Stress Management

Stress is common and a part of life as a college student. Stress may emerge and affect an individual's mental, emotional, physical, and social functioning. People react to stress in different ways and many do not know how to cope effectively. In the short term, stress can be motivating, but can also cause disruptions in everyday life (e.g., headaches, difficulty concentrating, can't study, etc.). In the long run, it can cause significant health problems (e.g., ulcers, depression, etc.).

Causes of Stress in College

  • Separation from family
  • Adjusting to new location, new environment, new people, new cultures, new academic expectations, professors
  • More decision making and examination of values
  • Peer pressure (drugs, alcohol, sex...)
  • Choosing a career
  • Balancing school, relationships, & job

Stress Symptoms

The following is a list of some symptoms you may experience if you are stressed:


  • Feeling tired; constant fatigue
  • Lack of energy
  • Tension in neck and back
  • Headaches; dizziness; eye strain
  • Minor chronic ailments
  • Drinking, eating, smoking, using drugs to excess; or, not eating enough


  • Irritability; emotional instability; cry easily; short-tempered; hostile
  • Apprehension; feel anxious
  • Social withdrawal/loneliness
  • Restless; bored
  • Tendency to blame others


  • Tired of thinking; lack of motivation
  • Inattentive; can't concentrate
  • Forgetful; daydreaming
  • Clock watching
  • Doing work at the last minute; procrastination; missed deadlines
  • Decrease in creativity, productivity, and/or curiosity

Coping with Stress

Before stress hits (Plan ahead):

  • Plan ahead; prepare for the next day on the night before (lay out clothing, make lunch) .
  • Learn to say "no" more often; or, suggest another time or another person.
  • Write things down -- don't rely on your memory.
  • Anticipate your needs before you need them (coins, batteries, gas).
  • Allow extra time to get where you are going.
  • Avoid use of chemicals (alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, etc.).
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning so you're not rushing.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat small, nutritious snacks. Ward off hunger and dehydration before they occur, otherwise, they can provoke aggressiveness and exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress.
  • Set appointments ahead or behind depending on if you are an early arriver or usually running behind.
  • Rearrange your work hours to avoid traffic.
  • Regularly practice mindfulness/relaxation exercises. Go to"Other Links" in our website for some online Stress Management audio programs!

Reduce stress (Prepare for the unexpected):

  • Relax your expectations and lower your perfectionistic standards; in other words, remind yourself that you do YOUR BEST as opposed to always trying to be PERFECT.
  • Plan your schedule according to your body rhythms (work on difficult subjects in the mornings if you work better in the mornings).
  • Find the humor in a situation.
  • Always have a book, article, or study materials to read when you have to wait for appointments.
  • Make alternate plans in case the initial plan doesn't work.
  • Establish a serene place of your own; we all need to retreat occasionally.
  • Change your perspective; don't worry about "what if..." instead, say "so what?"
  • Recognize your negative thoughts (e.g., "that was a stupid thing I did") and replace them with more positive thoughts (e.g., "it's O.K. to make mistakes).

Relieve Stress

  • Exercise! Enjoy regular physical activity; make it part of your transportation
  • Take time out for yourself.
  • Take short study breaks every hour (stretch your shoulders; breathe deeply, get up and walk around a bit).
  • Schedule more fun activities for yourself; do something you enjoy.
  • Unwind before bedtime so that you will be able to sleep better.
  • Talk things out with a trusted friend or relative who is supportive.
  • Take a long, leisurely bubble bath instead of the usual quick shower.
  • Take a break from the children -- sitters are not just for emergencies or scheduled activities.
  • Practice various guided stress management/relaxation exercises available through our "Other Links" website.

We also encourage you to seek personal counseling at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Student Wellness Center, Room 300B (third floor), to help explore possible personal or interpersonal factors that may be contributing to your stress. Our personal counselors are available for appointments and walk in crisis counseling.  Please call 408-924-5910 to schedule an appointment or for more information.

Additional Resources

  • The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook (Martha Davis & others)
  • The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (Edmund J. Bourne)
  • An End to Panic (Elke Zuercher-White)
  • Dying of Embarrassment (Barbara G. Markway & others)
  • When Anger Hurts (Matthew McKay & others)
  • Mind Over Mood (Greenberger & Padesky)