Throughout our lives, we'll encounter, be asked to navigate, and will experience, stress.

In college especially, stress can be prevalent. As a student, you're doing a lot: going to and juggling all of your classes and study times; working on campus, or off campus, or both on and off campus; diving into new research and internship opportunities; making connections with folks in your classrooms, your clubs, your organizations, your residence halls, the events you attend; and staying connected to the the family and friends you had before entering college. That's a lot of relationships, commitments, deadlines, and expectations to have, to live up to, and to nurture and fulfill. And managing it all can contribute to your feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Stress is the state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Sometimes we don't notice the stress we're withstanding because we're so focused on our end-product or goal, or on making it through this next urgent deadline, or delivering on the upcoming important event. Sometimes we don't notice it because there's a lot of adrenaline and excitement that comes from our busy schedules and the quick pace of the term. But living in this stressful state for a prolonged period of time can lead to burnout, to depleted resources, to compromised sleep and nutrition and exercise. All of the things that we need to be able to do all of the good work we're striving so hard to do.

While stress will differ from person to person, everyone has the potential for physical, emotional and behavioral reactions to what it is they're experiencing. Physical signs of stress can include:

  • “knots,” “butterflies,” or pain in your stomach
  • a rapid, pounding heart beat
  • cold, clammy hands
  • headache, hyperventilation
  • tightness in your neck or shoulders
  • tightness in the chest
  • lower back pain
  • a tendency toward illness such as colds or flu (Burka, 1983)

Emotional or behavioral signs of stress can include

  • irritability
  • fatigue and exhaustion
  • trouble concentrating
  • mood swings
  • increased alcohol or drug use
  • changes in sleep, appetite, or sexual interest
  • inability to relax
  • inability to enjoy the things that once brought you pleasure
  • apathy or lethargy;
  • forgetfulness (Burka, 1983)

The fact that you're reading this and thinking about it all is a great first step towards managing and mitigating your stress. To help yourself to manage your stress, and to prepare proactively to limit the stress you experience, it can be helpful to determine how you might be able to more effectively manage your time, alter your schedule, or create boundaries for yourself; these boundaries aren't meant to cut you off from the involvement and communities that you're engaging in and with. Rather, they're meant to provide yourself with the time you need to put forth your best effort, do your best learning, deliver your best work.

Part of this will involve reflection: knowing what it is that's causing you stress — do you feel like you don't have the time to do the things you need to do, much less anything you want to do? Do you feel like you spend all your time studying only to arrive to the test and feel as if you've done nothing at all to prepare because you can't answer the questions? Do you have enough time to do something for yourself each day? Can you go on that hike, or take that time to meditate, or nap because that afternoon snooze really re-energizes you for the rest of your day's work?

Take some time to answer these questions and any others that come up, and then think about what steps you might be able to take to begin to make changes. And recognize that this will be a process, and the fact that you're committed to making a change is a huge first step.

  • avoid unnecessary stressors
  • alter stressful situations
  • make time for fun and relaxation
  • adopt a healthy lifestyle

It can also be helpful to

  • Take on challenges and tasks one at a time.
  • Stay organized with your time and money. Much of our stress is related to time or financial management.
  • Journal. Write down your thoughts feelings; use your writing to reflect upon your stressors and how you can manage them.
  • Laugh. Laughing and finding humor in life is one of the best ways to reduce stress.
  • Exercise. Exercising is essential to our physical and mental health and can serve as a great way to alleviate stress.
  • Use campus resources. Visit Student Health Services (SHS) or Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) for services available at no additional cost for students.

Knowing yourself well enough to identify your own signs of stress is vital to the work you might engage in to manage your stress. If you're not sure how you're feeling, try taking this quiz to find out. And please know this: there are so many resources available to help students cope with stress. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers counseling and psychological therapy along with the Mind Spa, a meditation and relaxation room that serves as a space to soothe the mind, body, and spirit. Student Health Services (SHS) offers acupuncture, massage therapy, health coaching, and tobacco cessation services. Using these resources can help you find healthy and effective ways to manage any stress you feel here at OSU.

Want to talk more about this? Come and see us at the ASC. It could be that juggling everything is fueling your stress, and we can help with that — we talk about time management with students all the time. Or maybe it's how you're studying, and how effective it feels. We can help with that too. Or, maybe you're not sure, but you just want a place to start and friendly face to sit down with. We've got that, too. Come and see us — we're here to help, and if our programs aren't what you're looking for, we'll get you where you need to go. You don't need an appointment, just drop in: Waldo Hall 125 | Monday thru Friday | 9 AM to 5 PM.