Stress is a given in college. At some point in your college career, you are going to look at your responsibilities and the amount of time you have available, you will do some math, and you are going to come up with a time deficit so large you’ll cry. It happens to everyone, whether it’s because of Too Many Commitments, or just run of the mill procrastination. Even if you manage to keep your schedule flowing kind of smoothly, there’s other sources of stress that will sneak up on you. That doesn’t mean you can’t do your best to keep yourself calm and happy, though!
The first, and most important aspect of stress control is knowing what exactly is causing your stress. There are tons of potential stressors in all of our lives after all. Taking a moment to sit down and really focus on what issues in your life are the most stressful or irritating can help you to pinpoint what you can do to feel better.
Friends: Are your friends dramatic? Do they fit your personality? Do you feel overwhelmed by them, or do you feel like they support you? It’s easy to assume that your friends are what all people everywhere are like, but it’s not the case. If your friends are stressing you out, you can talk to them about why that’s the case — or find new friends.
Family: This is a big one for a lot of underclassmen especially. You haven’t been away at college very long, so your parents’ influence can still feel incredibly strong. Especially if a parent is funding your education, you can feel like it’s necessary to bend to their will in all circumstances. However, just because you’re related to someone, or because they raised you, does not mean they have the right to boss around an adult (that’s you!). Talk to them about it.
Significant Other: Hey, dating is rough. Personally, I would argue that you remain single for at LEAST your freshman year (I did not, I have regrets), but love knows no law. At the very least, remember that there are approximately seven billion fish in the sea, and the one person you met during orientation who’s now making you sad or angry or otherwise upset is probably not worth the long-term stress!
Class: Obviously, this is going to be a BIG stressor! However, not all classes are created equal. Go through your classes and identify the ones causing the biggest problems for you. (You probably already have an idea which ones they are.) Then budget time in your week specifically to take care of those classes, and it will make life so much easier. This includes talking to professors, getting a tutor, or even just sitting down specifically to study for that class.
Work: Work problems can be task-related or social. If you physically cannot do a task, or if you dread going to work because you hate doing the thing, I would recommend getting a new job. If a coworker or boss is the cause of your problems, either talk to them or report them to the HR department! You deserve a non-hostile work environment, and are legally supported in that right.
Health: If you’re not healthy, everything gets harder. There’s more detail on this later, but seriously, use your campus resources like the health and counseling centers. That’s what they’re there for.
Weather: Yes, cloudy, gross, ugly weather can be a real cause of stress. If you think you’ve got a little bit of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) going on, talk to the counseling center, or maybe just rage against the heavens. Also, whenever it’s sunny and nice, go enjoy that stuff. For me, writing this in Wisconsin in February, if for no one else.
Habits and Personality: I’ll be the first to admit it – I have the attention span of a caffeinated squirrel. I have 7 tabs open right now – my writing tab, email, two different blogs, and then TWO noise generators to keep me focused on NOT going to the blog tabs. Or going to social media. Or going to the vending machine. Getting stuff done is a constant fight with myself, and it’s helped me immensely to acknowledge this as a personality trait so that I can fight it. You likely have your own habits and personality traits that you find it hard to deal with. Acknowledging these facts about yourself is the first step to finding ways to work around them.
There are a lot of ways to reduce stress outside of just removing or fixing what causes you that stress. After all, it’s not always possible to fix the stressor itself (coughhomeworkcough). These methods are what’s called “self-care.” This term can cover a lot, but it primarily refers to ways a person can make their life better, a little bit at a time. If you look up self-care on, say, Instagram, you get lots of posts about weight loss! And inspirational quotes! And magic body washes! That’s not what it’s really about. It’s about making yourself feel better in little, long-lasting ways.
Suggestions for self-care
Take a shower
Make your bed
Wash your face
Use lotion if your skin is dry
Eat something that is identifiably part of a plant
Brush your hair
Go for a walk
Smile at a mirror, or a friend
Turn on more lights
Take a nap
Go to sleep earlier than normal
Wake up earlier than normal
Make a really good cup of tea or coffee
Roll your shoulders
Do a five minute stretch routine
Kick up one leg really high, if you can
Put on something that makes you feel good
Open a window
Make a list of literally EVERYTHING you need to do
Put that list down and give yourself permission to not do any of it for half an hour
Use a meditation app
Consider turning off your electronics for an hour every day
Make a counseling center appointment
Visit a local shelter
Call a friend
Go sit in a public space
Find a club to join
Find a forum for a hobby you enjoy
Volunteer at a local organization
Light a candle
Go to a park
Write a list of everything bothering you and then absolutely DESTROY that paper
Take out the trash
Check out a book to read for fun from your library
Do the laundry
Find a tree and sit underneath it
Draw something, even if it’s bad
Literally ANYTHING you do that makes you feel better (in a non-harmful way!) is self-care. These are just suggestions – you know yourself best, and you can figure out what helps you out the most.