As a college student, it can sometimes feel like there's not enough time in the day. And when you're feeling overwhelmed, it can be challenging to get anything done. There are ways to manage your stress and make the most of your time.
By understanding the causes of your stress and learning practical coping skills, you can reduce your anxiety and better handle whatever comes your way. Today, we will share our top strategies to reduce stress for college students, including vagus nerve stimulation.
But first, let's talk about what causes stress for college students in the first place.
What causes stress for college students?
Several factors can contribute to stress for college students. Some of the most common include:
The need to keep up with coursework, prepare for exams, and meet deadlines can be challenging to handle. In addition, many students feel pressure to maintain a high GPA or pursue a specific degree path. This often leads to feelings of anxiety and insecurity. The competitive nature of college can make it feel like you're constantly comparing yourself to others.
Whether trying to make new friends or maintain relationships with old ones, college can be a minefield. There can be party pressure, fit in, or keep up with the Joneses. Feeling left out and alone can be easy if you're struggling socially. There is a conflict with roommates—living with someone else can be challenging.
For many students, college is the first time they're responsible for their finances. This can include managing tuition payments, paying bills, and day-to-day budgeting expenses. Unfortunately, the financial stress of college can be compounded by student loan debt.
If you're away from home for the first time, you may miss your family and friends. Homesickness is common among college students and an expected part of the college experience. But it can also become a significant source of stress if you're struggling to adjust to college life and can't rely on your family and friends in the same way.
The Consequences of Stress for College Students
If left unchecked, stress can have many negative consequences for college students. These can include:
- Poor academic performance: Some students may find their grades suffer when stressed. This is often because stress can interfere with focus, concentration, and memory. In addition, students who are anxious about their academic performance may be less likely to take risks or ask for help when they need it.
- Mental health problems: Unmanaged stress can contribute to several mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and burnout. College students struggling with mental health issues may have difficulty managing their coursework, maintaining social relationships, and taking care of themselves.
- Physical health problems: Stress can also affect your physical health. When you're under constant stress, your body is in a state of high alert, which can lead to several physical problems, such as headaches, stomachaches, and trouble sleeping. In addition, stress can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness.
- Social isolation: When you're feeling stressed, it can be easy to withdraw from social activities and isolate yourself. This often leads to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can further contribute to stress and mental health problems.
- Substance abuse: Some college students may use alcohol or drugs to cope with stress. However, this can worsen anxiety and lead to several other problems, including addiction, financial difficulties, and relationship issues.
- Eating disorders: Stress can lead to unhealthy eating habits, such as binge eating or skipping meals. For some students, this can develop into an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
Unfortunately, these are only some of the ways stress can impact your life as a college student. That's why it's essential to find healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life.
Now that we've gone over some common causes of stress for college students and the dangers it can pose let's talk about how to reduce it.
How to Reduce Stress for College Students
Now that we know what causes stress for college students let's discuss how to reduce it. Being proactive about managing your stress can make a world of difference in your academic and personal life.
Here are our top tips to reduce stress for college students
Getting enough sleep is critical not only for your physical health but your mental health too. When you're well-rested, you're better able to focus and concentrate. You're also more likely to have the energy to take on what's ahead.
So, shoot for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, there are several helpful strategies you can try, including:
- Establishing a regular bedtime routine
- Limiting screen time before bed (but we know this can be especially tough for college students!)
- Creating a relaxed, dark, and quiet sleeping environment—ear plugs could be your best friend!
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed
One of the most productive ways to reduce stress is to get organized. This means creating a schedule or planner to keep track of your classes, deadlines, and social engagements. It can also be helpful to set aside specific times for studying, doing homework, and relaxing. A plan will help you use your time more efficiently and make it easier to stick to your goals.
Here are some organizational strategies specifically for college students you might try:
- Invest in a planner: There are a lot of different planners on the market, so find one that works for you. For example, some people prefer paper planners, while others prefer digital ones.
- Use a calendar app: If you're a tech-savvy person, many helpful calendar apps can help you keep track of your schedule.
