Innovative Lifestyles

The Dos and Don’ts of Managing Stress at College

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Many people say the years you spend in college are the best years of your life. What they don’t tell you is that they are also among the most stressful. There are certain times during a semester that stress is so high that it’s almost as if you can feel the tension as you walk around campus.

While no college student is immune from stress, it is important to your health and overall well being to keep your stress levels in check. Follow our list of dos and dont’s to help manage your stress as you advance through the college ranks.

Do Get Organized

Organization is key to keeping stress at bay throughout your college years. One of the simplest ways to be organized is to regularly use a planner. Course syllabi almost always include assignment due dates as well as dates of exams. Jot these dates down in your planner as soon as you have them, and then work backward to see when you should start work. If you prefer digital tools, try using Google Calendar or an app like MyStudyLife.

Don’t Procrastinate

Too often in college, students will turn a blind eye to distant assignments and exams and instead pursue short-term pleasures such as going to a party or binge watching a television marathon with a new friend. Then suddenly, it’s the day before an exam or project is due and the student is forced to pull an all-nighter. Putting off assignments or responsibilities until the last minute can create severe mental and physical stress, so do your absolute best to stick to the schedule you outlined in your planner.

Do Take Breaks

Keeping on task is an energy-expensive process, so it’s natural to feel fatigued and a bit stressed after you’ve been studying or attending classes for hours, says Alex Lickerman, MD, interim assistant vice president for Student Health and Counseling at the University of Chicago, on WebMD. Lickerman advises students hunkering down for marathon study sessions take 10 to 20-minute breaks in which they go for a walk, call a friend or family member or grab a snack whenever they feel drained.

Don’t Turn to Unnatural Energy Boosters

Artificial stimulants such as caffeine are known for giving short bursts of energy, which is why campus recycling bins are overflowing with empty bottles of soda and cans of energy drink. However, artificial stimulants should be avoided at all costs, as they can elevate the stress response in your body. Instead, boost your energy by taking a brisk walk, eating a snack high in protein and fiber or taking a 15- or 20-minute power nap.

Do Get Plenty of Sleep

Lack of sleep has a profound effect on how we experience stress, says J. David Forbes, MD, on Everyday Health. Plus, insufficient sleep can put you at risk for serious illnesses. Two easy ways you can make sure you catch enough ZZZs include going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends and during school breaks!) and creating a calming bedtime ritual. You may also want to invest in earplugs, an eyeshade and a natural relaxing oral spray, all of which will help you block out even the most hectic environments.

Don’t Use Alcohol as a Relaxant

There’s no way around it, alcohol is a big component of college life. Because it is a depressant, alcohol often makes the drinker feel sleepy, which is why many college students turn to it when they’re having a difficult time falling asleep. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, alcohol often disrupts sleep later in the night, causing you to wake long before you’ve gotten your recommended 8 or 9 hours. Because of alcohol's unpleasant side effects like hangovers, nausea, and dependence, many people are turning to other sociable alternatives like kava tea.  

Do Eat Well and Exercise Regularly

Eating a healthy diet and partaking in regular exercise are two of the most effective methods for feeling well and keeping stress at bay. While fast food-like options are abundant on college campuses, more and more schools are making serving healthy food a priority, so always scope out your dining hall’s options before adding food to your tray. Also be sure to stock your dorm or apartment with healthy snacks to avoid binging on overly sweet or salty foods. To make sure you’re getting a good amount of exercise, schedule 2-3 times for hitting your school’s fitness center in your planner. Also, ask a friend to try out exercises you can do with little space and equipment such as yoga.

One last important tip for managing stress at college is to seek support. Going to college often means leaving close friends and family behind, which is stressful for students who haven’t developed a new support circle. If you are finding it especially difficult to adjust to college life, go to the student health center to find out what resources and programs are available to you.

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About the Author

Allison Lardizabal, RN

Allison Lardizabal, RN

As an ER nurse, I helped people through some of their most difficult and vulnerable times in their lives, providing me invaluable insight on what really matters most. This led me on another path where I stepped away from my clinical practice to pursue other dreams; to live life on my own terms; and be more intentional with my time.

More posts by Allison Lardizabal, RN >
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