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How to manage college stress

UP graphic by Abigail Pennington
UP graphic by Abigail Pennington

It is no secret that while college is some of the best years of your life, it is also some of the most stressful. Attending college is the beginning of a journey that leads one down the path towards a final destination — a career.

As with any journey, there are challenges along the way that test one’s mental endurance and perseverance, for better or worse. These challenges are what help shape students into productive members of society — but what is unique about the stress students face is that it can come from multiple sources, at any given time, and have a lasting impact on the future.

A recent survey conducted by The Associated Press shows that around 80 percent of college students experience daily stress from factors such as increased workloads, student debt, environmental and family circumstances.

But does this mean that all stress is bad? Not necessarily.

Surprisingly, stress serves a useful purpose in our lives. Students learn and retain more information under moderate levels of stress which serve as motivators that push students to face challenges and increase productivity, according to However, excessive stress eventually takes a toll on one’s body and can lead to physical, cognitive and emotional issues, according to, students with persistent stress in their lives often fail to see the warning signs until the situation is out of control.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to manage stress in college while maintaining a healthy balance.

Regular exercise is a great way to relieve stress — a good workout can release tension that accumulates during the course of a long day. However, getting enough exercise does not mean spending hours at the gym — find an activity to enjoy and stick with it. This can include going for a walk, riding a bike or getting your hands dirty in the community garden.

In addition to regular exercise, it is important to get enough sleep — between seven and eight hours a night. It may seem like a good idea to stay up late to finish an assignment or study for an upcoming exam, but in the long run it is counterproductive. A 2017 study by the American College Health Association reports that only 10 percent of college students get enough sleep to wake up feeling rested and alert.

Stick to a balanced diet. Focus on healthy, balanced meals to keep energy levels up and give one’s body the resources need to plow through a stressful day. Maintaining a healthy diet can be difficult, especially when the dining hall doors open and the sweet smell of pizza overwhelms one’s senses. Try mixing it up a bit by trading out a slice for a side salad or some fruit.

However, while these are all good ways to reduce stress over time, they don’t help in the moment. When the weight of the day starts to wear me down, I turn to a few of my favorite coping strategies — reading, music and breathing exercises.

Having a good book on hand to escape into is a good way to distract one’s mind from stressful thoughts. There is something relaxing about the smell of a paperback book and the way the page’s subtle texture feels between my fingers. Whenever I have free time between classes, I like to sneak off and find a quiet area to read for while — even if it’s just a chapter or two.

Listening to music is a great stress release. Since ancient times, music has been used to heal the mind and body. I find Native American flute music to be particularly relaxing.

Breathing exercises are also a good technique to deal with stress. When you take a deep breath, it sends a message to the brain telling it to calm down and relax — which is relayed throughout the whole body. If one pays attention to breathing when stressed, one notices quick, shallow breaths. But when the body is relaxed, breathing is slow and deep. Try to mirror the way we breathe when trying to fall asleep. If that doesn’t work, try inhaling through the nose for 10 seconds and exhaling through pursed lips for another 10 seconds. Repeating these two steps relaxes the body.

Everyone deals with stress at some point during their college experience and having a support system of friends or family to lean on when times get tough is invaluable. We are only human, and that means that there are limits to the amount of stress our bodies can handle.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help from the LU counseling center or student health center when feeling overwhelmed. The services the centers offer are free, and the staff want to help students have a successful college experience. It is OK to not be OK, and there is no shame in seeking the help of others.

We are not alone with our stress. It happens to us all. But with vigilance, balance and some help, we can all reach our goal — a college diploma.

Story by Abigail Pennington, UP contributor

Category: Opinion