Surviving Stress: Getting through the stressors of university and personal life

9 January 2020

Stress is inevitable and can make an impact on your mental health.  It’s how we cope with it that determines how we get through it.  Young adults heading off to post secondary have multiple stressors that they need to deal with, such as:

  • Living on your own

    • Moving to a new community to attend post-secondary: A new neighborhood, city or even country - you will need to figure out cost of living, securing new living arrangements, finding new supports and services in your new community.

    • Living away from the family home: You now have to rely on yourself for your own meals, cleaning and laundry, structure, and supports.

    • Adjusting to a new roommate(s), if that is your new living situation. This entails building new relationships, new communication styles, and new boundaries.

  • Financial responsibilities

    • Budgeting your rent, food, utilities, transportation costs, extra curricular, and school expenses.

  • Employment

    • Securing a part time job if needed to assist with the cost of living

  • Academic studies

    • Pressures to maintain a schedule, manage a full course load, and receive good grades

Some international students endure additional stressors than domestic students, such as culture shock and speaking and learning exclusively in English. Additional pressures can include parental pressure to achieve good marks, finding part-time employment in Canada, and ultimately applying for a work permit and permanent resident status in Canada once their studies have successfully completed.

We often hear the term Resilience … what is it? Resilience is the ability to adjust and get through life’s difficulties. 

Your education journey should not include these added stressors, but unfortunately it can.  An important step to a healthy mind is being aware of what is happening in your life, to recognize and learn how stress effects you personally before it overwhelms or consumes you, and by developing coping strategies.  From Surviving to Thriving: Developing Personal and Academic Resilience offers valuable insights and strategies, such as:

  • Recognizing Your Automatic Responses to Stress: By identifying your responses to stress before it happens, you can increase your awareness to recognize it and address it before it turns into a bigger situation.

  • Choosing Healthier Strategies: Strategies can help reduce the negative impact of stress and help manage stress more effectively.

  • Recognizing and Exploring your Stressors: By knowing what your stressors are (i.e. school, social, health, financial, work, and emotional), it will allow you to take control and deal with them in a healthier more manageable way.

  • Examining Your Options: The four A’a: Accept, Avoid, Alter, or Adapt

    • ACCEPT the things (and people) you cannot change

    • AVOID unnecessary stress, refocus toward something more positive

    • ALTER by changing your environment to reduce or eliminate stress

    • ADAPT the way you think about or interact with the source of the stress

  • Balancing Your Support Network: You never have to be alone!  Ask for help and help others.

To help minimize or lower stress levels:

  1. Regular sleep schedule; this is so important, yet gets overlooked

  2. Avoid convenience foods high in sugar, fat and caffeine

  3. Daily exercise; even a little (a walk around the block) goes a long way

  4. Spend time with friends; we all need downtime to relax and laugh

  5. Focus on the positives in your life; keep a daily journal

  6. Tap into the resources available

If stress or despair feels like it is getting to be too much, do not try to manage it on your own. 
Be sure to:
  1. Consult your health care professional

  2. Contact your school’s student services, health care centre

  3. Call the Crisis Line – 310-Mental Health (310-6789) OR if having thoughts of suicide, please call:
    1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

  4. Make an appointment with your local Mental Health clinic

I highly recommend printing your own copy of From Surviving to Thriving Guide and completing the worksheets and checklists to help you identify your stressors, personal strengths, and develop coping strategies to address the challenges, manage the stress, and reduce anxiety that you may face before it happens.