University life can be an exciting but overwhelming and stressful journey. As university students, you may feel stressed about transitions, assessments, financial status, relationships with others, or your future.

Stress is a natural response to challenging life events, and we all feel stressed at some point in our day-to-day lives. In fact, stress is a common and universal response for students worldwide (Garlow et al., 2008; Keyes et al., 2012; Bewick et al., 2010). While a small amount of stress is beneficial, and can even boost your performance, excessive stress, which is when you are feeling overstressed or when you feel like it is too much to handle, could lead to depression and anxiety, resulting in reduced academic performance and even influencing your daily life (Garlow et al., 2008; Downs & Eisenberg, 2012; National Health Service, n.d.). Therefore, it’s crucial to recognise when stress becomes overwhelming, and know the steps to take towards a better mental state.

In this blog post, we have a closer look at the topic of stress in university students, and will share ways to help students deal with stress and feel better. Let’s make university a happier and healthier experience for every student.

Causes of stress in university students

First, let’s explore some of the various factors that pose risks to the mental health of students today. It's essential to grasp these factors in order to develop effective strategies for supporting students' mental well-being.

If you’re a student yourself, you might relate to a number of factors raised in this section, and it could provide you with some starting points to communicate with your university’s mental health services. If you’re not a student, it’s advisable to be informed about the challenges that today’s students are facing, to inspire empathy and remind you to treat young people with compassion, and respect their intersectional challenges.

Cost of Living

The rising cost of living presents a significant hurdle for students. As tuition and living expenses escalate, students often face intense financial strain. This economic pressure extends beyond meeting daily needs to encompass concerns about future debt, financial stability, and limited graduate jobs.

Persistent worries about finances lead to increased anxiety and student stress, affecting a large portion of the student body. A recent survey found that 70% of students reported negative effects on their mental health due to financial concerns.


Loneliness is a pressing issue among students, and young people in general. Adjusting to a new environment, particularly for those who relocate away from their families and established social circles, can result in feelings of isolation.

Nearly three-quarters of students report experiencing loneliness, while 17% feel they lack any friends at university. The absence of familiar support structures leaves them feeling isolated, and significantly impacts their mental well-being.

Academic Stress and Academic Performance

The academic workload, including exam stress and the need to juggle part-time jobs with studies, places significant pressure on students. Fear of underperformance or failure can lead to chronic stress and anxiety.

This pressure is exacerbated for students striving for perfection or experiencing imposter syndrome, greatly impacting their mental health.

Diverse Student Needs

Students from various backgrounds, such as those with chronic physical disabilities, mature students, BAME individuals, international students, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions, face distinct challenges. These may include cultural adjustment issues for international students and added responsibilities and financial pressures for mature students.

Addressing such diverse needs necessitates tailored support to safeguard their mental well-being.

Signs of stress

Stress can make you feel:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Irritable and angry
  • Anxious and depressed
  • Unable to enjoy yourself
  • Could not stop feeling worried

You may also experience physical symptoms:

  • Panic attacks
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Difficulty in breathing or breathing very fast
  • Bite your nails or grind your teeth
  • Eat too much or too little suddenly

When to seek help for stress:

  • Finding it difficult to handle stress on your own
  • Noticing that stress is significantly impacting your daily life
  • Not seeing any improvements from the techniques you have tried

Tackling Student Stress

Stress is a natural part of the learning experience, especially in higher education, as young people are handed more responsibility and independence over their personal growth and education. However, that same stress, when coupled with some of the intersectional factors we outlined above, can form a tipping point that can hinder, or completely put a stop to, a person’s academic journey. Therefore, it’s vital that academic staff take a proactive approach to supporting their students, and students themselves practice the empowering act of self advocacy.

Utilise your university’s counselling service

Most universities offer a range of therapeutic services, such as groups, workshops, and individual counselling for their students, as part of their duty of care. Qualified counsellors, wellbeing practitioners, or mental health advisers are there to help, depending on your individual needs, so, make sure to utilise these services as part of your rights as a student.

These support services are free of charge and available to all registered students. You can usually discover what university’s services and make an appointment by visiting the counselling service section on your university’s website.

Apart from seeking help from professionals, remember you might also be able to request additional adjustments, which could include additional time during exams and deadline extensions for coursework, depending on your university.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive, behavioural, and mindfulness-based interventions are shown to be positively associated with reduced stress in university students (Regehr et al., 2013). Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) helps reduce stress by targeting at the cognitive and behavioural components. Cognitive components include

  • identifying and reshaping dysfunctional beliefs that affect perception and reaction to stress.

While behavioural components include

  • control of the physical aspects of stress through techniques like deep breathing or muscle relaxation.

Mindfulness helps to switch attention to and increase awareness of both internal and external experiences. This type of intervention targets stress reduction and significantly reduces anxiety and depression symptoms in university students.

In addition to university counselling services, you might consider making an appointment with your GP or referring yourself for NHS counselling services. For more information, you can search NHS talking therapies to see what services are available in your local area.

Online self-help

There are various online self-help services that you can search for, such as:

  • 10 stress busters
  • Breathing exercises
  • Student life and mental health
  • Advice on coping with exam stress
  • Help for teenagers, young adults and students

While university life can be a daunting experience, it can also be enjoyable. It is no surprise that stress-related issues among students are on the rise, but, remember, there is always a solution, and it is always okay to ask for help when needed.

You can talk to whoever you trust, such as your friends, family, university tutor, or GP. They can offer guidance, support, and access to resources to help you manage stress effectively. By prioritising your mental health, you are empowered to shape your own journey to a more enjoyable academic journey!

Blog by - Tiffany Kwan, Honorary Assistant Psychologist at South London & Maudsley Foundation NHS Trust

Further Learning

If you’re a staff member of an academic establishment, and you’d like to find out more about the mental health courses Maudsley Learning offer for schools, colleges and higher education, get in touch. Or, email us at to enquire about bespoke courses.


Bewick, B. M., Koutsopoulou, G. Z., Miles, J. N. V., Slaa, E., & Barkham, M. (2010). Changes in undergraduate students’ psychological well‐being as they progress through university. Studies in Higher Education, 35(6), 633–645.

Downs, M. F., & Eisenberg, D. (2012). Help seeking and treatment use among suicidal college students. Journal of American college health : J of ACH, 60(2), 104–114.

Garlow, S. J., Rosenberg, J., Moore, J. D., Haas, A. P., Koestner, B., Hendin, H., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2008). Depression, desperation, and suicidal ideation in college students: results from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention College Screening Project at Emory University. Depression and anxiety, 25(6), 482–488.

Keyes, C. L., Eisenberg, D., Perry, G. S., Dube, S. R., Kroenke, K., & Dhingra, S. S. (2012). The relationship of level of positive mental health with current mental disorders in predicting suicidal behavior and academic impairment in college students. Journal of American college health : J of ACH, 60(2), 126–133.

National Health Service. (n.d.). Student stress.

Regehr, C., Glancy, D., & Pitts, A. (2013). Interventions to reduce stress in university students: a review and meta-analysis. Journal of affective disorders, 148(1), 1–11.

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