Managing stress levels in college can be a tremendous challenge for several reasons. This may be the first time you are away from your family for an extended period. This may be the first time you are experiencing independence. You may be the first in your family to attend college. No matter the circumstances, college is stressful. It is supposed to be a challenge. However, there are many ways to manage the stress you experience while earning your degree.
Everyone deals with stress in their lives, but not everyone deals with stress the same or even feels stressed in the same situations. Although, no matter the reason, stress can affect your mental and physical health. Even during a stressful time in life, like college, we can use lifestyle changes, coping mechanisms, and researched stress management techniques to reduce the psychological and physical effects of chronic stress. Below is a list of different ways to help manage your stress while attending college.
Your diet is intimately intertwined with physical and mental well-being. It is also a relatively easy lifestyle change that you can make to reduce your stress levels and ability to cope with stressful situations. Most college students have little time and money to focus on eating healthy, but it can have tremendous effects on your health and quality of life. Students tend to eat large amounts of high-fat foods and not enough fruits and vegetables.
Research shows that your perception of stress can be influenced by your ingestion of soda, coffee, energy drinks, salty snacks, frozen foods, and fast food. Reducing your intake of these foods can be beneficial in your ability to handle stress.
Emotional eating can be an issue as well, particularly in female college students. Emotional eating and uncontrolled eating are associated with higher stress levels in college students. This promotes a positive feedback loop where stress causes people to eat more, but overeating results in more stress. Therefore, giving attention to how much you eat and what you eat can have substantial consequences on your stress levels during college.
When going to college, most students have a tendency to reduce their activity levels because they have less time for exercise, decreased energy levels due to stress and low sleep quality, or no longer participate in childhood sports. However, exercise is a great stress reliever!
Many physical activities have shown positive outcomes on college student stress levels and mood, such as running and bicycling. Yoga is becoming a popular physical activity, particularly for college students. It is calm and relaxing and improves physical abilities like flexibility and heart rate. Extensive research shows that regularly doing yoga reduces college student stress.
A research study looked into a walking program during lunch for six weeks, along with a lecture on stress management. Excitingly, they found the program decreased depression and increased health-promoting behaviors in the participating college students. Therefore, even just walking daily can reduce your stress levels. So try to make time for regular physical activity.
Sleep is yet another lifestyle factor that can influence and be influenced by stress. Have you ever studied and then slept, realizing in the morning that you can recall the information better than before you went to bed? Many biological processes occur during sleep that are critical for college students, including memory consolidation and healing. Stress can injure the body’s cells, but sleep can provide the time for your body to heal and recover. Numerous studies find a high correlation between sleep quality and stress. Stress and reduced sleep are also associated with negative emotions such as fear and anger. Students taught to effectively manage sleep have improved well-being. Although it may be difficult, improving your sleep quality may enhance your ability to manage stress well.
Keeping a support system is a major factor for stress resilience. This was especially supported by research done during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social support, coping strategies, and resilience decreased the prevalence of acute stress disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic. A strong support system made of family and friends decreases stress by giving you resources for advice and feelings of community that can alleviate distress.
MINDFULNESS, MEDITATION, AND RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
Mindfulness strategies are used to improve coping skills and decrease emotional distress. The goals of this method are to teach stress regulation and emotional management. Studies using mindfulness interventions to improve college student stress levels showed decreased depression and anxiety, increased empathy and life satisfaction, and greater spirituality after implementation. One study using the learning to breathe program found decreased sleep and alcohol problems after participation.
Meditation can be especially helpful for reducing stress. Consequences of regular mediation practices include decreased blood pressure and increased coping abilities. Relaxation therapy for six weeks can also reduce heart rate and blood pressure.
Multiple mobile apps have recently gained popularity, especially with college students, which help implement mindfulness and meditation techniques. Calm, one of these apps, has shown promise in reducing stress and improving self-compassion in college students experiencing stress. The extensive research into these methods suggests that implementing some version of mindfulness or meditation is one of the most important methods for reducing stress levels.
Coping mechanisms can be helpful or detrimental when managing stress. Naturally, we use these various mechanisms in stressful situations. For example, blame, humor, and substance use are typical coping mechanisms for young adults. However, coping with the mentioned mechanisms is more likely to increase stress, while coping using religion positively influences stress. Distraction, emotional support, and planning are more likely to be positive coping mechanisms that reduce stress. Conversely, venting, denial, and self-blame are predictors of stress and suicidal ideation. Developing positive coping mechanisms can decrease your stress levels and increase your resilience when approaching future stressors.
Interestingly, music can be used as a stress management technique for college students. A stress-reducing music program for students showed decreased anxiety levels and personal vulnerability after program completion. Religious hymns were also found to reduce stress in a population of college students. The key here is likely the type of music listened to. Relaxing melodies should be utilized rather than rap or metal.
Many universities and colleges have introduced courses and workshops on stress management and similar topics. These workshops and classes tend to be put on by student health services, mental health services, career services, etc. Does your college have a free fitness center or counseling? These resources can be incredibly helpful, supplying you with an on-campus gym and counselors that can be utilized to manage your stress levels. It is important to know these convenient resources available to you.
College programming aimed at stress management can vary substantially. One university, for example, used an online intervention called MyStudentBody-stress, finding that it increased students’ physical activity and stress management methods while decreasing reports of anxiety and family problems. A meditation program for 8 weeks improved stress and forgiveness. Resiliency training for 4 weeks increased resilience and coping strategies. Symptoms of academic stress were reduced, and self-esteem and leadership were increased. Other typical improvements from these interventions include better mental health, sleep, and energy levels.
One more popular and fun intervention is typically implemented around finals weeks at varying colleges. Therapy dogs decrease self-reported stress and physiological measurements such as cortisol levels. These resources are geared specifically for students, so make sure to get some use of them!
The top three concerns of students experiencing high stress levels include academic performance, post-graduation plans, and pressure to succeed. Students of high-risk populations experiencing stress may need to implement more strategies to reduce their stress.
Many stress management techniques discussed are simple lifestyle changes or can be found through college resources. Resiliency is an important goal for students in or entering college to better cope with stress, which can be gained through the various researched strategies mentioned.