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From Overwhelmed to Empowered: A Guide for Navigating College Stress
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From Overwhelmed to Empowered: A Guide for Navigating College Stress

College can be one of the most transformative times of your life. Between making new friends, exploring interesting topics, and discovering who you truly are, there's no denying that college can be awesome. However, it can also be a difficult time. With the workload and pressure to succeed, it's no wonder many students feel overwhelmed and stressed. 

What is college stress?

College stress is when you feel psychological and physical strain because of all the pressure and expectations of college life. It is often caused by a combination of factors such as budgeting for living expenses, maintaining a full course load, meeting deadlines for assignments or projects, balancing academic workloads with extracurricular activities or internships, and managing relationships with peers.

College stress is when you feel psychological and physical strain because of all the pressure and expectations of college life.

Why is it important to address college stress?

Addressing college stress is important for several reasons. When left unchecked, college stress can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, impacting your ability to focus on class or complete assignments. It can also interfere with social life by creating conflict among friends or roommates.

Acknowledging and addressing college stress can help you develop positive coping mechanisms that can be used throughout your academic career to successfully navigate stressful times more effectively while still achieving success in other areas of your life. Additionally, it allows you to identify potential risk factors and create strategies for avoiding them in the future.

Understanding College Stress


The causes of college stress can vary widely from student to student. Common factors include financial insecurity, academic pressure, and a lack of social support. For example, financial insecurity often arises due to expenses related to attending college, such as tuition, textbooks, or housing costs. Academic pressure is often caused by the need to maintain a certain GPA to remain in a program or the competition for internships or jobs upon graduation. A lack of social support can compound the stresses since connecting with other students and faculty is important to mental health.


The effects of college stress can be both physical and mental. Physically, it can manifest in headaches, insomnia, fatigue, back pain, an upset stomach or digestive issues, and a weakened immune system. Mentally, it can lead to anxiety and depression, difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks, irritability or mood swings, low self-esteem, and negative thinking.

Risk factors

Certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing college stress: living away from home for the first time, working while attending school, having learning disabilities or a mental health disorder, and feeling unprepared academically or socially for college. 

College Stress Graphic

Coping Strategies for College Stress

Healthy habits

Developing healthy habits is one of the best ways to combat college stress. Eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and taking time for yourself are all important habits to practice. Additionally, engaging in activities that promote relaxation, such as spending time in nature or hanging out with friends, can be beneficial for managing stress levels.

i) Physical activities and exercise

Physical activities and exercise can be an effective way to relieve college stress. Regular physical activity releases endorphins, which are hormones that have been shown to improve mood and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise also helps reduce cortisol, the hormone associated with stress, allowing students to better manage their emotions and cognitive processes. Additionally, physical activities and exercise can provide students with an effective outlet for dealing with stress.

ii) Rejuvenating activities

Rejuvenating activities, such as journaling, reading, or listening to music, can help relieve stress by distracting from stressful thoughts and situations. These practices can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, allowing you to gain control over your emotions and reactions. 

iii) Social engagement

Social engagement, such as talking with friends or family members, can help decrease stress by providing support and perspective from those close to you. Additionally, social activities may allow students to practice problem-solving skills that can be applied in other areas of life. 

Problem-solving strategies

Having problem-solving skills can go a long way when dealing with college stress. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture can help you prioritize tasks, delegate responsibilities, and create manageable plans for achieving goals without becoming overwhelmed. Seeking assistance from professors or advisors when needed is also important to stay on track with academic requirements and deadlines.

i) Time management and study techniques

One important technique is to create a realistic schedule and stick to it as much as possible. This will help you keep track of your commitments and ensure they can complete tasks on time. Regular breaks throughout the day can help boost productivity and maintain focus.

ii) Effective communication

Talking to professors or advisors about any issues you may face can help ensure you are on track with your academic goals and assignments. 

iii) Conflict resolution skills

Conflict resolution skills allow you to identify areas of disagreement between yourself and others and create strategies for positively resolving the issues. This can help reduce tension and stress levels by allowing you to communicate your feelings constructively rather than becoming overwhelmed or feeling unable to handle the situation.

Building relationships and social support networks

Building relationships and social support networks can be invaluable in managing college stress. Having a network of supportive people to turn to during difficult times can provide emotional support and guidance that may be otherwise lacking on campus. Developing meaningful connections with peers with similar experiences and interests can help create a shared understanding, allowing you to better cope with college stress. Additionally, being involved in student organizations or clubs can provide an effective outlet for dealing with stress. 

Karly Traub and Carson Parago talk about their experiences as students at Briercrest College

Strategies for Preventing College Stress

Creating a healthy lifestyle

Creating a healthy lifestyle to prevent college stress is important for managing your mental and physical health.

