Stress is a common concern among college students. In fact, in a recent study of UK students, 41 percent of students reported much or very much stress. Because stress is so common, it’s important to understand what it is, what causes it and how to manage stress.
What is stress?
Stress is any physical, mental or emotional adjustment of one’s well-being caused by an external stimulus known as a stressor. Stress is the body’s physiological reaction to these stressors.
There are two main types of stress: acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is the most common type of stress and is generally short term. Acute stress can sometimes be good, such as the stress you might feel before a test that causes you to study or before doing something adventurous that causes you to assess the risks. Too much short-term stress, though, can lead to physical and emotional symptoms, such as headaches, upset stomach, or irritability. Since it’s usually a new feeling, people are generally very aware when they experience acute stress; they feel different than they did before the stress. Because acute stress is short-term, it usually doesn’t cause the same damage that long-term stress does.
Chronic stress is long-term stress and can have serious health implications. Chronic stress can be caused by long-term problems, for instance being stuck in a miserable situation, such as a major you might not like or a job you dislike. One of the problems with chronic stress is that since it’s always there, people get used to it (although that doesn’t mean it has gone away). Chronic stress can lead to heart attack, stroke, suicide or even cancer. It wears people down physically and mentally.
The good news is that both types of stress can be managed and treated.
What causes stress?
There are many different causes of stress, and the causes will vary by person and situation. What might be stressful to one person might be easily brushed off by another person. Possible causes of stress for college students include:
- Tests and papers
- Relationships (friends, family, romantic partners)
- Adjusting to college life
- Being away from home for the first time
- Searching for a job after graduation
- Financial worries
- Student organizations
There are many other things that could cause stress for college students.
What are the signs of stress?
Everyone exhibits stress differently. If you’re feeling stressed, you might experience:
- Muscles aches
- Stomach aches, nausea or frequent diarrhea
- Trouble sleeping
- Frequent or serious colds
If you are feeling stressed for any reason, it is important that you learn how to manage it so it doesn’t cause health or other problems.
How can I manage my stress?
The easiest way to manage stress is to try to prevent it. This may not always be possible, but there are steps that you can take to try to reduce the chances of being stressed.
- Plan ahead. This might help you prepare for potentially stressful situations and come up with plans to reduce stress. For example, if you find that you get stressed before going home for breaks, plan fun activities into your breaks. You can also plan physical activity into your schedule, which is a great stress reliever.
- Set priorities. Decide what needs to be done first and finish the most important tasks before moving onto the next things. For example, complete your school work before going out to dinner with friends, or read the next chapter of your textbook before logging on to Facebook. Doing the necessary stuff first can help reduce stress, and saving the fun stuff for last creates a reward to yourself!
If you are finding that you still experience stress, you might try one of these options to see if it helps reduce your stress:
- Talk to friends. Not only will this help you get your feelings off your chest, it will allow you to take a break from school work or other stressful situations.
- Engage in physical activity. This is a great way to relieve the mental and physical symptoms of stress. It can also reduce the risk for depression.
- Get plenty of sleep. It is recommended that adults get six to eight hours of sleep every night. This may seem impossible for a college student, but it can be done. Check out this site for more information on sleep.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and protein can give your body the energy it needs to fight off some of the signs of stress.
- Laugh. “Laughter is the best medicine.” It also helps to make you feel good. Take a break from studying, paper writing or whatever is causing you stress to watch a funny video online or to read a comic strip.
- Avoid caffeine. Some people might consume caffeine to help them focus, but caffeine can make people feel anxious, contributing to their stress.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs. These can sometimes make feelings of stress worse. Do not use these substances to manage your stress -- there are other options.
If stress seems to be interfering with your school work, personal life or other aspects of your life, it might be helpful to seek professional assistance in managing your stress. You can call the UHS Behavioral Health Clinic to make an appointment with a psychiatrist for more information on how to manage your stress (859-323-5511). You can also call the UK Counseling Center at 859-257-8701 to set up an appointment with a psychologist. UHS offers a Zen Den where students can go to relieve stress and relax. There are also stress-management workshops offered at UHS and the UK Counseling Center. Call for information.
For more information about stress, please visit:
American Academy of Family Physicians »
American Psychological Association »
Medline Plus »