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Dealing with Mental Health and Stress in College

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Editors note: If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 and seek assistance. 

College stress isn’t new, and it isn’t getting any easier. According to the American College Health Association, more than 87% of college students feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities and workload. Among females, that figure is 91%.

It’s not only important to recognize emotional stress, but it’s vital to find ways of stress management. That can feel impossible when you have to attend classes (in-person or virtually) study, complete assignments, and potentially work and care for your family. You may not feel like there’s room for dealing with stress. 

But not managing your stress means it will infiltrate every aspect of your life. Even with acute stress, not learning ways to deal with it means it could grow into something much bigger, like chronic stress. Here’s how to pinpoint the causes of stress in your life and how to manage it.

Identify Your Stressor

Going to college can bring major life changes. Before you can find a way to deal with different levels of stress, you first need to find out what is causing your stress. Consider possible causes like:

Seeking academic success

High school doesn’t have the same demands as higher education does. In fact, they’re heightened to new levels. You also might find that your academic performance in college is not matching how you performed in high school. 

Or maybe you are not getting enough sleep because of the classwork you need to complete? Sometimes small stress can snowball if you aren’t able to take care of yourself, and can even more dramatically impact your well-being.

Living away from home for the first time

If you’re out of the nest, you might not be comfortable in your new college life. Whether it’s doing laundry or sharing a bathroom with a roommate, there’s a lot to get used to in your daily life when you’re on a college campus full-time. Maybe you miss friends or family members, are having a hard time fitting in, or experiencing general social anxiety from having to interact with so many new people at once.

The cost of college

When you rank the causes of stress, money is often found at the top of the list. Whether you’ve been working part-time jobs for a couple of years or you’re new to working, you may not have a budget in place to manage your money.

Something as common as buying groceries or getting gas may not feel normal to you yet. If scholarships and grants didn’t cover your entire tuition bill, you may need to come up with extra money to pay for your school year or buy books and supplies. 

Different stressors have different solutions. It’s a good idea to find out where your stress stems from before attacking it.

Coping Mechanisms for Emotional Stress

  1. Acknowledge it. Once you’ve discovered your stress-causer, make note that it’s there. Don’t ignore it or downplay it. Instead of “that’s just in my head,” take a different approach, like “I have a problem and this is what it is.”
  2. Change your thinking and outlook. Stress can be all-encompassing. Try not to let it overpower you and do your best to think positively. Changing your outlook can change your action. If you think you can do it, you’re one step closer to actually doing it.
  3. Find a healthy way to vent. This can be any number of things, like finding a workout you like, taking a walk, reading a book, or calling a friend. Lean on your support system, even if they aren’t physically nearby. Being active is a way to destress, giving you a chance to clear a path for tackling your responsibilities in the best way you can. 
  4. Learn coping techniques. Meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness practices can help lower stress levels and help with both the mental and effects of stress. 
  5. Identify small goals. Pressure can come from every corner. Take a moment to make small goals to overcome your stress. For instance, are you struggling to afford books and supplies this semester? Make a note to contact your financial aid office. Look for used books that are cheaper or digital copies. Ask your professor if they have an extra copy they can loan you or see if you can split costs with a friend in the class.

Different methods work for different people, so don’t be too upset if you try something out and it isn’t your thing. Keep trying new things until you find one that fits.

Talk to Your School

Whether you’re at home enrolled in virtual classes or you’re on campus, there are plenty of resources designed to help support healthy solutions to student stress. 

Student counseling services

If you’re dealing with depression, anxiety disorder, a chronic health problem or you’ve been sick, this is the place to go. It’s an on-campus clinic for students. You can make an appointment to talk to someone from student health services to talk about stressful situations and how to deal with each. Many schools are offering telehealth options so you can get treatment without seeing someone in-person.

Academic services

If you need to talk to a guidance counselor or advisor about your schoolwork causing a lot of stress in your life, academic services might be a good stop. This department makes sure you’re on track but also offers help if you’re struggling, whether that’s with a tutor or re-arranging your schedule. 

Financial aid office

Whether you’re short on this semester’s funds or you don’t have enough money to pay for books and supplies, call your financial aid office. Many schools have institution-specific scholarships, grants, and sometimes, interest-free loans. Ask what you can take advantage of to reduce financial stress. 


If you’re having issues with your roommate or suitemates, talk to your resident advisor who can discuss mediation. If you live off-campus and are having trouble paying rent, contact your student services center and inquire about the next steps. They might direct you to the financial aid office, student housing department, or community resources, depending on your situation.

Fitness center

Sometimes blowing off some steam is a good stress reliever and can help with many of the physical symptoms of stress (including high blood pressure or a high resting heart rate). Many campuses have fitness centers that are free to students. If you’re not on campus this semester, ask if they have online resources available, like getting paired up with a nutrition coach or getting a personal trainer that can tailor a workout program just for you.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.