College is stressful. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Mix in working, financial woes (the thought of being in debt is stressful), and trying to balance your social life with everything else, and it’s easy to understand why there are so many stressed out students walking the halls of colleges all around the world.

We have a tendency to try to just deal with it,  but the stress that college students go through can actually have some pretty negative effects emotionally and physically. The problems with stress in college seem to have been getting significantly worse over the years.

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Don’t Take Stress Lightly

A study conducted last year by the American College Counseling Association showed that 37.4% of the students that sought help from counselors had “severe psychological problems”.   That’s about a 20% increase from the year 2000 (16%). Also, 75% of the counselors surveyed said that they noticed an increase in the number of reported crises that needed immediate attention. Nearly half (42%) said they saw a rise for self-inflicted injuries and 24% said they noticed an increase in eating disorders.

What this means is that a lot of students are stressed out, and don’t know how to cope and manage it. Some students also don’t realize the severity of their issues. As the study showed, a lot of these conditions are connected to psychological problems that require professional attention.

Another troubling statistic is that the second leading cause of death for college students is suicide. Stress can be a sign that a person is dealing with depression, anxiety, or other issues. MTV has a great resource for students who are having a hard time called Half Of Us. They have a ton of information on what you can do if you’re experiencing emotional problems and what you can do to help your friends.

Another great resource is ULifeline. They’re a non-profit that works with universities to help their students manage stress better and can help you get an idea of just how stressed you really are. You can also take this free college stress test from McGraw-Hill.

I highly encourage anyone who is going through severe emotional problems or stress to seek help using online resources like Half of Us, ULifeline, or even checking the resources at your campus. You should also be cognizant of signs from your friends such as mood swings, uncharacteristic anger, and other symptoms of stress.

In order to help you deal with the day to day stressors of being a college student, try out these five stress management techniques.

1. Exercise

Adding physical activity into your daily routine is extremely beneficial for reducing stress. Not only that, but you should be exercising regularly just for your overall health. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can lower your risk for a ton of preventable diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Exercise helps relieve stress by increasing your endorphin production. Endorphins are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters in your brain. They’re part of the reason you feel so good and positive when you’re working out. Ever notice how happy and upbeat some personal trainers are? It’s not a coincidence.

Exercise is also great because it can get your mind off of whatever is stressing you out. Sometimes we just need a break from our stressors, and exercise provides somewhat of an active meditation. While you’re exercising, you’re only focused on the task at hand so you’re not even thinking about that exam you have next week.

2. Get Some Sleep

College students are notorious for not getting enough sleep. Even though it’s not unusual, that doesn’t mean it’s normal. Stop trying to force yourself to stay awake by slamming energy drinks and caffeine all day. You’re doing much more harm than good.

A lack of sleep can automatically put you in a bad mood and make you much more irritable. Things that normally wouldn’t bother you start to become a lot more stressful when you’ve only had a couple of hours of sleep.

The University of Pennsylvania performed a study on the effects of sleep deprivation. They found that the participants that only slept for 4.5 hours a night for a week experienced higher levels of:

  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Mental exhaustion
  • Sadness

Chronic insomnia can lead to a wide range of psychological problems like depression or anxiety.

So how much sleep should you be getting? According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night. If you struggle to get the full 7-9 hours in every night, try to sneak in a nap at some point during the day.

3. Slow Down

We live in a go, go, go society. Everyone is always in a rush to get somewhere, trying to accomplish 20 things at a time, and racing to finish everything before day’s end. Being able to multitask is a great skill, but sometimes you have to take things one step at a time.

Have you ever had one of those days where it just feels like you never get a break? As soon as you finish one thing you’re on to the next. Frequently rushing to get everything done can make you extremely overwhelmed and stressed out. Unfortunately this is how a lot of college students operate on a daily basis.

Instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off to accomplish everything you need to do at once, take a five-minute break in between tasks and relax. Enjoy some fresh air, and take time to appreciate the moment.

If you never seem to be able to get anything done, read through my list of 50 Productivity Hacks to help you get things done more efficiently so that you’re not constantly stressed out.

4. Treat Yourself

Find something in your life that makes you happy. Maybe you love watching movies or shopping. Whatever your favorite activity is, make some time in your life to enjoy it.

Part of the reason we get so stressed out is because we’re constantly working on projects or doing things that we don’t really want to do. You have to balance this out by incorporating activities that you enjoy into your schedule. Otherwise you’re going to end up hating life and be one of those students that is always stressed out about something.

It’s ok to be selfish sometimes. Try this out:

  • Once a day: Do something small for yourself (watching your favorite show or spending some time browsing YouTube, etc.)
  • Once a week: Do something a little bigger (go see a movie, go out to eat, etc.)
  • Once every 6-12 months: Do something big (take a vacation, buy yourself something nice, etc.)

5. Use the Four A’s

This is probably my favorite way to deal with stress, and it works EXTREMELY well for me. Make a list of all the different stressors in your life. Think about all of the different things you go through during a typical day that causes you to feel stressed.  Then, for each stressor, ask yourself “is there something I can do to minimize or avoid this?”

By reducing the amount of stressors in your life, you’re automatically going to decrease the amount of stress that you go through every day. Some of your stressors might be unavoidable, and that’s when we turn to the Four A’s:

  • Avoid the stressor
  • Alter the stressor
  • Adapt the stressor
  • Accept the stressor

It’s pretty self-explanatory, but for each of the stressors you wrote down, consider using one of the four A’s. As much as I’d like to tell you that you’re going to be able to just avoid every stressor in your life, it’s not realistic or healthy. Some stressful situations need to be addressed using the other three A’s.

Can you alter anything about the stressor to make the situation more tolerable? Maybe you can come to some sort of a compromise to decrease the effects of your stressor.

Is there something that you can do about yourself to adapt to the stressor? Just having a more positive outlook on things can make you get a lot less stressed in certain situations.

Sometimes you have to just accept the things that you cannot change. For example, the death of a loved one is stressful, but it’s not something you can or should avoid, alter, or adapt to. You have to learn to accept it.

Remember, there’s no such thing as a 100% stress-free life. Stress is a part of life, and can sometimes be beneficial. The key is figuring out how to manage it better so that it doesn’t completely take over your life or snowball to become a severe psychological problem.

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Image: Anna Gutermuth