Stress relief tips for college students

1. Get proper rest and sleep

American Psychological Association notes that good sleep allows our brains to recharge, repair our muscles, promote memory consolidation, and boost the immune system. In fact, 21 percent of adults feel higher levels of stress from not getting enough sleep.

Many college students pull all-nighters, studying through the night to prepare for an exam, but this type of habit can lead to sleep deprivation and insomnia. Depriving your body of sleep can lower cognitive function, academic performance, and mental health. If you have trouble sleeping at night, try techniques such as avoiding excess caffeine, turning down the lights, or putting away technology at least one hour before bed.

2. Focus on health and nutrition

When you think of college weight gain, it’s usually associated with the “freshman 15.” However, it’s not necessarily true that you’ll gain 15 pounds in your first year of college. According to Harvard Medical School, stress can both shut down the appetite by releasing a corticotropin-releasing hormone and increase the appetite by releasing cortisol.

When you pair the freedom to choose what and when along with academic stress, college students are more likely to cope by overeating or undereating. Developing good habits like eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can help manage stress and prevent dramatic weight loss or weight gain.

3. Be active

The Mayo Clinic suggests that regular exercise increases overall health and can reduce stress. Exercise is also effective in reducing fatigue, improving mental clarity, and enhancing cognitive function. After physical activity, the brain produces feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins that act as natural painkillers. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, and deep breathing can also produce endorphins.

If you’re having trouble getting motivated to be active, try inviting a friend, changing up your routine, or exercising in short-time intervals. Adding just 15 minutes of physical activity to your daily routine can help your physical and mental health.

4. Have a stress outlet

Having a healthy outlet to turn to in times of stress can help calm your mind and clarify how to move forward in a stressful situation. Things like a hobby, social club, or physical exercise can all be outlets for relieving stress.

5. Find connections

There are numerous benefits of having a solid support system while in college. Personal connections provide stress-relief hormones that counteract the body’s fight or flight response. Surrounding yourself with people that you trust can also help you feel safe and calm.

The Mayo Clinic says that “social isolation and loneliness are associated with a greater risk of poor mental health and poor cardiovascular health, as well as other health problems.” College is a great time to make new friends. Joining a club or organization, talking to classmates, volunteering, or being on an intramural sports team can help create connections on and off-campus.

6. Practice self-care

Stress causes tension in the body through stiff and sore muscles, headaches, or lowered immune systems. Setting aside time in your busy schedule to prioritize self-care helps reduce tension and stress. Having a spa day, taking a bubble bath, meditating, or taking yourself on a date are just some of the ways you can practice relaxation.

7. Manage time effectively

Ineffective time management can cause significant stress for college students. Approximately 87% of college students said they would perform better in their classes if they had better time management skills. Experiencing college life for the first time can make it tempting to choose social life over schoolwork.

Developing time management strategies helps you stay organized and better prioritize your most important tasks. Writing down your upcoming assignments and exams in a planner or on your phone can help you know what’s next and prioritize your time. When you know you have to study or do an assignment, you can schedule your day accordingly. Effective time management can help improve academic performance and keep you organized, which, in turn, can lower stress and anxiety.

8. Stay organized

It may seem overwhelming to keep track of everything with a schedule crammed full of classes, assignments, extracurricular and social activities. But, not having organizational skills will only add more stress and pressure to your plate. Unorganized students typically have less academic success than organized students.

Before assignments start piling up, it’s crucial to find ways to stay organized. Calendars and planners are valuable organizational tools. Try to keep your living environment and workspace tidy and organized as well to reduce distraction and anxiety.

9. Practice positive thinking

Research has shown that there are numerous benefits to positive thinking when you’re feeling stressed out. Positive thoughts can improve physical well-being and provide a clear mind. When you feel yourself thinking negatively, counteract these thoughts by giving yourself positive encouragement. Positive reinforcement during stressful times can lessen the chance of developing chronic stress.

10. Try mindfulness exercises

College students are busy and constantly distracted, which makes it challenging to be present in the moment. Mindfulness helps to drown out the background noise and increase awareness. Meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness, but you can also incorporate it into daily activities. This will not only improve memory and focus but is also a beneficial way to relieve stress.

11. Start journaling

Journaling can be very therapeutic and lower stress levels. Write down your daily thoughts and feelings or keep a stress journal. This type of self-reflection can help you find a pattern of regular stress in your life and examine how you deal with it. This will help put things into perspective so that you can effectively manage these stressors.

12. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help

Even before you feel like the stress has become too much to handle, reach out for help. Find out what mental health resources your school offers or take the time to talk to a professional. A mental health professional can determine your stress triggers, develop a mental health plan, and strategize healthy ways to cope with stress.

How telehealth can support students who need help managing stress

Focused on improving the health and wellness of students, TimelyMD offers colleges and universities virtual mental health resources and services powered by telehealth. TimelyMD’s total health and well-being solution is an extension of on-campus health services. With 24/7/365 access to providers in all 50 states, TimelyMD helps students manage stress anytime, anywhere.

Contact us to explore TimelyMD’s telehealth programs that deliver high-quality, on-demand mental health care for students.

You can manage your time through organization and learning to say no. Organization allows you to manage your time, and good time management is one of the best ways to relieve stress. Purchase or make up your own day or weekly planner, use a calendar — Google Calendar or Apple’s iCalendar are both good — or a priority chart, whichever works best for you. Once you have settled on the best time and organization management for you, be sure to stay with it. Prioritize each item for the day or week and then assign an amount of time for each, starting with the most to the least important. This can and should include time for class and study, as well as time for work, family, friends, and yes, even yourself. Be sure to make time for relaxation and what interests you like a hobby or listening to music. And don’t forget not to take on too much. This can mean saying no to the many requests for your time you may get from others. We are often afraid to say no because we don’t want to seem rude or selfish, we feel obligated, we want to please the asker, etc. If you say yes all the time, or even most of the time, you can actually up your stress levels. By saying yes, you are putting your priorities and obligations on the back burner. But, at some point, you will have to go back to them, and if you end up without enough time for your priorities and obligations, you are sure to get stressed out. But you don’t need to be rude when you say no. Just let the other person know that while you appreciate them asking you, you cannot take on their request.

5. Practice Mindfulness

May 17, 2018  |  Purdue University Global


Updated July 2, 2020

Today’s college students are feeling the strain of our busy modern world. In fact, 45% of college students said they experience “more than average stress,” and 87% said they felt overwhelmed by all they had to do at least once in the previous year, according to the American College Health Association-2018 National College Health Assessment.

The effects of stress are, well, stressful themselves. Upset stomach, headaches, exhaustion, and difficulty sleeping are common effects of stress, Mayo Clinic reports, as are irritability, restlessness, and depression. Some people turn to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and food to deal with stress, but overindulging in these things leads right back to—you guessed it—more stress.

We know that trying to juggle college with the demands of family, work, and life can get a little crazy. This infographic showcases some stress management strategies for college students. Take a deep breath and enjoy.

The College Student's Guide to Stress Management Infographic

The College Student’s Guide to Stress Management [Infographic] Content

Take an already-busy life that may include work and family obligations, add college classes and studying, sprinkle in exams, budgeting, and other interests, and then try to have a social life on top of it all…However, it’s not all bleak. Let’s look at some ways college students can alleviate stress, succeed in college, and live healthy, balanced lives.

Eat Well

Did you know that an unhealthy diet can increase your stress levels? When you eat healthy, you equip your body with the nutrition it needs to fight stress. Avoid high-fat, high-sugar foods and go easy on the caffeine.


This is one of the best things you can do to reduce stress. Exercise produces endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that act as natural painkillers, and it also improves sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Try walking, jogging, or yoga.

Have an Outlet

You need a break most when you believe you don’t have time to take a break. Find a new hobby, play sports, paint, draw, garden—do something that gives you an outlet from the tension of everyday life.

Build a Support System

Having a strong support system is vital to weathering stressful times and living a joyful life. Surround yourself with family and/or friends who lift you up, encourage you, listen without judgment, and provide sound perspective.

Make a Plan

Get organized, make a plan, and stick to it. Prioritize your obligations each week and then schedule time for each—time for studying, working, family and friends, and yourself.

Think Positively

Your thoughts create your reality, and it’s time to turn negative thinking around. Try saying positive affirmations such as, “I am relaxed and calm; I can handle this situation with ease” or “I will rise to the challenge, no matter the obstacles.”


Meditation is a simple way to lower stress that you can do anywhere, at any time. Begin with a simple technique such as deep breathing, do a guided meditation (find these on YouTube), or repeat a mantra.

Try Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the use of aromatic essential oils to improve one’s physical and emotional well-being. Lavender, lemon, jasmine, bergamot, and ylang-ylang are all reported to lower stress and anxiety.


You may already know that journaling helps you process life’s problems and deal with everyday stress, but did you know it may also strengthen immune cells and decrease the symptoms of asthma and arthritis? Give it a shot.

If Stress Gets Too High

Everybody needs help from time to time. If you’re experiencing depression or anxiety, if you’re unable to sleep or enjoy life, or if you’re turning to alcohol or drugs to cope with stress, it’s time to ask for help. Reach out to:

  • Your university’s counseling services
  • Your student advisor or a resident assistant
  • A doctor or therapist
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP
  • The American Institute of Stress

Stress Stats

  • The top 3 mental health concerns facing college students are anxiety, depression, and stress. Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2017 Annual Report
  • 45% of college students say they experience “more than average stress.” American College Health Association – 2018 National College Health Assessment
  • 87% of college students reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do at least once in the previous year. American College Health Association – 2018 National College Health Assessment


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