While studying at school, college or university can be a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow, it is not without its stresses too. As a student you’ve got a lot on your plate - academic work, social life, work commitment, career plans, relationships and finances.

Am I stressed?

Man in stress at home worried and tired preparing for exam

Student stress can be caused by a variety of factors, so here are some of the signs to look out for:

  • Disengaging from university life and other activities
  • Socially withdrawing
  • Problems with motivation and concentration
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Indulging in addictive behaviours or unnecessary risks
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues and physical pain
  • Low mood or increased irritability
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Constantly feeling tearful, angry or on edge.
  • Avoiding certain situations
  • Struggling with your mental health
  • Loneliness, homesickness or relationship issues
  • Not managing finances properly
  • Not knowing how to balance work.

No two people behave in the same way when they’re unwell and while these are all common signs of mental ill health, it isn’t a checklist of symptons.

Students with mental health difficulties may experience all, some or none of the above. If you feel low, regardless of your symptoms, reach out and seek professional help.

Mindfulness - a breathing exercise

Relaxed adult man breathing fresh air in a forest with green trees in the background

Sometimes we need to take a minute to just breathe. Find somewhere comfortable to sit or lie down and close your eyes. Take a minute to focus on your breathing - is it fast or slow?

Regulate your breathing to a comfortable pace, allowing any thoughts or feelings to come and go. Just relax and breathe, you may feel it helps. Try and do this every day, for as long as you need to.

How can I manage my workload and reduce stress at university?

Student sitting on the grass eating salad

Good habits are key to helping you to reduce your study-related stress. Here are some tips to follow when you are studying:

  • Find a quiet place to study
  • Organise your space so it is not cluttered and is without distractions
  • Find out as much as you can about your course schedule so you can prepare
  • Ask your teacher if you’re unsure what course content to focus on for exams
  • Make a ‘mind map’, using bright colours and images. There are many different learning techniques, so finding which works for you will really help
  • Make a plan for your study sessions, set a time with short breaks included to get fresh air. Divide your session into blocks. Focus on one block at a time
  • Ask for help if you need it. That includes if you’re feeling stressed, as sometimes talking to a teacher, friend or someone you trust can be reassuring
  • Eat well, prepare yourself nice evening meals and try not to skip breakfast

Exam Time

Exam time can be a particularly stressful period for many students, but there are things you can do to prepare yourself mentally for this. These are just some of the main things to consider.

 Smiling young black woman sitting at desk working on laptop

  • What do you need to bring with you? Organise this the night before
  • Eat breakfast, this will help your energy and concentration
  • Go to the toilet before the exam starts
  • When you sit down, before you begin your exam, take a long deep breath. You’ve got this!
  • When you receive your exam paper, read through it carefully. Underline or highlight any key information
  • Work out how much time you can spend on each section
  • Work on the questions that you find easiest first
  • When you have completed all the questions, take a minute to go back and re-read your answers, starting with the most difficult questions first.
  • Don’t overthink about your answers once you have left the exam hall – turn your thoughts to something else!

What we find helpful

Most of us know when we are mentally and physically well, but sometimes we need a little extra support to keep on top of things.

There are five simple steps to help maintain and improve your wellbeing. Try to build these into your daily life – think of them as your ‘five a day’ for wellbeing.

Finding help for your mental health

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to reach out to others for help and support, whether that’s friends, family or flatmates.

Most schools, colleges and universities have dedicated counselling supports in place for students. Ask about these at your place of learning.

Helpful resources on exam stress management can also be found at:

If you feel you need further support contact your GP, as they can offer more information, advice and access to additional services which can help.

Download our university mental health support guide