Dealing with Stress During College

May 25, 2011

Whether you're facing final exams, managing a long distance relationship or just struggling to stay on top of a pile of homework, college can be a stressful time. Don't succumb to anxiety - follow these simple tips for dealing with stress during college.

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Conquer Your Stress

College students face a host of stressors. University-level homework may be more challenging (and plentiful!) than anything you've ever faced before, and final exams can bring a whole new meaning to the term 'crunch time.'

The difficulties also don't typically end with academics. Romance and social lives can be as much a source of anxiety as they are of fun, and many students struggle to stay on top of the newfound freedoms of living away from home, from cooking to laundry to managing a budget.

In response to these challenges, some students fall behind on homework, stop attending class or worse - they turn to dangerous coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol. Don't let this happen to you! Here are some ideas for managing your college life and keeping your stress levels under control.

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Set time for:

School Work. This will probably your biggest source of stress. School work may not be your favorite thing to do, but is a must-do in order to graduate from college! For every hour of lecture per week (equivalent to one unit), you should set aside 2-3 hours to study outside of classroom (Calpoly.edu). While studying, eliminate distractions so that you can stay focused. Pick a place that you are comfortable being at, whether it's in the library, a coffee shop, or the student lounge. If studying for 2-3 hours per unit is not realistic for you, try to schedule yourself with a combination of some less challenging courses with difficult ones in the same quarter/semester. This will allow you to avoid feeling overloaded. Of course, if you enjoy a particular subject, studying for it won't feel like an obligation. So, pick classes that interest you!

Social Activities. Juggling between your social niches and school work can be a challenge, but spending all you effort only on school work could be draining. Make use of the college environment to find a work-life balance. Being in college is the best time and setting for you to build life-long relationships, as well as expand your social and professional networks. Use social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Tumblr. Join social groups and professional groups; attend activities and have fun at the same time. This will allow you to relax and see things in the real world. Don't forget to network for success! Manage a professional profile on LinkedIn and collect contacts. It's never too early to expand the horizon of unlimited possibilities. More importantly, learn work-life balance.

Sleep. Most college students make the same mistake -- we sacrifice sleep for everything else. When our body is weak, it induces stress. leading to small mistakes, simply because we are too exhausted to make good decisions or function on a regular basis. Resting is part of life. 1/3 of our lifetime is meant to be sleeping. Don't forget to restore your energy by scheduling 6-8 hours of sleep for most nights. Take care of yourself.

Yourself. You may not know how important it is to spend time for yourself just yet. There are so many distractions that you can't reject, such as the dinner party last night, the sorority gathering tonight, and the college dance that you have been longing to go to with your roommates. Yes, you have been sick and coughing for 2 weeks but you feel like it's getting better. Finals are not for another week so you can study for them after the weekend. Being young and energetic is awesome; you can use it to the max...until two days before finals. You can't cram 4 subjects worth of notes from the past 10 weeks into a tired brain, and stress can take over. It is just so easy to get carried away by all that's happening. Try to plan at least an afternoon each week for yourself to rest, work out, lounge, ride a bike, read, lay by the beach... anything for yourself. Unwind. Just so you can have space to be creative and think about bigger and better things.

Most importantly, learn to be good at time management and organization; it will make your life easier. Time to bust out the calendar on your smartphone to mark the time and dates of every plan that you have! It will be your best friend.

Set goals that are:

Realistic. When you try to reach too many challenging goals at once, it can cause anxiety and even a feeling of helplessness when you encounter obstacles. Goals can vary depending on situations. How about we start with what you need to work on; set goals that are challenging yet attainable. For example, if you failed a class last quarter, you know exactly what we need to do this quarter -- pass all classes; otherwise, academic probation! So how do you do this? The goals for this quarter can be: attend classes, set XX hours to study every week, check in with professors and TAs every few weeks about our progress and ask questions. Making small steps to succeed can help reduce your fear of failing.

Your dream. You might feel lost at times because you can't visualize your future. Your dream might be succeeding in college and getting a job, or it might be to own your own business. At the end of the day, what you should know is what's most important to you and prioritize it. Having a dream can help you reduce anxiety while making choices, especially when you know you're chasing after an ultimate goal.

Develop:

Good coping mechanism. Some stress will be unavoidable, so it's important to develop healthy ways to deal with it. Popular options include athletic exercise, meditation or simple breathing exercises. Find something that works for you and incorporate it into your routines. If needed, pay a visit to the counseling office. Every school has one open to students who need the support. Sometimes, stress can be your motivation. Stay positive!

Relationship with TAs and Professors. Learn to establish connections with professional individuals, especially with your teachers. Attend office hours at least a couple of times a semester/quarter. This can help start a professional connection. Who knows if this can help you get a letter of recommendation or a referral to a job opportunity in the future. In the meanwhile, if situations come up and you feel overwhelmed by your school work, they are the right people to seek out for help! Tell them your needs. They are there for you.

Financial management skills. Your source of income can be limited during college. Besides paying tuition, you may have a few other expenses to attend to, such as social events, travel, food...etc. It's a smart choice to live on campus the first year, just so you don't have to spend energy and time managing such logistics. However, if financial constraints eventually becomes a source of stress, try using free assistance, such as Mint.com to help monitor your expense, and make adjustments accordingly.

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