Top 10 Stress Management Techniques for Students

Most students experience significant amounts of stress, which can significantly affect health, happiness, relationships, and grades. For example, a study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that teens report stress levels similar to adults.

That means teens are experiencing significant levels of chronic stress and feel their stress levels generally exceed their ability to cope effectively. Roughly 30% report feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or sad because of it.

Stress can also affect health-related behaviors. Stressed students are more likely to have problems with disrupted sleep, poor diet, and lack of exercise. This is understandable given that nearly half of APA survey respondents reported completing three hours of homework per night in addition to their full day of school work and extracurriculars.

Common Causes of Student Stress

Another study found that much of high school students' stress originates from school and activities, and that this chronic stress can persist into college years and lead to academic disengagement and mental health problems.

Top Student Stressors

Common sources of student stress include:

  • School
  • Homework
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Social challenges
  • Transitions (e.g., graduating, moving out, living independently)
  • Relationships
  • Pressure to succeed
  • Work

High school students face the intense competitiveness of taking challenging courses, amassing impressive extracurriculars, studying and acing college placement tests, and deciding on important and life-changing plans for their future. At the same time, they have to navigate the social challenges inherent to the high school experience.

This stress continues if students decide to attend college. Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but research has found that increased daily stressors put college-aged young adults at a higher risk for stress than other age groups.

Making new friends, handling a more challenging workload, feeling pressured to succeed, being without parental support, and navigating the stresses of more independent living are all added challenges that make this transition more difficult. Romantic relationships always add an extra layer of potential stress.

Students often recognize that they need to relieve stress. However, all the activities and responsibilities that fill a student’s schedule sometimes make it difficult to find the time to try new stress relievers to help dissipate that stress.

This article discusses some options that can help stressed students cope. These options are relatively easy, quick, and relevant to a student’s life and types of stress.

1

Get Enough Sleep

Teenage girl sleeping in school library

Blend Images - Hill Street Studios / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Students, with their packed schedules, are notorious for missing sleep. Unfortunately, operating in a sleep-deprived state puts you at a distinct disadvantage. You’re less productive, may find it more difficult to learn, and may even be a hazard behind the wheel.

Research suggests that sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness are also linked to impaired mood, higher risk for car accidents, lower grade point averages, worse learning, and a higher risk of academic failure.

Don't neglect your sleep schedule. Aim to get at least 8 hours a night and take power naps when needed.

2

Use Guided Imagery

woman with closed eyes standing in front of a chalkboard

David Malan / Getty Images

Guided imagery can also be a useful and effective tool to help stressed students cope with academic, social, and other stressors. Visualizations can help you calm down, detach from what’s stressing you, and reduce your body’s stress response.

You can use guided imagery to relax your body by sitting in a quiet, comfortable place, closing your eyes, and imagining a peaceful scene. Spend several minutes relaxing as you enjoy mentally basking in your restful image.

Consider trying a guided imagery app if you need extra help visualizing a scene and inducting a relaxation response. Research suggests that such tools might be an affordable and convenient way to reduce stress.

3

Exercise Regularly

Teen girl doing a yoga exercise for stress management
FatCamera / Getty Images

One of the healthiest ways to blow off steam is to get regular exercise. Research has found that students who participate in regular physical activity report lower levels of perceived stress. While these students still grapple with the same social, academic, and life pressures as their less-active peers, these challenges feel less stressful and are easier to manage.

Finding time for exercise might be a challenge, but there are strategies that you can use to add more physical activity to your day. Some ideas that you might try include:

  • Doing yoga in the morning
  • Walking or biking to class
  • Reviewing for tests with a friend while walking on a treadmill at the gym
  • Taking an elective gym class focused on leisure sports or exercise
  • Joining an intramural sport

Recap

Exercise can help buffer against the negative effects of student stress. Starting now and keeping a regular exercise practice throughout your lifetime can help you live longer and enjoy your life more.

4

Take Calming Breaths

Girl practicing yoga on the floor at home
AntonioGuillem / Getty Images

When your body is experiencing a stress response, you’re often not thinking as clearly as you could be. You are also likely not breathing properly. You might be taking short, shallow breaths. When you breathe improperly, it upsets the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body.

Studies suggest this imbalance can contribute to various physical symptoms, including increased anxiety, fatigue, stress, emotional problems, and panic attacks.

A quick way to calm down is to practice breathing exercises. These can be done virtually anywhere to relieve stress in minutes.

Because they are fast-acting, breathing exercises are a great way to cope with moments of acute stress, such as right before an exam or presentation. But they can also help manage longer-lasting stress such as dealing with relationships, work, or financial problems.

