Do you have a child in college? Odds are you’ve either seen or heard from them during stressful periods of their college career. College can be a stressful time, which is normal, but it’s how students cope with that stress that’s crucial to their success, and, at times, their health.
We recently conducted a survey on our website for high school and college students about smoking and dental health. Out of 3,681 responses, 2% of those responses came from students who said they smoked, 74% of which said they started smoking to relieve stress.
While 2% may seem like a slim number, that is only a small sampling out of the millions of college students out there. There may be many more who turn to smoking as a way to relieve stress in college.
As such, we wanted to compile a list of tips for college students–or the parents of college students to pass along to them–about how to cope with stress during their college years.
To Better Handle Stress in College, Students Should…
1) Take a Deep Breath
If you are already overly stressed, our best piece of advice is to not stress over being stressed. Worse yet, don’t completely avoid what needs to be done because you’re too stressed to do it. Take a deep breath and move forward.
2) Don’t Skip Class
Unless you really need the time to complete a project and the class you are going to miss is something you won’t need to catch up on, avoid skipping class.
Skipping class will only lead to more homework and studying you need to do to make up what you missed, adding to the stress you’re trying to reduce in your life.
Now, if you’re taking a fun elective like ballroom dancing and can easily catch up by next class period, it may be worth it to miss one class to catch up on other classes that you’ve been falling behind in.
3) Get Organized (Room/Atmosphere)
For many people–student or adult–living or working in a disorganized environment adds to their stress, whether it’s consciously realized or not. Getting your working space organized can help relieve a lot of stress and increase motivation to get work done.
Take a few minutes to clean up the area around you.
4) Manage Your Time
This could fall into the “Get Organized” category, but as this is a very important step to take in better handling your stress, we’ve made it its own point.
A few ways to manage your time include:
- Prioritizing Your Tasks. This can be a very helpful tool for time management, especially when you feel completely overwhelmed. To do this…
- Write out everything you have to do, starting with the highest priority (what is the most important, with the quickest deadline) and working your way down from there.
- Add the tasks to a calendar so you don’t get overloaded by doing too much on a single day.
- Furthermore, you can also break up big projects into manageable bites. If you have a huge project to do that just overwhelms you, try splitting it up into smaller tasks. List this out in your priority list or calendar and take it one step at a time.
- Choose the Best Times to Work. Some people work best in the morning, some in the middle of the afternoon and others at night. Figure out your prime working time and dedicate that period to get work done.
- Not Overloading Yourself. There are instances where you have bitten off more than you can chew, as the saying goes–whether that is your course load, extracurriculars, etc. Take a look at everything you have and if you think it’s too much to handle (be honest!) consider dropping a course to take the following semester.
- It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need an additional semester to be able to graduate. You can also squeeze in those extra hours over Christmas break or the summer. A lot of college students pick up classes during this time that they can even take online.
- Learning to Say No. This can easily fall into the point above, but with this tip we’re really referencing social activities and other commitments outside of class. Learn to say no to things. If you were to write out a list of everything you do in a week and how much time is spent on each task/activity/event, you should be able to clearly see what is taking up most of your time and decide if that is worth the time you’re putting in or if it could be reallocated to some of the other things you have to do.
5) Get Plenty of Sleep
One of the first things that goes when students are stressed is sleep. All-nighters, late-night cram sessions–while these may give you some extra hours in the day, you’re only adding to your stress, not helping it. Not to mention, the work you get done within those hours of the night typically take longer to accomplish because you aren’t as alert as you would be with a good night’s sleep.
Make sure you’re getting the rest you need. This will help relieve some of any stress that’s built up during the day.
CAUTION: Don’t use this as an escape from your stress. Some students take this to the extreme and sleep too much, not getting anything accomplished. This should be a healthy balance of getting the sleep you need and working hard while you are awake. Aim for that recommended 8 hours of sleep at the appropriate time.
They say your sleep should align with the clock of the sun. Going to sleep closer to when the sun is going down than when it’s about to rise is a good rule to follow.
6) Eat Well
What often accompanies those late-night cram sessions or all-nighters? Junk food. Junk food does not give your body the nutrients it needs to remain energized. It slows the body down and makes you more tired.
Eating a healthy diet can give you an energy boost and sharpen your focus on the tasks before you. Follow a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Not sure where to begin? Check out our post for tips on “How to Shop and Eat Healthier.”
Along with eating a healthy diet is making sure you’re drinking lots of water. Water keeps us hydrated and healthy. Grab a water bottle on your way out the door each morning and remember to refill it throughout the day.
