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Stress is a normal part of college life. A certain level of stress is healthy and can be motivating. When stress goes beyond this level, it can become a problem.

A recent study showed that stress — more than physical illness, lack of sleep or concern for a friend or family members — was the single biggest obstacle to academic performance at college.

Each of us responds to stress differently. What is stressful for one person may or may not be stressful for another. Excessive stress can sneak up over time. If left untreated, excessive stress can lead to unhealthy and potentially serious physical and emotional consequences.

Signs and Symptoms

Stress usually shows up as an emotional or psychological state of tension. But it’s common to also physically “feel” stressed out because of the physiological and hormonal changes caused by stress. Here are some symptoms that indicate a high level of stress:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Increased frequency of headaches
  • Being more irritable than usual
  • Recurring colds and minor illnesses
  • Frequent muscle aches and/or tightness
  • Being more disorganized than usual
  • Increased difficulty in getting things done
  • Greater sense of persistent time pressure
  • Increased frustration and anger

Getting Help

Fortunately, it’s possible to manage and maintain stress at healthy levels. The key is learning to recognize the signs and causes of stress, and to be proactive about combating stress when it first appears. Adequate sleep, diet, and exercise can help to minimize the negative effects of stress. So can relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation.

If a person needs extra help dealing with the underlying causes of stress, counseling may be the answer. Everyone manages stress in different ways, so it’s important that each individual finds the methods that work best. If you or someone you know feels overwhelmed by stress, contact your school’s health center. The health center can offer tips on stress-management techniques, or connect you with a therapist or group counseling.

Please be sure to select your school above so we can provide you with information about resources and help on or near your campus.

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Which of these aspects of college life do you find most stressful?