Depending on your course’s workload, your mental health and your other commitments, the stress of university life can sometimes feel unmanageable. The step from school or college to university comes with a huge increase in pressure, and you may feel ill-equipped, especially if you haven’t struggled in this way before.
Stress can affect you negatively in a number of ways:
- Physically, stress can increase your heart rate, cause hyperventilation, shaking, faintness or excessive sweating and give you headaches or sickness.
- Behaviourally, stress can drive you to turn to harmful coping mechanisms, like excessive drink, drugs or bingeing/restricting food intake. Stress can also damage your ability to concentrate or socialise
- Psychologically, stress can cause fear, panic, or a feeling that something bad will happen. These reactions can be extreme and difficult to cope with.
Whilst feelings of stress can feel overwhelming and isolating, you can be sure you aren’t alone. 45% of university students in the UK reported feeling stressed by their course. Feelings of stress are complex and varied, and often quite difficult to rid yourself of. However, knowing how to manage these feelings can be helpful in lessening their detrimental effects.
Here are 5 ways you might find useful in coping with stress, allowing you to live your best university life!
1. Breathing and De-escalation
Panic attacks are sudden and overwhelming feelings of fear or panic. They may come with a number of intense physical symptoms of stress. If your stress has caused a panic attack, you will need an immediate coping solution, not the other, longer-term solutions this article discusses.
To de-escalate (calm) your panic attack, try focusing on your breathing. It’s likely during a panic attack that you’re hyperventilating, so attempt to breathe deliberately slowly and deeply. Breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of four.
Focusing on a single object in your surroundings can also help. Trace the object with your eyes, or describe its appearance to yourself. Alternatively, if you’re finding your surroundings too visually stimulating, it can help to close your eyes (as long as it is safe to do so).
If it’s your surroundings’ noise that is too much, it may help to put on headphones and play a favourite calming song. Or, repeating a mantra, internally or externally, can be a good way to block out exacerbating noise. Simply saying something like “I’m going to be OK” over and over to yourself can have a reassuring and relaxing effect.
If you are having a panic attack, it’s important to remind yourself that it will pass. Focusing on your breathing can help ground you. Either focusing deliberately on an object in your surroundings, or attempting to block out over-stimulating surroundings can focus your attention away from the panic enough to allow calm.
2. Organisation / Planning
When it comes to longer-term strategies, planning and organising your time is the best way to ensure you’re dealing only with manageable chunks of work at a time.
Creating a written schedule can help visualise your time and tasks with better clarity. Colour-coding might help this clarification further. Seeing your studies and assignments broken down into smaller tasks can lessen the feeling of your workload being insurmountable.
Allot realistic portions of time for each of your tasks, and allow yourself breaks. Working without regular breaks can cause burnout and actually be counterproductive to effective study! It’s a generally advised rule to take a 15 minute break for every 1 hour of focused work you do, with a longer break every 4 or so hours. Allowing yourself rest between work will allow your batteries to recharge and enable you to focus better when you resume work.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of your assignments, scheduling your time and breaking work into small, manageable tasks can help. Taking breaks while studying is important to maintain concentration while working.
3. Exercise, Diet and Sleep
It’s well-touted advice that a balanced diet, regular exercise and a solid night’s sleep can positively impact your mental wellbeing. Being tired, lethargic and lacking nutrients isn’t conducive to productive work. However, this advice can sometimes feel steep; how do you fit in a full workout routine, home cooking and 8 hours sleep into a hectic student schedule?
Exercise, a balanced diet and good sleep needn’t be added stressors, and can be achieved in simpler terms. Rather than feeling pressure to join a gym, exercise can come in the form of regular walks or some morning yoga in your bedroom. Even a brisk 10 minute dash to the grocery shop can help clear your head during a tough study session.
If you can’t manage full home-cooked meals, try adding fruits and vegetables into your existing diet, or consider vitamin supplements. You could swap one fast-food meal a week for a quick, easy and cheap stir fry, and it doesn’t hurt to keep yourself well-hydrated with water. A balanced diet can reduce detrimental issues like mood swings and lightheadedness.
Sleep can be an issue in student accommodation; flatmates might be up when you need rest. But with an-ever expanding library of white noise on youtube and sleep-inducing podcasts, neighbour noise can be fought against. Allowing yourself enough sleep each night can greatly improve your mood and days’ energy, so if stresses do appear you can be better prepared to deal with it!
Getting whatever exercise, nutrients and sleep you can will allow your body and mind to be better prepared for both your work and your ability to handle stress.
4. Socialise / Reach Out
Social interaction can alleviate feelings of stress in numerous ways. Having fun at a social event like a party can distract from the stresses of university work, while attending a club or joining a society can increase positive feelings of belonging to your university and feeling at home.
Humans are social creatures, proven to benefit greatly from human interaction; in positive social situations our brain produces dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. Forging friendships can prove incredibly beneficial to our general health and wellness, and if we have a stronger foundation of health and wellness, we are more able to deal with stress.
In stressful situations, reaching out to your friends can help in alleviating that stress. Talking your problems through with a mate helps, not just because ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, but in talking your issues through – putting them in words – you might be able to help yourself in working them out.
If you feel like you don’t have any friends to talk to in times of stress, you can still seek out help! All universities will have some form of counselling available to you. External services like togetherall and Samaritans exist to support in times of crisis, too.
Socialising can help relax and improve your quality of life whilst studying at university, so don’t skip an event you want to attend for more work! Friends can be there to support you through stress, and in times of crisis, contact your university counsellor.
5. Treat Yourself With Kindness
Most importantly, treat yourself with kindness!
Remembering all the things you’ve already achieved at university – living on your own, managing your own money and workload, finding new friends, attending lectures and completing assignments to the best of your abilities – are all impressive feats! Don’t be hard on yourself, especially since you’re juggling so much, likely for the first time in your life!
Reward yourself with an occasional small luxury purchase, a trip to a museum, a dance about your room to your favourite music – whatever makes you happy. You deserve understanding, forgiveness and kindness during your time at university, and those things should come from you as much as anybody.
Immediate de-escalation techniques like focused breathing can help during stress-induced panic attacks.
For longer-term strategies, planning and compartmentalising can help in managing large workloads. A balanced diet, regular exercise and a good sleep schedule can best prepare your body and mind for dealing with stress, and having a good social support system can help in feeling less alone in your stress.
Being kind to yourself, and practising good self-care, will help both prepare you for future stressors and heal after experiencing stress.
If you need help keeping on top of your university schedule, Ceed might be able to help! Get in touch with one of our experts today.