Student Stress - Is This You?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Going away to university is a big change. So a certain amount of stress is normal when it comes to being a student.

But when does normal student stress become bad stress? When should you be worried, and what should you do next?

What is stress?

Stress is feeling challenged by life. It means that you are not certain you can manage with what is in front of you.

Some stress is a good thing. If we are challenged, we work harder. And it’s only by trying things we aren’t sure we can achieve that we see what we are capable of.

But stress goes wrong when it begins to negatively affect our daily life. We stop being ourselves.

What makes student life so stressful?

Don’t be hard on yourself if you are finding the adjustment to student life a challenge. There are a lot of perfectly valid reasons for it.

You’ve left behind all that you know. You are apart from family and old friends. And you might be in a city you know nothing about, or even another country with a new language.

You are suddenly in charge. Yes, it’s the moment you dreamed of. No parents telling you what to do. But being in charge is stressful. You have to make all the decisions about your self-care and scheduling. And you face consequences if you get it wrong.

You have to form all new social connections. Not everyone finds it easy to make new friends. There can be trial and error. You might think you have things in common with someone and find out you don’t. And peer pressure is sadly alive and well at universities.

The level of learning is higher. University demands more of students. You can’t get away with not studying anymore, and there is a lot more reading and research.

University life can be expensive. Getting your fees covered was one thing. But now you have to pay for books, food, and your social life. It all adds up. And maybe it's your first time managing money.

How can you tell if the stress is too much?

Who doesn’t lose a bit of sleep before a big exam, or have a bad few weeks after a breakup? But if it’s normal stress, we bounce back. Life gets back to normal.

Stress has become too much when you can’t feel yourself again. If stress is affecting your day-to-day life for several weeks or months or more, then it’s a huge problem.

When it comes to student life, signs of stress to look out for include:

  • sleep problems including oversleeping
  • irritability and mood swings
  • changes to eating habits (under or overeating)
  • turning to substances (alcohol, drugs)
  • hiding things from parents and friends.

Stress also has physical symptoms, such as:

  • upset stomach
  • muscle tension
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • constant fatigue
  • headaches
  • endless colds and flu.

What should I do if my student stress is out of control?

It’s very important not to bottle up your stress and keep it all to yourself. Talking through your stress with others means you can find solutions and look at ways to up your self-care.

Avoiding getting support with your stress means it can spiral into depression and anxiety. These are far more difficult issues to manage and treat.

If you don't feel comfortable talking with friends or family, why not work with a counsellor or psychotherapist? As long as you are over eighteen you do not need anyone's approval and whatever you talk about is totally confidential.

A therapist will completely understand what you are going through. If your university or college doesn't provide counselling, then you can book yourself. And nowadays you can even do your sessions over Skype, if that feels easier.

Harley Therapy connects you with counsellors who specialise in working with young people. And you can find one that matches your budget. Take a look at who is available and start talking to someone who really gets what you are going through.

Need a Therapy Session ASAP?

Here's who's next available...

See other available therapists ›
Are you a therapist?
Apply to be on the platform  ›