Tips for Managing Academic Stress in College

College is a huge milestone, and you should be proud of yourself for all the hard work you did to get here! You have a lot to celebrate, but it’s normal for college to cause a lot of stress, too. 

Change on its own is stressful. Managing new courses, making new friends, being away from home or living on your own for the first can be challenging. 

While some stress is good for you, feeling constantly stressed can keep you from getting your work done. But more importantly, it can have lasting effects on your overall health and well-being. College stress is very real, and if you’re feeling it, you’re not alone. 

Learn how to tell when stress is affecting your health and get help if you need it.

Things That Can Make Stress Worse

Overusing screens 

Recent surveys show that many students watch TV, scroll through social media, or play video games as a way to cope with school-related stress. In small doses, doing this might give you a much-needed break from studying. But using screens as a distraction (or escape) can worsen your stress, especially when it means that unfinished work piles up. 

Getting Drunk or High 

When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, it’s normal to want to kick back and forget your worries. But relying on drugs or alcohol to unwind can make things worse. 

Drinking or getting high might feel better in the moment, but science shows that alcohol can actually make stress and anxiety worse. That’s because it changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters (the chemicals in our brain that are responsible for our mood). 

Chronic drug use can also result in:

  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • And other problems

It’s a good idea to avoid drinking or getting high when you’re feeling especially stressed or anxious. Instead, choose activities you can do with friends or family to boost your support  system.

So what can you do to de-stress without creating more stress? 

Things You Can Do to Manage Stress Instead

Engaging in “me-time” activities reduces stress hormones and promotes mental relaxation: Here are a few to try: :

  • Move your body in a way you enjoy
  • Try journaling (writing down your thoughts can help you spot stressors and trends in your emotional struggles and is a way of coping in and of itself)
  • Practice mindful breathing or meditation
  • Spend quality time with people you enjoy
  • Participate in support groups, therapy, or reach out to your campus counseling center to talk about your stress and find assistance 
  • Make things: cook food, create art or crafts, write or play music
  • Listen to music or dance with friends or on your own
  • Help others (helping people in need and giving back to the community is proven to reduce stress)
  • Spend time outside: walking, cycling, swimming or even just sitting quietly
  • Be playful: do things that bring you joy or make you laugh

Tips for Lowering School Stress

If your coursework is causing you stress or academic pressure has you feeling overwhelmed, try to identify what’s behind the challenges you’re facing. The cause of your stress likely  falls into one or more of these categories:


So if you’re struggling with a class, use the opportunity to check in with your professor or academic advisor. Is there another student who seems to be having an easier time with the class? Consider asking them for help or look for tutoring options on campus.  . 

The bottom line? Don’t let fear of asking for help drag down your whole course load (not to mention your mental health and well-being).

Organization and Prioritization

As a first step, think about how you’re organizing your time. Keep in mind that having too many things to do at once can easily lead to stress and overwhelm. What’s more, struggling to get it all done can hurt your confidence and make you less effective. 

To find balance, It’s important to be realistic about what you can complete in a day. Multitasking is a myth! Prioritize your assignments or academic work (it often helps to make a list), and then concentrate on finishing one thing at a time. 

Then take breaks between focused sessions. That could mean going outside for a walk, hitting the gym, getting coffee with friends, or just giving your brain some quiet time to recharge before tackling your next task.

In order to focus and work effectively, you have to take care of yourself. Balance is key, and although blowing off steam, having fun, or goofing around can be helpful, so is having enough time to work, recharge, and sleep–these things protect your mental health. 

Maybe you really want to go to your friend’s party, but you have an assignment or exam the next day. Do yourself a favor and skip the social event–there will be plenty of parties to attend throughout your college career

Get the Help You Need to Manage School Stress

If you need more support to find balance and cope with stress, counselors at your health or campus counseling center are trained to help. They want you to succeed in college and they’re there to support your journey. So don’t be afraid to reach out and learn more about the services offered on your campus. 

As always, JED has additional resources to help you manage school stress and find balance in your life. 

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.