15 Coping with Stress

Jasmine Alyasiri; Sandy Borbolla Reyes; Franco Toscano; and Angelica Yescas

Coping With Stress In College 

This chapter will highlight the critical topic of stress within the college environment. You will be introduced to the impact stress poses on students from a psychological viewpoint. Understanding the underlying cause of stress can be of aid to college students as they will recognize when they or fellow peers are undergoing stress. As a result, they will be able to determine appropriate coping mechanisms. It is rather evident that stress is a fairly common battle faced amongst many college students. While some may already have their own coping mechanisms, others may just now be dealing with stress more than ever before due to the new environment. On-campus resources will also be provided within the chapter to help fellow college students, like yourself, navigate stress.

What is Stress? Do Multiple Types of Stress Exist?

Notebook with the word stressed written on it

To better understand how stress affects your average college student, it is vital to comprehend its definition. Amongst researchers, the definition tends to vary due to its vague nature. Notably, we commonly use the term to express the mental state as one becomes overwhelmed. A more fitting interpretation of the term could be described as the mental state in which results from an individual perceiving an event to be detrimental—resulting in the feeling that the demand is extraneous and cannot be met. Lack of self-efficacy is also considered to be one of the many stressors within a college environment. As a college student, you may be feeling overwhelmed with the amount of workload. You may then doubt your ability to complete specific assignments, which then emerges to what we commonly refer to as stress. Stress falls within three categories. These categories include eustress, moderate, and distress. Positive stress or eustress is quite normal and short term. It encourages us to perform to the best of our ability when faced with what we may consider to be a threat. From an academic perspective, eustress motivates students to prepare for an exam to receive a satisfying score. Moderate stress is the healthy balance of both positive and negative stress. Mild stress is known to improve cognitive function, allowing us to be more alert and productive. On the other hand, distress relates to the surpassing of the healthy optimal level. Students who reach the peak level tend to notice a decline in academic performance as they burn out and are unable to concentrate. Undergoing constant stress can take a toll on your physical and mental health. If ignored, excessive stress can turn into an anxiety disorder of some sort. According to a study conducted in 2018, the American College Health Association reported that while 63.4% of college students had encountered overwhelming anxiety, only 22.1% were diagnosed or professionally treated. This is why it is essential to comprehend how to manage stress within a college environment before it substantially impacts your overall health and well-being. Not to worry, such topics will be discussed further within the chapter.

Causes and Symptoms of Stress

Most things that put high demands on your body, both physically and mentally, can cause stress. Modern-day stress is driven more by psychological stressors.

Some students have conceptualized stress in ways that emphasize the physiological responses that occur when faced with demanding or threatening situations. Students are constantly impacted by their surroundings, which may increase their risk of becoming stressed. Physiological reactions that occur when faced with demanding situations can also occur in response to things that might not be as stressful to other people. All students perceive stress differently, so students tend to experience distinct stressful triggers. These triggers include intellectual (exams and other academic requirements), financial (allowance and logistical needs), physical (course load and deadlines), and social (teacher, family and personal relationships) stresses they encounter as they study.

Students undergo different stressors, and they all have different ways to cope with stress. A stressor would likely be viewed as a challenge for gain or personal growth. Students may see it negatively or positively, but their attitude and perceptions play a huge factor in stress. It can dictate whether or not a problem is worthy of being considered a stressor. For instance, if a student gets a zero on a test due to an absence, the student can either have a positive mentality and decide to communicate with the teacher the next morning or overthink the situation and get a bad grade. Students are additionally required to submit their assignments by a certain deadline which forces them to manage their time wisely. The ability to properly manage time and successfully turn in assignments within deadlines will benefit an individual. Students also might study endlessly for an upcoming exam and get frustrated by their less than stellar test scores, causing them to lose motivation in their work-study. This will then result in them finding ways to cope with their problems.

Research suggests that students who are transitioning from high school to a college or university are two times more likely to face a dramatic elevation of stress levels. In the college environment, stress primarily resides from the unrealistic expectation to balance social, financial, and personal responsibilities all while maintaining the students’ desired academic performance. While attempting to balance such factors, disturbed sleep patterns emerge causing physical and mental exhaustion which can be detrimental to one’s health. That being said, it is rather important for incoming college students to be educated on how to avoid distress and how to recognize when they are encountering universal symptoms of stress.

More specifically, financial stability is significant for many individuals, especially students. Students are constantly trying to figure out how to cover tuition. Some students might even have financial responsibilities within their household. In many cases, these students manage to work a part-time job to manage their financial obligations. Students who struggle to manage their time for school and work deal with stress. It may even be more stressful once a student loses track and lacks time management skills. This may cause emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, anger, etc..

