College can be a stressful time for anyone. Some stress pushes you to meet goals by studying more, working harder or sticking with a challenging task. But sometimes stress reaches an unhealthy level that can prevent you from functioning well and meeting your goals. Recent research from The Jed Foundation and mtvU found that over half of all college students had been, at times, so stressed that they couldn’t function during the last year. Your health, school performance and social life can all suffer when stress becomes too much to handle. That’s because stress can affect your mood and ability to think clearly. It can also weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to getting sick.
Chronic stress can lead to — or worsen — serious health problems, including high blood pressure, autoimmune illnesses, digestive issues, depression and anxiety. So it’s important to manage stress, prevent negative stress levels and speak up if you are feeling overwhelmed. Here are some tips for managing stress while in college:
• Watch out for signs of stress overload. Symptoms of too much stress can be physical, emotional, mental and behavioral. While everyone is different, some common signs are: memory problems, trouble concentrating, racing thoughts, irritability, anger, sadness, headaches, frequent colds and changes in sleep or appetite.
• Know your stress triggers. Stress and its triggers are different for everyone. Certain people, places or situations might produce high levels of stress for you. Think about what causes you stress, and brainstorm solutions. If public speaking or presentations make you stressed, start researching early and practice several times. If there are friends or social situations that cause extreme stress, you may want to avoid them when you are already feeling tense or overwhelmed.
• Exercise. All forms of exercise reduce stress hormones, flood the body with feel-good endorphins, improve mood, boost energy and provide a healthy distraction from your dilemmas. Plus, exercise may make you less susceptible to stress in the long run. Find physical activities that you enjoy and try to devote about 30 minutes to them each day.
• Relax. While it’s impossible to eliminate all negative stress from your life, you can control the way you react to stress. Your body’s natural fight-or-flight response can take its toll. When you’re faced with a stressful situation that your mind perceives as a threat, it sends various chemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol, throughout your body. As a result, heart rate and breathing speeds up and your digestion slows down. This tires out the body.
Relaxation techniques are a huge help in calming you down, boosting mood and fighting illness. Try a variety of techniques — like yoga, breathing exercises, meditation and visualization — to see what works for you, and schedule a relaxation break every day.
• Manage your time well. Time can seem like a luxury in college, but there are various ways to manage it effectively. First, focus on one task at a time. Multitasking rarely works. Jot down everything you need to do in a calendar or a task management app/program, prioritize your list and break projects into single steps or actions.
• Be realistic. Pulling yourself in different directions will only stress you out, so try not to over-commit yourself or do extracurricular activities when you’re super busy with school.
• Curb your caffeine. Caffeine might help you study in the short term, but it interrupts sleep and makes you more anxious, tense and jittery. This obviously ups your stress level. Try and drink no more than one caffeinated beverage a day.
• Don’t self-medicate. Some students drink, take drugs, smoke and use other unhealthy behaviors to cope with stress. However, these behaviors can exacerbate stress by negatively affecting your mood and health.
• Reach out. If you’re stressed out, talk to your friends and family. If you feel like you can’t handle the stress on your own, schedule an appointment with a counselor on campus.