Student Stress

Starting university can be a stressful experience. How you cope with the stress is the key to whether or not it develops into a health problem.

Stress is a natural feeling, designed to help you cope in challenging situations. In small amounts it’s good, because it pushes you to work hard and do your best. Stress heightens the senses and your reaction times, which means it can enhance your performance, including in exams.

Leaving home to start college means lots of big changes, such as moving to a new area, being separated from friends and family, establishing a new social network, managing on a tight budget and starting your studies.

For most students, these changes are exciting and challenging but, for some, they feel overwhelming and can affect their health.

The first signs of stress are:

Too much stress can lead to physical and psychological problems, such as:

  • anxiety (feelings ranging from uneasiness to severe and paralysing panic)
  • dry mouth
  • churning stomach
  • palpitations (pounding heart)
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • depression

Self help stress tips

Short periods of stress are normal and can often be resolved by something as simple as completing a task (and thus reducing your workload), or by talking to others and taking time to relax. One or more of the following suggestions might help:

  • Assess exactly what in your life is making you anxious. For example, is it exams, money or relationship problems? See if you can change your circumstances to ease the pressure you’re under.
  • Try to have a more healthy lifestyle. Eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, cut down on alcohol and spend some time socialising as well as working and studying.
  • Try not to worry about the future or compare yourself with others.
  • Learn to relax. If you have a panic attack or are in a stressful situation, try to focus on something outside yourself, or switch off by watching TV or chatting to someone.
  • Relaxation and breathing exercises may help.
  • Try to resolve personal problems by talking to a friend, tutor or someone in your family.
  • Read about how to cope with the stress of exams.

NHS Choices Moodzone has a series of eight mental wellbeing podcasts or audio guides that you can listen to in your own time, in private, and that may help you through times when your mood is low or you're facing an anxious time in your life. This anxiety podcast tackles stress that arises around revision time and exams.

Professional help for student stress

Long-term stress and associated anxiety is difficult to resolve by yourself, and it’s often best for you to seek help. 

Don’t struggle alone. Anxiety can seriously impair your academic performance, and that’s not only distressing for you, but means a lot of wasted effort.

You may benefit from treatment with prescribed medication or counselling, or a combination of both.

Have a chat with your GP or a student counsellor. Student counselling services usually offer short-term counselling and have counsellors that specialise in anxiety linked to exams, workload and other student issues.

Find out more about tackling student mental health issues.

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