Six Mental Health Tips for College Students – How to Manage College Stress

Six Mental Health Tips for College Students - How to Manage College Stress

The college schedule is so different than anything most students have experienced up to this point in their lives. For the first time, they are working to manage their own time, and often balancing a full course load alongside jobs, extracurricular activities, and a social schedule.

To say that it’s can be overwhelming is an understatement, which is why stress management is crucial for college students. By actively working to understand and cope with your stress, you will be able to improve your mental health and ultimately enjoy your college experience more.

Understanding Stress

Stress is something that everyone talks about, and most experience it to varying degrees. But understanding stress is a little bit different. A dictionary will define stress as a state of worry or concern over a difficult situation. Many college students, however, consider stress to be more of a state of being. There are exams to worry about, grade-point averages to achieve, and professors to impress. There are social pressures and new circumstances to navigate. 

Knowing what stress is and when it is time to take steps to reduce stress levels is a critical component of managing one’s mental health.

What Is Stress?

The World Health Organization defines stress as a natural reaction to difficult situations, and the WHO notes that everyone experiences stress in their lives at some point. However, for some people, the amount of stress in their lives can have a direct impact on their quality of life.

How Does Stress Affect Mental and Physical Health?

A normal stress response might trigger a person into action — healthy levels of stress can motivate you, or make you feel the urge to be productive.

However, ongoing stress can have a significant and detrimental impact on both your physical and mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can impact your mental and physical health by:

  • Causing headaches, chest pain, or stomach pain.
  • Increasing your risk for anxiety and depression.
  • Disrupting your sleep, which can decrease your immune response and increase feelings of frustration, anxiety, and depression.
  • Leaving you feeling irritable or hopeless.
  • Increasing your risk for chronic health issues, such as heart disease or high blood pressure.

Normal Stress vs. Chronic Stress

It’s important to note the difference between normal stress and chronic stress. Normal stress is a short-term response to an isolated circumstance. For example, if your heart is racing a bit before you take an exam, but you feel better after it is completed, then you have just experienced normal stress.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, is a constant state of being. Someone who is chronically stressed may spend most of their days burdened by their worries, and they may be experiencing health problems as a result of their high stress levels. Normal stress is to be expected during college, but chronic stress should be addressed as soon as possible.

Mental Health Tips

Prioritizing t mental health can help ensure that all students are successful as they adjust to university life. These mental health tips can help you adopt stress management techniques that work for your lifestyle and personality.

1. Organize and Manage Your Time

Effective time management can quickly reduce your stress levels, particularly as you manage your college schedule and course load. According to Harvard University, these college organization tips can help you better manage your time:

  • Creating a calendar and using it regularly. You may find that a written calendar in a planner works best for you, or you might prefer an app-based calendar on your phone or tablet.
  • Prioritizing your to-do list each day. Write down what needs to get done and tackle the highest-priority items first.
  • Scheduling time to relax. You will be more productive and more focused when you give your brain and body a chance to rest and relax.

2. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

A balanced diet and regular exercise can have a surprisingly significant impact on your mood and mental well-being. People who exercise generally feel happier and less stressed, and those endorphins can help push away any lingering feelings of stress. According to the Mental Health First Aid toolkit from the National Council for Mental Well-being, you don’t have exercise constantly in order to benefit from it. College students are notoriously busy, but even 20 minutes of exercise per day can help minimize stress and anxiety.

In addition to regular exercise, you also will want to choose your snacks and meals wisely. Avoid those inexpensive packets of ramen and microwave popcorn, and instead opt for healthy, nutritious snacks that will fuel your body and your spirit. Visit the cafeteria on campus regularly to see what delicious selections might be available for you, and be sure to keep a regular meal schedule.

3. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Make mindfulness a part of your daily routine. Mindfulness is defined as a mental state of being fully present in the moment and aware of your surroundings. Being mindful can help you feel more in control and relaxed, and mindfulness techniques can help you naturally manage your stress levels. Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine by meditating each morning after you wake up, or practicing deep breathing in the evening before you go to bed. Soon, these will become unbreakable habits that allow you to feel in control of your anxiety and stress.

4. Prioritize Sleep

The all-nighter has long been associated with the collegiate experience, but staying up for hours on end to cram for an exam is actually more detrimental than you might think. According to Rise and Shine, regular sleep will strengthen your immune system and protect your physical health, allowing you to feel more energized and productive during the day and helping you improve your academic performance. Recent research highlights that individuals who do not get enough sleep on a regular basis are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, which emphasizes the importance of sleeping well each night when you are in college. You can improve your sleep habits in college by:

  • Establishing a regular bedtime.
  • Avoiding screen time for at least an hour before you go to sleep.
  • Setting the alarm for the same time each morning.

5. Foster Social Connections

Most students on campus experience loneliness and homesickness, especially during their first year of school. Social isolation can exacerbate any feelings of stress or anxiety, so it’s incredibly important that college students work to find connections within their university community. Joining a club or taking an on-campus job are two ways that you can begin to foster friendships and develop connections with others who are experiencing the same stage of life as you.

6. Seek Support When Needed

Always remember that you are not alone, and that almost everyone around you has experienced the same type of stress as you have. Most colleges and universities offer various levels of support for mental health care, and it’s incredibly important that you seek out help when you need it. You should have access to counseling services, online resources, and more through your campus student life department.

These are a few signs that you may need some extra help and support:

  • You are feeling anxious most of the time.
  • You are feeling withdrawn and no longer interested in activities you once loved.
  • You are having difficulty sleeping or eating.
  • You are considering harming yourself or someone else.

Enroll at a University that Offers Support and Guidance

At Carson-Newman, we offer counseling and health services through our Wellness Center to help students navigate stressors throughout their learning experience. 

Carson-Newman is ready to help you develop and expand the skills needed to stand out in the job market. If you’re interested in learning more, connect with Carson-Newman today. We’ll help you prepare for a rewarding and dynamic career.

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Career Guide: Examining the Role of a Therapist

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