Student Stress 101: Tips on How to Deal with the Learning Challenge
By Moira Daly
reviewed by juliana ascolani
University can be a fun and exciting experience that provides personal and professional growth. However, it can also be quite stressful at times, and while positive stress may give way to more productivity and motivation, studies have shown that 52% of college students have reported higher levels of negative stress during the semester. But what can this mean in terms of your health? Student stress may turn to fast food due to its cheaper and rapid access, and this – in addition to stress – may lead to insufficient hours or quality of sleep, which in turn affects the physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and economic dimensions of wellbeing. All of these factors may also affect academic performance, leading to more stress. And stress may go beyond academics.
Moving to another city and meeting new people is an enriching experience, but it can also feel challenging. First, there’s the application process, which includes the financial factor of acquiring loans, going only for those options that include scholarships or the like, or juggling in the need of getting a part-time job; then, the relocation and the feeling of being out of our comfort zone as well as the independence that may be granted due to living out of a family home, moving in with friends or acquaintances, and becoming responsible for one’s actions; and finally, the exams and responsibilities that come with pursuing an education, which mean adjusting to deadlines, finding the ways of studying that suit you best, and dealing with relationships that may change (and the consequences of this).
Every beginning has its pros and cons, and finding a balance is the key to optimal wellness.
Did I make the right choice?
A question that we may ask ourselves, especially if we’re having trouble with exams or writing papers, is whether we made the right career choice or not. It’s a lot of pressure: at 18 years old (or so), we have to make the arguably biggest decision that can shape our future. In some cases, we may have guidance from school or internships, or even from a counselor whose job it is to help us figure it out. But this is not always the case. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind. It may take you a little longer to graduate, but it would be worse to pressure yourself into something you’ve realized isn’t for you simply to graduate ‘on time’.
Dealing with exams
Feeling stressed during the exam period is more than understandable. But we have to be conscious about the difference between high school and university exams, how we have to adapt to different schedules and requirements, and the fact that even failing an exam is progress, as it helps us understand how we can improve.
Paying the fees
Tuition fees for university education can differ greatly depending on where you are. In some countries (such as Argentina) public universities offer free tuition, while others (such as the U.S.) have particularly high fees, especially if you’re an international student. The living costs also need to be accounted for, as rent and commuting (and the costs associated with them) aren’t insignificant parts of university expenses, sometimes amounting to even more than the tuition. Many universities offer financial aid in the form of academic, athletic, or hardship-based scholarships, there may be low-cost housing options, you can look for part-time jobs and use the library or a second-hand bookstore instead of buying new, but ultimately, you have to think of your education expenses as an investment in your future.
The relationship between financial stress and wellbeing cannot be emphasized enough: students who deal with financial stress often consider dropping out of college, have higher self-reported mental health needs, live in poorer conditions (which may lead to further physical, emotional, and mental issues), have unfavourable academic outcomes, and may give in to unhealthy behaviours.
Your studies aren’t a race
Another factor that may lead to stress is being competitive with others. Your studies aren’t a race against someone else. Comparing your grades or results to others won’t do anyone any good; the only person you should be concerned about is you. Focus on your own classes and your own improvement. We can’t compare how we’re doing with others because we’re unaware of how much previous knowledge others have, or how much they studied. So, instead of worrying about how others did on their exams or papers, you can instead focus on your own achievements.
How can you deal with student stress?
Strategies for coping have often been classified into two categories: problem and emotion-focused. The first looks into behavioural activities, which include action and planning, while the second is centred on expressing emotions and altering expectations. Studies have shown that problem-focused strategies worked better for college students than emotion-focused ones, although some ways of dealing with emotions, such as acceptance and positive reframing, have also been connected with increased wellbeing.
As a student you have a few options
- Healthy lifestyle: Eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising will help you ease the feelings of stress and increase the self-awareness of your capabilities, as well as keep your mind sharp.
- You-time: Make sure you have time for yourself and to relax between studying and working.
- Don’t overthink the future: Take things one step at a time.
- Plan your time: University isn’t only about studying, but also about enjoying the experience. Allowing yourself to have spare time and meet new people can also have a positive effect on your overall health and, by extension, on your performance during your exams as well. Feeling motivated and engaged will help you focus.
- Studies have found that, among the three most turned to activities to cope with stress, college students talked to family and friends (77%), enjoyed leisure activities (57%), and exercised (51%). It’s also important to be mindful of those activities that won’t benefit your health but which may appear to offer a fleeting reprieve from stress, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, or using illegal drugs.
Learning is a good challenge
In spite of all the challenges that earning an education may include, don’t let the stress overwhelm you. Learning is a lifelong journey. Each stage in our lives includes its own set of stressful circumstances, and it’s up to us to figure out how to deal with them.
It’s important that, during this stage, you remain connected to and aware of how studying can affect your overall wellness. Your health will, in turn, affect your academic performance, so be aware of how you’re coping, and find the best way of dealing with and letting go of unnecessary stress.
Editor and creative writer from Argentina, I find that the highlight of my work is learning about different topics, satisfying an innate curiosity for mostly everything and anything. I especially like writing about environmental topics, given that I feel I have the most to learn about them, not only for general purposes, but also for those changes I can incorporate into my life to improve (or decrease) my impact. My academic and professional experience follow the passion and interest I’ve always felt for texts. Whatever task, I always strive for quality, coherence, and consistency, and I hope to share not only what knowledge I acquire, but also the optimism for a better tomorrow by working on those things that can improve our lives.
I am a health researcher who bridges data science and health research with direct experience in healthcare and university institutions, passionately and collaboratively pursuing the integration and synergy of all key areas of health and wellness. I believe in inclusion as the main pillar of our society, especially when it comes to health. Promotion and prevention in health empower people to adopt healthy decisions, thus I have been working during the last years in the development of inclusive and holistic health systems. What do I enjoy the most about my job? Realizing how we are making a difference in people’s lives, and seeing the result in their health journeys. I enjoy the challenge of questioning new paradigms and creating debate around them.
Britt, S. L., Mendiola, M. R., Schink, G. H., Tibbetts, R. H., & Jones, S. H. (2016). Financial Stress, Coping Strategy, and Academic Achievement of College Students. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 27(2), 172–183. https://doi.org/10.1891/1052-3073.27.2.172
Broderick, T. (2020, May 5). A Student’s Guide to Managing Stress. Best Colleges. https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/balancing-stress/
Brougham, R. R., Zail, C. M., Mendoza, C. M., & Miller, J. R. (2009). Stress, Sex Differences, and Coping Strategies Among College Students. Current Psychology, 28(2), 85–97. doi:10.1007/s12144-009-9047-0
Cohen, M. (n.d.). Student Guide to Surviving Stress and Anxiety in College & Beyond. LearnPsychology. https://www.learnpsychology.org/student-stress-anxiety-guide/
Hudd, S. S., Dumlao, J., Erdmann-Sager, D., Murray, D., Phan, E., Soukas, N., & Yokozuka, N. (2000). Stress at college: effects on health habits, health status and self-esteem. College Student Journal, 34(2), 217+.
National Health Service. (n.d.). Student stress: self-help tips. United Kingdom National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/student-stress/
Pierceall, E. A., & Keim, M. C. (2007). Stress and Coping Strategies Among Community College Students. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 31(9), 703–712. doi:10.1080/10668920600866579
Robotham, D., & Julian, C. (2006). Stress and the higher education student: a critical review of the literature. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 30(2), 107–117. doi:10.1080/03098770600617513}