Another way to increase your focus, decrease your stress and remain energized, is through exercise. This doesn’t have to involve a 2-hour intensive weight-lifting or workout session at the gym. Exercising can be as simple as going for a 30-minute walk around campus while listening to music, participating in a round of volleyball with some friends, going for a quick swim, etc.
Whatever activity you enjoy most, see if you can work that in as your exercise for the day.
8) Avoid Unhealthy Habits
There are several methods students typically try to help them cope with stress, many of which are unhealthy habits. This includes:
- Drinking and smoking. This is only a temporary solution to stress. It may help you feel some stress relief in the moment, but the effects afterward will only add to your stress, not to mention the negative side effects you’ll face to your health and dental health long term.
- Eating junk food. As mentioned above, filling up on junk food will only makes you more sluggish and tired. It won’t help you get through that cram session or study time effectively.
- Using unnatural energy boosters like caffeine pills or energy drinks. Delaying your need for sleep with these tactics will result in an energy crash a few hours later, resulting in more stress, especially if it causes you to sleep through the test or class you spent all night studying for.
Avoiding these habits and focusing on the others listed in this post can do wonders to relieving stress. These unhealthy habits bring consequences and side effects that will contribute negatively to your stress rather than relieving it.
9) Make Studying Fun
To relieve stress, you need to start working down your list of to-dos. The more you can get done, the more accomplished and less stressed you’ll feel. But sometimes the homework, projects or studying you have to do is less than appealing so you put it off.
One way to combat that is by making that studying fun! A couple of ways to do this include:
- Forming a study group. Sometimes working with others can help you get more accomplished. Be wary though; at times, it does the opposite. While you should be wise about who you choose for your study group, working with others can help make a mundane project or study session more enjoyable.
- Rewarding yourself after an allotted time of studying. Taking breaks and rewarding yourself with something fun in between studying can be extremely helpful. Sometimes we all just need to take a step back, give our eyes and mind a break and then return to a problem or project at a later time.
Some fun ideas for study breaks include:
- Getting a massage. Talk about a great stress-reliever! Stress often makes our muscles tense up. A professional massage therapist can help loosen those tightened muscles so you can relax.
- Parents: This would be a great gift to your college student: a gift certificate for a massage!
- Playing sports. Consider playing a round of ultimate Frisbee, volleyball or basketball.
- Going for a walk around campus. (You’ll even get in your exercise like we talked about earlier!)
- Stopping to watch a movie or a few episodes of a favorite TV show.
- Do some coloring. (Adult coloring books are in now!)
- Playing Guitar Hero (My go-to during finals week when I wasn’t coloring).
- Socializing with friends. Especially for those extroverts out there, you may need some “people time” to give you that extra boost of energy to finish what’s on your to do list. Even introverts need some social time with friends after spending the day cooped up inside studying. Take the time to spend time with friends.
10) Talk with Your Professor
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, another great option for relieving stress is talking with an approachable professor. Who knows, they may be able to extend a deadline on a paper for you or give you some helpful time management tips.
My teacher gave me a great time management tip that saved me a lot of hours of stress (the Prioritizing Tasks tip I mentioned earlier–such a lifesaver).
CAUTION: Don’t go to your professor with the expectation that they will extend deadlines for you. Be honest about your situation and that you are having a hard time handling everything. See if they have any advice they can give to help you manage your course-load.
I use this as one of the last tips because there are other areas that may need to be addressed before reaching this point–time management, cutting out events/activities that are taking away too much time from your coursework, etc.
11) Get a Tutor
It’s possible you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed because some of your coursework is too difficult. Colleges and universities have many tutoring options available to students. Find out what your options are and meet with a tutor to help you understand the work you have to do.
12) Seek Counseling
Finally, seek help. This doesn’t have to be a last resort. If you feel you really need emotional support or counseling, seek help sooner rather than later. Colleges and universities have counselors available to students. Seek one out if you need some additional help relieving your stress.
Or reach out to a family member or friend that you feel comfortable with who can offer you support and accountability.
Parents: If you notice your child is struggling with stress, encourage them to seek help before it becomes debilitating. Receiving your encouragement and support may give them the incentive they need to go ask for help without feeling embarrassed about needing that help.
Whether you’re reading this as a student in the middle of a stressful season of college or a concerned parent looking to pass along these tips to your student, giving these stress-relieving tips a try instead of resorting to the unhealthy habits of drinking and smoking could help you overcome this stressful time and offer you a few life-saving habits that you can apply throughout the course of your life.
What stress-relieving tips do you find helpful? Share them with us in the comment section below. You may help others relieve some of their stress, too!