Resources / Campus Life

9 Tips for Managing Stress in College

College student sitting at desk, eyes closed, fingertips between eyebrows, brows furrowed in stress.

Adapted from 1st Financial Bank USA's Blog

College is an exciting time full of new opportunities, but with these opportunities comes some stressful times as well. Here are some strategies for overcoming college stress.

Whether you’re nervous about the show you’re going to perform in, the game you're going to play in, or the test you’re going to hand in, small amounts of stress and anxiety have become a normal part of college life. According to a recent Gallup poll from March 2023, 66 percent of college students reported experiencing stress, while 51 percent reported feeling worried throughout the day.  Below are some tips to reduce stress for college students.

1. Exercise often

Exercising throughout your day can help boost your mood and relieve stress. This is because physical activity produces feel-good chemicals known as endorphins that help reduce the physical symptoms of stress. Physical activity can also improve your quality of sleep, which has a big impact on your stress levels. You can invite your friends to the rec center or for a walk around campus to enjoy these benefits with you. According to the Mayo Clinic, adults should aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity per day—but if you can’t set aside 30 minutes, three 5-minute walks will do.

2. Limit your caffeine intake

Even though getting ice coffee may have become part of your morning routine, it doesn’t exactly improve your college health. Caffeine and stress are often linked together. Therefore, monitoring and limiting your caffeine intake can be an important step in lowering your daily stress levels. Some caffeine is okay, and it can even give your mood a lift. If you find yourself consuming coffee, tea, soft drinks, or energy drinks more than a few times a day, try swapping in a glass of water. 

3. Get adequate sleep

Feeling stressed can disrupt the way you sleep. Not sleeping well can increase your stress. You can help improve the quality of your sleep by implementing the two tips above: exercising and avoiding caffeine. However, the quantity of your sleep matters as well. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that teenagers and young adults get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Getting the proper amount of sleep can also improve your mood and help you become more productive throughout the day.

4. Try to eat balanced meals

What you eat can have an effect on your mood. Although the Dairy Queen or McDonald’s down the road might be convenient, eating fast food doesn’t help alleviate stress as much as consuming healthy foods can. Oranges, spinach, fish, almonds, and avocados are all foods that can help tame stress. Of course, some of these foods can cost more than a candy bar or cheeseburger. To help curb some of the cost, consider making dinner at home or in your dorm’s kitchen. First, use our tips for saving money when grocery shopping.

5. Set small goals for yourself

When you have a large task looming over you, such as a mid-term paper, you may manage your time poorly. You may work on other, easier assignments and participate in social activities before even thinking about starting the paper. The easiest way to attack large projects is to set small goals for yourself. Breaking down a big task into bite-sized portions, can make that task feel easier to accomplish. For example, if your paper is due next Wednesday, you can get the title page and introduction done today. That way, you have a few days to focus on the body, conclusions, and citations. Setting small goals for yourself may also help you avoid procrastination and the unnecessary stress it can cause.

6. Express Your Emotions

How you acknowledge and process your emotions directly affects your stress and anxiety levels. Keeping negative emotions, such as anger, fear, or sadness bottled up inside you over time can lead to chronic stress, the feeling of constant pressure and being overwhelmed. You can help avoid these long-term side effects by utilizing a support system. This could be friends, family, or a professional health-care provider. Whether you call a friend to discuss your feelings or write down your thoughts in a journal, getting your emotions outside of your head may help you process them, which may take a huge weight off your shoulders. 

7. Have a Personal Sanctuary

Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider taking a little bit of time to yourself. Going to a personal sanctuary can be comforting and stress-reducing. A personal sanctuary is a safe place to turn to and is unique to you; it allows you to take a deep breath and relax, and it doesn’t have to be far away. Your dorm room or apartment can function as a personal sanctuary. Consider lighting some candles or getting some decorations you find comforting. Although those touches aren’t absolutely necessary, they may help personalize the space and make it feel more comfortable and homelike. Try and spend at least 20 minutes relaxing in your sanctuary every day; you might be surprised by how much energy you have afterwards! Allowing yourself this time and space to be alone and refocus can be very beneficial to both your mental and physical health.

8. Ask for help

Many colleges have resources available to help students through stressful times. These may include a counseling center or peer support groups. If you are experiencing academic stress, your peers and upperclassmen may be available and willing to tutor you.

Professors can be another source of support. Try to ask your professors questions in class or during their office hours. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but chances are that if something in the lecture is unclear to you, another student may have the same question. Sometimes just talking to another person can relieve some of the headache that stress inflicts. 

9. Schedule some “me” time

Because college usually offers abundant opportunities, it can be tempting to participate in them all. Although it is great to put yourself out there and meet new students, you might not be able to physically join every club or sport that you would like to on campus. Even if you could make it to every single meeting, you would most likely be stretching yourself too thin. It’s important to take some time to relax and recharge in order to perform your very best in school. You will also be more effective if you are picky about the clubs and organizations that you want to be a part of because you’ll have more time and energy to dedicate to a fewer number of clubs. 

It is common to feel overwhelmed and stressed out in college, and if you feel this way, you are not alone. Hopefully, these stress management tips may help you recover from stress faster than before and help you manage it in the future. When you take care of your body and your mind, you will be able to perform better in class and in life – and be ready to take advantage of all the exciting events, activities, and people you will meet during your years of higher education. Just don’t forget to take some time for yourself, too. For more resources and tips about how to reduce or avoid stress on your way to and through college, visit CollegeData’s Transition to College blog.

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