Luis Villasmil MlVbMbxfWI4 Unsplash

10 Tips for Managing University Stress

Stress is a normal physiological response to a threatening or dangerous situation and is ingrained deep in our minds, as it once helped us survive in nature. Stress is defined as our body’s state of increased arousal necessary to defend ourselves against danger. Sometimes people refer to this response as the ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’. Stress responses can manifest in more obvious changes (such as; increased heart rate, blood pressure, changes in breathing or sleep patterns, and tension) and sometimes less noticeable (stomach issues, minor headaches, agitation).

What triggers stress can vary. Being at University can be a particularly stressful time for students when they are often juggling a lot or responsibilities at the same time including work, study, family and financial commitments. University may be your first time away from family and friends and managing your own life completely. Homesickness can be a common stressor for students. Sometimes, we’re stressed by our own thoughts and expectations.

Listening to our bodies is the first step. If you’re feeling stressed, try this useful list to help pinpoint what you’re feeling, and what steps you can take to resolve it.

1. Breathing

Breathing is important when it comes to reducing stress. Elevated breathing can lead to a number of physiological conditions (eg, dizziness, breathlessness, vision issues, heart rate increases, muscle stiffening) which leads to even further stress. Over breathing leads to exhaustion and leaves us feeling ‘on edge.’

Key breathing exercises are what aids us in maintaining our stress levels. Slow, deep breaths and exhales can help regulate in a time of distress. Try the Square Breathing Technique for an example of a grounding exercise:

2. Exercise

Exercise has many benefits; it can increase your overall health and sense of wellbeing, as well as help neurodivergent individuals and those with depression and anxiety. It promotes a release of endorphins, encourages us to socialise and aids our sleep cycles. All you need is 30 minutes a day to start, and could it include anything from walking and dance to swimming and cycling – whatever your fancy! Shake out that restless energy, help channel some feelings in an act of self care, or find an accountability buddy you can team up with. If you’re local in Armidale, get in contact with Sport UNE to see what programs are available.

3. Food

Healthy, nutritious food and staying hydrated are the first steps to helping your body function for study. Boost your memory with B group vitamins and folate (e.g. vegemite, peanut butter, leafy greens). Fuel the brain with glucose from low GI complex carbs such as wholegrain foods, oats, and peas. Relax the body with peppermint tea, and tryptophan amino acid in seeds and nuts for good sleep and mood.

Water intake is also important. If you find yourself struggling, consider a motivational drinking bottle that is see-through and measures water levels; this will help serve as a reminder throughout the day on how much water you have drank, and whether you’ve had enough.

4. Sleep

Sleep is the time when our body and mind repair and rejuvenate itself. Too little sleep or disrupted sleep can cause problems such as irritability, symptoms of depression and anxiety, exhaustion and decreased concentration.

7 to 9 hours per night is the ideal for an adult’s sleeping schedule. Ensuring we wind down before bed and sleep comfortably is crucial for a good night’s rest, as well as avoiding caffeine and irritants such as blue light that may keep your brain stimulated. Interrupted sleep or too much sleep can also be an indicator that your body needs help, and seeking out professional help can determine what’s needed to balance your sleep habits.

For more ideas on how you can improve your sleeping habits, see Advocacy & Welfare’s 6 tips for sleep here.

5. Challenge your inner critic

Stress can affect how we think, and it can lead to a more rigid form of thinking. Polarised thinking (this extreme or the other) and catastrophising (worst-case scenario) can be dangerous and lead to self-sabotage – and listening to these thoughts can also raise our stress levels.

If you’re aware of these thoughts, challenge them.

  • Question the negative, is it really realistic? Or is it just an extreme spurred by your current anxiety and situation?
  • Combat the thought eg, “I will fail this course”/”I’m not failing, I just have to try.”
  • Find the positive in a situation, lean into your strengths.
  • Try to step back, breathe, and examine the facts, rather than the fears.

If you can recognise your thoughts are overly negative, that’s the most powerful key to challenging them. Remember to be kind to yourself when you’re in such a headspace – sometimes presenting yourself with the facts can help break that cycle.

6. Seek a different perspective

Step out of your own head. This can be a difficult task if you find yourself struggling with an inner critic or a harsh manner of thinking. Approaching an assignment with a fresh set of eyes, asking for a friend’s opinions, or speaking to someone who can help you challenge your thoughts and self-criticism helps. In some instances there’s things that you cannot simply control, learning to “let go” of worries can ease the burden.

Changing your attitude takes time, but over time, it can become easier.

7. Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves being aware of the present moment in a calm and non-judgmental way. It involves just letting thoughts and emotions come and go in a compassionate and non-judgmental way, rather than fighting it. Focus on what is happening in the present to your body such as your breath or what your senses can see right now. Advocacy & Welfare wrote about strategies for mindfulness that don’t involve meditation, here.

Grounding exercises are also an effective way to tackle stress, or an oncoming panic attack.

8. Develop organisational and time management skills

While being at university it is important to develop good time management and organisational skills. This will help you reach your goals in a much less stressful way.

Try creating a map of your time and identify how you currently use your 168hrs a week (i.e., sleep, work, social life, chores, cooking, eating, parenting, relaxation time). Generally we sleep 56 hours a week, leaving 112 hours of waking time. Make use of wall planners, calendars, or a phone calendar and set reminders for important events or deadlines. Weekly schedules and organisers are useful, depending on how you like to map out your time. Having your own study space can boost productivity. And keep an eye on those emails and your MyLearn!

Most of all – have fun with it! Use colour, different pens, draw – make it an engaging exercise. There is plenty of inspo online for journaling, and it can help organise you and destress at the same time.

9. Set realistic and achievable goals

The SMART method is a great approach to setting goals and how to approach them realistically, keeping you on track and organised in your approach to study.

10. Connect with others

It’s healthy to keep an open connection with others and to talk with someone you trust about how you are feeling. Chances are, others could feel the same way.

UNE has a number of support services including UNE Counselling and Psychological Services. We offer face to face, phone, Zoom appointments for study gym sessions or personal support. Access & Inclusion can support students with physical, mental health or carer requirements. UNE Life Advocacy and Welfare are great to chat to about study options during stressful times, and can point you in the right direction.

What to avoid

Alongside the positive, there’s also the negative aspects of lifestyle we have to consider. Try to minimise these habits to keep yourself focused:

  • Try to avoid numbing your emotions or avoiding problems with the use of substances – this will not help you in the long run.
  • Stress makes you want to avoid the stressors in life, such as working on a project or essay. This may seem like a short-term solution – but Uni work won’t do itself. Procrastination can lead to self-sabotage and missed deadlines, so try to be kind to yourself and get as much work done when and whenever you can. Make a plan.
  • Don’t struggle alone – if you need help, be it with coursework or stress, reach out to our many networks for support. Remember; you’re never alone at UNE.

Good luck on your university journey! Remember to keep calm, and carry on.

CAPS is just one section in a range of support services available to UNE students. For the A-Z of UNE support services, check out our blog here.

If difficult circumstances are affecting your study, you can contact us for assistance at or on (02) 6773 3116. If you’re on campus, feel free to visit our office in the Arcade, to the north of Café Life. Whether it’s a quick chat, a referral to another part of UNE, or assistance drafting applications to UNE, we are here to help.