Skip to main content

8 Great Ways to Reduce Stress in College Life

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

Walk barefoot! Enjoy squishing in the mud!

Walk barefoot! Enjoy squishing in the mud!

You Can Control Your Stress Level

Does this sound familiar?

A paper due tomorrow, two tests at the end of the week, a sore throat, a roommate that wants to chat on the phone all night and casually takes your last Dr. Pepper out of the refrigerator without asking.

As a college English professor, I've seen many students overwhelmed by college stress and almost ready to quit. Even those who stick it out sometimes don't do as well as they should because they are so consumed with worry.

Is there a way out?

Actually, even though you can't control your circumstances, you can control the way you think about them, and it is those thoughts that cause most of our stress. Here are some simple ideas that can help!

1.. Give Yourself Permission to Make Mistakes

You don't have control over some of the pressure you will feel, like the due dates of papers, or problems with the printer. However, you do have control over how seriously you take the mistakes you make yourself. Often we are much harder on our own mistakes than we are on others.

Rather than beat yourself up about missing a homework assignment, letting a friend down, or eating too much ice cream during late night studying, make a plan of how to avoid the mistakes you can change. Even more importantly, forgive yourself for the mistakes which were really an accident, like tearing your roommate’s library book, or spilling coffee on your best shirt.

2. Use Music

We all know that music can calm us down or make us upbeat. Did you know that music therapy is actually something that people study? Music therapists know that music affects our emotions and can be a powerful way to help us keep our thoughts headed in the right direction. Music therapy is used with depressed people to help them avoid medication, and you can use music to help you feel better and more relaxed.

To do that, you will need to analyze how different music makes you feel. Does classical music calm you down? Or do you prefer Celtic music, Indie, Rock, Jazz, Hip-Hop or even white noise? Some people prefer to have music with words that encourage them or make them happy. Program your music with a "relax" category, "energizer" category, and a "concentrating to study" category. Then, when you feel anxious, put in your earbuds and blast away. Listen and relax in a comfortable chair, or take a walk in the sunshine.

Stop and smell the roses!

Stop and smell the roses!

3. Use Smells

Do you notice a theme here? Draw on your other senses to help you unwind. Most college work requires you to use your eyes to stare at a book, computer screen, or tablet. But we are not just people with eyes to read and fingers to type.

Your sense of smell is a powerful emotional and mental tool. Scientists who study smell are amazed to find that people often connect smells with very powerful memories. Take advantage of this. Open up a bag of coffee, tea, chips or candy and enjoy the smell along with the taste. Go outside to a park and enjoy the smell of grass, or stop and smell the flowers.

No place to go outdoors? Too cold, too wet or too windy? Take a trip to the Bath and Body store and try out the different scents. Just enjoying the different scents there can be a fun relaxation. Search for some scents which evoke memories for you which are peaceful and comforting. Buy a few small lotions or hand sanitizers and when you are feeling stressed pull them out, put some on your hands and take a deep, slow breath. You will be surprised at how a peaceful scent can help you calm down, focus, and tackle the next project.

Or you might want to get some essential oils. I've recently purchased the ones below and found that I really enjoy the woodsy, herbal and citrus smells. You can just leave the bottle open, put some on your skin, or use a diffuser to waft the scent into the air all around you. If your room mate doesn't mind, that can be a good way to fall asleep.

The Essential Oils I Purchased

Watch a Funny Video

4. Pop a Peppermint

Research at the University of Cincinnati in the 1990s found that the taste and smell of peppermint helped people to calm down and focus on a test. Hard candies have sugar, but not fat, and generally, don't really pack that many calories. A regular old round peppermint is only about 25 calories and can last a long time. So keep some on hand to pop in your mouth to satisfy your craving for something sweet, and help you keep calm at the same time.

Why do we eat more when we are anxious? Because the taste of good foods makes us feel better. However, since everyone worries about gaining that "Freshman 15," you can satisfy your cravings and avoid the costly binge of a large bag of chips, a candy bar, and a Coke by keeping long-lasting peppermints or other hard candies nearby for when you need something sweet.

Hug a friend in person or virtually.

Hug a friend in person or virtually.

5. Connect With Someone Who Cares

One of the best ways to relieve stress is to give it away. Talking with a friend and giving them a hug can be a relief and a comfort. You might want to call your parents, your sister or brother, or someone else from back home and tell them about concerns. Facetime your friend who went to a different college.

Chances are, they need a to talk with someone too. Just talking out your feelings is a great way to gain perspective and reduce your anxiety. A good friend or family member can help you remember that one test isn't the end of your college career, or that if this boyfriend or girlfriend isn't right for you, there are many other people you will meet.

