Warning Signs of Academic Stress & Coping Strategies
Stress in the short term is a normal part of our everyday life and can help us react quickly to challenging or potentially dangerous situations. As a college or university student, it can motivate you to reach that assignment deadline, give you a confident push to try a new activity or even talk to a group of people you had never previously considered.
However, when stress starts to overshadow your day-to-day academic life, it can lead to constant fear, panic and the feeling that something bad is always going to happen.
What are the warning signs?
The academic experience can be one of mixed emotions from the excitement of meeting new people and broadening one's mind, right through to concerns around living up to academic expectations, managing finances, feelings of homesickness and securing work after university or college. More recently with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, students have added worries relating to their own health and that of their family combined with feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Stress and anxiety can manifest itself in a number of ways. Whether you’re a student struggling to cope with stress and anxiety, a college or university professional concerned about your student's stress levels, or even you’re worried about a college or university friends' or classmates uncharacteristic behaviour, here are a few warning signs and symptoms to watch out for:
Behavioural – Uncharacteristic changes in academic performance, avoiding social situations, putting off simple tasks, nail biting, new or increased use of tobacco, caffeine, alcohol or substance abuse.
Physical – Difficulty sleeping, weight fluctuations, headaches, irregular bowel movements, chest pains, fatigue, shaking or involuntary twitching, grinding your teeth.
Cognitive – Lack of concentration, memory loss, poor speech including mumbling, constant worrying, chronic feelings of anxiety, repetitive negative thought patterns.
Emotional – Feelings of sadness & depression, lack of enjoyment of activities & hobbies, increased pessimistic outlook, irritability, lack of patience, inability to deal with day-to-day life issues.
Strategies to help students coping with academic stress & anxiety
When feelings of stress and anxiety begin to have a negative impact on your university or college life, integrating a few coping strategies can help reduce the mental and emotional effects of stress on your health and wellbeing. By trying some of the below stress busting strategies, you’ll be able to approach challenges with a sense of clarity:
Adopt a healthy lifestyle – Feeding your body with well balanced meals and taking regular exercise will not only give you a healthy energy boost, but it will help reduces the physical and emotional symptoms of stress and anxiety. Why not try some stress busting exercise such as running or jogging, join a virtual or in-person dance class or even take up some yoga and meditation to relax your body and mind. Make learning to cook a fun activity and perhaps start a cookery club as part of your student union and learn to cook exciting and interesting meals from around the world. It’s also a great way to make new friends (virtually or face to face) and boost your self-esteem!
Identify your triggers – Make a habit of recording the times and the situations when feelings of stress and anxiety increase. When you are feeling more relaxed read over and reflect on your notes. By doing so, you’ll be able to identify particular stressors affect your mental health and emotional wellbeing. It will also give you the opportunity to work towards healthy ways to deal with stressful challenges and situations.
Manage your time – Don't put assignments off until the last minute. Some students thrive off working towards a deadline, last minute, under pressure. However, for others, procrastination and last-minute pressure can lead to intense feelings of stress and anxiety. Learn to study effectively and create a flexible study plan. If you have an urgent assignment or an impromptu test coming up, this will help manage your workload with a clearer and more logical thought process. Remember though, if you are struggling with your academic workload seeking support from your lecturers or student services is not a sign of weakness. Don’t suffer in silence!
Take time to disconnect – Engage in some ‘tech free’ time and restart a hobby or discover a new one. Research shows a strong association between time spent on digital communication devices and platforms (social media, smartphones, computers) and reduced well-being. This may have a knock-on effect on the process of adjusting to student life if technology use begins to replace healthy coping behaviours like exercise and face-to-face social interactions. For many college and university students, this has increased due to frequent video-based lectures, tutoring sessions and reduced opportunities for social interaction.
Practice good sleep hygiene – The social aspects of student life can make keeping a regular sleeping routine difficult at times, however adopting a consistent sleep schedule can help to reduce the physical and emotional symptoms of stress and anxiety. If your dorm room or sleeping area is also your study space, cover up any study related materials, laptops or computers when not in use to create a relaxed environment, removing the association of your place of relaxation with study. Don’t forget to disconnect from any electronic devices about 30 minutes before going to sleep to help you wind down and relax.
Raise your awareness – Discover what level of mental health and wellbeing support is available at your college or university and through external resources. If you find it is difficult to find what support is available, make your student union or student services aware of this. Not only will this be beneficial to you if you ever need support, but it will also help make educational staff aware of any barriers to access to mental health care and support within the institution.
Pick up the phone – It can be all too easy and automatic in these digital times to send a quick email or text to friends, family and loved ones. Why not pick up the phone and have an extended conversation with those close to you in life. It may help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, giving you the opportunity to talk through any of your worries and concerns in confidence. Seeking an alternative perspective is a good way to help you reflect on your worries and find positive ways to work through negative thought patterns which may have been increasing your feelings of stress.
If you have tried coping strategies but still feel as though academic stress and anxiety is taking its toll on your mental health, emotional and physical wellbeing, then it may be time to consider further help.
By working together, we can raise awareness of vital mental health and wellbeing support resources available to college and university students and remove the stigma of asking for help whenever and wherever needed.
How can MindSpace 247 help?
At MindSpace 247, we are committed to removing the barriers to access to mental health and wellbeing services within colleges and university for their students and employees. We have developed a system where students and teachers can access a fully qualified BACP counsellor, on video call or telephone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The access is almost instant and doesn’t require a GP appointment and the inevitable long waiting times.
MindSpace 247 large team of highly skilled, licensed counsellors and therapists specialise in multiple areas including exam stress, anxiety, body dysmorphia, loneliness, relationship issues, sexual worries, life coaching bullying and depression.
If you’re an academic student struggling to cope with stress and anxiety or an educational institution looking to break down the barriers to mental health support for college and university students, you can get further information by calling MindSpace 247 on 0207 553 5010. We can help you take the steps to improve the lives of students, no matter what challenges they are facing in complete confidence.
Do not use this service for emergency medical needs. If you experience a non life threatening emergency or you are seriously ill and require urgent attention, call your in-country emergency services immediately. Please see our Emergency Resources section.