Tips for Managing Academic Stress

College is a huge milestone for almost anyone. While there’s much to celebrate, this can also cause significant stress. Managing new courses, making new friends, being away from home,  trying to eat healthily and stay active, and for some, living on one’s own for the first time can be challenging. School stress is a real thing and managing school stress looks different for different people. While some stress is good for us, chronic or constant stress can prevent us from being productive and have lasting effects on our overall health and wellbeing.

How We Cope with Stress Can Make a Big Difference

The coping mechanisms we use to deal with school stress are important. Recent surveys have shown that many students turn to watching TV or playing video games as a way to cope with school-related stress. While this can be an escape from studying and be fine in reasonable doses, avoiding work this way often ends up creating even more stress.

The most effective ways to diffuse stress (and thus make productive use of our “me” time) are activities that reduce stress hormones and promote mental relaxation. Watching TV, scrolling through social media, and playing video games are good for a brief pause at times, but they don’t do much to actually reduce stress. For that, we need to do more than distract ourselves.

Here are a few easy ways to truly reduce stress:

  • Exercising or engaging in movement
  • Journaling (helps us spot stressors and trends in our emotional struggles so we can course correct)
  • Meditating or doing yoga
  • Spending quality time with friends and/or family
  • Participating in support groups, therapy, or other places where stress can be vocalized and reviewed
  • Creating things: food, art, music, crafts
  • Helping others (yes, helping others reduces stress for the helper!)
  • Spending time in nature: walking, riding, swimming or even just sitting
  • Playing in ways that engages your body or makes you laugh

Substance Misuse Can be a Detriment

Often, when we’re stressed or overwhelmed, we just want to kick back and forget our worries. If that involves drinking, or perhaps recreational drug use, it could make things worse. Science shows that alcohol can intensify stress and anxiety because it changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain (even though it might feel like it’s making things better in the moment). And chronic drug use can also result in paranoia, depression, anxiety, aggression, hallucinations, and other problems. Consider moderating or abstaining from drinking and recreational drug use when you’re feeling especially stressed or anxious. Find other activities you can do with friends to integrate that support system into your routine.

Tips for Dealing with School Stress

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by academic pressures and stress related to your coursework, it’s important to identify the cause or challenges you’re facing so you can figure out the best strategy for eliminating some of that stress. In our experience, the cause of your stress probably falls into one or more of these categories:

Workload

If there’s one class or subject that’s more challenging and that stress is rolling over into your academic workload as a whole, it’s ok to ask for help. We’ve all had that one class that we thought was going to be a breeze but turns out to be much harder than expected. This not only challenges our confidence, it messes with our mindset about the type of person we think we are (I should be good at math. But I love science.). At this point, remember that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness! This is the perfect reason to check in with your professor or academic advisor, or consider tutoring options on campus. Maybe there’s someone in your class who excels at the subject matter that you can ask for help. Don’t let fear of asking for help drag down your whole course load and your mental health and wellbeing.

Organization and Prioritization

How can you create a better organization and prioritization system to manage your workload more effectively and find balance? A lot of stress is self-induced. We put too much on our plate and then blame ourselves when there’s not enough time to get it all done. This not only causes us to struggle to keep up but also shakes our confidence. When we’re overwhelmed, we’re less effective. And of course it’s hard to focus when we’re stressed out. It’s important to be realistic about what you can complete in a day, prioritize your assignments or academic work, and finish one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth! Make sure to allow time in your study and work schedule to take breaks, get outside and walk around, go to the gym, chat with friends, and just give your brain some time to recharge before you tackle the next task.

Get the Help You Need to Manage School Stress

Remember that we have to take care of ourselves and protect our mental health if we want to be able to focus and work effectively. Balance is key, and sometimes this may mean saying no to extracurricular activities so we can have enough time to work, recharge, sleep, and maintain our support network (even though we really want to go to that party).

Counselors at your health or counseling center are trained to help students like you find balance and coping skills. They want you to succeed at school and they’re there to support your journey in doing that. Reach out and learn more about the services offered on your campus. And, as always, JED has additional resources that can also help you manage school stress so you can enjoy your college experience to its fullest.

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