Academic Pressures and Stress

Higher education can be an exciting time for educational enrichment, personal growth, and exposing yourself to new and compelling experiences.

You may be moving away from home and living with people you don’t know, or you could be traveling to a different place, or you could be staying exactly where you are with more intense educational responsibilities. Regardless of the excitement and growth, it is inevitable that you will face stress and pressure that can make you feel like giving up, but this doesn’t have to be the case.

Being able to manage academic stresses and pressures is liberating and there are great ways to mitigate these challenges to make your experience more beneficial, productive, comfortable, and stress-free.

Why is higher education stressful?

Higher education is often unstructured, performance-driven, and usually suited to people who can manage their own workload and deadlines. This can lead to overworking, feeling overwhelmed, stress, burnout, and poor mental health.

Students frequently feel pressure caused by looming deadlines, big presentations, and exam stress, and not forgetting social pressures, such as meeting new people and having enough time to go out with friends.

Just to add more to the load, many students face significant financial barriers and often feel as though they need to juggle a part-time job just to get by.

It’s clear that pressure is frequent within higher education, and it is essential for students to safeguard their mental wellbeing through mitigating pressure and stress.

What is academic pressure?

Pressure is an experience where a person will feel hindered and weighed down by demands or workloads.

Academic pressure refers to pressure that is caused by educational demands and the challenges of student life, such as deadlines, exams, and personal finances.

What is stress?

Stress is a state of anxiety, tension, or worry that is caused by challenging circumstances.

It is how our mind and body react when we feel threatened, pressured, or out of control and is the body’s response to take action when stress hormones are released, such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Symptoms can have emotional, mental, and physical effects on the body like weight gain, headaches, memory issues, and hair loss.

The way we respond to and manage stress can make a huge difference to overall wellbeing and health and if the body reacts negatively to prolonged amounts of stress you could experience burnout.

Signs of stress

  • Irritability or snappy with others 
  • Anxious  
  • Overwhelmed 
  • Depressed 
  • Headaches  


How can you manage stress and pressure whilst in higher education? 

1. Speak to a counsellor 

Talking to a counsellor is beneficial in discussing, processing, and understanding your thoughts and feelings, especially if you are feeling persistent stress. They will offer different perspectives and support you in exploring options for improved mental wellbeing. 

Many higher education institutions offer Student Assistance Programme (SAP) which will provide students access to mental health support, such as counselling, helplines, advise, and resources. 

2. Physical exercise 

Physical activity eases stress, lifts mood, improved self-esteem, increases cognitive function, and boosts a healthy lifestyle. All this improves a person’s ability to cope with mental health challenges, alleviating symptoms, and encouraging mental clarity. 

Start small and work your way up. Go for a walk with the dog or invite someone on a walking coffee catch-up, small changes can add up to great results. 

3. Prioritise sleep 

Getting enough sleep is closely linked to improved mental health. Having less sleep is connected to mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression, and can even make mood disorders harder to cope with. 

During sleep the brain processes emotional information, assesses memories and thoughts, and the lack of sleep can be damaging to cognitive functions. 

Set up a bedtime routine that encourages relaxation, such as reading, taking a hot shower before bed, and not allowing screens in the bedroom. Be consistent with your sleep and stick to a schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on your days without lectures. 

4. Learn about your mental health. 

Having self-awareness around your own mental health is freeing. It supports us in understanding why we feel the way we do when challenges come up. It allows us to appropriately comfort ourselves when we are distressed or struggling, such as coping with stress and burnout. 

Read reputable articles to learn about the ways your brain functions. Keep a mental health journal and research or discuss with a counsellor to fully understand your mental health. 

5. Manage your time 

Many students feel pressure when they think they don’t have enough time to complete a piece of work or project and sometimes things don’t always go to plan. 

It is vital to time management effectively, to offset pressured, stress, and potentially burnout.  

Begin with your deadlines, make sure you know the date everything is due and that you have enough allocated time to work on that project. Create a schedule with a good amount of time to complete each project or piece of work and prioritise tasks that are urgent and important.  

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