Stress is a response to a situation, threat, person, or interaction. Stress can be good or bad, and college students may experience stress related to academics, social relationships, lifestyle changes, and more. Stress can impact all aspects of a person’s life, and we see the greatest impact on emotional/mental well-being or physical well-being. Stress may show itself through headaches, rapid breathing, chest pains, irritability, lack of motivation, social isolation, anger, and more. If you find you are experiencing these signs of stress often, it’s important to talk with a primary care physician or mental health professional/counselor. Whether you are experiencing stress related to an upcoming exam, the pandemic, or anything else, here are some ways to manage and cope with stress.

Identifying Stress

As stated, everyone experiences good and bad stress. It’s important to know how you feel and how your body reacts to good and bad stress to help manage and cope. The bell curve on the right, from Cornell University represents how a person’s performance changes based on their level of stress. On the left side of the bell curve, shaded in green, the person is experiencing good stress, meaning they are having a level of stress that is manageable and motivating for them.  As the color starts to blend into the yellow/orange area, this is where students may start to feel overwhelmed, forget tasks or assignments, or lose sleep. The red area of the curve is where a student is unable to take care of their well-being and they are under a large amount of stress that severely impacts their emotional and physical well-being. To prevent entering the red zone, it’s important to understand the physical and emotional signs your body signals to you when you start to have an imbalance level of stress. This can look different for everyone, some examples include, having chest pains, headaches, feeling like you can’t catch up, and sleep deprivation.

Coping with Stress

Stress reduction and management are important tools to help you cope with stress. Stress reduction is specifically incorporating health promotion behaviors to maintain stress levels and become more resilient in stressful situations. Whereas, stress management is a technique to help you deal with a current stressful situation. It’s important to have a routine that incorporates stress reduction on a daily basis and to also have tools when you are in need of stress management. Below are some tips for coping with stress.

  • Incorporate nutritious foods into your meals to help optimize brain function and allow your body to become more resilient to stress.
  • Incorporate physical activity into your routine, such as walking, running, climbing, yoga, etc. Moving your body can help decrease stress and cultivates space for you to focus on yourself. Make sure to incorporate a physical activity that you enjoy rather than an exercise that you dislike to ensure stress reduction and management.
  • Having breaks is an important part of stress reduction and management. Make time for yourself throughout the week to engage in hobbies and activities you enjoy. 
  • Activities may include, sports you enjoy, crafts, listening to music, drawing, writing, or video games. If you are unsure of a hobby that you would enjoy, consider what was fun for you as a child!
  • Build a support system composed of friends, family, classmates, or partners that would offer encouragement, create space for you to talk, will hold you accountable, and will remind you to take care of yourself.
  • If you are struggling to find individuals within your community that you would trust to be part of your support system, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Check out the JHU Student Well-Being site to help you navigate emotional well-being resources.
  • Meditation and practicing gratitude are effective techniques for helping students improve their emotional well-being.
  • Benefits of meditation include better sleep, reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, increased self-awareness, improved memory, deeper relaxation, and more.
  • To learn more about the benefits of meditation and how to start a practice, check out this Calm blog. 
  • Use the Calm app to start a meditation practice and to use their gratitude check-ins. Learn more about gratitude here.