The sooner a student finds a way to cope with stress, the healthier they will be. Although stress might seem like it has many negatives, there are some circumstances where it may even be beneficial. Being stressed can serve as motivation to improve the quality of that individual’s life. Figuring out your symptoms can help you deal with ways to cope with stress before health problems increase. Here are some signs you may be undergoing stress.

Common Symptoms of Stress:

  • Chest pain
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Tension headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability

Impact of Stress on College Students 

Emily Hooker and Sarah Pressman insinuate that as a student in college, many strive for three things: maintain good grades, have an active social life, and to stay healthy. Although this may be true, in reality, the demands of being in college do not always allow for these three goals to be met. This creates instances of stress. In a study conducted in 2014, results demonstrated that individuals within the age of 18-20 had a 28.5% binge drinking rate, and individuals within the age of 21-25 had a 43.3% binge-drinking rate. College campuses — which mainly teach people between the ages of 18-25 — are infamous for substance abuse ranging from drugs to binge drinking. This form of coping is detrimental for college students physically and academically. Substance abuse can further deteriorate health with the added negative side-effects stress causes. For instance, stress lowers the strength of the immune system; it compromises one’s ability to fight off germs that are frequently exposed to a college student when walking around campus. Academically, stress can also worsen grades. According to the 2010 American College Health Association, the National College Health Assessment concludes that 25 % of students reported that stress impacted their academics by lowering their grades or increasing the difficulty level to finish a course. The impact of stress on a college student should not be taken lightly as it can lead to destructive behaviors and disorders. For this reason, healthy coping mechanisms and the promotion of positive self-efficacy should be practiced.

Coping Mechanisms and Community Resources

Students doing homework outside

To prevent stress from consuming your well-being in college, it is vital to determine what coping mechanism is best effective for you. In 1984, Lazarus and Folkman established two fundamental types of coping, problem-focused coping, and emotion-focused coping. Meaning, there are two ways an individual can go about coping. Problem-focused coping identifies the underlying source of stress, and from there, an attempt can be made to manage the stressor. Essentially, it is the initiative taken to rid the source of stress. This may be in the form of managing your time, taking extra time to study for a stressful exam, asking your professor questions for clarity, making a to-do list, asking for support when needed, taking a stress management college course, etc. In contrast, emotion-focused coping manipulates the negative feelings produced by stress into a more positive connotation. Exercise, meditation, writing out your feelings, forgiving, and allowing yourself to take a mental health day, talking amongst peers/therapists, are all examples of turning stress into productivity. The most crucial step is recognizing that something needs to be done in correspondence to excessive stress levels. Many students tend to keep all of their emotions bottled up because they don’t necessarily know how to cope. However, it is essential to understand that colleges tend to have numerous mental health-related resources for students to utilize. Listed below are five community resources that you can resort to during stressful times while in college. Do not be afraid to ask for help when needed! Mental health matters.

  • Stress Resources: PVCC offers a stress management course (CPD102AH) to help college students navigate stress, whether it may be academic-related or not.
  • Counseling: If you are continually undergoing distress, Counselors are available as well. You can request an appointment with a PVCC counselor. You may also stop by the student services (KSC) building in Room KSC1220. Office hours on Monday through Thursday are from 8 am-6 pm. While office hours on Friday are from 8 am-4 pm.
  • Stress Management Counseling: Deer Valley Counseling has offices in Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona. They provide the general public with information regarding stress management skills. If you wish to speak to a counselor about learning how to cope with stress, you can call 602-750-8051 for more information. The office answers phone calls on Monday-Sunday from 7 am to 8 pm. To learn more about Deer Valley Counseling.
  • Crisis Text Line: If it ever gets to the point where the amount of stress is too much for you to handle and you find yourself to be in a state of crisis, text HOME to 741741. They provide free confidential support 24/7 for individuals in need of someone to talk to via a platform most individuals feel more comfortable interacting with (texting).
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Like the Crisis Text Line, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a mental health service that aims to prevent individuals from undergoing distress to harm themselves. If you wish to speak to someone verbally, call 1-800-273-8255.


As demonstrated in the chapter, stress evidently plays a vital role in our daily lives. Whether we experience eustress, moderate stress, or distress, the fact remains that it is relatively easy to fall within distress within the foreign environment that is college. That being said, it is essential to recognize the symptoms and coping strategies to prevent harm to your overall well-being. For any individual to succeed in college, mental health must be prioritized.



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Good Health and Well-Being Copyright © 2020 by Jasmine Alyasiri; Sandy Borbolla Reyes; Franco Toscano; and Angelica Yescas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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