Is that person busy? Don't forget that writing an email or even a letter is a great way to communicate our hearts to other people. Sometimes you can say things in a letter that are hard to express in person and you might find that telling someone how much you appreciate them makes you feel better too.

Take a hike.

Take a hike.

6. Journal It

Sometimes there is no one to talk to, or our thoughts are so private we aren't ready to share. Journal what you are thinking and feeling can be a great way to get out all of our emotions, problems and thoughts. Don't edit yourself as you write (you can throw it away later if you are embarrassed about it) but just pour out everything you are thinking and feeling. Often, when you do so, you will begin to find yourself solving problems and getting answers along the way.

Spend time helping others.

Spend time helping others.

7. Volunteer to Help

Although it may not make sense to add another thing on top of your already busy schedule, you may find that when you take the time to volunteer you actually are able to get more done. Why is that? Seeing others in need helps us to feel grateful for our own lives and to appreciate all of our opportunities. Moreover, when you give out to others, you often get back a good feeling.

So what can you do? Here are some ideas that you could probably do no matter where you are going to school:

  1. Help serve food at the Salvation Army or another soup kitchen for the homeless.
  2. Volunteer to help build or paint a house for Habitat for Humanity.
  3. Tutor at a local school or volunteer to be a Big Brother or Big Sister.
  4. Visit people in a nursing home. Make a friendship with someone who doesn't get many visitors.
  5. Give an hour a week to help at a local pregnancy crisis center or charity thrift store.
  6. Volunteer to babysit or pet sit for someone for free.
  7. Clean up someone else's mess in the dorm or somewhere on campus.
  8. Go to the park and pick up the trash you see around.
  9. Volunteer to help a friend organize their room or move.
  10. Wash someone's car, give someone a ride, take someone out for coffee, or call your grandma!

8. Look at the Big Picture

Perhaps the best stress reliever is to look at your problems from a different perspective. Although that test next week is important, so are your friendships, your family, your health and your need for rest. Don't let any one event discourage you, or get you so down that you quit trying. Finally, remember that you don't have to make it all on your own and that there are many people ready to help. Contact your school counseling office if you can't shake your anxiety. They will be more than happy to give you the support you need.

Questions & Answers

Question: Does reading help relieve stress?

Answer: I think that reading a novel is always a great way to put aside your own worries and difficulties and experience a new and different world.


Meagan Melocik on August 24, 2017:

I often feel overwhelmed and stressed in college. Spending time outdoors and challenging myself with those hobbies is one of my favorite ways to relax. This list is very applicable to me and I have done or continue to do most of these things!

Katharine Ahn on August 23, 2017:

These are some great tips for relieving stress in college. Whenever I'm stressed, I eat some chocolate to release the happy endorphins in my brain. Furthermore, I like smelling lavender to relieve stress, but maybe I will try smelling peppermint scents more often now. Thanks for the tips!

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on May 25, 2016:

Hi Aiden--Glad you liked these ideas. I think the music you suggested is a good idea. That site has many different types of music you can find to fit your mood. Of course, you can also do a Pandora or Spotify list.

Penny Miranda from Portland, OR on March 11, 2015:

This is great! I spent nine years in college/grad school and experienced innumerable instances of stress... Or was that just constant stress? You've nailed it with these tips! I think even those of us beyond college can appreciate your advice.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on February 28, 2015:

You are right--it is important to balance everything in college. When I wrote about the advantages of a traditional college vs. and online college, I discovered that most of the advantages centered around the people that you get to meet and interact with in a traditional college. Those social relationships are also a part of the learning that goes on in college. We learn the viewpoints of people from other areas of the country and world. We also get a chance to practice explaining our own lives and points of view.

Vishal Mody from Toronto on February 28, 2015:

Great advice that covers just about everything - I would like to add that it's important to be social. Often times the students who get burnt out, depressed, etc are the ones that are simply not making enough time to go out and have fun with others.

Frienderal from Singapore on June 11, 2014:

Great advices given! :) College life is more than just hitting the books all the time. Personally, I like to participate in co-curricular activities like canoeing, trekking and community service. These activities allows me to clear my mind and reduce stress. Furthermore, I can forge lasting friendships with college mates from different faculties.

SK Yadav on March 06, 2014:

Nice to see the effective ideas to spend time in a good way so as to reduce stress and study pressure during college life. All that I think about stress management is- One has to do something different from daily routine to reduce their tension.

And effective reduction of stress becomes more important when one is studying for a higher education along with employment. Like in case of, getting online degree courses with continuing current job.

And I realized this thing after enrolling for my MBA course from University18 (, and thanks to online support that now I am doing quite well in both my MBA course as well as in my current job too.