Stress is a part of everyday life. Examples of stress for college students may include meeting academic demands, being in new social settings, being away from home for the first time, or preparing for graduation. While mild stress can actually be beneficial as a motivator, higher levels of stress can lead to medical and social problems.

Stressed girl on phoneWhat is stress?

Internal or external events stimulate a sequence of physiological events called the "flight or fight" response (hormone activity, increased heart rate and breathing, dilated pupils, blood shunting). The stress response is essential for survival if we are fighting a war or facing other dangerous situations. However, most of the stress we experience in this technological age is psychological stress. Our bodies continue to respond with the same physiological processes and, unfortunately, since we don't need to fight or flee, the constant bathing in stress hormones makes us more vulnerable to disease. The key to stress management is to reduce the magnitude of the flight or fight response by increasing our ability to avoid stress and/or to predict that we will have a measure of control over stressful events.

Stress is related to how we interpret and react to events. Events themselves are not stressful. People may react differently to the same situation with one person interpreting the situation as very stressful while another person may not. For example, public speaking may be a very stressful event for one person but may be relaxing to someone else.

Symptoms of stress

Feelings Thoughts Behavior Physiology




Low self-esteem, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, preoccupation with thoughts and responsibilities, easily embarrassed Cry easily, impulsive, loss of appetite, accident prone, nervous laugh, increased smoking or drinking, grinding teeth Increased sweating,. increased heart rate, fatigue, diarrhea/indigestion, dry mouth, sleep problems, loss of appetite or overeating, headaches/pain in shoulders and neck, frequent urination

Stressors During The Academic Year


Homesickness and separation from loved ones

Values crises (questions/conflicts re: substance use, sex/morality, social expectations)

Academic pressures (poor grades, work load increase, final exams approaching/reports coming due as near end of semester)

Social pressures (extracurricular time strain, seasonal parties, pre-holiday depression, Financial strain near the holidays)


Post holiday depression

Winter blues due to lack of light during the short, dark winter days

Lack of social activities


Drug and alcohol use increases

Sadness due to anticipation of separation from friends

Increased academic pressure

Seniors concerned about graduating, finding jobs, etc.

Worries about upcoming exams, reports, etc.

Dealing with stress: Increasing our sense of control over the stressor decreases the level of stress we feel.

Learn how you react to stress and what causes you to feel stressed.

Men talkingDevelop your ability to adapt to stressful situations: Learn to distinguish between the aspects of situations you can change and the aspects you can't change. It is very difficult to change the behaviors, values, and attitudes of others. However we can change our own attitudes and behaviors. For instance, we can choose to interpret stressful situations as opportunities for growth and we can choose life-affirming behaviors to change our situations. We can also alter our environments to some extent. We can find a place to study without distractions, and we can brighten our immediate environments with the things that interest and refresh us.

Be sure your actions reflect your values: If not, review the values you are questioning. Are you willing to give up old socialized patterns to find patterns that are more authentic?

Use and reinforce positive self-statements. Internal dialogue is only semi-verbal but it is always influential.  We provide an internal mirror for ourselves. We make choices about the mirror we see. We can see a negative mirror that reflects our weaknesses and suggests powerlessness or we can see a positive mirror that emphasizes our strengths, good qualities, our possibilities, and our accomplishments.

Learn To Deal With Negative People. People who display negative attitudes, a pessimistic outlook on life and a constant state of nervousness can make you experience negative feelings that add to your stress. If friends or family members get you down, try to counter their negative remarks with self-affirming ones of your own. When they do behave in a more positive way, comment on what you like about their behavior, thereby increasing the chances [reinforcing] a behavior that you like will continue.

Learn To Say No. In a relationship you have the right to respect, dignity, appreciation, and kindness. You have the right to your own view and you have the right to be heard. You have the right to live without emotional and physical threats and abuse. For whatever reason, many of us have difficulty saying no when someone asks us to do something, even if we don't have the time or desire to do it. When you are already over-stretched because of work, family and obligations, the last thing you need is to take on more responsibilities. When someone makes demands on your dwindling time, think carefully about how you feel. Ask yourself, do I really want or need to do this? If the answer is no, learn to say so. If you have trouble saying no, you may need to practice being more assertive. If you are interested in learning to be more assertive, our counselors can help you with that. You could also check our Web site, the campus bookstore or the library for materials on the topic.

Exercise Tensions Away. When you are under stress, your muscles tense involuntarily. You may have noticed the tightness in the back of your neck and across your shoulders that often precedes a headache. Exercise has a natural calming effect that is accompanied by a positive feeling. For example, you may have heard about or experienced the extreme of this effect--runner's high--the feeling of euphoria and sudden burst of energy runners get after they have been running a long time.

Connect with friends, counselors, clergy, family, to "unload" emotion, concerns, etc. Use e-mail, letters, phone if necessary.

Ask for Help. Acknowledge and accept your limits. Some problems may be more than you can handle by yourself, and you may need to seek financial, medical or some other type of help or advice. Some problems may look a lot worse than they are until you talk to someone about them and get a different perspective. If you are the kind of person who hates to ask for help, try to get over this attitude. Many times we worry needlessly and cause ourselves even more stress by living with problems we think are unsolvable, when asking for a little help and getting it might bring immediate relief. Use counseling and advising resources on campus.

girl in fieldLose Yourself in Activity. When you are under stress, engage in some activities that cause you to lose track of time. During those moments, you can forget your worries and experience happy, calming feelings. Reading and spending time pursuing a hobby or special interest are all activities in which can dislodge you from the worry cycle. Learn new skills.

Volunteer. Giving to others feels great.  Do volunteer work through the NMU Volunteer Center (227-2466) or check the Marquette Monthly for local activities in the area. For instance, student help is always needed at the dog sled races and the summer music festival. You can also shovel snow from someone's walk, collect clothing for donations, or help clean up your residence hall.

Stay healthy physically.  Eat nutritiously, get enough sleep, wear warm layers in the winter

Practice relaxation techniques.  Here are some exercises that will help you relax: 

  1. Slow, deep breaths.
  2. Muscle relaxation
  3. Imagery
  4. Yoga (Increases flexibility and improves concentration)

Use time efficiently.  Good time management reduces stress. For example:

  1. Budget time.
  2. Make a list of things to accomplish each day.
  3. Allow time for play.

Don't procrastinate. Procrastination is avoiding tasks that must be accomplished. Procrastination has a high potential for painful consequences. It interferes with the academic and personal success of students. This can lead to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, depression and self-doubt. Negative beliefs such as; "I lack the necessary skills to perform the task," and a preoccupation with the fear and anxiety associated with negative beliefs can get in the way of your progress on an assignment. Confront the negative beliefs and replace them with positive possibilities. Break the assignment into smaller tasks and begin one of them.

Study for exams effectively.  Here are some important tips:

  1. Take short rests when studying
  2. Get help from professor
  3. Allow enough time/ make a study schedule
  4. Don't obsess about previous exams, focus on current work
  5. Realize some stress is appropriate and may be beneficial.

TED Talk - How to make stress your friend, Kelly McGonigal • Health Psychologist