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Alleviating Stress and Anxiety: The Best Advice From Real Students

Reducing stress and anxiety is possible with some lifestyle changes and routine adjustments. Check out this real-world advice from our student writers!

College is an exciting time, but let’s face it—it can be stressful too. From forming new friendships and navigating campus as freshmen to finding a career path and interviewing for jobs as seniors—not to mention the rigorous courses, the high cost, and the heavy expectations to do well and succeed—college is filled with nerve-wracking situations. Understandably, many students can get overwhelmed with the work required to obtain a degree. For students with anxiety, these demands can be even more overwhelming. However, there are many things you can do to prevent this stress from being a dominating constant in your life. Though extreme anxiety should be reported to a health care provider, general feelings of stress and worry can be alleviated with some simple lifestyle changes and adjustments to your daily routine. Here’s what real students have found to be the most helpful steps in dealing with stress and anxiety.

Be preemptive

The best way to manage stress is to simply combat it head on. Do not allow yourself to procrastinate. Sit down, focus, and simply get it done. If you allow yourself to waste time or avoid completing tasks, you’ll end up more stressed than you were before (and have even less time too). By simply changing your mindset to reflect a more positive, action-based ideology, you’ll find your stress begin to ebb away. Just do your best and get it done.

Set a routine and make a schedule

Being swamped with school and work can be overwhelming, but following a routine can help you feel more organized. To avoid overextending yourself, create a schedule to prioritize certain tasks over others. Be sure to include time for school, work, and fun, since too much of one thing can make your life feel stressful and imbalanced. A great way to organize your schedule is with a planner that allows you to look at both monthly and weekly schedules. Visit your college’s bookstore or any store that sells school supplies and you’re bound to find one you like. If you’re more tech-savvy, there are various apps you can download for free; try myHomework Student Planner or My Study Life.

The benefits of keeping a planner

With a planner, you can sketch out your day-to-day activities and responsibilities and see how you’re going to fit them all into one week. This type of organization keeps you aware of what you’re doing; if you make sure you know exactly when your deadlines are, you’re less likely to miss them. You’re more likely to prepare in advance, thus saving you from unnecessary stress. Just remember to be consistent; your planner will only work if you do, and by keeping your planner up to date, you’ll find it easier to navigate your schedule and get everything done on time. Stick with your planner—you certainly won’t regret it.

Related: 7 College Organization Tips From a Type A+ Student

Make planning fun

Planning doesn’t have to be tedious. Buy some inexpensive multi-colored pens or markers and build a system that allows you to enjoy planning out your tasks. Building a positive connection between you and your planner will help you build a positive connection between you and your responsibilities. Never treat it as drudgery. If you do, that’s what it’ll become. Bullet journals are great for this and allow you to keep up with your responsibilities and have fun doodling and creating collections. Essentially a personalized organization system, bullet journals accommodate lots of free rein, which is nice if traditional planners don’t work for you or your needs.

Take care of yourself

With anxiety constantly shifting your brain into high gear, sometimes it’s difficult to remember to take care of yourself. But basic self-care is a very important part of every college student’s routine. Try to get at least eight to 10 hours of sleep each night, and make sure to eat a well-balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, and protein. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated!

Cook at home

As easy as it is to tell yourself that fast food is both cheaper and more efficient than healthy eating, once you start trying to cook more for yourself, you’ll realize how untrue that is. If you have access to a kitchen in college, try making a stir fry—they take very little time to prepare and cook and are highly nutritious. Try using leftover veggies in the fridge, then add a protein or tofu. Alternatively, you can make soup, casseroles, or any food that yields a large output for minimal effort. For other meals, salads, sandwiches, and soup (canned or homemade) are all delicious and viable options, and in the end probably just as fast as driving out to get junk food.

Related: How to Eat Healthy in College (on the Cheap!)

Avoid caffeine

Though coffee is a necessity when you’re working on late-night projects, try to limit it day to day. Caffeine helps pull you through those long all-nighters by blocking the neurotransmitters that make you tired and increasing the levels of energizing brain chemicals like dopamine. Those effects may appeal to a sleep-deprived college student, but caffeine inhibits the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a calming chemical. This GABA deficiency can be harmful to an already anxious brain and may even lead to panic attacks. So try to limit your caffeine intake and find energy elsewhere.

Keep a mood log

Keeping a mood log can help you identify anxiety triggers. Whether it’s a simple list in the notes section of your smartphone or a detailed, handwritten description in a journal, you should record events and circumstances that might have contributed to your stressed mood. Is it a certain class or professor? Does writing papers cause you the most anxiety, or does studying for tests create the most concern? Sometimes there may not be an identifiable cause for your anxiety, and that’s okay. Creating a journal will help you keep track of your moods and identify any patterns.

