Considering the nature of college life, it is easy to understand how stress is a major component. Classes, midterms, assignments, projects, paired with the needs for food, sleep, new roommate, and possibly a job... there is so much to do in limited amounts of time! Eighty-five percent of college students describe experiencing stress on a daily basis. While some consider stress a positive motivator, pushing them to meet their goals, others feel negative effects such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, or other. With suicide being a real issue on college campuses, it is crucial to deal with stress so it does not become a contributing factor to someone feeling overwhelmed.

What does stress feel like?

Stress is manifested differently for each individual. Some common feelings people report are frustration, anger, or nervousness. Others describe feeling deep emotions or physical tension. There are hormonal and physiological changes during times of stress. Epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol are released which can increase blood flow and cause bursts of energy in a “fight or flight” response. Here are some common responses

  • Physical: sweating, increase in blood pressure/heart rate, muscle tension, headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, chest pain, dizziness
  • Emotional: hostility, helplessness, unhappiness, loneliness
  • Behavioral: binge/reduced eating, drug/alcohol abuse, decreased sex drive, erratic sleep habits
  • Cognitive: memory loss, concentration loss, negative outlook
  • Stress disorders: depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, chronic muscle pain

It is important to realize that symptoms of stress can compound and build to dangerous levels. This can threaten well-being if stress is not relieved. If one is experiencing emergency symptoms, it is crucial to seek help right away from someone trusted (see list). Signs of emergency stress include:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Compulsive drug or alcohol abuse
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Physically violent outbursts
  • Uncontrollable crying or emotional outbursts
  • Panic attacks
  • Chest pain

Sometimes talking with a friend or treating yourself to something special is a good way to relieve stress that may be building up. Spending time with friends, social occasions, exercise, weekends home, or just a walk or bike ride are ways to get away from the challenges of college life, take a break and relieve the daily stresses. If you get in the habit of doing something to relieve stress every day, all aspects of your life will seem more manageable.

Who can I contact for help?

  • Campus counseling services
  • College health clinic
  • Hotlines (suicide or substance abuse prevention)
  • Academic advisors
  • Residence hall staff
  • Your physician

Get involved!

Many students report that the best thing they did to relieve stress in college was to get involved. There are multiple opportunities to join groups or clubs on campus. Whether you like being active, creative, musical, political, or whatever… there is a group for you. It can often provide the stress relief needed.

If concerned, please call the wellness center for an appointment to discuss your concerns.

A Student's Guide to Managing Stress