Stress Awareness Month 2024: How to Manage Stress While Studying

Stress Awareness Month 2024: How to Manage Stress While Studying

April is a time of renewal, growth, and the changes we’ve all come to associate with spring but, with it also signposting a crucial season for students with exams and deadlines looming, it seems especially important that it is also Stress Awareness Month. Created in 1992 as a way to raise awareness for the causes of stress and potential cures, National Stress Awareness Month comes at a time in the academic calendar that seems especially fitting. Whether you’re looking for tips to manage stress as a student, resources to help you tackle academic burnout during your third term, or even just want to be more attuned to the signs of stress for when they arise, we hope you’ll find exactly what you need right here.  

What are the signs and symptoms of stress? 

Stress can affect us in many ways through our emotions, our behaviour, or even physically through symptoms in our bodies. Sometimes stress can manifest in a way we immediately recognise, but other times it may cause symptoms that seem unrelated, so understanding common signs of stress can be helpful in identifying the cause and improving your mental wellbeing. There have even been tools developed by organisations to help identify stress levels such as this one by the Stress Management Society

Stress may feel like: 

  • Irritability, impatience, or a short temper 
  • Being overwhelmed or over-burdened 
  • Anxiety, nervousness, or fear 
  • Racing thoughts or persistent worry 
  • Depression or having a hard time enjoying things you usually would 
  • A sense of dread 
  • Tension or an inability to relax 
  • Loneliness or isolation 
  • Disinterest in life 
  • Existing mental health problems worsening 

Physical signs of stress: 

  • Difficulty breathing, chest pains, or high blood pressure 
  • Panic attacks 
  • Blurred eyesight or sore eyes 
  • Trouble sleeping or fatigue 
  • Muscle aches or headaches 
  • Indigestion or heartburn 
  • Nausea, dizziness, or fainting 
  • Changes to bowel movements 
  • Rashes, skin irritation, or persistent itching 
  • Sudden unexplained weight gain or loss 
  • Changes to your menstrual cycle 
  • Sweating 
  • Existing physical health problems worsening 

How stress can impact behaviour: 

  • Trouble making decisions 
  • Trouble with concentration or memory 
  • Constant worry or dread impacting your enjoyment or participation in things 
  • Compulsive skin picking, itching, nail biting, grinding teeth, or clenching of your jaw 
  • Changes to libido 
  • Eating too much or too little 
  • Increase in smoking, drinking alcohol, or use of recreational drugs 
  • Restlessness or an inability to sit still 
  • Crying or feeling tearful 
  • Having trouble communicating or withdrawing from those around you 
  • Exercising less than usual or too much 

Is there a difference between stress and burnout? 

While these terms are often used interchangeably, burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged or excessive stress. While stress is a natural response to external pressure that can come and go with effective management, burnout can be chronic, with long-term impacts on your emotional wellbeing that may lead to a loss of motivation and energy. It’s important to manage stress before you reach the point of burnout to make the recovery process as easy as possible. 

What can you do to relieve stress? 

Managing stress can be personal to you, what brings you a sense of calm, and what exactly is causing your stress. Below are some actions widely recommended for being practical as part of everyday life that you may want to try. A good balance of multiple outlets for stress is key, but that doesn’t mean you have to commit to doing everything on the list every day, so experiment to find what suits you best. 

  • Connect with someone 
  • A sense of belonging and community can reduce feelings of loneliness and can help you feel less overwhelmed. Talk to your friends, family, or classmates. Reach out to a mentor or support group. Make time to socialise. 
  • Prioritise sleep 
  • Small steps to improve your bedtime routine can have a big impact. Try reducing screen time before bed, removing tech from your bedroom altogether, or replacing late night scrolling with something like journaling to clear your mind before rest. It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeine after 4pm and ensure that your environment is clean and restful. 
  • Move in your own way 
  • Whatever suits you and your routine, be it walking, running, yoga, stretches, dance, the gym, or even doing some gardening, move your body in a way you’ll enjoy letting off steam. 
  • Spend time in nature 
  • Getting outside and enjoying the sensory relief of fresh air and nature around you can help break up a stressful routine. Whether it’s a short walk, eating your lunch outside, or even just stepping out periodically, set time aside to be away from your desk. 
  • Breathe Deep 
  • Considering it’s something we mostly do without thinking about it, breathing can be a great tool for managing stress and relaxing. Try taking time to focus on breathing deeply as short, shallow breaths can heighten anxiety. You can find breathing exercises to try online. 
  • Practice Mindfulness 
  • A lot of emotional regulation requires feeling connected to the present moment and aware of your body, feelings, and mental state. Whether you opt for a designated time for mindfulness exercises such as meditations or body scans or simply practice being mindful of your five senses as you walk or get on with another activity, this can be a great step in creating a sense of control. You can find some mindfulness exercises here

What resources are there for students experiencing stress? 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Stress levels in students are frequently reported on and, while we’re making it our mission to improve and implement policies surrounding the support available to students, there are some existing resources you can lean on in times of need. 

If you’re worried about stress impacting your academic performance, it’s important to speak to your lecturers, and check what support you have access to through your university. 

You can also check out: