Coping with Stress

UNSW’s qualified and experienced counsellors are available Monday - Friday during business hours for free, confidential appointments.

What is stress?

Stress is something that many university students are familiar with. It occurs when the demands on us exceed our ability to cope. Stress can be caused by many things – the most obvious for university students are examinations and assignment deadlines, work, problems with friendships and relationships, financial problems, perfectionism and balancing studying and life. However, positive events such as a new relationship, and starting a new university year can also cause stress. 

Stress symptoms

We can experience stress in various ways:

  • Thoughts: Our thoughts can become distorted so that we blow things out of proportion and think that the worst thing will happen. We can also worry excessively. 
  • Feelings: We can feel irritated, tense, frustrated, and nervous. 
  • Behaviours: We can become short with others, cry, or take our frustrations out on things or other people. Our appetite and sleep may be disturbed. We can also start to avoid situations that cause us stress, drink alcohol, or use recreational drugs to cope. 
  • Physical: Muscle tension, headaches, stomach problems, restlessness, increased heart rate, and increased breathing rate.

Coping with stress 

We all cope with stress in different ways depending on our strategies, and also on the situation. The two main approaches are to change the situation itself, or to change your reaction to it.

Changing the situation itself requires problem solving, and can draw on other skills such as learning to communicate effectively with others (if conflict with others is the source of stress), time management, budgeting (if financial problems are the cause of stress), and developing healthier study habits.

Managing your reaction to the situation in order to reduce stress can include relaxation (to decrease your stress reaction), engaging in physical activity (to burn up stress hormones), and modify any negative self talk that may escalate your stress.

You can't always control what happens, but you can control how you respond.

Useful links

Coping with Stress

Free online course provided by This Way Up - a non for profit initiative at St Vincent's Hospital Sydney that provides online cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) courses for people suffering from anxiety and depression. The course is designed to help people who are experiencing acute or chronic stress, related to work, study, relationships, or caring for a family member.

Mind Tools

This link has useful tips on stress management.

Department of Health Western Australia

This handout lists causes of stress, stress symptoms, and tips for managing stress.

Counselling and Mental Health Centre at University of Texas at Austin

Addresses those stressful situations facing university students.

Centre for Clinical Intervention

Tips for stress management

American Psychological Society

This website provides useful information on stress. You can also take a quiz to assess your ‘stress smarts’.

Better Health Channel

At this website you can find information on managing stress and your tertiary studies, managing tertiary studies as a mature age student, headaches and stress, and also work related stress. There is also a stress management quiz that you can take.

Reach Out!

This website is dedicated to young people and provides information on stress and how to manage it. You can also find information on relaxation and time management at this website.

PDF documents

Here are some additional documents to help you deal with stress