Self-Care In College: What Causes Stress In College, How to Reduce it

College is an opportunity that those of us able to attend are grateful to have. On the other hand, college is also one of the most stressful times and experiences of our lives.

Trying to balance homework, class, family life, friends, and sometimes a job all at once can take a toll on even the strongest of people. Stress becomes an unwelcome partner to our lives, and it begins to build until it sometimes completely overwhelms us. 

Self-care in college is essential to alleviating some of the turmoil that creeps into the lives of students. College can be a tough and bumpy road to navigate if we are not taking care of ourselves regularly and dedicating time to banishing the negativity that overwhelms us. Our anxiety can get the best of us, and if it does, we risk missing out on an education. Long term, we risk missing out on a happy life.

In this article, we’ll discuss what stress is, the causes and effects of it, how to recognize signs of mounting stress, and ways we can practice self-care as college students to refresh ourselves and give ourselves the boost we need to keep going in a positive manner. We’ll also explain why routine self-care benefits us. 

What is Stress?

Hans Selye, recognized by psychologists as the father of stress research, defined stress as “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand”. This is a very generalized way to describe stress, but it’s true.

Our brain tells us that it is being overworked and struggling, and we act accordingly to that message. We can attempt to maintain a status quo, but without the support we need, our feelings of being overwhelmed can consume us.

We often get stressed if we are asked to do something when we’ve already got a busy schedule. When we have an important deadline coming up and time is running out, we get stressed. When we have an argument or a breakup with a significant other or friend, we get stressed.

Life demands that we deal with certain situations that we are unprepared for, and when this happens, our bodies, minds, and emotions react. This is most certainly true of college students.

They are under more stress than most people have experienced up to that point in their lives, and coping with it can prove difficult and seem downright impossible sometimes. 

Related: 7 Strategic Coping Mechanisms to Effectively Deal With Stress

Self-Care In College, how to practice self care

What Causes Stress?

Many things can cause stress, and one person may find something stressful that another person does not. The following are general situations that cause most people stress:

Heavy Academic Workload

College professors only concern themselves with the classes they teach. They often tack on a lot of reading, writing, and homework to go along with classroom lectures.

They don’t worry about or even consider that other professors are doing the same. Before you know it, you have twelve hours’ worth of homework, with only eight hours left in a day. 

A heavy college workload can cause a lot of stress. We have to figure out how to get everything done without compromising the quality of our work. We must prioritize certain assignments that are weighted or crucial to our passing the course or obtaining the degree.

When we are faced with a lot of academic work to do, we can feel overwhelmed, which can cause us to freeze up and waste time, speed through it, and risk losing the quality of work, or give up altogether and suffer the consequences of failure. 

Related: 8 Effective Tips on How to Manage Stress and Reduce it in Your Life

Jobs Outside of School

Many college students have to work jobs outside of their educational careers. They have to pay bills and buy food and school supplies. Going to college and working a part or full-time job can stress a person out very quickly.

Classes on campus can run over their allotted time, putting employees in a rush to get to work. Work can leave us feeling physically and mentally drained, leaving us no energy or time for homework or studying.

Sometimes just having to find a job while in college can lead to stress. Many employers refuse to work around the schedule of a student. Finding a job that has flexible hours often means sacrificing decent pay.

The job hunt in and of itself can be tedious. When we do find employment, the anxiety of starting a new job while attending classes can lead to additional stress. 

Related: Stress Within the Workplace: What is it and How to Deal With it


Maintaining a relationship with a significant other is a balancing act when you are a college student. It’s hard to spend quality time together when you have to be on campus during the week. Evenings and weekends are often dedicated to homework and study rather than dates or outings.

This requires patience and understanding from both people in the relationship. The stress of working together and trying not to hurt the other person or make them feel unloved or underappreciated can be difficult to deal with.

We also tend to take our stress out on our loved ones because we feel safe and comfortable venting to them. This sort of behavior is healthy but can leave our partner feeling overwhelmed.

Related: Differences Between Stress and Anxiety: Symptoms, Treatments and Relief


A large percentage of college students struggle financially. College is expensive, even with scholarships. Student loans put many college attendees into debt. College textbooks are expensive, and there are also lab fees for some courses.

