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Managing Academic Stress

College can be stressful. Don’t let academic pressures get the better of you.

There’s probably never been an undergrad at Northwestern who hasn’t felt some degree of academic stress. Pressure to make high grades for grad or professional school, to meet family expectations, or simply to meet your own expectations can all create feelings of stress. Other stressors come from the broader environment: political and social events, family or personal concerns — all these things can take a lot of our energy, making classwork and other responsibilities difficult.

Sometimes, stress is manageable — and can even be helpful at optimal levels, providing needed motivation and energy. But at other times, stress can become so great that it interferes with the ability to focus and concentrate. This can turn into a vicious circle, in which greater stress creates problems attending to work, leading to impaired performance, leading to greater stress — and the cycle continues.

If you feel that stress is interfering with your ability to function in the way you’d like, take action:

  • Use good time management techniques.
    Some studies have shown that managing your time well results in a greater reduction in stress than do other common stress relievers, such as leisure activity.
  • Reconsider your commitments.
    Many Northwestern undergrads find that they've taken on more than they can reasonably manage. While it's important to stay involved in community, it's equally critical to allow adequate time for studying and reflection.
  • Stay balanced.
    Be sure you are taking time to get enough sleep, to eat well and exercise, to maintain friendships, and to engage in other activities that recharge your batteries.
  • Take time to relax.
    Spend some time each day on activities that can help reduce your stress. Use mindfulness techniques. Try a few minutes of guided relaxation.
  • Seek academic support when you need it.
    There are many resources around campus, including tutoring and peer study groups, that can help you optimize your academic skills and course knowledge.

Finally, remember that lots of other undergrads are experiencing academic struggles, too. It may seem that everyone else is sailing through, but that is not the case. We guarantee it.