Understanding Stress

Stress is a subjective psychological or physical response and can vary person to person. There is not one true definition of stress as each interpretation is different. For many of us, daily or major events in our lives can cause us to be “stressed out”. Positive, healthy stress provides motivation and fulfillment and negative stress can trigger health problems as our bodies change when overreacting to events.

Signs of Stress

  • Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, irritable, or worried.
  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness and loss of meaning.
  • Sudden changes in mood and social isolation.
  • Loss of appetite or overeating.
  • Increased use of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, or other drugs.
  • Changes in sleep pattern.
  • Frequent headaches/migraines, fatigue, and body pain.
  • Frequent illness (colds and flu).
  • Perspiration/sweaty hands; increased heart beat.
  • Negative self-talk.
  • Loss of concentration; troubled thoughts about the future.

Stress in University Life

University students undergo a variety of stressors. The following are some major causes:

  • Transitioning to university; increase in workload.
  • Learning new study habits.
  • Writing exams and essays.
  • Parental expectations.
  • Moving away from home.
  • Financial problems.
  • Loss of friend/family member.
  • Conflict or tension with family and friends.
  • Relationship problems.
  • Career planning and going for job interviews.


  • Attend workshops to improve learning skills, stress management, time management.
  • Sleep 6-8 hours.
  • Spend time with friends, family, or partner.
  • Study in segmented blocks for 1 to 2 hours and take frequent breaks.
  • Take advantage of resources the university has to offer.

Coping Strategies

  • Identify problems and possible solutions.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a balanced diet daily.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Know priorities.
  • Make a schedule.
  • Get involved in some activity or hobby that is enjoyable.
  • Focus on good qualities and accomplishments.
  • Avoid competition with classmates or co-workers – focus on your unique talents.
  • Talk with a trusted friend, family member, counsellor, or other professional.
  • Express your emotions through activities: art, music, writing etc.
  • Practice relaxation techniques – breathing, exercises, yoga, or Pilates.

When to get help

  • Previous coping techniques have not helped.
  • Sudden bursts of emotion occur such as crying and shouting for no apparent reason.
  • Stress level has affected performance.
  • Develop constant pessimistic thoughts about self, others, and situation.
  • Unable to enjoy and take pleasure in activities.