Wondering How To Manage College Stress?

The college years are certainly a time in your life to look forward to...the freedom, dorm life, expanding your mind, constant contact with friends, social activities, studying what interests you most, etc. But let’s be honest, college is stressful. To have successful college years, it is important to learn ways to manage college stress.

Believe me, I get how hard it is. I get many calls from college students on my radio show about how “stressed-out” they are. College requires a lot of changes that affect many areas of our lives. Alyse called concerned about her relationship with her boyfriend which seemed to be changing with the mounting pressure of school:

The American College Health Association found in a 2015 study that more than 85 percent of college students said they “felt overwhelmed” by the demands of college. And a third of all students said stress had a negative effect on their overall academic performance. With 85% of students feeling overwhelmed, you can almost count on stress being part of any college experience.

What to Know About Managing College Stress

Are you overwhelmed with classes, a job, and a social life?

But why is it so stressful?

Top College Stressors

  • Away from home for the first time.
  • Need to make decisions on your own.
  • Time management is hard with a flexible but full schedule.
  • Choosing a major and deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life
  • The pressure to achieve good grades.
  • Financial stress. College is expensive and debt is mounting.
  • Balancing studying, class time, studying, relationships, studying, extra-curricular, studying, social life, etc.
  • Easier access to alcohol and drugs
  • Being frustrated and wanting instant gratification when it’s not available.

These stressors can weigh heavy on anyone, but sometimes students are more than just “stressed-out”.

This is important…

Recognizing whether your feelings are based on adjusting to life away from home or if you are experiencing an early sign of a mental health condition is crucial.

Mental Health Concerns in College

75% of all mental health conditions begin by age 24. So, it is critical that college students are aware of common warning signs of a mental health condition that could suggest that perhaps you are more than just “stressed out”. These years are critical for understanding and talking about mental health. And it is nothing to be ashamed of.

1 in 5 youth and young adults experiences a mental health condition and 30% of college students reported feeling so down at some point during the previous year that they found it difficult to function.

Heather called my show because she overloaded her first year, fell into depression, and gave up on classes. Now she is doing better but scared to go back to school.

So, when is it time to go talk to your school counselor or confide in a parent or trusted friend?

10 Common Warning Signs of Mental Health Condition:

  1. Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
  2. Severe, out-of-control risk-taking behaviors
  3. Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
  4. Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight
  5. Seeing, hearing or believing things that are not real
  6. Repeatedly and excessively using drugs or alcohol
  7. Drastic changes in mood, behavior, personality or sleeping habits
  8. Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still
  9. Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  10. Trying to harm oneself or planning to do so

It can be difficult to know whether what you are experiencing is an early sign of an emerging mental health condition or part of adjusting to college. Listen to your mind and body. If you are not feeling right and are having trouble shaking that feeling, then talk with someone who can help you sort things out. You might find it is common stress and you might discover it’s more. You don’t have to know the answer to this question before talking to someone.

I can’t emphasize this enough…

Mental health conditions are common among college students so don’t hesitate to let your parents know what you are feeling. They want to know. Don’t try to protect them or keep them from worrying. Communicating with them can help you get the help you need. And seek out your campus counselor. That is what they are there for.

So now for those stress-reducing tips…

10 Tools to Manage College Stress

1. Make a "To Do" List and cross things off – this will keep you organized and keep you from forgetting to do something as well as give you a feeling of accomplishment every time you cross something off.

2. Make time to exercise – walk, run, bike, lift weights…whatever you like. Your years in college you essentially have a free fitness membership. Take advantage of it. Physical activity helps burn off stress.

3. Get enough sleep – Sleep and college may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s crucial that your body rest. Without proper rest you won’t be able to focus as well, you will nod to sleep in class and might very well get run down and sick. All things that will add to your stress.

4. Participate in college activities – Make sure you make time for fun and to connect with other people. Join a club, play intramural sports, volunteer, attend a college event such as a concert, play or game. You can find all that your college has to offer on their website or attend an activity. A balanced schedule includes things that allow you to take a break from studying, meet new people and have fun.

5. Quiet time with relaxing music – Sometimes it’s important to just breath and relax and music often helps.

6. Talk to others about what you are feeling – Sometimes it just feels good to vent to share your burden with someone you trust. You can also learn a lot from people who are experiencing the same things as you. How do they manage their stress? Are they also feeling overwhelmed? You will fast learn you are not necessarily alone.

7. Eat healthy – Good nutrition also helps keep your mind sharp and focused. Pay attention to what you are putting in your body.

8. Avoid alcohol and drugs – Substance abuse certainly does not help you stay strong and focused and can quickly lead down a destructive path.

9. Self-Care – Make sure to treat yourself as kindly as you treat others. Self-care is provided by you to Identify your own needs and meet them. This includes being aware of your mental health needs and recognizing if it is time to seek help.

10. Pray – Spend time in prayer with God…you can pray at all times. As you walk to class, as you sit in the library, as you work out, during your quiet time, etc. Share with God all that you are feeling, pray about the concerns you have and what is causing you to worry. Ask Him for the focus you need or the strength to go on. Nothing is too big or small to ask of God. Then as you pray trust that God will see you through and release your anxieties to Him. He loves you and he will help you. It says in the Bible Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

College is an exciting time in life and an important time to maintain self-care and find ways to manage stress. You can do this; however, you don’t have to do it alone. My HopeCoaches are here to listen and help you through this! 

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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