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Your Guide to Navigating Academic Stress
5 Strategies to Help You Manage Academic Stress
Whether you study at home or online, college classes present a unique challenge. Course loads are often considerable, classes move at an accelerated pace and students are under pressure from their professors, family and themselves.
If you’ve noticed that your mental health has been affected by academics, you could be experiencing some academic anxiety. And you’re certainly not alone — 8 in 10 college students report feeling some level of academia-related stress.
No matter your age or the courses you take, academic stress has the capability to compromise your productivity and self-confidence. But with a little help, you can keep academic stress exactly where it belongs — comfortably in the rearview mirror.
What are the signs of academic stress?
Learning to recognize academic stress can be difficult, particularly if you already experience some form of anxiety. Typically, signs of academic stress can include the following:
- Erratic sleep — Sleeping odd hours, resulting in late or absent attendance for class and other appointments;
- Shifting eating habits — Drastic changes to eating practices, including a transition away from health eating habits toward unhealthy items;
- Isolation — Personal removal from social situations, including any planned gatherings with friends or family members;
- Muted excitement — Loss of pleasure from activities that once brought joy and fulfillment;
- Physical sickness — Illness or the experience of other physical symptoms;
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms — Participation in excessive video game or social media usage, substance abuse, gambling or other unhealthy behaviors;
- Procrastination — Putting off academic or other requirements until later dates, rather than completing tasks when they are meant to be done.
If you’ve noticed one or more of these signs in your life, potentially in tandem with academic study, you might be experiencing the effects of academic stress.
Even after a short period of time, academic stress can begin to affect a student’s life in a variety of different ways.
What are the effects of academic stress?
At times, academic stress serves as strong motivation. Students can transform pressure to succeed into high achievement.
Unfortunately, even a small amount of academic stress can have negative effects on a student’s mental, behavioral and physical health.
Unchecked academic stress can create a vicious cycle — Stress can become so great that it impairs a student’s ability to focus on daily tasks. Instead, you might turn toward unhealthy coping mechanisms, or you might begin to avoid coursework altogether.
Your work and family life can also suffer as a direct result of academic stress. Struggling against rigorous academic demands, students can begin to lose their lust for life. Anxiety can soon begin to replace the comfortable, confident mindset students try to maintain.
In certain cases, students can experience physical consequences of short or long-term stress. You might face headaches, allergic flares, acne, muscle tension and other issues. Long-term stress can also increase a student’s risk for cardiovascular challenges, hypertension and autoimmune disease.
How can I manage academic stress?
It’s important to remember that stress will never fully subside. However, with the right management, you can still thrive in all the right ways.
Here are 5 strategies that can help you manage academic stress:
1. Time management
First thing’s first: Establish your priorities. Prioritize what you’d like to accomplish.
Second — Identify anything pulling you away from academics. Create a to-do list, and set actionable goals. You may have to break down your larger goals into smaller steps, but this will give you a clear roadmap toward success.
If significant projects become too overwhelming, focus on completing abbreviated goals.. Examine your course load; would a program that allows you to learn at your own pace work better for your current schedule or way of life?
Start to build your routines. Do you prefer to work in the mornings or at night? Optimize your hours around when you are the most energetic, and when you might feel most comfortable working.
2. Evaluate your commitments
Once you’ve established what is essential to your success as a student, prioritize your calendar. Which commitments should remain a priority? Which commitments deserve to be downgraded?
In their excitement to participate in local events, many students overextend themselves. They’ll overcommit to groups, clubs, volunteer projects or extracurricular activities. Often, academics take a back seat.
And when academics are deprioritized, academic stress is often invited in the front door.
While it's important to maintain a healthy social life, it’s also important to be prudent with your time and energy.
3. Learn the art of self-care
Taking time for yourself is not selfish; it’s necessary. Part of healthy, ongoing self-care is learning how to relax. Read a good book, meditate or go for a walk. Healthy eating and sufficient sleep can radically transform your mood for the better.
When it comes to self-care, it’s okay to start small. Maybe you feel confident in some areas of your life, while other areas need attention.. Self-care can be expressed physically, mentally, spiritually and socially:
- Physically — Eating healthy meals, drinking water, getting exercise, sitting in sunlight, taking a shower or bath;
- Mentally — Practicing mindfulness, taking breaks from work, listening to music or a podcast, reflecting on what you’re grateful for;
- Spiritually — Pray, meditate, connect with nature or write in a journal;
- Socially — Call or text a friend, cook a meal with loved ones or visit a museum with a friend.
Establishing boundaries is another way we can take care of ourselves. That often means saying no, whether it’s a social invitation or an extracurricular commitment.
When you prioritize self-care over a particular event, others may not always support or understand your decisions. That’s ok. Stay strong in the choices you make, particularly since they can directly influence the amount of academic stress you might feel.
4. Seek support
It’s always ok to admit you need help. Whether we need active assistance or a listening ear, support is often helpful — and sometimes mandatory — in education.
Many in-person campuses offer a wellness center, with a counseling department ready to help you navigate the challenges you face. Your university might also offer support hotlines or text lines, in addition to regular seminars, talks and workshops that emphasize academic and mental health.
Surround yourself with positive, life-giving people. Check out a club or two that sparks your interest, or join a study group. Talk to your professors and teacher assistants.
Stay in the present moment. The past is gone, and the future hasn’t yet arrived. You have the ability to fully own the present moment. It’s okay to only focus on one thing at a time.
When you find yourself obsessing about something in the past or worrying about an upcoming event, bring yourself back to the present.
Talk to yourself positively. Be your own friend, and support yourself like you support the ones you love. Negative thoughts may still come up, so pay attention to them, but also know that you can choose to disregard them and let them go.
Focus on what you can control. It’s too easy to get overwhelmed by everything around us. Instead, we can find one or two small things to focus on and find inspiration from.
Finally, keep track of your success. It’s much easier to focus on negative qualities than it is to remember your successes. Consider cataloging the good moments in your day, or make gratitude lists.
These strategies can’t completely remove academic stress. However, they can help frame a strategy that helps you navigate academic anxiety whenever it might arise. In tandem with any professional behavioral health treatment you receive, these academic stress management techniques can help you approach life as confidently as ever.
Our academic advisors are already familiar with the best methods to help students navigate stress. We offer full courses that can help level up your career in record time, all with the support you need to thrive along the way.
Talk to a PACE advisor — whether you have questions or you're ready to enroll — and start setting academic goals today.