Tips for Handling Back to College Stress

Patient Support

COVID-19 has put us through trial after trial since March. And we’ve seen evidence of increased drug and alcohol abuse due to the stress triggers that it’s brought. Now, many young people are facing the risks of going back to college during a global pandemic and the ripple effect of stressors it causes.

College already brings added levels of stress to many students – more intense classwork, new jobs, friends and activities as well as being away from home for the first time. With the added pandemic and the questions it brings on top, many students are more at risk for overwhelming stress than ever. That’s why it’s imperative to have healthy coping tools ready to handle the influx of new stressors. Find 4 tips for handling back to college stress below.

College Students and Stress

There are multiple factors that contribute to the high rates of drug and alcohol abuse among college students, and at the forefront is stress. The introduction of new and more intense stressors during the transition to college, the newfound freedom and the new lack of guardian structure leaves many college students feeling overwhelmed. And this puts them at risk for turning to drugs and/or alcohol to handle that stress.

More students than ever are taking stimulants to help them stay on top of a more trying course load and more responsibilities. These stimulants can be highly addictive and many are obtained without a legal prescription.

College Students and Social Anxiety

Entering college and the onset of new friends, professors and peers can cause natural social anxiety for some students. Many college students feel that drinking alcohol makes socializing with other students easier. As students continue to utilize alcohol to curb their social anxiety, the routine of drinking can spiral into addiction.

College Students and Curiosity

Being out on your own for the first time brings a natural curiosity to explore new experiences. That curiosity commonly leads to drug and/or alcohol experimentation. Without guidance and structure, this self-exploration can turn dependent when paired with other addiction triggers.

College Students and Peer Pressure

Unsurprisingly, peer pressure is a common factor in not only drug and/or alcohol experimentation, but also dependence.

4 Tips for Handling Back to College Stress

College students currently make up one of the largest groups of drug abusers – full-time students being twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than those who don’t attend college. To combat the added risk factors for drug and alcohol abuse, it’s important to have healthy stress coping skills to prevent unhealthy coping from happening.

1. Recognize Your Stress

Until we recognize what is going on inside our heads and bodies, it’s difficult to take action to fix it. Gaining awareness of what we are experiencing – emotionally and physically – by pausing and allowing ourselves a moment to have curiosity about what stressors we will experience that day is vital in managing our stress. Practice meditation. Meditation allows us to pause and identify the root of our feelings. There are lots of apps that offer free, guided meditations or subscribe to Wellbridge’s YouTube Channel for weekly meditation videos.

2. Stay Connected to Others

The sudden changes and the distance from the people who make you feel safe and secure can be very stressful. By prioritizing those connections and using digital tools at your disposal – like video call services and social media – keep those connections intact. Maybe even lean on the old pen pal method to make it into even more of a meaningful experience.

3. Make Time for What You Love

While college is meant for learning both the education and the life skills that will support your success as an adult, it’s important to not lose sight of the power of play. Being in a play state means that we can be open to ideas, creativity, flexibility and the ability to bounce back more easily from roadblocks.

Exercise is an excellent way to practice play. It boosts endorphins and energy, which are known to reduce stress. If you are returning to school this fall, look into courses that involve fitness as an elective or finding a social-distancing club sport to be part of.

Creative outlets are also excellent ways to prioritize play. Creativity is about improvising and finding new perspectives. Maybe set up a 21-day creativity challenge with your dorm mates or enroll in a course that allows you to express yourself through a form of art.

4. Ask for Support When You Need It

So many of us want to be seen, heard and understood, but it can be anxiety provoking to speak up. Especially under severe stress! If you are feeling overwhelmed, reach out to your support system. It is okay to ask for help – now, during a global pandemic, more than ever.

If you feel that the stress has become too much for you to handle on your own, or you’ve turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol, find advanced, qualified support. Music therapy, drama therapy, dance movement therapy and art therapy offer pathways to receive clinical support and where your actions will truly speak volumes.

It’s important to remember that we’re not alone in this pandemic. Check in on your classmates, friends and family – a simple act can change their day and even decrease your own stress level.


This pandemic has thrown a wrench in many of our plans and I greatly feel for all the college students making the difficult decisions that surround their college experience this year. While this year is sure to be more stressful that it would have been without COVID-19, having healthy coping skills on hand can help you get through it.