A few tips for creating such a lifestyle include:

  1. Eating balanced meals: Eating healthy meals regularly can help ensure the body has all the nutrients it needs to keep energy levels up and prevent the negative side effects of fatigue.  
  2. Getting enough sleep: At least seven hours of restful sleep per night is recommended for optimal health. Too many late-night cram sessions can have the opposite effect and lower productivity. 
  3. Exercising: Regular physical activity can help reduce stress, boost mood, improve sleep quality, and promote self-confidence. Find an activity you enjoy that gets you moving, especially with how much sitting you will be doing.  
  4. Taking breaks: It’s important to make time for yourself and take regular breaks from your studies and other activities. This can help relieve stress and provide an opportunity to clear your head. Consider reading a fun book, listening to music, going for walks, or spending time with friends and family. 
  5. Staying connected: Staying connected with family and friends during college is important. Sometimes, just talking and sharing your feelings can help you cope with the stress of college life. Having a support network to rely on can be invaluable during difficult times.  

Simple acts like going for a walk, enjoying music, or conversing with friends can satiate the brain's longing for novelty and offer a much-needed refreshment when burnout looms. — Does "A Change Is as Good as a Rest" Apply to Stressed Out College Students?

Seeking professional support

Seeking support from counsellors, advisors, professors, or mental health professionals can effectively help you to manage college stress. Using the resources available on campus is a great way for students to receive support and guidance when needed.  They can provide you with tools and strategies to help make your transition into college easier. Find out where your college's counselling centre and student advisors are located. 

Setting manageable goals and priorities

When you set realistic expectations with achievable deadlines, you are more likely to feel in control of your academic performance and less stressed about upcoming tasks. Additionally, you can avoid the anxiety associated with tight deadlines and missed assignments by allowing enough time to complete tasks rather than cramming and rushing at the last minute. 

Often, when students “don’t have enough time,” the real issue is a failure to allocate the time they have. The solution is to know how you will spend your time each day. — Semester-Long Success from Day One

Making use of campus resources

Campus resources can allow you to learn new skills, access support services, and obtain valuable advice from faculty and staff. Taking advantage of academic counselling and tutoring services can help ensure you are on track with your coursework and better understand the course material. Additionally, using the library and other study aids can help you manage your workload more efficiently.

Addressing Specific College Stressors

Academic pressure

To address academic pressure, you can use campus resources like tutoring and advising services to help you stay on track with your coursework. You should also create a plan for managing your workload efficiently, such as setting achievable goals and deadlines. Additionally, you should make time for activities unrelated to schoolwork to give yourself a break from the stress of studying.

In addition to the suggestions mentioned, here are a few more ways to deal with academic pressure:

  1. Seek peer support: Connect with classmates or join study groups to share ideas, discuss concepts, and provide mutual support. Collaborating with others can help alleviate stress and make learning more enjoyable.
  2. Break tasks into smaller steps: Instead of overwhelming yourself with the entire workload, break it down into smaller, manageable tasks. This approach can make the work feel less daunting, allowing you to focus on one step at a time and maintain a sense of progress.
  3. Time management techniques: Explore different time management strategies, such as the Pomodoro Technique, where you work in short bursts and take regular breaks. Experiment with different methods to find what works best for you and helps you stay organized and focused.
  4. Reach out to professors: If you're struggling with a particular subject or assignment, don't hesitate to seek clarification from your professors. They are there to help you and can provide guidance or resources to overcome challenges.
  5. Find creative outlets: Engage in creative activities like painting, writing, or playing a musical instrument. These hobbies can serve as a form of self-expression and stress relief, allowing you to recharge and find balance amidst academic pressures.

Increased independence

When college students leave home for the first time and experience increased independence, several factors can contribute to stress. Some common causes of stress in this situation include:

  1. Financial concerns: Managing finances independently, such as paying tuition fees, rent, and daily expenses, can be stressful for college students. They may worry about budgeting, finding part-time jobs, or dealing with student loans.
  2. Time management: With increased freedom, students must learn to balance their academic responsibilities with other activities and personal commitments. Poor time management skills can lead to stress and overwhelm.
  3. Homesickness: Being away from home for the first time can trigger feelings of nostalgia and longing for familiar surroundings, family, and childhood routines. Homesickness can add to the stress of adjusting to college life.
  4. Personal expectations and identity exploration: College is a time when students may start questioning their identities, values, and future goals. The pressure to figure out one's path and make important life decisions can be stressful.
  5. Health and well-being: Taking care of physical and mental health becomes the individual's responsibility when away from home. This newfound independence can add stress if students struggle to maintain healthy habits or face health challenges. 

Remembering the reason behind your journey through college can serve as a powerful motivator for staying focused and avoiding procrastination. – 7 Powerful Tips to Win the Battle Against Procrastination

Social adjustments

Leaving home means leaving behind familiar friends and support networks. Adjusting to a new social environment, making new friends, and dealing with loneliness or homesickness can all contribute to stress.

Here are some tips on how to deal with social adjustments:

  1. Get involved: Join clubs, organizations, or extracurricular activities that align with your interests. This can help you meet new people and form connections.
  2. Attend social events: Make an effort to attend campus events, parties, or gatherings. This provides opportunities to meet and interact with different individuals.
  3. Be open-minded: Embrace diversity and be open to new ideas, perspectives, and experiences. Engage in conversations with people from different backgrounds and cultures.
  4. Take initiative: Don't wait for others to approach you. Take the initiative to introduce yourself to classmates, roommates, and neighbours. Initiating conversations can help build relationships.
  5. Find common interests: Look for shared interests or hobbies with others. It could be a sports team, an academic subject, or a shared passion. Shared interests create a foundation for connections.
  6. Be patient and give it time: Adjusting socially takes time and patience. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to make instant friendships. Allow relationships to develop naturally.

