One of the things every student experiences in college is stress. There are many stressful situations inherent in college life, such as the process of adjusting to a new environment and new people each semester, the pressures to perform at the highest level every day, having to learn a lot of information in short periods of time and the human need for support from friends and family, no matter how near or far. But too much stress can become a barrier to success. It’s important to keep everything in perspective, create a healthy balance in your life and ask for help whenever you need it. Learning how to understand and deal with the pressures of life sets the stage for whether you will have a healthy or unhealthy way of coping with stress.
There will be times when college life will feel overwhelming. It’s how you handle feeling overwhelmed that will determine your ability to realize your potential. Stress can interfere with learning when it becomes a strong negative reaction to feeling overwhelmed. The good news is that you are in control of your how you react to the pressures in your life. You make the choices that will determine how well you do in college:
- You schedule your own time
- You concentrate your energies in areas of your own choosing
- You make decisions about how and when to use the resources available to you
- You decide what kind of progress you will make, what kind of grades you will earn
- You establish the patterns you will follow to accomplish your goals
These are the kinds of choices you make every day that significantly affect the level of stress you experience. Usually by the third week of the semester, it will be clear what kind of student you will be. You will either be ahead of your assignments or falling behind, you will either be taking control of how you spend your time and energy or not. Even so, it’s never too late to improve on the decisions and habits that eventually determine the way you handle stress.
Let’s look at some of the common stressors and explore positive and helpful ways of coping with them.
As you begin college you step from the familiar into the unfamiliar. You’re not sure who you will meet or how much discipline you’ll need in order to achieve your goals. You might be living with strangers and far away from home. You may be unsure of how to get things done on a new campus. It can be a very unsettling time as well as a time of great excitement. How you learn to adjust to your new environment will definitely have an impact on your level of stress.
When you enter college you face academic, social and personal expectations from faculty, staff, fellow students, friends, family, community and yourself. Sometimes these expectations can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to accomplish everything or you need help to understand each new level of expectation. Part of the learning experience is testing your coping skills and trying new ways of meeting those expectations.
Sometimes you may have unreasonable expectations of yourself or you are dealing with unrealistic projections of your ability to do too much. You can become very fearful of failing to meet expectations if you don’t find a way to take each step as it comes and get the help you need to be successful. Every student feels a fear of failure many times throughout his or her academic journey. But every successful student learns how to confront and control that fear with positive action.p>
In university life, you find yourself in the midst of a lot of competing pressures on your time. There is a lot to do and only so many hours in the day. You may get into patterns of keeping late hours and eating fast meals. Sleep deprived and saturated with the details of your studies, you begin to feel depleted and unable to focus on making good progress.
Nothing seems to invoke fear and stress like an impending exam. You may feel unprepared or tired or just lack the confidence to ease your fears. Whatever the case, taking an exam can provoke serious and paralyzing reactions in many students.
You will no doubt recognize some of these common stressors. Here are some important factors in coping with stress:
A positive attitude will contribute to your persistence to attain your goals and help you accomplish all that you want out of life. How you spend your time – what you listen to, what you see, who you spend time with, how you think about everything - affects your attitude. Make positive choices and stay positive about the future. This will have a strong impact in reducing your stress.
Managing your time effectively
Be organized, understand clearly what’s required of you, stick to your schedule, clean up clutter, don’t fall victim to being too busy. Be mindful of over-scheduling, prioritizing and having a realistic assessment of how much time it actually takes to get things done. Learn to say “no” when you don’t have the time to do something that will interfere with completing your work. Along with maintaining a positive attitude, managing your time effectively every day is probably the most important aspect of managing stress.
Feeling tired greatly reduces your interest and ability to do well. A lack of rest will make you feel sluggish and you will lack the energy necessary to focus and complete your work. Being tired means your nerves are frayed, your brain is not functioning at its best and your motivation is taxed. Be sure to get the rest you need and you will be in a much better position to handle stress.
Stress eating is often a destructive focus on unhealthy food, draining you of your ability to have mental focus and energy. Make sure you make healthy food choices whenever and wherever possible.
Find a way to fit time to exercise into your routine. Exerting energy, whether it’s playing a sport, jogging, riding your bike or doing yoga, will keep your mind and your body ready to deal with everything you need to accomplish.
Do breathing exercises, listen or play music, be in nature, pursue some sort of creative activity – do what works for you. It can sometimes be difficult to wind down, but it’s very important to completely disengage and relax. Make time to get away from the pressures of your work so you can appreciate your life fully. True relaxation will recharge your batteries and help you combat stress.
Make every effort to spend the time you need to prepare yourself for each exam. This means starting well in advance of the exam in order to give yourself every opportunity to properly learn the material. Always pace yourself, always test yourself. Practice providing answers in writing until you have it right and you will begin to feel more confident. Walking into an exam with this kind of preparation goes a long way to reducing stress and being able to perform well on your exams. While taking an exam, don’t get ahead of yourself. Focus on the questions and your answers, not on the outcome. Be conscious of your stress level and remember to take a deep breath when you feel your tensions rise.
Talk about your stressful feelings and experiences with someone you trust, someone who will listen and understand. Sometimes airing your concerns can help to lessen their hold on you. If you find that stress is taking over your ability to make satisfactory progress, sign up for an appointment with a campus counselor to discuss your personal situation and ask for more personalized suggestions for ways to reduce your stress.
Put your best foot forward with friends, family, faculty and staff. Resolve conflicts when they happen so you can clear the air and maintain a healthy sense of emotional balance. Take every opportunity to build trust with those in your immediate circle. Friendship is very important in living a life that is less stressful.
Manage your money
One sure way to feel stress is being unable to have enough money to pay your bills and live comfortably. Pay attention to budgeting your money and do your best to save enough money to avoid having to work too many hours. It can be extremely stressful to have to work so many hours that you don’t have enough time to study.
Believe in your ability to succeed. Studies show that successful people are optimistic individuals who have a positive view of life and their experiences. Obstacles are understood as challenges from which to learn rather than barriers that prevent success. Make sure to exercise your sense of humor. Laughter is definitely a positive trait when it comes to coping with stress.
Practice these suggestions and see if you begin to manage your stress more effectively and in the process enjoy your college years more and more each year.