How stressed are you?

Take the stress screener on the Mental Health America website. After completing the assessment, check out at least two ways you can reduce stress based on the information provided on the website.

Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day­-to-­day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life. ­—Marilu Henner, actress


As a student, you’re probably plenty familiar with the experience of stress, a condition characterized by symptoms of physical or emotional tension. Stress is a natural response of the mind and body to a situation in which a person feels threatened or anxious. Stress can be positive (preparing for a wedding) or negative (dealing with a natural disaster).

Good stress, known as eustress, can help you develop skills needed to manage potentially challenging or threatening situations in life. However, stress can be harmful when it is severe enough to make you feel overwhelmed or out of control. Strong emotions like fear, sadness, or other symptoms of depression are normal, as long as they are temporary and don’t interfere with daily activities. If these emotions last too long or cause other problems, it’s a different story. A lot of stress puts someone into a state known as distress.

If you’re a college student, it may feel like stress is a persistent fact of life. While everyone experiences stress at times, a prolonged bout of it can affect your health and your ability to cope with life. That’s why social support and self-care, like implementing a healthy diet and exercise regimen, are important parts of managing stress.

Common college stressors

Which of the following sources of stress do you identify with as a college student?

  • transitioning to a new school
  • learning a new schedule
  • making it from one class to another on time
  • managing a commuting schedule
  • learning how to study in a new way
  • balancing school work with paid labor and home responsibilities
  • finding ways to eat better, exercise more, and/or recharge

What would you add to the list?

Signs and Effects of Stress

Physical or emotional tension is often a sign of stress and is a reaction to situations that causes you to feel threatened or anxious. The following are all common symptoms of stress:

  • Disbelief and shock
  • Tension and irritability
  • Fear and anxiety about the future
  • Nightmares and recurring thoughts about the event
  • Being numb to one’s feelings
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Loss of appetite (or increased appetite)
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Anger
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • Sadness and other symptoms of depression
  • Feeling powerless
  • Crying
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
  • Trouble concentrating

It’s not only unpleasant to live with the tension and symptoms of ongoing stress; it’s actually harmful to your body, too. Chronic stress can impair your immune system and disrupt almost all of your body’s processes, leading to increased risk of numerous health problems, including the following:[1]

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Memory and concentration impairment

These avoidable health challenges are why it’s so important to learn healthy ways of coping with the stressors in your life.

Man lies comfortably on his back in the sun on public steps, his skateboard at this feet, phone in hand.

Ways of Managing Stress

The best strategy for managing stress is by taking care of yourself, which can be accomplished in the following ways:

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. They may seem to be a temporary fix to feel better, but in the long run, they can create more problems and add to stress.
  • Manage your time. Work on prioritizing and scheduling commitments. This will help you feel in better control of your life, which, in turn, will mean less stress.
  • Find support. Seek help from a friend, family member, partner, counselor, doctor, or clergy person. Having a sympathetic listening ear and talking about problems and stress really can lighten the burden.
  • Connect socially. When you feel stressed, it’s easy to isolate yourself. Resist this impulse and stay connected. Make time to enjoy being with classmates, friends, and family. Schedule study breaks that you can take with other people.
  • Slow down and cut out distractions for a while. Take a break from your phone, email, and social media.
  • Take care of your health.
    • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Try a relaxation technique, such as meditation or yoga.
    • Maintain a normal routine.
    • Try to spend some time outdoors every day.


Deep breathing exercises

Try the breathing strategies below when you’re feeling stressed. Better yet, practice these breathing exercises when you are not particularly stressed, so you can get used to them. Try to turn to breathing exercises in moments of stress, so you can take healthy action to reduce anxiety and feelings of overwhelm.

Belly Breathing

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Place one hand on your stomach just below your rib cage, and place the other hand on your chest.
  • Breathe in through your nostrils; your chest should remain stationary, and the hand on your stomach should be pushed out.
  • Breathe slowly out through your lips; press on your stomach with your hand to help let the breath out.
  • Repeat 3 – 10 times.

Four-Seven-Eight Breathing

  • Breathe in for four seconds.
  • Hold breath for seven seconds.
  • Breathe out for eight seconds.

One Minute Deep Breathing

Deep Breathing and Breath Focus

3 Breathing Exercises and Techniques

If the self-care techniques listed above aren’t enough and stress is seriously interfering with your studies or life, don’t be afraid to get help. Health Services and the Counseling Center are both good resources.

Reduce your stress level

  • Identify at least three things you currently do to cope with stress that aren’t working or aren’t good for you.
  • Identify healthy replacements for each of them, and write yourself a “stress-relief prescription” that you plan to follow for one week. Try to include one stress management technique to use every day.
  • At the end of the week, respond to the following prompts in a short reflection:
    • Which ineffective or unhealthy coping strategies did you set out to change and why?
    • Which stress-relief techniques did you try during the week? Were any of them new for you? Which ones were most effective?
    • How much do you think stress affects you in your current life at college? Do you feel like you have it under control or not? If not, what else might you do to reduce your stress level?

Regular Exercise: Health for Life