3 easy ways to manage university stress

Alex Townsend

University students are subject to many pressures and stresses. The more you know about stress, the causes and the ways to feel better, the more power you have to feel on top of it.

Here are our top 3 tips on managing university stress:

#1 Learn your biggest stress triggers

Some stress can be avoided – so avoid it. Every time you feel stressed, write down the specific things you feel are causing it. For example: exams, a friendship issue or money problems. Ask yourself how important are each of those things? You might decide a couple of things are not important at all. Just realising this alone can reduce those worries.

Learning what stresses you out the most will help you to think ahead. If something is coming up which is highly stressful, prepare yourself by planning something nice. Be kind to yourself.

Got an exam next Monday? Plan a picnic with friends on the Tuesday.

Always broke towards the end of the month? Cook “too much” and freeze meals. Easy and free, when the pennies are low!

The evidence?

Working out what triggers stress can help anticipate problems and think of ways to solve them. Even if these situations cannot be avoided, being prepared can help (Mind, 2013).

According to Professor Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster, the keys to good stress management include building emotional strength, being in control of your situation, having a good social network and adopting a positive outlook (NHS Choices, 2016b).

#2 Knowledge is power

Knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy stress will help no end. Stepping back and looking at things in perspective will give you the power to act accordingly. If you are experiencing unhealthy, overwhelming stress that does not seem to go away, seek support. So-called ‘healthy’ stress is the kind you feel before a deadline, which drives you to get working! Take note of your behaviour and reactions so you are clear about which kind of stress you are experiencing. Then you can take steps to care for yourself appropriately.

The evidence?

“Healthy stress” in small doses can motivate us, give us an energy boost and help us achieve our goals. It is short term and we may experience it before a deadline or when playing sport. When it passes, we feel relieved (Bupa, 2017).

It’s important to recognise when the feelings of stress and anxiety are unhealthy. When they are overwhelming, last for a long time or affect our daily life, they can become a mental health problem (NHS Choices, 2016a; Mind, 2017).

#3 Have a set of tools to deal with stress

It’s all about strategies. How do you react when you are stressed? What is the most healthy way you could react? Whoever you are and whatever your age – it is never too late to build on your strategies for dealing with negative feelings. Have as many as possible ‘up your sleeve’. Here are a few examples of strategies to deal with university stress:

  • Exercise – a short run, a swim at the university pool or a walk. Exercise won't make your stress disappear, but it will reduce some of the emotional intensity that you're feeling, clearing your thoughts and letting you to deal with your problems more calmly (NHS, 2016b).
  • Change your breathing. Try a simple breathing exercise like this one here. It will help you to increase the oxygen sent to your brain – which clears your mind and calms you down!
  • Take a moment ‘out’. Step outside for a few minutes – walk down the road and back. Even a very brief moment of relief from a stressful situation can help you to keep perspective and stay calm. Here in the UK, we work the longest hours in Europe, meaning we often don't spend enough time doing things we really enjoy.  Professor Cooper says: "We all need to take some time for socialising, relaxation or exercise." He recommends setting aside a couple of nights a week for some quality "me time" away from work. "By earmarking those two days, it means you won't be tempted to work overtime," he claims.

To find out what other advice we can give students on managing university stress, why not drop us an email? [email protected].