Coping with college pressure

Coping with college pressure

Tuesday, 07 November 2023

The college year is well and truly underway and the summer break is now but a distant memory. With exams looming and a list of assignments to get through, not to mention work and social commitments to keep up with, it might feel like the pressure is mounting.

If you are feeling under pressure at the moment, it is important to know that you are not alone. There are steps you can take and supports you can lean on to help lift some of the weight off your shoulders.

Break down your to-do list

When you look at all of the tasks you have to complete in a day, week or month, it might feel really overwhelming. Taking your to-do list and breaking it down into manageable, bite-size chunks can be a really helpful practice. For example, if you have a busy day ahead and are feeling worried at the thought of it all, focus first on what tasks you need to complete this morning. Then choose one relaxing activity you can do for yourself once those tasks are complete, such as reading a few pages of a book or taking a walk. Once you have gotten through this portion of the day, you can look ahead to the afternoon and approach it in a similar way. By doing this, you are compartmentalising your priorities rather than looking at them as one overwhelming chunk of tasks.

Set boundaries where necessary

We can often place a lot of pressure on ourselves to achieve things but in some cases, this pressure comes from external sources. Perhaps your family members are pushing you to achieve a certain grade or to decide what you want to do once you leave college. Whether they realise they’re doing this or not, if you are feeling overwhelmed by other people’s expectations of you, it is important that you set clear boundaries with them.

A boundary is a way of showing others how you would like to be treated. It can be challenging and even uncomfortable to set boundaries if you are not used to it so it can be helpful to first practice them with a trusted friend. Setting a boundary might sound something like the following:

  • “I know that you just want what’s best for me but I need you to trust that I am doing the best I can.”
  • “I have a lot on my plate at the moment so I really need to take some space and time to relax when I come home.”
  • “Choosing what to do after college is a big decision and I need time to think about it before making a commitment.”
  • “I am finding it difficult to manage all of the things I have to do right now and really need somebody who can listen and help me to find support.”

Look after your mental health hygiene

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to achieve a certain result in college. However, sometimes the inner voice that is driving us to do our best can turn against us. We all have an inner critic but if that critical voice becomes very loud and persistent, it can be really difficult to manage.

As you move through this busy time, it is important to check in with your thoughts and notice what you are saying to yourself. If you find that your thoughts are overwhelmingly negative and self-critical, try to change the narrative. Imagine what you would say to a friend in the same situation as you. It is likely that you would speak to them with kindness and compassion. Try to direct those same words of kindness towards yourself. It may feel strange at first but try to trust the process and see where it leads you.

Remember, it is ok to make mistakes sometimes. If you find your inner critic emerging when you make a mistake or don’t meet your own expectations, try to remind yourself that making mistakes is an important part of learning.

Tend to the basics

When you’re feeling under pressure and have a mountain of college work to get through, self-care is often the first thing to fall by the wayside. However, looking after your basic needs is more important than ever during busy times. Incorporating quality sleep, movement, nutritious foods and positive social interaction into your routine can help you to support your well-being. While tending to these needs may not completely take away the pressure you are experiencing, it can certainly help to alleviate it.

Here are some simple ways to make sure you’re meeting your basic needs.


Just as you set an alarm to wake you up for college, consider setting an alarm to remind you to go to bed each night.

Try to avoid scrolling on your phone in the hour before bedtime. Instead, opt for a relaxing activity such as reading or listening to music.

If you find your mind is busy thinking about what you have to do the following day, keep a journal by your bed and write out everything that is on your mind before you try to sleep.


Walk to college if it is feasible for you. If you can ask a friend to join you, even better!

Keep a yoga mat by your desk to encourage you to stretch during your study breaks.

Take a look at the activities your college is offering. Could you sign up for a dance class between lectures or a yoga class at the end of your college day?


It can be hard to find the energy or motivation to cook nutritious meals when you’re busy. Why not take turns with a family member or housemate, or even agree to cook meals together? Cooking with someone else can turn a chore into a fun activity!

Prepping meals ahead of time may seem like a lot of work but when you’re tired after a long day of lectures, you will be thankful that you did. Try to take an hour at the weekend to cook some meals in bulk. Think simple but nutritious one-pot dishes like soups, stews and curries.

Fruit, nuts and some cereal bars are just some affordable and nutritious snacks that require no preparation. Regular snacks can keep you energised and focused throughout a busy day.


Do you have a weekly gap between lectures or a lunch break to fill? Perhaps you could consider using it to meet a friend for coffee or lunch. Even a fifteen-minute chat can give you a boost.

Taking part in societies and clubs can be an excellent way to forge new friendships.

While meeting a friend during the week may not always be feasible, a phone call is usually manageable. Could you use your commute to college as an opportunity for a catch-up?

Seek out support

If you are finding the pressure too much, know that you don’t have to struggle alone. There is help available to you, both within and outside of college.

Many colleges offer a free, confidential and non-judgmental counselling service that can support students through challenging times. Your Students’ Union will also be able to offer you guidance on a number of issues. If you are finding a certain class particularly demanding, it could be a good idea to speak with your lecturer about how you’re feeling. They may be able to offer you an extension on your assignment.

Speaking with a trusted friend, family member or professional about what you are going through can be really helpful at a time like this. There are also a number of free online and in-person supports available to you through Jigsaw. Through the Live Chat service, you can access anonymous, 1:1 live, text-based chats with a clinician.

Additionally, every Wednesday, the Jigsaw Live Group Chat Service can give you the opportunity to share what you are going through with your peers. This is a safe and anonymous space. If you wish to speak with a clinician face-to-face, check to see if you have a Jigsaw service in your area. Those who do not may be able to avail of this support over video or phone call.


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