Treat yourself

Paint your nails, play Fallout, make cookies, call a friend—whatever you do, make it completely superfluous. Set time aside to not be productive. Managing your time and multitasking is all well and good, but you should also take time to relax and be by yourself. 

Keep yourself happy

Keep your room clean, do your laundry, and eat regularly. Living in filth and skipping meals to finish schoolwork is going to make you less successful overall. You can take five minutes a day to clean your room, and set timers to remind yourself to eat if you have to. School is not more important than your health.

Related: 6 Ways to Live a Healthy Lifestyle in College

Do stuff and get involved

To help relieve stress at college, get involved with something. A sport, club, volunteer work—just try to get out of your dorm or apartment and do something that helps focus your energy. You’ll find your mind absorbed with that task rather than the source of your stress, especially if you choose to do something active. However, if your English paper is due in two hours and you still need to write a paragraph or two, it probably isn’t the best idea to go off and do something else. Only pursue other activities if you have the time to do so.

Exercise

You’ve had a long day, and you’re feeling irritated—with your schoolwork, your roommates, everything. The best thing to do in this situation? Work out! Exercise is a fantastic outlet for frustration, and the health advantages are endless. Not only can exercise help clear your mind, but it can also elevate your mood and provide relief from everyday stress. By exercising, you can also control your weight, build stronger bones, reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, and boost your mood and energy, to name a few benefits. There are so many different forms of exercise, and universities offer numerous fitness options. Choose one you love—shooting hoops with your friends, jogging a mile on the treadmill, swimming laps in the pool, signing up for a Zumba class, or riding your bike around campus—and make it a part of your daily schedule.

Sign up for scheduled exercise classes

If you have the time and the money, try going to scheduled classes, like Kung Fu, dance, or yoga. Nothing will kick you off the couch quite like a commitment. Sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to go to the gym, and it’s easy to tell yourself that you have no time. But going to a pre-scheduled class or even just having gym time designated in your calendar will really motivate you to make time for your health. Your school may even offer these classes for free as part of your student fitness center membership.

Multitask to save time

Time is often the biggest constraint students have when it comes to working out. One of the easiest ways to stay fit and get work done is to multitask! Bring your textbook to the gym and prop it up on the elliptical so you can read while you exercise. If you don’t have a machine to work out on, you can get an audio book of whatever novel you’re reading in language arts and listen to it while you run around your neighborhood, or keep SciShow and Crash Course videos on in the background while you work out at home.

Get enough sleep

There’s nothing worse than staying up until the crack of dawn in an attempt to throw a project together for the next day’s class. Avoid staying up all night by setting a regular bedtime. Yes, you heard right: a bedtime. They aren’t just for first graders; they’re also for adults who need sufficient sleep in order to function properly the following day. Try to shoot for between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Sleeping has many health benefits, including improved memory, decreased inflammation (a condition that can be linked to heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and strokes), emotional stability, and less stress! Studies have shown that college students who don’t get an adequate amount of sleep receive worse grades than students who do. By setting and sticking to a bedtime (at least for the school week), you’ll get your homework and studying done beforehand, which will save you from those wretched all-nighters—the absolute epitome of stress.

Related: Top Sleep Hygiene Advice for Tired Students

Develop a support network

Though talking about your problems sounds cliché, it really can help students with anxiety. It’s a relief to unload your busy mind and talk every once in a while. A trusted friend, family member, or even a mental health provider can support you throughout college and later in life. Finding someone who will listen and acknowledge your feelings will help you handle your stress in a positive way.

See your friends

This cannot be emphasized enough: If you don’t interact with other human beings at least once a week, you’ll find yourself grumpier, easier to upset, and less productive. So plan ahead and make time to spend with people you love. Get frozen yogurt, take a walk, play video games. It doesn’t matter—just do something besides schoolwork with your friends. There’s no shame in scheduling hangouts ahead of time; in fact, it will make you more likely to keep the date.

Seek help if you need it

Not all stress can be solved easily. Some forms of stress may be the result of mental illness. If you think your stress levels stem from anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If it’s an issue that isn’t school- or assignment-related—or even if it is!—don’t be afraid to seek out professional resources. The topic of mental illness can be stress inducing itself, but seeking help will only make it better.

Related: How to Ask for and Get Important Help in College

While these tips may not get rid of your anxiety completely, they should help curb the worst of it during stressful times. A little stress isn’t always a bad thing. Just make sure to relax and look at the big picture so a little bit of stress doesn’t become a whole lot of anxiety. Start putting these stress-shrinking strategies into action today. You’ll begin to notice positive results immediately in every aspect of your life: your schoolwork, your health, your extracurricular activities, even your friendships and relationships (less stress equals better moods). Give them a real shot and embrace an improved lifestyle!

Find all our top stress-related articles and advice in one place with this collection of Our Best Advice for Dealing With Stress as a Student.  

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