5

Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Close Up Of Peaceful Teenage Boy Meditating Sitting In Chair At Home
Daisy-Daisy / Getty Images

Another great stress reliever that can be used during tests, before bed, or at other times when stress has you physically wound up is progressive muscle relaxation (PMR).

This technique involves tensing and relaxing all muscles until the body is completely relaxed. With practice, you can learn to release stress from your body in seconds. This can be particularly helpful for students because it can be adapted to help relaxation efforts before sleep for a deeper sleep.

Once a person learns how to use PMR effectively, it can be a quick and handy way to induce relaxation in any stressful situation, such as bouts of momentary panic before a speech or exam, dealing with a disagreement with your roommate, or preparing to discuss a problem with your academic advisor.

6

Listen to Music

Teen boy listening to music
g-stockstudio / Getty Images

A convenient stress reliever that has also shown many cognitive benefits, music can help relieve stress and calm yourself down or stimulate your mind depending on what you need in the moment.

Research has found that playing upbeat music can improve processing speed and memory. Stressed students may find that listening to relaxing music can help calm the body and mind. One study found that students who listened to the sounds of relaxing music were able to recover more quickly after a stressful situation.

Students can harness the benefits of music by playing classical music while studying, playing upbeat music to "wake up" mentally, or relaxing with the help of their favorite slow melodies.

7

Build Your Support Network

Students sitting together on the grass.

Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

Having emotional support can help create a protective buffer against stress. Unfortunately, interpersonal relationships can also sometimes be a source of anxiety for students. Changes in friendships, romantic breakups, and life transitions such as moving away for college can create significant upheaval and stress for students.

One way to combat feelings of loneliness and make sure that you have people to lean on in times of need is to expand your support network and nurture your relationships.

Look for opportunities to meet new people, whether it involves joining study groups or participating in other academic, social, and leisure activities.

Remember that different types of relationships offer differing types of support. Your relationships with teachers, counselors, and mentors can be a great source of information and resources that may help you academically. Relationships with friends can provide emotional and practical support.

Recap

Widening your social circle can combat student stress on various fronts and ensure you have what you need to succeed.

8

Eat a Healthy Diet

University student studying in canteen and having lunch School, Bavaria, Germany

Niedring/Drentwett / Getty Images

You may not realize it, but your diet can either boost your brainpower or sap you of mental energy. It can also make you more reactive to the stress in your life. As a result, you might find yourself turning to high-sugar, high-fat snacks to provide a temporary sense of relief.

A healthy diet can help combat stress in several ways. Improving your diet can keep you from experiencing diet-related mood swings, light-headedness, and more.

Unfortunately, students are often prone to poor dietary habits. Feelings of stress can make it harder to stick to a consistently healthy diet, but other concerns such as finances, access to cooking facilities, and time to prepare healthy meals can make it more challenging for students.

Some tactics that can help students make healthy choices include:

  • Eating regularly
  • Carrying a water bottle to class
  • Keeping healthy snacks such as fruits and nuts handy
  • Limiting caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol intake
9

Find Ways to Minimize Stress

Teenage girl lying on couch practicing self-hypnosis
fizkes / Getty Images

One way to improve your ability to manage student stress is to look for ways you cut stress out of your life altogether. Evaluate the things that are bringing stress or anxiety into your life. Are they necessary? Are they providing more benefits than the toll they take on your mental health? If the answer is no, sometimes the best option is just to ditch them altogether.

This might mean cutting some extracurricular activities out of your schedule. It might mean limiting your use of social media. Or it might mean learning to say no to requests for your time, energy, and resources. 

While it might be challenging at first, learning how to prioritize yourself and your mental well-being is an important step toward reducing your stress.

10

Try Mindfulness

Happy teenage girl laying on the grass
CoffeeAndMilk / Getty Images

When you find yourself dealing with stress—whether it's due to academics, relationships, financial pressures, or social challenges—becoming more aware of how you feel in the moment may help you respond more effectively.

Mindfulness involves becoming more aware of the present moment. Rather than judging, reacting, or avoiding problems, the goal is to focus on the present, become more aware of how you are feeling, observe your reactions, and accept these feelings without passing judgment on them.

Research suggests that mindfulness-based stress management practices can be a useful tool for reducing student stress. Such strategies may also help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to remember that stress isn't the same for everyone. Figuring out what works for you may take some trial and error. A good start is to ensure that you are taking care of yourself physically and emotionally and to experiment with different stress relief strategies to figure out what works best to help you feel less stressed.

If stress and anxiety are causing distress or making it difficult to function in your daily life, it is important to seek help. Many schools offer resources that can help, including face-to-face and online mental health services. You might start by talking to your school counselor or student advisor about the stress you are coping with. You can also talk to a parent, another trusted adult, or your doctor.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

14 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.