Back-to-school stress affects college students and instructors alike. Simply being mindful of stress management techniques can work wonders to help you feel better and learn to concentrate on the school year. Try our top four tips for managing stress as you return to another busy school year this fall.

Power of positive thinking

Think happy thoughts. It sounds simplistic but most stress comes from worry, frustration, and anxiety, usually about things you can’t control. Going back to school presents challenges, uncertainty, and awkward social situations—all of which can suck your emotional energy and cause stress.

Instead, focus on all the positive experiences you know you’re going to have this semester: educational classroom discussions, good grades, exciting sports events, chances to meet new people, active campus life, educational trips and projects.

Take care of your body

Before heading back to school, take care of your physical needs, which will ensure a healthy mind and ability to concentrate and learn. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a healthy diet—fatty and sugary foods make you lethargic and more susceptible to stress. Stay hydrated.

And while it’s difficult to keep up an exercise routine while you’re planning for college and at the beginning of a college semester, it’s important to get plenty of exercise. “Go for a jog, take an aerobics class (one that really gets you moving, like Zumba), do yoga or grab a quick game of basketball with your friends,” suggests Taylor Massey in “Tips for Students: Reducing Stress Before Back-to-School,” posted in Cengage Learning July 31, 2015.

The BREATHE System

Another method of dealing with stress, before college and during the first few weeks of school, was designed by Dr. Ralph Hillman. In her book, Practicing College Learning Strategies, 7th ed., Carolyn H. Hopper explains: “The BREATHE System is a way to deal with low self-esteem, test anxiety, feelings of being overwhelmed, anger, and stress.” The BREATHE System begins with straightening your posture to allow your organs to function properly and better supply your brain with oxygen (good posture also helps you look confident and competent), stand straight, hold your head up, relax your neck and shoulder muscles, push shoulders back and down, and take cleansing breaths. Fill your lungs completely, breathing through your nose. Breathe out through your pursed lips. Do this before class begins to promote concentration and clear thinking. Making this exercise a habit taking deep cleansing breaths before class gives you an edge in practicing other learning strategies.

Seek help for anxiety

Some stress is good when it motivates you to pay attention, focus, and do a good job. But too much stress over things you can’t control or misplaced stress on simple everyday activities can indicate an anxiety disorder. Before mental distress or feelings of hopelessness overtake you, here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control in “College Health and Safety”:

  • Develop a support network of friends on campus.
  • Talk with teachers or school counselors if school work or your schedule get overwhelming.
  • Visit your school or local health clinic and discuss your anxiety with a health professional.

Reference: Hopper, Carolyn H. 2016. Practicing College Learning Strategies, 7th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

What are some ways you relieve stress when going back to school?