6 ways to handle stress in college

stressBy Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17 

Let’s face it: If you’re a college student, stress comes with the territory.

According to the 2016 National College Health Assessment, 33 percent of students said that stress had negatively affected their academic performance, making it the most common factor to do so. In addition, 86 percent of students reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do at some point in the last year.

That stress doesn’t just affect your grades – it can take a toll on your body, as well. Less energy, headaches, increased heart rate, anxiety and digestive issues are just a few ways stress can affect your health.

RELATED: Surveys show increase in stress among college students

But stress isn’t all bad. When managed and handled correctly, it can actually become an asset.

“We need some level of stress in order to motivate us to complete tasks and accomplish our goals,” says Justin Santoli, a peer education program assistant for FIU Counseling & Psychological Services. “The key is to learn how to control your stress and not have it control you.”

Here are some ways you can effectively cope with stress in the midst of college life:

1) Listen to your body.

When a warning light pops up on the dashboard of your car, you have two choices: bring it in to the shop to solve the issue or risk the car breaking down in the middle of I-95.

In the same way, the physical symptoms of stress – such as fatigue and anxiety – act as warning signals for us. It’s important to pay attention.

If you’ve been studying for hours and you start to feel a headache or some dizziness, your body is signaling that you need to get hydrated or take a break. Don’t ignore what your body is trying to tell you.

2) Identify the cause of the stress.

Whether your stress is school-related or the result of unhealthy relationships, it’s important to get to the root cause of your stress. You can’t effectively relieve your stress if you don’t fully know where it’s coming from.

Journaling your thoughts and feelings can help you process through your stress and reveal what’s going on in your head.

3) Accept stress as a normal part of living.

Stress happens. It affects everyone and you’re not alone in dealing with it. So don’t stress over your stress.

There are two types of stress: distress (negative stress that can lead to mental and physical issues) and eustress (positive stress that can motivate you to improve performance). When we recognize that stress, in the form of eustress, can help you achieve your goals both in and out of the classroom, you can use it to your advantage.

4) Reach out to a trusted friend, family member or counselor.

The worst thing you can do when you’re stressed out is isolate yourself and deal with it on your own. When you’re stressed, sometimes just grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend and expressing how you’re feeling can take a load off your shoulders.

And if you feel particularly distressed and overwhelmed, you may want to consider visiting or calling Counseling & Psychological Services and making an appointment. Even if you don’t have an appointment, they welcome same day drop-in visits where you can meet with a clinician who can help you decide on the best course of action moving forward.

5) Go out and get some exercise.

Whether it’s going to one of the Wellness & Recreation Centers and taking an intense spinning class or just taking a 15-minute walk around campus, exercise in any form can be a serious stress buster.

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise helps the brain produce endorphins, which are the brain’s feel-good transmitters, take your mind off your daily tensions and improve your mood. So get moving.

6) Plan ahead.

In football, players don’t just show up on game day unprepared. They spend days or weeks looking over film on the opposing team, studying the playbook and coming up with a strategy for the game itself. They don’t procrastinate and wait until the night before the big game to prepare, and neither should you.

When you take a few minutes to write out a game plan to help you prepare for your exams and tackle your papers far in advance, you’ll stress a lot less over the final result.

For more help on how to manage your stress or schedule an appointment with a clinician, visit Counseling & Psychological Services at caps.fiu.edu. This article is also part of our Secrets to Success series.