- Break down your goals: When you have a big project or goal, it can be helpful to break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. This will make it feel less daunting and help you stay on track.
- Set reminders: Whether it's setting the alarm on your phone or using a sticky note, reminders can help you stay focused and on top of your to-do list
Make time for self-care
In addition to getting organized, it's essential to make time for yourself. This means taking breaks from studying, spending time with friends, and doing things you enjoy outside school. When you make time for self-care, you're better able to manage stress and cope with difficult situations.
Some self-care ideas for college students include:
- Exercise: We all know this is a fruitful way to reduce stress and improve your mood. Taking a break to go for a walk, run, or bike can do wonders for your mental health. And if you don't have time for a full workout? Then, just a few minutes of stretching or yoga can make a difference. (More on the benefits of exercise for college students in a moment!)
- Journaling: Physically noting your thoughts and feelings can help you process them and identify any patterns or triggers. Journaling can also be a form of self-expression and help you connect with your emotions.
- Spending time outdoors: Being in nature has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health. So if you can, take a break from studying to spend some time outside in the park or elsewhere.
- Listening to music: This is a powerful way to relax and unwind. Whether you're listening to your favorite album or exploring new artists, music can help reduce stress and improve your mood.
Focus on health and nutrition
Getting caught up in unhealthy habits like late-night snacking, skipping meals, and drinking caffeine to stay awake is easy for a college student. But these habits can make you more stressed and negatively impact your health.
Instead, focus on making healthy choices to help reduce stress and improve your overall well-being. This includes:
- Eating regular meals: Skipping meals can leave you feeling tired and sluggish. Plus, it's hard to concentrate when you're hungry! So make sure to eat three regular meals every day. And if you're short on time, there are plenty of healthy snacks you can grab on the go. (We'll also share tips for healthy eating in college in a moment)
- Staying hydrated: Drinking enough water is essential for physical and mental health. For example, you're more likely to feel tired and cranky when dehydrated. So, drink eight glasses of water a day (or more if you can!).
- Getting enough sleep: Remember: sleep is essential for focus, concentration, and overall health. But as a college student, it's often one of the first things to fall by the wayside. Don't let it!
Healthy eating habits
We know how tempting it can be to reach for instant meals or the greasiest option in the college cafeteria. But eating unhealthy food will only make you feel worse.
Instead, focus on choosing healthy foods most of the time and creating a balance of indulgence and nutrition!
Some helpful ingredients to focus on include:
- Fruits and vegetables: These are chock full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help reduce stress and improve your mood.
- Whole grains contain fiber, which can help you feel fuller for longer and regulate your digestion. You'll find entire grains in items like oatmeal, quinoa, and some bread.
- Lean protein: Protein provides the body with energy and helps repair cells. Good lean protein sources include chicken, fish, tofu, legumes, and eggs.
- Healthy fats are essential for brain health and can help reduce inflammation. You'll find healthy fats in avocados, nuts, and olive oil.
Healthy snack ideas for college students
Some quick and healthy snack ideas include:
- A piece of fruit or a handful of berries
- Hard-boiled eggs
- A small yogurt or cup of cottage cheese
- A slice of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter or avocado
- A veggie and hummus plate
- Iron-fortified cereal with milk
- A banana with almond butter
- Oatmeal with fruit and nuts
- A smoothie made with yogurt, fruit, and veggies
Now, back to the importance and benefits of exercise for college students! We know exercise is a great way to reduce stress, improve mental health, and boost your energy levels. And the most significant part is that you don't have to go to the gym or lift weights to get the benefits of exercise.
However, if you have access to your school gym or a fitness center, that's wonderful! But if not, there are still plenty of ways to get active.
- Taking a dance class
- Going for a run or bike ride
- Playing a sport
- Doing yoga or another form of exercise in your dorm or home
Even walking around campus can be an excellent way to reduce stress and get fresh air.
Any type of physical activity can help reduce stress and improve your mood. So if you're short on time, even a quick walk around the block can make a difference.
