Use these methods to release, cope with school stress

Jenna Hrdlicka

As tests and homework pick up for the semester, stress may begin to take a toll on students.

Stress, the human body’s response to demanding situations, is generally an unavoidable factor of life. When handled properly, it can be used as a positive force to fuel motivation and accomplish goals.

When ignored, however, stress can build up and lead to a variety of adverse health issues. These issues, both physical and emotional, can be both immediate and long-term. But many ways exist for individuals to manage and combat stressors in their lives.

Physical activity

One of the most common forms of stress relief is finding a physical outlet.

Performing physical activities, such as playing sports, running and weightlifting, releases endorphins in the body. Endorphins are chemicals that help reduce pain, minimize anxiety and improve sleep quality, which are all factors in minimizing stress.

Participating in the various activities offered by Iowa State’s Recreation Services can be a fun and easy way to incorporate fitness into a student’s busy life. These activities include intramural sports, group fitness classes and recreation events such as hiking trips and kayaking excursions. A schedule of these activities can be found online. Even seemingly minimal commitment physical activities, such as walking through campus or around town, dancing while cleaning your room or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, are highly beneficial.

Creative outlets

Finding a creative outlet is another popular method for reducing the harmful effects of anxiety and stress. Drawing, coloring, writing and crafting are all ways to divert attention away from life’s stressors and allow creativity to calm the mind. Studies show that engaging in the creative arts has a positive correlation with improved mental health.

When humans engage in an activity they enjoy, they experience lower levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. Reading, listening to music and watching TV or movies during study breaks are easy ways to relieve tension and reduce cortisol.


These study breaks become even more beneficial when students are organized and have a structured study plan. Studying for a big test or completing a lengthy assignment becomes less intimidating and more manageable when students write due dates in a planner, manage their time wisely and avoid procrastination.

Organization is also helpful in a student’s study space. A cluttered desk or room can lead to increased levels of anxiety and stress. Students can greatly reduce unnecessary stress in the school atmosphere by staying organized and ahead of the game.


Calming the mind is an important part of creating a more relaxed mind frame. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years by people all around the world. Scientific studies show meditating daily can have significant benefits for a person’s overall health and well-being.

Practicing meditation daily, whether through the form of yoga, a meditation class or even just taking a few moments a day to focus on breathing and relaxing the mind, may lead to lower levels of cortisone and blood pressure. Increased focus, improved cognitive skills and increased overall happiness can also occur because of meditation.

Taking a few deep breaths before a test or important interview can decrease the stress of the situation.

Maximizing relationships

Connecting with others is also a highly effective way of handling stress. Talking to a friend or loved one can help students receive moral support and boost confidence. Humans — social beings by nature — thrive when they have strong, healthy relationships to rely on. Forming a study group to prepare for a big test, calling a loved one to talk or even just laughing with a friend are all ways students can rely on their relationships with others to reduce stress.


While using the previous techniques to handle stress are all highly beneficial, they may be well-known to most people. One form of stress relief that is less known is through strategic food choices.

Certain foods are believed to aid the human body in protecting itself from the harmful effects of stress. It’s important to choose foods that will aid your body, and for you to stay away from unhealthy foods that will only contribute to the negative effects of stress. Therefore, if the right foods are chosen, stress eating is not always a harmful habit to form.

Some foods that reduce stress are leafy green vegetables, blueberries, dark chocolate in moderation, garlic, oatmeal, avocados and chamomile and green tea. 

However, avoid processed foods, sugar, energy drinks and alcohol when you are stressed. 


Properly dealing with stress is necessary, but sometimes it can be hard to identify when our bodies are feeling the strain of it.

Using technology to learn how to recognize the physical and emotional signs of stress can be extremely helpful. A resource that students can use on campus is the biofeedback services offered by Student Counseling Services. Biofeedback allows students to become familiar with their own personal stress response; once an individual is able to recognize their body’s response to stress, they can learn to identify and alter the negative response.

This service, located in the Student Services building, is available free of charge to ISU students. Other forms of biofeedback, such as cell phone apps, can also be beneficial. A list of alternative biofeedback resources can be found on the Student Counseling Services website.

Stress can aid in the quest to be a successful college student, or it can be a very powerful enemy. Everybody responds to stress differently; while some people prefer running to clear their mind, others may prefer taking a bubble bath or gardening. Learning how to identify and minimize your own personal negative stress is an essential part in maintaining optimal health and fully enjoying the college experience.