A Student’s Guide to Managing Stress and Burnout 

Stress is a biological function and it serves an important purpose. When stressed, human’s become more physically alert and ready for action, which can be helpful if you’re preparing for a test or facing a dangerous situation such as a physical attack. 

Too much stress can be harmful, though, and the negative effects of stress can get out of control. Stress can cause serious physical issues. It can also destroy your peace of mind, your ability to relax, and your capability to focus—essentially doing the opposite of what it is supposed to do. 

If you’re a student that is feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, you aren’t alone, and there are ways to manage your stress. 

Student Stress 101 

Student stress and burnout are common conditions, and they can be hugely detrimental to your physical and emotional health.

What Are Student Stress and Burnout?

Student stress refers to the stress felt by students, as well as stress that comes from being a student. It can come from various sources, including anxiety related to school, work, and social issues. 

When it becomes severe enough, student stress can lead to burnout. As noted by the World Health Organization, burnout is a chronic state of stress that leads to a total loss of energy, motivation, and performance at school. For students who have academic careers that are on limited timeframes, burnout can be devastating.


Feeling a bit stressed today? You’re not alone. Consider the following

  • On a scale of 1-10, students rated themselves as more stressed than adults (5.8 vs. 3.8). 
  • 45% of American college students believe they undergo “higher than average” stress levels.
  • Stress is the most significant reason students earn poor grades.
  • 75% of American High School students described themselves as often or always stressed.

Causes of Student Stress

Many adults wrongly believe that students don’t have anything to be stressed about. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth, and many sources of student stress exist. These include:

  • Homework & schoolwork: Students at the high school and college levels report hours of homework every day, taking up time that would otherwise be spent resting, relaxing, or socializing. This is a major time commitment and a significant source of stress.
  • Finals & tests: Somewhat related is finals, which surveys have noted is the #1 academic-related source of stress.
  • Bullying: Many high school and college students experience some degree of bullying. This can be a very negative experience and can add to the stress felt by these students. 
  • Future pressures: High school students report that what comes after high school can be a significant source of stress and conflict with parents. What school to go to or where to go to work can be an important life decision that can weigh heavily on the minds of students. Likewise, college students facing graduation can also face significant stressors about their subsequent choices.
  • Social and romantic life: The relationship decisions made by young adults canhave significant ramifications on students’ happiness. As such, relationship troubles can make a substantial impact on the life of a student. 

Signs of Stress and Burnout 

In some cases, student stress is easily noticeable to the student in question and those around them. In other instances, the signs may be more subtle and less noticeable. 

Common signs of stress include:

  • Sleep issues: You may sleep too much or not be able to fall asleep or stay asleep.
  • Behavioral issues: You may be much more irritable and snapping more often at your loved ones. 
  • Mood swings: You may rapidly switch moods, alternating between sad, tired, irritable, angry, or worse. You may also discover random spikes in anxiety. 
  • Social issues: You may not want to spend as much time with your friends and see yourself withdrawing from them. 
  • Work or school performance: These may suffer if you are particularly stressed or burnt out. This may also result from an inability to focus or concentrate on tasks.
  • Physical issues: Stress can manifest in almost innumerable physical ways, including upset stomach, headache, muscle tension, and many more.

As noted above, burnout is when someone loses motivation and sees a decline in their performance. Signs of burnout include:

  • Exhaustion: Exhaustion can exist in many ways, including physically, mentally, or emotionally. You may find yourself too tired to function.
  • Lack of Motivation: You may experience a lack of motivation to perform basic tasks related to your work or job.
  • Physical Symptoms: You may experience more pain, headaches, or stomach aches. You are also very likely to notice changes in your sleep and eating patterns.

Burnout can result in increased depression and impaired performance at work or school. 

How Stress Affects Student Performance and Wellbeing 

Student stress can hinder the performance and well-being of students in many ways. It can cause a series of negative symptoms that can be painful and emotionally challenging for any student, and stress can result in many real-world impacts. These include:

  • Decreased academic performance. Depending on the student in question, this can result in reduced prospects for post-graduation activities, loss of a scholarship, or assignment to less challenging classes.
  • In an extreme form, stress can cause students to change their major or drop out of school.
  • Chronic stress can lead to a variety of physical and emotional ailments. In more extreme forms, it can drive someone to suicide. 

Tips for Managing Stress and Burnout 

Here’s the good news: If you are stressed, you aren’t alone. Tens of millions of high school and college students have managed stress before, and you can start to manage the stress you are experiencing in different ways, including:

  • Make sure to sleep: A significant challenge for students often involves getting enough sleep. Difficult though it can be, try to get at least eight hours every night. Stress and sleep are related; you’ll be less stressed if you sleep more.
  • Prioritize: Here’s the truth — you can’t do everything. Pick what you genuinely care about, what truly matters in your life, and let everything else fall away. Removing unnecessary activities from your life will make a big difference.
  • Stay organized: Staying organized can ensure you aren’t surprised by anything coming your way. It can also make sure you can plan your day and your week.
  • Take care of your body: Physical health and stress are unquestionably linked, and you’ll be supporting your emotional state by taking care of your body. This means that you need to exercise and eat right. 
  • Consider meditation or mindfulness exercises: Ample evidence shows that meditation can help remove stress from your life. Even 5-10 minutes can make a massive difference. 

As you can see, almost none of these tips will, on their own, remove stress. Dealing with student stress requires a comprehensive effort and a series of actions. There is no silver bullet to managing student stress, but following these steps will make a significant difference. 

On-Campus Resources 

If you are on a college campus, there are probably a series of resources that can help you better manage your stress. These include:

  • Academic or tutoring center.
  • Counseling center.
  • Resident assistant.
  • Professors.

These areas can help you learn to manage your stress better or assist you in identifying additional stress-management resources. For example, an academic center can give you needed tips for academics and help you figure out how to study or understand a subject better. Whereas your counseling center may be able to help you identify sources of stress in your life and give you the tools and tips necessary to improve your mental health.

If you are a high school student, you are in luck, as your school may have a series of resources that can assist you in managing stress and making needed improvements in your life. For example, your teacher may be able to help you better find ways to cope with class challenges. Most schools have guidance counselors or mental health professionals that can assist you in managing mental health, and they may be able to make needed referrals to additional off-campus resources.

Off-Campus Resources 

Thankfully, most communities have places where individuals can get the help they need outside of school or campus. These include:

  • Crisis intervention lines which can be called and used as referral services.
  • Your doctor or primary medical care practitioner will know who to refer you to.
  • Religious organizations which have become increasingly in tune with the mental health needs of students.

Additional Resources

If you need extra help, a variety of websites, forums, and resources can give tips and advice on managing student stress. These include:

Student stress is natural, but so are the solutions. You can find a way to manage and navigate difficult situations and become stronger for them.

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