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Stress while attending college is common for a variety of reasons. For many students, being away from home for the first time is a little new and scary. Managing a course load of college-level classes can also be challenging. It’s important to learn how to handle stress and anxiety during college so you can succeed in your studies.
Stress vs. Anxiety
It’s easy to mix up the terms “stress” and “anxiety,” thinking that they mean the same thing. Although both stress and anxiety can have similar triggers, anxiety involves fear and an overwhelming feeling of dread and doom, and it can persist even when there’s no obvious trigger present.
- Anxiety is a common reaction to stress.
- If anxiety happens a lot, it can interfere with daily life.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a physical and psychological response to situations that occur in daily life. When deadlines loom or you feel overwhelmed by situations, it’s common for the heart rate to go up and thought processes to narrow.
- Feeling stressed can be helpful because it helps you focus on tasks to get them done.
- Too much stress can be negative because the body isn’t designed to manage a continued biological stress response over time.
- Feeling chronically stressed can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.
Types of Stress
Stress can vary depending on the situation. Knowing the different types of stress can make it easier to manage it.
- Acute stress is the response you have to a challenging situation. In manageable amounts, acute stress can help you get things done.
- Chronic stress is what people experience when they have no end to the stress they feel. Instead of resolving a situation and having the stress go away, the stress continues day after day. Chronic stress can lead to heart attacks and other physical and psychological illnesses.
- Episodic stress is similar to acute stress, but it occurs more frequently. Episodic stress might be the result of an inability to manage a daily schedule effectively.
Symptoms of Stress
Watch for symptoms of stress in your daily life. If you notice stressed feelings, try to calm yourself so you feel better.
- Physical symptoms of stress include digestive issues, insomnia, muscle tension, fatigue, and headache.
- Emotional symptoms of stress include irritability, anxiety, restlessness, and depression.
- Behavioral symptoms of stress may include isolation, emotional outbursts, drinking or drug use, over- or under-eating, and less physical activity.
- Cognitive symptoms of stress include an inability to focus, excessive worry, disorganization, and feeling hyper-alert.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can impact thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, and physical well-being. Over time, anxiety can become debilitating.
- Physical symptoms of anxiety include elevated breathing and heart rate, muscle tension, nausea, headaches, fatigue, dry mouth, irritability, and insomnia.
- Emotional symptoms of anxiety can get worse over time, even leading to panic attacks that can resemble a heart attack. Panic attacks tend to come and go quickly, but they’re often severe.
- Behavioral symptoms of anxiety include isolation, inactivity, and feeling distracted. Spending too much time alone can cause additional symptoms to spike, such as various phobias.
- Cognitive symptoms of anxiety involve the inability to think and concentrate. School work might start to suffer if you’re struggling with anxiety.
Managing Stress and Anxiety in College
If you notice feelings of stress or anxiety, pay attention to them. It’s important to respond to these feelings in positive ways instead of negative ways so you don’t make the situation worse.
- Avoid negative coping mechanisms such as drinking, drugs, overeating, and drinking too much coffee. These ways of coping often have a negative impact on your physical and emotional health.
- Find a way to distract yourself or to let out negative feelings. Take up a hobby or get some exercise.
- Join a support group so you can communicate your feelings and process your emotions.
- Pay attention to your daily health, including getting enough sleep, getting exercise and fresh air every day, eating well, and spending time with others.
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