I strongly urge you to have fun! You are young, and this is your chance to spread your wings and have fun without the pressures of high school drama. Tips for Mastering the First Anxious Weeks of College

Living arrangements

From navigating roommate dynamics to adjusting to shared spaces, many potential stressors can be associated with college living arrangements.

Here are some ways for students to manage the stress associated with college living arrangements effectively:

  1. Establish open communication: Clear and open communication with roommates is crucial. Discuss expectations, boundaries, and potential issues upfront to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts.
  2. Practice compromise and flexibility: Living with others often requires compromise. Be willing to work together and find mutually beneficial solutions when conflicts arise. Flexibility and understanding can go a long way in creating a harmonious living environment.
  3. Set personal boundaries: Establishing personal boundaries is important for maintaining a sense of privacy and comfort. Communicate your needs respectfully and assertively, whether it's about quiet hours, personal space, or shared responsibilities.
  4. Develop conflict resolution skills: Conflicts are inevitable in shared living spaces. Learn effective conflict resolution strategies, such as active listening, empathy, and finding win-win solutions. If needed, involve a mediator or seek guidance from a resident advisor.
  5. Take care of your physical space: Keeping your living area clean and organized can create a more peaceful and less stressful environment. Encourage a shared responsibility for cleanliness and establish a cleaning schedule with your roommates.
  6. Seek support from residence staff: The residence staff, such as resident advisors or housing administrators, are there to assist you. Don't hesitate to reach out to them for guidance, mediation, or support if living arrangement issues persist.

Spiritual development

In the journey of transitioning into adulthood, caring for your spiritual development becomes an integral part of personal growth. It involves making your faith your own, regularly attending religious services, and being part of a supportive community. Spiritual development goes beyond religious beliefs and practices; it is a fundamental aspect of being human, providing guidance, strength, and a sense of purpose in the complexities of college life and beyond.

Here are some ways Briercrest helps students to grow and maintain their faith:

  1. Personal study and reflection: At Briercrest, students are encouraged to dedicate time for personal study of the Bible, prayer, and reflection. Engaging in devotional readings or using study guides to deepen your understanding of scripture and strengthen your relationship with God.
  2. Attending on-campus Chapel: Regularly attending Chapel can be a meaningful and transformative part of your college experience. Approach each service with an open heart and a desire to grow in your faith. Allow the community, worship, and teachings to shape and deepen your relationship with God.
  3. Regular church attendance: Make attending church services a priority. Find a local church where you feel comfortable and connected. Engaging in corporate worship, listening to sermons, and participating in community activities can nurture your faith.
  4. Serve others: Engage in service opportunities that align with your Christian values. Participating in volunteer work or community service allows you to put your faith into action and positively impact those around you. Briercrest provides service learning opportunities as part of your degree requirements.
  5. Engage in discipleship: Seek out opportunities for discipleship, where you can be mentored by more experienced Christians and learn from their wisdom and experiences. This can involve one-on-one mentorship or being part of a small group focused on spiritual growth.

Caring for Your Mental Health in College

The college years are a time of great change and growth, but they can also be challenging for your mental health. Balancing coursework, social relationships, and newfound independence can strain even the most well-adjusted students. The demands of academics, social life, and living away from home can be overwhelming, leading to a rollercoaster of emotions. That's why taking care of your mental well-being is so important.

Neglecting your mental health can have serious consequences, not just for your studies, relationships, and overall quality of life. While experiencing highs and lows during college is normal, watching for warning signs of distress is important. Difficulty concentrating, changes in sleep and eating habits, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and even thoughts of suicide are all signs your mental health is struggling. It's important to be aware of these signs of distress so you can seek help if needed.

Remember, it's okay to struggle sometimes, but it's always okay to ask for help. Taking care of your mental health is an investment in your future success in college and beyond. Regardless of your college challenges, your health and well-being should remain top priorities. Seek help when needed, and rely on available resources to support your mental health.

If you are experiencing mental health struggles, don't be afraid to seek help. Briercrest provides counselling services and other resources that can assist you in managing distress. You can find more information about making an appointment at briercrestcollege.ca/life/counselling. Or you can email ccentre@briercrest.ca.


College is an exciting experience with unique challenges and stressors. By understanding the signs and symptoms of college stress, recognizing risk factors, and using coping strategies to reduce its impacts, you can have a better chance of succeeding during your college years. College can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience with the right support and strategies.

Mental health is important for everyone, especially during stressful stages of life like postsecondary education. Taking preventative action by adopting healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating balanced meals, and taking breaks between studying can help you manage stress. Additionally, seeking support from resources and people on campus, setting manageable goals and priorities, building relationships and social support networks, and using available resources are important steps for preventing college stress.

You can have a successful and enjoyable college experience with the right strategies in place.

mental health college college life dorm living mentorship community Christian higher education academics college stress