Managing Stress

Stress. Surely it must be a frontrunner for the number one mental challenge faced by university students. We’ve all felt it: when six assignments are suddenly due at once, when exam time kicks in, or when the everyday demands of your program pile up, stress comes and pays a visit.

Don’t be too hard on yourself: stress is a normal response to the pressures and demands of daily living. When stress is experienced in a positive way it creates a sense of interest, challenge, excitement and the motivation we need to achieve our goals. On the down side, when stress gets too much it can affect your ability to function and may stop you from achieving your goals. Learning to manage stress is a key life skill, especially at uni.

Here you will find a variety of strategies to help manage stress. If the information on this page isn’t quite what you need, you can always make use of the University’s free and confidential counselling service to help you work through the stress in your life. You might also like to read more about anxiety or learn how UniSA students have found mindfulness helpful for managing stress.

Stress-busting tips

We’ve asked some UniSA experts in the field to dispense a little stress busting wisdom for you. Here are four key recommendations:

Don’t suffer alone: Everyone deserves a chance to find happiness, and the UniSA Psychology Clinic is here to help you find that, and also help you through the tough times. Life has its ups and downs and it takes courage to seek out help when you need. Don't suffer alone. If you are feeling down and can't cope, we want to help you get back on track. (Susan Simpson, Psychology Clinic Director)

Seek help early: If someone you know is having problems with stress, coping or they just don't seem to be their usual self, try to have them talk to you or someone they trust when they seem willing to open up. Remember, the earlier a person gets help and treatment, the better the longer term outcome will be. (Professor Nicholas Procter, Chair: Mental Health Nursing)

Good sleep is important: It is important to keep sleep times consistent. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day - it will help to keep you feeling good and performing well. A cool, dark and quiet room will help you sleep much better. Try going to bed an hour earlier - you will probably fall blissfully asleep and feel much better in the morning for it. (Dr Siobhan Banks, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Sleep Research)

Get moving: Students who exercise do better at their exams, and are happier and healthier. You don't have to go to the gym, or run marathons even a brisk walk is good for you. Try to get at least 30 minutes' exercise on most days of the week. Spend less time sitting and break up long periods of sitting by walking around to stretch your legs, getting up to have a snack or going outside for few minutes. (Professor Timothy Olds, University of South Australia)

Strategies for managing stress

The following strategies can help address stress from a number of angles, by making adjustments to your body, mind and behaviour. Don’t let the long list stress you even more! Some of these ideas will appeal to you more than others. Take the time to discover what works for you.

Your body

  • Tune in to early warning signals that your stress levels are building up so you can act to reduce them. Some examples of early warning signals are: jaw clenching, tight stomach muscles, irritability, forgetfulness, sweaty hands and rapid breathing.
  • Develop relaxation techniques, like breathing slowly and deeply for a time to help reduce muscle tension and your stress response.
  • Eat healthy food at regular times.
  • Exercise, even if it's just a 10 minute walk each day.
  • Keep a regular sleep pattern and get sufficient sleep.

Your thinking

  • Focus on what you can control and don't waste time/energy on what you have no control over.
  • Think positively about yourself and your achievements.
  • Use alternative perspectives to find different ways of understanding what is happening to you and positive self-talk to coach yourself. Some examples are:
    ● why worry about what has never happened and probably never will?
    ● forget past disappointments and get on with the rest of my life
    ● today is a new day and I can do things differently.
  • Consider lowering your expectations if they are putting undue pressure on you.
  • Take time out to visualise a calm and peaceful place - use your imagination to go there for a while and as many senses as you can while imagining yourself in this place.
  • Compete against yourself, not those around you and aim for your personal best and to do better each time.
  • Develop, keep and use your sense of humour.
  • Use spirituality and/or your belief system to find a sense of calm.

Your behaviours

  • Work on effective time management by planning ahead and allowing enough time to get tasks done by mapping out how much time you need for each on a planner.
  • Use 'to do' lists and set priorities to help you achieve your goals.
  • Be open and honest with people, rather than hiding your thoughts and feelings, as this can cause you to 'stew' on them.
  • Seek guidance and support from family, friends, lecturers or counsellors instead of 'bottling up' your feelings, as talking with someone can assist you to clarify and get perspective on the situation.
  • When you are stressed try to avoid contact with other stressed people, as this may compound the problem.
  • Create a balanced lifestyle for yourself and allow time for recreation and relaxation.
  • Limit your alcohol, caffeine and other drug intake, as these only mask the stress and don't deal with the problem.
  • Reward yourself when you reach your achievements and goals.

Need further assistance?

Contact Campus Central

Your one-stop-shop for student services. UniSA general enquiries: 1300 301 703.