Sea viewThere is no denying that university, and especially a top university such as Imperial, is a pressurised environment. Pressure can be helpful in order to motivate you to do your best, but pressure can turn into stress when you feel unable to cope.

Aside from the work pressure, university life can have many other challenges which can cause stress, such as relationships, money problems and housing issues.

Everyone experiences stress from time to time and learning how you as an individual can manage different pressures is a normal, and indeed useful, thing to explore whilst at university. There are many ways you can reduce and alleviate stress – try them and see what works for you.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s physical reaction to pressure or threats. Hormones are released in your body – the ‘fight or flight’ response. These responses are actually your body’s way of protecting you. Stress can help you stay focused and alert and help you meet challenges, but prolonged periods of stress can be bad for your health and wellbeing.

Different people react to stress in different ways, but stress can:

  • drain your energy;
  • damage your health;
  • affect your sleep;
  • cause loss of appetite;
  • negatively impact your relationships;
  • reduce your productivity;
  • leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Anxiety can be triggered by the same things as stress and can produce the above symptoms, but has the added component of a sense of fear.

Although feelings of stress and anxiety at certain times are completely normal, you should see your doctor as early as possible if they are affecting your daily life or are causing you distress. You can also make an initial appointment with one of Imperial's counsellors.

Techniques to keep cool under pressure

Try not to stress about stress

Make stress your friend – new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Watch How to make stress your friend, a TED talk by a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University.

Find ways to reduce your stress

  • Spend time with others – social interaction is one of our nervous system’s ways of managing ‘fight or flight’ responses and can help you calm down and cope better with stress.
  • Make lists – writing things down can be therapeutic and also clears your mind.
  • Schedule ‘worry time’ – give yourself half an hour of ‘worry time’ in the evening. When you find yourself worrying about something during the day, write it down and say to yourself that you will worry about it in your designated ‘worry time’. You may find that by the evening, you are not so worried about it anymore, and your worries haven’t been distracting you all day.
  • Take regular exercise – exercise is one of the most powerful ways to de-stress.
  • Adopt good time-management techniques – get organised to reduce stress.
  • Practise Mindfulness – Mindfulness can help you stay calm and focused.
  • Build your personal resilience – increase your ability to recover from stressful situations.

Know your own stress patterns

  • Pay attention to when your concentration or your motivation is not as good as usual. Note down stressful episodes for a couple of weeks and review your notes to spot what triggers your stress.
  • Try to increase your awareness of situations and how levels of stress affect your performance, i.e. how you operate under pressure.
  • You can then tailor situations to suit you, or find ways to adapt to certain situations, or try to avoid situations altogether.

Further information and advice