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How to Deal with Stress: Student Survival Guide

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Even if you pride yourself on being calm, cool, and collected, stress is a fact of life. It happens to the best of us.

Simply put, stress is your reaction to something that is happening to you or something that affects you. An event or thought that is out of the ordinary—from a phone call that causes you to learn bad news to studying for a big exam—can cause you to feel stressed out.

College Stress … EEK!

Going away to college and learning how to balance your classes, a social life, work, your finances, your family, and pretty much your entire life in general can be pretty stressful.

If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re feeling stressed out and want to know how to deal with it. That’s a step in the right direction. First things first, you need to understand the difference between good stress and bad stress.

What is Good Stress?

Stress is completely normal, and yes, it can actually be good for you in moderation. What? How?!

“Stress is a burst of energy,” is how psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Tan of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City explained it to NBC News. “It’s our body telling us what we need to do.”

Here’s a perfect example. When you know that you’ve got a big term paper to finish by the end of the week, you probably freak out a little bit at first, but then you buckle down and get it wrapped up on time. You probably feel pretty proud when you hand it in, and even better when you receive a good grade.

Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, added to Dr. Tan’s explanation by saying “When you have a deadline, when you have to perform. You want some stress to help you do your best.”

What is Bad Stress?

Unfortunately, though, far too many people wait until the last minute to meet their school or work deadlines. Or even worse, they start worrying about those deadlines once they have already passed. It’s completely normal to feel physical symptoms when you’re experiencing stress.

Starting college and dealing with schoolwork aren’t the only sources of bad stress. Starting a new job, losing a job, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, dealing with the death of a loved one … the list goes on. Many people experience one or more of the following:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or dizziness
  • Frequent need to use the bathroom
  • Dry mouth or trouble swallowing

How to Deal with Stress in School

As the potential symptoms listed above show you, people deal with stress in different ways. Some turn to exercise for a physical rush. Meditation or prayer helps other people ease their anxieties. Some people turn to alcohol or drugs, which may seem like a good idea at the time but will only make matters worse in the long run.

For starters, pay attention to yourself and treat yourself with respect. This includes:

Adjust your attitude.

Look in the mirror. What do you see? Your outside is a reflection of your inside. Your attitude makes a difference in how you react to both good and bad stress. Do you curl up in a ball and cry when you have to do something you don’t want to? Or do you trudge forward simply because you know the consequences will be even worse if you don’t?

Watch your diet.

As the saying goes, you are what you eat. Coffee, cookies, potato chips, and beer are not the four food groups. Healthy eating habits help keep you at the top of your physical and mental game.


Regular physical activity—even if it’s just walking—will help you stay in shape, boost your confidence, sleep more soundly at night, and reduce stress. Even the smallest college campuses have some type of gym or fitness equipment available. Take advantage.


You can’t function at your best if you are constantly tired. Most college students pull all-nighters every now and then, but staying out until 4 AM and going to class at 8 AM most days of the week is going to catch up with you sooner than you think.

Avoid (or at least limit) the use of alcohol and tobacco.

No explanation necessary.

Clean your environment.

It’s easy to get discouraged or stressed if your room is piled with unnecessary junk, dirty clothes and half-eaten food. It’s hard to find things when you’re unorganized. It’s also tough to study or get things accomplished if the TV is blaring or iTunes is open.

Choose your friends wisely.

Just as a messy dorm or apartment can make it easy to get things done, so can a messy jumble of friends. You will spend time with a lot of new people during college, and don’t all necessarily have your best interests at heart. If you constantly find yourself being pressured into going out when you’ve got schoolwork, drinking when you didn’t really want to, or “explaining” yourself to someone—it might be time to unfriend them.

Manage your time wisely.

If you put the “pro” in procrastination, it might be time to start improving your schedule. Rushing to get things done at the last minute—or running to class or work at the last minute because you didn’t give yourself enough time to get there—causes a lot of unnecessary mental stress that could very well have physical side effects.

Stress is an inevitable part of life—when you’re in college, when you’re on your own and working at your first “real” job, when you get married and start a family. It’s not going to go away. But if you learn how to deal with stress effectively, you’ll be a lot better off than most people.

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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