grads 1260
5 Feb 2024

Stress management tips for university students

5 mins to read
Attending university can be an exciting, but somewhat daunting experience. Learn how to manage your stress well when your study load & college life gets to you.

Most students entering university would have had some practice and experience with studying and the pressure of sitting exams. University can be an exciting time, with new friends to be made, experiencing university life, and studying towards your goals. However, the demands can feel quite relentless as exams and assignments become a regular feature of university life. Students may be experiencing other major life transitions such as moving out of home for the first time, an increase in working hours, and potential concerns about the future. All this can impact academic performance but also place a strain on mental and emotional health. This requires some effective stress management tools to help you not only survive but thrive through the university years. 

The first step is to recognise you are stressed. Although stress can be helpful to help you get through certain challenges, prolonged or excessive stress can be detrimental to your health. If you are finding daily tasks overwhelming, that can be a good sign you are stressed. Other indicators include feeling irritable, anxious, worried, or lack of enjoyment. You may find it hard to concentrate, have sleep problems, or feel short of breath among other signs. 

10 steps to destress

1. Eat food to nourish

A healthy diet can provide extra energy and nutrients required to cope with stress. According to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, protein contains amino acids that make the hormones and neurotransmitters that form part of your body’s stress response. In particular, omega-3 fats from fish can aid brain health and eggs play a role in the regulation of stress response. 

Processed, high-fat foods are also normally lower in nutrients and inadequate to support your body’s nutrient needs during stress. Furthermore, eating too much sugar can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels that your body has to work hard to regulate, and can raise cortisol levels, which put you into a state of fight or flight mode. Foods containing trans-fat can put extra load on the body as these fats are harder to break down, as these are harder to break down.

Probiotics are helpful for the health of the gut, where the mood-boosting hormone serotonin is made. A good mood may be of help during times of stress, as the American Heart Association reports, by reducing the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, running through the body.

There is increasing evidence for the role of vitamin D in helping the immune system running smoothly and keeping it strong to defend our bodies during times of stress.

Herbal teas like chamomile and peppermint contain the stress-reducing nutrient called L-theanine, which helps to calm the mind while assisting with focus. The calming l-theanine in green tea helps to balance out the stimulant effect of its caffeine content. 

Meal planning can be a helpful strategy for university students with busy lives. 


2. Examine the source of stress

Look into what may be making you feel stressed and what factors may be in your control and that you can change. For instance, if you are having trouble with a particular subject, examine whether you could speak with your university lecturer or tutor about techniques or insights about how you could go about studying this topic.

3. Talk to others

Talking to others could help put your problems into perspective. You could find help from someone who has experienced something similar and has some words of support. As Harvard University suggests, often, just realizing that you are not alone can help lower stress.

4. Seek support services

If you have tried to combat stress yourself and not seeing improvements, it may be worth seeking help from your university campus, counselling services, or GP. Your GP may be able to refer you to an appropriate service after a consultation with you. Speaking to university staff could mean discussing options such as reducing your study load, or taking a semester break from study.

5. Challenge unhelpful thoughts

Unhelpful thoughts can divert energy and attention away from important things like your studies. You can try to learn how to reframe negative thoughts, such as catastrophising that you will not graduate just because you received a low grade on an assignment. You could instead challenge the unhelpful thought, for instance by asking yourself, what advice would you give a friend in this situation, and then rephrasing the thought.

6. Time management

Try to prioritise tasks and let go of what may not need to be dealt with immediately. Break down assignments that seem big, into smaller tasks so they don’t feel too overwhelming and so that you can feel motivated to tackle and achieve them.

7. Exercise

It’s well known that exercise can help to relieve stress and improve sleep which can in turn can help manage stress. According to Harvard University, aerobic exercises such as walking can increase breathing and heart rate so that more oxygen reaches cells throughout the body. This reduces muscle tension, including the heart.

8. Mindfulness practices

When we are stressed, our breathing is faster, and negative thoughts can more easily enter our minds. Tools such as yoga, meditation, and sound baths can help you slow down your thoughts and breathing, lower muscle tension, and bring you closer to a state of calm and back to the present. Even a few minutes can be effective and better than nothing if that’s all the time that you can afford.

9. Carve out time for relaxation

Take time out from the demands of study and work to do something fun or relaxing. If you think spending time with friends will help, then do this. However, if you feel you need time to yourself, you could choose an activity that you will enjoy, whether it be a massage, going for a walk, going to a spa, gardening, a craft activity, or a game of golf.

10. Healthy sleep routine

There is a two-way relationship between mental wellbeing and sleep. According to Cedars Sinai Medical Center, lack of sleep can lead to higher levels of stress among a suite of other mental wellbeing impacts. As the Sleep Foundation suggests, sleep can help to manage stress and avoid the stressors that come with being sleep deprived, such as irritability, lack of energy, and poor concentration. Practice a consistent sleep ritual each day to help transition you to a state of calm and ready for sleep. Wake up and sleep at the same time each day which is key to encouraging a consistent sleep routine.





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