University of St Andrews

Adaptive stress helps us rise to life’s challenges. Adrenaline, nor-adrenaline and glucose flow into our blood. We get a buzz of energy and feel alert, focused and creative. Negative stress occurs when our ability to cope with life’s demands crumbles. If we don’t break down the stress chemicals (e.g. through physical activity), they stay in the blood, preventing us from relaxing. Eventually, this results in a permanent state of stress. That initial buzz turns to worry, irritability or panic. Challenges become threats; we doubt out ability to do even simple things and problems appear insurmountable.

Cause of Stress in College Students Guide

College Stress

Almost everyone experiences stress to some extent, and college students are certainly no exception. Many college students report dealing with varying levels of stress throughout college for a number of different reasons. Stress affects everyone differently and for different reasons, and people respond to stress in many different ways, but it doesn’t have to cripple you or prevent you from reaching your goals. Below you’ll find strategies to reduce and manage stress in college.

College students commonly experience stress because of increased responsibilities, a lack of good time management, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and not taking enough breaks for self-care. Transitioning to college can be a source of stress for most first-year students. Some predictable stressful times include studying for exams, competing for admissions or internships, and trying to master large amounts of content in small amounts of time. Sudden changes, unexpected challenges, or traumatic events can be unpredictable sources of stress. Students are expected to make decisions about their careers and academic life and foster new meaningful relationships in their time in college. Take a moment to think about the things in your life that may be causing you stress so that you can better address it effectively.

How Too Much Stress Affects Us

Physically: The heart pumps faster, making the heart pound and blood pressure rise. Some people experience palpitations. Muscle tensions increases, leading to headaches, dizziness, jaw ache and even insomnia. The mouth goes dry. Digestion slows causing “butterflies” in the stomach. Breathing is faster and less efficient which can lead to over-breathing (hyperventilation) and breathlessness. Changes in the flow of blood to the skin can cause sweating, blushing or clammy hands and feet.

Mentally: A certain amount of stress can be mentally stimulating but too much can affect our thinking ability. Thoughts may become jumbled and confused. Thinking becomes focussed on worrying. We may become preoccupied with problems. It becomes much harder to make decisions or find solutions to problems. Thinking negatively and fearing the worst increases worry and stress.

Emotionally: People respond to stress in many different ways. Common emotional effects are irritability, impatience, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, self-doubt, panic, despondency, feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, hopelessness, unhappiness, emotional withdrawal and depression.

Do’s and Don’ts of Stress in College

As a college student, stress is sometimes inevitable. Whether it’s an assignment you put off until the day before, a pop quiz, or navigating relationships, there will be unavoidable moments of pressure at some point. One of the most important aspects of adequately dealing with moments of stress is to create a healthy balance in your everyday life. By treating yourself well at all times, you won’t be as susceptible to the lingering effects of stress. Here’s a list of some of our best do’s and don’ts when it comes to stress.

The good news is that college campuses across the nation are recognizing the damaging effects of stress on academic performance and everyday life and are working to provide resources to alleviate pressure points. Some of the common resources offered at colleges and universities today include:


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