December 3, 2023

How to Manage Stress while You’re Attending College

Author: Dr. Jessica Sapp
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Start a public health degree at American Military University.

By Dr. Jessica Sapp, Associate Professor, School of Health Sciences, and Samantha Purdie, Master of Public Health Graduate Student, American Military University

Stress is a common yet manageable problem among college students. Chronic stress can affect students physically and emotionally.

For instance, stress may affect your school and work and cause health issues such as disrupted sleep. Fortunately, there are many coping mechanisms and strategies to help you manage and even eliminate your stress.

Maintaining a Regular Schedule Is Important for Stress Management

Maintaining a daily schedule is a critical element of managing your stress levels. Use a daily planner or an electronic calendar to help you plan your day. Here are some suggestions for creating and sticking to your schedule:

  • Maintain a class-life-work balance: Be sure not to take on too much work, whether on the job or in class. Being overloaded with work or other obligations has a negative effect on your overall productivity.
  • Prioritize: Make a list of short-term and long-term priorities and be diligent about keeping it updated. This will help guide your schedule and keep you on track to meet your goals.
  • Schedule: Schedule your work, classes and extracurricular activities. This will prevent you from taking on too much and ensure that you have ample time to complete everything without undue haste.
  • Stay connected: Speak with your academic advisor at least once every semester. Bring your priority list with you to the meeting. Your advisor can help with scheduling your classes around other activities. This will keep you on track for graduation.
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep is critical, yet it is something that is easily neglected during stressful times. Be sure to get enough rest so that you can think clearly and feel better physically and mentally. It is difficult to work efficiently when you are sleep-deprived.

Tips to Improve Your Time Management

There are various ways to improve your time management. First, learn what works for you.

Some people prefer paper calendars and sticky notes while others use electronic planners or to-do lists. Another option is to use electronic calendars that sync to your tech devices or written to-do lists for weekly tasks.

  • Don’t overbook: It is easy to commit to too many things. Do not over-extend yourself. If you do, you will feel as if you never have enough time. Limiting your commitments will allow you to apply your maximum effort to those that remain.
  • Be free: Leave yourself some free time. Set aside time each week or even daily to do whatever you want to do — nap, read exercise or just recharge.
  • Get real: Be realistic when creating your schedule. Be mindful of the time each task takes, including the time to get to a location and the amount of energy you need. Writing two 10-page papers in a weekend is not the best scheduling option.
  • Prioritize: Use your priority list when creating your schedule. Decide which obligations must take precedence. You may have to step back on some of your responsibilities.
  • Stick to it: Create your schedule and stick to it even on the weekends. It is important, especially for your sleep schedule, to stay on a consistent daily routine.

How to Maintain Your Physical Well-Being

Increased stress levels can cause health problems and disrupt your sleep cycles. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Sleep deficiency can cause problems with learning, focusing and reacting. You may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, remembering things, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. You may take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time and make more mistakes.”

Stress management is important for your physical health. Use healthful coping strategies to reduce your stress, such as by:

  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Relaxing
  • Avoiding caffeine and self-medication

Caring for Your Emotional and Mental Health

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. It is vital to reduce stress and anxiety, which contribute to physical health problems. Some healthy steps include:

  • See a counselor: Speak to a counselor on campus to talk through your feelings and situation. This is beneficial even if you do not feel extremely overwhelmed, depressed or anxious.
  • Just breathe: Learn breathing or meditation exercises to reduce anxiety and help you relax. These exercises are useful because they can be done anywhere – in the car or in bed at night. Learning to control your breathing is important for your mental health.
  • Spend time with #1 – YOU: Spend time taking care of yourself. It is exhausting having to communicate and interact with other people all day, so having some quiet time alone is always beneficial.
  • Spend time with family and friends: Just as it is important to spend time alone, it is also important to spend time with your loved ones. Your friends and family can make you feel better and lift your spirits, especially when you feel low.
  • Learn when to say “No”: Don’t take on more than you can handle. Overextending yourself can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety. It is okay to say “No” when you don’t have time to devote to new activities.

Although stress is an unavoidable part of the college experience, do not let it stop you from achieving your goals. Remember that some stress is normal, but if you feel it is controlling you or is unbearable, promptly see a medical professional.

If you are experiencing severe emotional distress and need confidential emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with one of their experienced advisors online. If you are a veteran, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online or send a text message to 838255.

About the Authors 

Dr. Jessica Sapp is an associate professor in the School of Health Sciences at APUS. She has over 13 years of experience in public health, working in various environments including government, hospitals, health insurance, community, international, corporate and academia. Jessica earned her D.P.H. in health policy and management at Georgia Southern University and a M.P.H. in health promotion, education and behavior at the University of South Carolina. She also has a B.S. in health science education from the University of Florida.

Samantha Purdie is a Master of Public Health graduate student at AMU. She is currently employed full-time in the pharmaceutical research industry as a clinical trial coordinator. Samantha has a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration from Middle Tennessee State University. She deals with chronic stress and wants to help others develop healthy coping strategies.   

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