spent with people who devalue or disrespect you
  • Praise yourself or make a list of your strengths
  • Express gratitude
  • Use a calendar to organize your schedule and manage your time
  • Evaluate your expectations for yourself and utilize realistic thinking and expectations
  • Take breaks when you are experiencing a heavy workload
  • Set boundaries and say “no” when you are not available for something- know your limits

Emotional Self-Care

  • Connect with someone every day (even if briefly)
  • Allow yourself to cry
  • Reach out to loved ones to talk; talk about how you are doing and ask how they are doing
  • Reread favorite books, watch favorite movies and TV shows
  • Seek out comforting activities, places, relationships
  • Find things that make you laugh
  • Spend time with animals
  • Deepen your relationship with yourself by enjoying time spent alone
  • Spend time engaging in a hobby or developing a potential interest
  • Engage your creative side—draw, paint, sculpt, make or listen to music, color
  • Expect frustrations, setbacks, disappointments, and failures- these are an inevitable part of life

Spiritual Self-Care

  • Make time for reflection
  • Spend time with nature
  • Do volunteer work or a random act of kindness
  • Be open to inspiration
  • Sit quietly for a few minutes each day or engage in meditation
  • Accept not knowing all of the answers; tolerate uncertainty
  • Spend time outside when the weather permits
  • Pray
  • Attend religious or spiritual services

American Psychological Association
APA’s information about the experience of dealing with stress

CDC’s Information about Coping with Stress
Learn from the Centers for Disease Control about how to cope with stress

Surviving Stress in College
The student guide to managing stress in college and beyond

Relaxation Techniques
Help Guide’s description of various relaxation techniques you can try on your own

Skills You Need
Ten tips for managing stress


Do Nothing for 2 Minutes
2-minute meditation from Calm


Wellcast Video on Stress Management
A 2-minute video on how to recognize and manage stress

Brainsmart Video on Managing Stress
Another 2-minute video that discusses the experience of stress and how to manage it

TED-Ed Video on Chronic Stress and Physical Health
Watch a 4-minute video on how chronic stress can cause physical problems in the body

Ted Talk on the How to Make Stress Your Friend
Psychologist Kelly McGonigal provides a new perspective on stress and its impact on us


  • Calm
  • Headspace
  • Breathe2Relax
  • Relax Melodies
  • WellTrack
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