Are you Experiencing Unhealthy Stress?

Entering post-secondary education is a stressful experience for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, income, or gender. Stress is part of life and isn’t always a bad thing.

That said, there is definitely unhealthy stress that has a tenancy to pile up on campus. Understanding that you will experience stress, knowing the triggers, and building mechanisms to help you cope is also part of the college/university experience.

The problem arises when students keep silent about stress and don’t ask for help.

So, how do you know if you’re experiencing unhealthy stress?  Stress can impact you emotionally, cognitively, physically and behaviourally. Here are some common signs that your stress responses have reached an unhealthy level:


  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fear
  • Moodiness
  • Behaviour

Acting impulsively

  • Crying easily
  • Nervous laughter
  • Teeth grinding
  • Increase in smoking, alcohol or other drug use
  • Increase or decrease in appetite


  • Self-criticism
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Forgetfulness
  • Fear of failure


  • Tight muscles
  • Cold or sweaty hands
  • Headaches
  • Back or neck problems
  • Upset stomach
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid breathing/heart rate

Tips for Managing Stress

  1. Breathe! Does your chest feel tight? You may be unknowingly holding your breath, decreasing the amount of oxygen in your blood and causing headaches, muscle tension and an increased heart-rate.
  2. Manage your time. It’s important to plan ahead, and to time for stress reduction and self-care. By spreading yourself too thin, you increase the risk of burn-out.
  3. Talk it out. Bottled-up emotions increase frustration and negative stress levels. By sharing your feelings with someone you trust, you could gain clarity or new insights.
  4. Get physical. Physical activity plays an important role in stress reduction, especially for those who spend much of their day at a desk. Identify an activity you enjoy, and find  room in your schedule.
  5. Take care of your body. Eat healthy and get lots of sleep – you’ll feel energized in both body and spirit. Avoid too much caffeine and sugar, as both provide a quick high but lead to a big crash. Well-nourished, well-rested bodies are better prepared to deal with stress.
  6. Know your limits. Stress often results when we try to exert control over people or situations. Accept there are circumstances beyond your control.

Most importantly, talk about the stress you’re experiencing with your friends, family or an on-campus counselor.

On-campus stress is normal. Not asking for help isn't.Click To Tweet 

Thanks to Red River College for the lists shown here and for the great job being done on campus to educate students about the perils of unchecked stress.