How to Manage Stress at University – A Student’s Advice

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When you hear someone talk about their time at university, they’ll probably tell you how stressful it is. You might think “I’ll be fine!”, but the truth is that you don’t know what challenges you’ll face at university. It’s better to catch stress earlier than wait until you feel isolated and overwhelmed, take it from me. That’s why in this article I’ll be taking you through how to manage your stress at university, so you can avoid making the same mistakes I did!

Disclaimer: This article reflects the opinions of one Think Student contributor and not Think Student as a whole. If you are experiencing serious mental health problems as a result of stress, contact your local counselling service. Alternatively, you can contact the Samaritans helpline at 116 123 at any time if you need somebody to talk to urgently.

This article will help you find the signs of stress, and help you to manage it, in a place where stress is very common. Please read on to learn more.

What are the warning signs of stress?

Stress appears differently in everyone. It’s important to know how your body responds to stress. However, if you don’t know about it, don’t worry as it will most likely be quite obvious. For example, when I’m stressed my muscles begin to twitch, or I get breakouts of spots. Even if you aren’t aware that you’re stressed, your body has a way of telling you.

Stress responses can be physical, emotional and behavioural. I’ll explain more about what this means, so keep reading.

Physical stress response

You might not have been physically exerting yourself enough at university to think you’ll experience stress physically. The truth is mental stress can often produce physical symptoms. The most common physical stress symptoms include headaches, fatigue, and sickness. If you notice physical signs of stress, the best thing you can do is identify the stressor and get some rest in a quiet room.

To learn more about the physical responses to stress, this Healthline article has information you’ll find useful.

Emotional stress response

Stress isn’t always a bad thing for the brain. I find that I work better and faster when I’m slightly stressed. However, problems begin to occur when you experience too much stress than is good for you. How do you know when the stress you’re experiencing is too much? Well, you’ll probably begin to feel emotional changes.

The biggest emotional signs of stress include feelings of depression, anger, or anxiousness. If you begin to feel this way, try to remind yourself that you are stressed and not thinking clearly. It’s important that you don’t try to make any important decisions while you’re stressed.

If you’d like to know more about how stress might impact you emotionally, Mind has a useful article that includes a range of symptoms and what to do.

Behavioural stress response

Stress can impact your behaviour unconsciously. Especially with the social pressures of university, stress is more likely to make your reactions more unstable. As I mentioned earlier, it’s better not to make any decisions when you’re stressed, because your behavioural response will be different. You don’t want to accidentally offend someone while trying to make new friends!

Some ways stress might change your behaviour is having a shorter temper, getting tired from activities you can normally do easily, or even dietary and sleep habits. If you start to feel like you “aren’t yourself” but you don’t know why, stress might be the cause!

I’m not saying all of this to try and scare you out of going to university. You will have fun, but it’s important not to bottle up your feelings.

How to deal with university stress?

There’s no one set way to deal with stress because stress is a very individual thing. As I mentioned earlier, people have different responses to stress. However, there is general advice out there that tends to work for most people. Below, I’ll talk about how to deal with different kinds of stress.

Academic stress

You may find yourself overwhelmed by your workload, or really hating your work. My top tip for dealing with academic stress is to speak to your tutors. Although it can be intimidating, they are human, and they’ve been in your shoes before. As much as it can feel like it, they don’t expect you to be able to handle everything perfectly.

If you’ve spoken to your tutors about how you’re feeling but still don’t like your course, you might find this Think Student article helpful.

Another tip for dealing with academic stress is to make a timetable for yourself as soon as possible. I didn’t, and by my second week of university I was super disorganised, overwhelmed, and stressed out. Planning out your day, even just one or two days in advance, really helps take away some of the pressure.

Financial stress

Lots of students are caught out by how much attending university actually costs. I still remember the dread of seeing my first term bill! The best advice I can give you for dealing with financial stress is to make a budget within the first week. You don’t have to be great with numbers; my friends helped me create a budget when I couldn’t work it out.

If you need tips on budgeting, this Think Student article is perfect for you. Alternatively, Money Saving Expert has good advice on how to stay within the limits of your student loan.

You will most likely spend most of your money on alcohol (if you drink), or takeaway food. As long as you’re watching how much you’re spending, going out often can be fun and cheap. My advice is to check your bank account daily and keep an eye on how much you’re spending in the average week.

It’s okay to admit it if you’re struggling financially. There were times where friends paid for my drinks, or I had to ask my family for a little extra money. It’s not a nice feeling, but people want to help you, so don’t be ashamed if you need some help!

If you’re struggling quite significantly (i.e., you can’t pay your bills), contact your university directly. There are bursaries and scholarships you can access if you meet certain requirements. A great tip for dealing with financial stress is to remember that your university wants you there, so they’ll try to help you out wherever possible!

Social stress

One of the things I struggled with the most at university was the social aspect. I won’t pretend that there weren’t times where I felt lonely, and all I wanted to do was go home. However, after I settled in, I made some of the best friends. I’m definitely not the most sociable person, but even I was able to find people to hang out with! You’ve got this!

While freshers’ week is a great opportunity to meet people, if you don’t make friends, it is not the be-all and end-all, at all. My top tip for dealing with social stress is to take advantage of your university counselling services. Or, if you truly feel like you have no one to talk to, then I’d recommend checking out this Think Student article.

Similarly, people don’t really warn you about homesickness. It’s something that everyone struggles with, so you won’t be alone if you miss home. If living at university is something you really don’t want to do, this Think Student article has a guide on living at home.

What should you do if you get too stressed?

It’s really unlikely, but you might decide after a few months or so that university is really not for you. I wouldn’t encourage it, but dropping out is an option, which you can read about here in a Think Student article. However, like I said, I would only consider dropping out as a complete last resort. You will definitely have thoughts about quitting because everyone does. However, these are almost always temporary responses to short-term stress.

If you really cannot function because of stress, you may be sent home for welfare reasons. This is not a punishment, but the university may see it best that you suspend your studies temporarily. Similarly, if you cannot cope with the stress but don’t feel like you have anywhere to go, there will always be someone to talk to at university!

The most important thing you should avoid, when dealing with stress, is keeping all your feelings inside. You are not weak for struggling, the first person to struggle, or the only person struggling. Take it from me: there is light at the end of the tunnel!

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