Benefits of exercise for college students
In addition to reducing stress, exercise also has several other benefits for college students. For example, exercise can:
- Improve focus and concentration: Most college students have to juggle a lot of different classes, extracurricular activities, and social obligations. So it's no surprise many struggles to focus on their studies. However, exercise can help improve focus and concentration by increasing blood flow to the brain.
- Boost energy levels: Feeling tired all the time is one of the most common complaints you hear from college students. However, exercise can help boost your energy levels if you're struggling with fatigue.
- Promote better sleep: Getting enough sleep is crucial for college students, but it's often easier said than done. Exercise can help promote better sleep by tiring you out physically and helping to reduce stress levels.
- Improve your self-confidence: Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. So it's no surprise that exercise can also help improve self-confidence and body image.
So, exercise is a handy place to start if you're looking for ways to reduce stress and improve your overall well-being! But as a busy college students, we know it might seem tricky to fit exercise into your busy days.
So, here are some tips for fitting exercise into your busy schedule.
Fitting exercise into your schedule
- Set a regular time for exercise: Choose a time of day that you'll most likely stick to and make it a part of your daily routine. For example, if you have some free time in the evening, plan to go for a walk or do some other form of exercise.
- Start small: If you're short on time, start with just 10-15 minutes of daily exercise. You can always increase the time you exercise as your schedule allows.
- Find an activity you enjoy: If you hate going to the gym, don't force yourself to do it! There are plenty of other ways to get active. Instead, find something you enjoy, and you'll likely stick with it.
If you have yet to try meditation, now is the time! Meditation is a peaceful practice that can reduce stress, improve mental health, and promote relaxation. And there are plenty of ways to meditate, so you can find a method that works best for you.
For example, you might try:
- Guided meditation: Many smartphone apps and websites offer guided meditation. This can be a convenient option if you're new to meditation or need help staying focused.
- Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breath and being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judging them. This type of meditation can be done anywhere, at any time.
- Transcendental Meditation: Transcendental Meditation is a type of mantra-based meditation. This means that you repeat a particular word or phrase to yourself to help focus and calm your mind.
There are many other types of meditation, so explore until you find one that works for you.
(You can also learn more about meditation before sleep here)
Reduce Stress for College Students with Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) can be a powerful way to reduce stress for college students. The vagus nerve is the longest in your body and runs from your brainstem to your abdomen, influencing almost every system and function in your body. Included is its ability to control your resilience and response to stress.
When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it can help reduce stress by:
- Decreasing your sympathetic nervous system activity (the "fight or flight" response)
- Increasing the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" response)
- Releasing feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin
How to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
The good news is that plenty of ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and reduce stress. Some of the most effective ways to do so include:
- Deep breathing: Taking deep diaphragmatic breaths is one of the easiest and most effective ways to tone the vagus nerve.
- Cold therapy: Cold therapy, or exposure to cold temperatures, has been shown to potent stimulate the vagus nerve. This can be done by taking a cold shower or bath, swimming in cold water, or using an ice pack. When you expose your body to freezing temperatures, it triggers a reflex that increases vagus nerve activity.
- Yoga: Yoga is a practical way to reduce stress and anxiety. It can also help stimulate the vagus nerve, strengthening it.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is another effective way to reduce stress and anxiety. It involves stimulating specific points on the body with thin needles.
Using a Handheld Device for Vagus Nerve Stimulation
There are also handheld devices that you can use for VNS. For example, Xen by Neuvana is a wearable device that you can use for on-the-go vagus nerve stimulation. The vagus nerve stimulating headphones plug into a handheld device that connects to your smartphone.
Then, you can play your favorite music or sounds while the headphones stimulate your vagus nerve through your ear. That way, you can experience more glimpses of relaxation on any given day and help promote your resilience and response to stressful situations—college included!
Many options are available to reduce stress and improve your well-being. Exercise, meditation, and VNS are all practical choices. Experiment with different time and stress management techniques until you find what works best for you. And remember, it's essential to care for yourself mentally and physically. When it comes to reducing stress, a holistic approach is often best.