Students must still pay for food, gas for their cars or fees for public transportation, and other bills. Going home to see family for holidays and special occasions can also be expensive.

Trying to figure out how to make money to afford school, essentials, and bills creates an amount of stress that nearly all college students struggle to manage.

Related: How to Reduce Stress as a Student and Excel at School in 15 Ways

The Effects of Stress

Stress manifests itself in different ways for each of us, and it can take a toll on our physical, mental, and emotional health. The following are some of the effects of stress on our lives:

  • Trouble sleeping and/or insomnia
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Strained relationships
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Loss of friends

These are just some of the ways in which stress can affect us. It touches each of us differently and can be difficult to manage. Once we start to notice the effects of it, we can quickly get overwhelmed.

At that point, many of us tend to try to alleviate the symptoms rather than the cause, and we end up in a vicious cycle of damage control rather than actual problem-solving. 

How to Reduce Stress And Practice Self-Care in College

Self-care is exactly what it sounds like, taking the time to take care of yourself. We should all make time in our lives to focus on ourselves and our well-being.

That can look different for each individual, but the idea is the same for everyone, as is the goal. Once you recognize that you are carrying stress, you can make the necessary changes to relieve it.

Self-care, especially for the college student, is of utmost importance. The following are some ways to employ self-care to reduce the amount and the effects of stress in your life. 

Better Sleep Habits

Most of us don’t get enough sleep. We go to school, work all day, come home, do our homework and household chores, and stay up far too late trying to unwind. While we may feel a degree of relaxation when we do this, we’re not actually doing ourselves any favors.

When we stay up to watch TV or play on our phones, we deprive ourselves of the rest we need to start the next day with positive energy. We wake up tired the next morning and already drained.

Getting a solid eight hours of good sleep each night is essential to reducing the stress in our lives and maintaining overall health. Making this a habit can create a strong foundation of self-care and improve our health and general wellness.

Related: How to Feel Better Instantly and Care For Yourself: 7 Key Strategies

Self-Care In College


If you’re used to driving everywhere, try walking to places that are within a reasonable distance. Get outside and move around. Park in the back of the parking lot when you run errands and make yourself walk to the doors of the store.

Join a gym if you can. Take a dance class if you have the time and money for it. Do yoga or pilates. These relaxation techniques and exercise get your body moving, which boosts your metabolism, makes your heart healthier, gets your blood moving, and enriches your oxygen.

Exercises also make you feel better emotionally and mentally. Take a friend or family member with you. This way, you’re both benefiting from exercise, as well as spending time together. 

Related: Self-Care Sunday: 28 Best Tips for Focusing on Yourself

Change your Diet

Fast food and foods packed with preservatives are quick, cheap, and easy to consume, but they are terrible for you. While these things are okay to consume in small amounts, and on rare occasions, most college students gravitate towards them. Nutritious food costs more, but if you learn to prepare it yourself, you will spend less than you would going out to eat.

Learning to cook with good foods that are healthy for you can also give you a new hobby, and hobbies are a great way to distract yourself from your troubles and alleviate tension in your life.

Related: What Does a Self-Care Day Look Like? Benefits, Importance and Tips

Seek Counseling

Sometimes what we really need is someone professional to hear us. We need human interaction and someone in our lives who can understand us. It is paramount to our mental health.

College life is busy and fast-paced and can leave us feeling left behind. We feel like we are constantly playing catch-up. Sometimes we need the help and intervention of a professional or a trusted friend. 

Counseling and therapy are wonderful tools of self-care. Most universities have counselors available to students. Counselors and therapists can teach college students healthy coping mechanisms to conquer their stress and stay on top of it. They can help you to identify what stresses you out, how to recognize tension, and how to effectively deal with it. 

Making Self Care a Habit

Self-care for the college student should become something as routine and habitual as going to class, work, or anything else we prioritize. Putting healthy routines into practice and focusing on the positives in our lives can make all the difference.

Just a few minutes of self-care a day can pull us out of a stressful mindset and give us a fresh take on our issues. We are able to handle stress on a daily basis when we practice self-care. 

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