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How Stress Affects Students (And What to do About it)

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In life, stress is unavoidable. Everyone, students included, experience stress at one moment or another and in a variety of ways. Studies conducted to establish how stress affect performance of college students have convincingly shown that, while low levels of stress can improve concentration for short periods of time, too much stress affects students negatively.

It affects your ability to concentrate, causes sleep disorders and leads to depression. The stress of college is a very real, and has a negative impact on students across the country. Read on to find out how stress affects students.

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How Stress Positively Affects Students

It’s not all bad. A little stress can actually help students perform a little better. The key word there is “little.”

When you are stressed out, your body releases chemicals to your brain in an attempt to help it focus, and pushes adrenaline into the bloodstream so as to heighten your senses. In turn, your heightened senses help you hone in and focus on the task at hand. So a little stress can be helpful for students, but for a very short time.

But here’s the bad side. Over time, the tension increases, compelling you to put more effort into successfully relieving causes of stress. Then your brain fights against itself instead of working on a task.

Research Findings

Associated Press and MTVu conducted research to establish the effects of stress on the performance of students in college. They surveyed 2,240 students from 40 random colleges. Six in every ten students reported being so stressed that they couldn’t complete their homework in many instances.

Possible Causes of Stress in College

We know that students are stressed, but what’s causing it? Here are some of the most common causes of stress for students.

  • Heavy course loads
  • Family turmoil and loss of loved ones
  • Romantic relationships
  • Pressure to perform well on exams
  • Unfamiliar environment
  • Living among strangers

Effects of Stress

When you expose yourself to stressors (stimuli that incite stress), the result is an assortment of emotional, physical, cognitive and behavioral reactions that include the following:

1. Muscle tension

Your muscles trigger when stress hormones activate your sympathetic nervous system. Activated nerves make you either tense up when seating in class, or flex certain muscles making them ache. The result is a constant disturbance that reduces your concentration in class.

2. Hostility

Once your stressors stimulate your instincts, you start misconstruing other stimuli as possible stressors. You, therefore, become irritable, even with the slightest provocation, and lash out with frustrations in self-defense. This state makes you hostile to even your closest friends.

3. Overindulgence or reduced appetite

Stress hormones temporarily reduce your appetite. However, prolonged exposure to the hormones, according to Harvard Medical School, results in overeating. You may find yourself craving unhealthy junk food such as chips, pizza, chocolate, and ice-cream.

4. Memory loss

Having trouble memorizing what you learned in class last week? Your stress levels could be to blame. According to a study by Rutgers University, stress adversely affects your ability to remember information. When you’re struggling to retain information for midterms or finals, you could end up stressing out even more.

Managing Stress

Another study conducted by Boyton Health Services, the University of Minnesota, showed that a student’s ability to manage stress is crucial. Of the students who confessed experiencing stress and who subsequently recorded low performance, those able to manage their stress performed marginally better than those who couldn’t. This element of the study emphasizes the importance of making an effort and even looking for assistance on how to best manage stress. If you can manage your stress, your stress levels will not take a toll on you. So, how do you deal with stress? Read on.

Therapists Specializing in Stress

How to Manage Stress in College

If you don’t learn to positively manage stress in college, it can affect your grades and ruin the college experience as a whole. If stress is eating away at you, try these tactics.

1. Don’t ignore stress signals

Pay attention to stress symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, and hostility. If you study for some time and suddenly feel dizziness or even headache, know that your body is tired and hence needs a break. Do not ignore these signals; they can help you avoid other serious effects on your performance.

2. Identify the cause

Whether your stress results from an unhealthy relationship or any other reason, you should make an effort to identify its cause. To effectively manage your stress, you must know, entirely, the origin of your anxiety. Analyze your feelings and thoughts, carefully scrutinizing each and every aspect of your life to reveal what’s stressing you out.

3. Differentiate between distress & eustress

There are two forms of stress; distress and eustress. The first refers to negative stress that causes mental and physical problems, while the second refers to positive stress that motivates you to improve your performance. So, if you realize that what you’re experiencing is eustress, use it to your advantage to achieve your goals both inside and outside the classroom. As for distress, start by accepting that stress happens to everyone; you are not the only person dealing with it. Stressing over your stress only aggravates the situation.

4. Seek assistance

Avoid, at all costs, isolating yourself and trying to deal with your stress on your own. When you are stressed, even grabbing a cup of tea with a friend and opening your heart can relieve you a great deal. If you feel increasingly overwhelmed, consider calling or visiting a Counseling and Psychological Service provider to make an appointment. Even if they can’t attend to you immediately, they have the expertise to guide you on the appropriate course of action. Some colleges have counselors on campus that you can talk to.


While college life can be stressful, by adopting the above techniques you’ll be able to better manage your stress and concentrate on your studies. After a taxing day in class, hit the gym or even take a walk. You’ll be surprised how your stress fades away as your mood improves. Also, do your assignments in time, and plan ahead on how to revise for your exams to avoid stressing yourself at the last minute.

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Additional Resources

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About the author

I'm an avid reader and love anything to do with mindfulness and mental health!

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