Health & Safety

How can I help my student manage stress?

By Priscilla Childress

Stress — it should be a four letter word!

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High School Parent | College Parent

We adults all experience it, hate it, and deal with it. Over the years we’ve learned ways of handling stress that work best for us. (It’s the reason some of us devour pounds of chocolate…)

Our college students are different, though. They’ve been shielded somewhat from the stress of what we call “real life.” Growing up, yes, they experienced the stress of trying to make good grades, succeed at extracurricular activities, and fit in with different groups of people. However, they had their parents around back then. When they took on too much, we helped them prioritize and streamline their commitments. When they were over tired, we made them go to bed. When they didn’t feel well, we kept them home from school and made them soup and Jello. We were back-up alarm clock and day planner. That was our job as parents.

Now our job has changed. We’ve gone from caretaker to coach. College students must deal on their own with the stress that results from demanding coursework, finances, campus jobs, relationships, changing values, and much more. How can we help them from a distance?


Calling your team was the best thing my daughter could have done. She had never failed at anything and her statistics course was a disaster. She couldn’t believe she didn’t pass and started to question whether college was for her. She was able to get sessions via your video counseling option and they helped her through her anxieties.   -Cindy A.

First and foremost, remind your student that you are there for her, now and always. You’re an experienced listener, always ready to talk through issues with her. Be ready for those times when your student will call and tell you that life is awful, she hates her school, her friends, etc. After you hang up, you continue to worry and wonder if you should be calling someone. She, on the other hand, had a friend knock on the door and has gone out to dinner and forgotten what she was upset about. She got a chance to vent and she’s okay.

If mental health concerns, anxiety or substance abuse have been a part of your student’s past, make sure you have a care plan in place, such as the My Family Life Services subscription. This service will provide immediate and confidential 24/7 access to a national network of specially trained Mental Health Professionals ready to respond to the emotional challenges and stressors that impact lives. There when you need them, any time day or night, the clinical intake specialists are manning the lines to assess your needs, refer to appropriate resources and facilitate short term counseling. If you’d like to learn more, click here.

Here is an overall strategy we can share with our students that will help them reduce stress and stay healthy all school year long:

  • Choose healthy foods and never skip breakfast. Breakfast can improve energy levels, support the ability to focus in class, and increase the overall quality of a student’s diet. Students should choose leaner protein options, make half their carbs whole grains, and chow down on fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep moving. Physical activity is a great way to manage stress and meet new people. If your student isn’t an athlete, she can take a tour of the campus fitness center to find out what it has to offer. She might enjoy an exercise or dance class, or a hike or other excursion with the outdoors club.
  • Recharge with sleep. Sleep is crucial for optimum performance inside and outside of the classroom. Students should get 7-9 hours of sleep a day. Naps can help your student bump up the total. Some college libraries now have nap chairs and corners!
  • Address signs of stress early. Forgetfulness, moodiness and fatigue can all be early signs of stress. Encourage your student to seek professional counseling, which should provide support for managing stress.

Even students who make mostly healthy choices will still occasionally feel overwhelmed. This is when parents need to speak up, loud and clear. We can empathize with them, and acknowledge their challenges while staying positive. We can express confidence in their abilities, reminding them of times when they successfully managed stressful situations on their own. Our college students have more on their plates than ever before, but they also have our unfailing love and support. That’s the one thing that will never change.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

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