Last reviewed: 12/15/2023

All work (or studying) and no play can take an emotional and physical toll. It's common for you to feel stressed out by academic demands, so know that you are not alone if you find yourself feeling wound up. Whether it’s the stress of meeting a deadline or the anticipation of an upcoming test, there are many hurdles to navigate in life. Stress can't be eliminated, but it can be managed.

A perceived threat or stressor activates the physical fight or flight system. This response is evolutionarily useful as it slows some systems down while it speeds others up. This includes tensing of muscles, increases in heart rate and breathing, increased focus, and sharpened awareness. 

Whether the stress is caused by something positive or negative in your life, there are a variety of ways to manage it.

Coping with Stress

  • Turn up the volume. Music has a powerful effect on mood. Consider experimenting with nature sounds, soft jazz, or more energizing tunes like a favorite song to combat stress.
  • Get moving. Physical activity boosts feel-good chemicals in the brain, called endorphins, and provides a physical outlet for pent-up worries. Endorphins increase feelings of relaxation and reduce stress.
    • It doesn't have to be strenuous exercise—even a 20-minute walk will boost endorphins.
    • Other types of movement such as yoga and tai chi can also help to relax the body and clear the mind.
  • Take a breath. There are many approaches to meditation. Incorporating breath focus and mindful meditation has been shown to help manage stress levels. Do this however many times as needed throughout the day.
    • Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down and concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths.
    • Breathe in slowly through the nose, letting the chest and abdomen fill with air.
    • Exhale slowly either through the nose or mouth, whichever is preferred.
    • Continue this process 5-10 times. 
  • Self-massage exercises. To address some tension in the muscles, consider doing a self-massage on various points of your body.
  • Get some rest. Without enough sleep, people can be susceptible to feeling more intense levels of stress more easily. Rest is key to helping reduce stress since it gives the body and mind a break.
  • Make a plan. Creating a schedule of commitments is helpful for better managing time. This can help someone recognize where they want to scale back or fit in a few moments to relax and de-stress.
  • Reach out to people who can help. Whether it’s a friend or a professional, getting support can do wonders to help through a stressful time.

In addition to relaxation techniques, it may be useful to pinpoint what specifically is causing the feeling of being so stressed out. Check out the Go Ask Alice! Q&A Struggling with Stress and Tools for Managing It for more tips for processing and managing stress.

Getting Help

When students recognize how they respond to stress and learn coping strategies, it can help them address stress before it becomes overwhelming. Columbia Health works with students, faculty, and staff to develop initiatives designed to support members of the campus community.

To speak to someone about reducing and managing stress, students can: