Managing Stress

College can be a great time…but every college student knows that it can also be a very stressful time! The college years are full of change and change can be challenging, as well as exciting.  You will be faced with many decisions, big and small, throughout your college years and dealing with academics, relationships, finances, and time management can feel overwhelming at times.

It's important to remember that stress is a natural reaction. We all need some stress because it helps motivate us to be more productive and to go through the process of resolving tough situations.  However, stress definitely has a down side. It can become overwhelming and can lead to emotional problems such as depression and anxiety, irritability, and impaired concentration. It can also contribute to physical problems such as headaches, upset stomach, fatigue, and insomnia.  An over-stressed person's powerful desire to decrease stress can also lead to drug and alcohol abuse. 

If you feel stressed, it is important to acknowledge it. Although it might be really hard to focus on the stress, do not ignore it!  Instead, try to manage it more effectively.

Try some of the following strategies:

  • Become aware of what your stressors are, as well as what your emotional and physical responses are to these stressors.
  • Identify the stressors that you can change and initiate action! This may include:
    • Seeking support from your friends and loved ones
    • Learning how to relax
    • Maintaining your physical reserves by exercising, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep (Having Trouble Sleeping?), and setting aside time to relax
    • Learning skills to manage your time effectively
    • Setting achievable goals
    • Learning to be assertive with others so that your needs are more adequately met
    • Building your emotional reserves by nurturing your social relationships, participating in leisure activities, and developing realistic goals for yourself
    • Being kinder to yourself, for example taking time to do the things you most enjoy and reminding yourself verbally of your competence and your value
    • Making an appointment at the Counseling Center to discuss stress management
Brief Relaxation Exercises

General Directions: For all of these exercises, it is ideal to be seated, eyes closed, feet flat on the floor, and hands resting comfortably in your lap. Begin each exercise with a deep breath that you let out gently. As you let out this breath, feel yourself beginning to relax. After the exercise, slowly and gently bring yourself back to the present by breathing deeply, wiggling your fingers and toes, and opening your eyes at your own pace.

Deep Breathing

Breathing is a basic necessity of life that we often take for granted. Abdominal or deep breathing is the natural breathing of newborn babies and sleeping adults. We often take shallow breaths from our chest that are associated with anxiety and emotional distress. In order to relax, we need to re-train ourselves to breathe as we did when we were babies.

Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into your abdomen to push up your hand as much as feels comfortable. Your chest should only move a little. Hold your breath for the count of two. Exhale through your mouth, making a quiet, relaxing, whooshing sound as you gently blow out. Take long, slow, deep breaths that raise and lower your abdomen. Focus on the sound and feeling of breathing as you become more and more relaxed.


Our bodies often respond to stress with muscle tension. In order to enhance relaxation, it is helpful to notice the contrast between the sensation of tension and relaxation.

Clench your fists. While keeping them clenched, pull your forearms tightly up against your upper arms. While keeping those muscles tense, tense all the muscles in your legs. While keeping all those tense, clench your jaw and shut your eyes tightly. Now, while holding all of those tense, take a deep breath and hold it for 5 seconds. . . . . .Then, let everything go all at once. Feel yourself letting go of all of your tensions. Just enjoy that feeling for a minute, as your muscles let go more and more. 

Try a guided meditation exercise here: