Stress relief tips for college students

Organization, exercise, sleep, and support all help with overload.

Stress is very real on university campuses, and all accounting students, no matter how accomplished or hardworking, face problems and pressures throughout their college careers. They have anxiety over exams, money, scheduling conflicts, and overload. They get tense over deadlines, grade-point averages, and securing internships. Juggling all of these things can be difficult and affect their studies, their grades, and their sense of well-being.

Kerby Philippeaux, a senior accounting student at Temple University in Philadelphia, said tension sometimes stops him in his tracks, until he steps back and gauges the situation.

“I put a high expectation on myself to perform well in classes,” said Philippeaux, a recent recipient of an AICPA Legacy Scholarship. “And last semester I was stressed because I was trying to go through the recruiting process for my internship.”

Each year the AICPA awards Legacy Scholarships to accounting students who demonstrate strong academics and leadership potential. With end-of-semester pressure imminent, try the following tips for coping with stress from Philippeaux and other Legacy Scholarship recipients who have successfully managed their college careers:

Get organized. “The big thing that has kept me on track is mapping out my semester on a page,” said Lizbeth Encinas, a first-year Master of Accounting student at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She does this at the beginning of the term, reading each syllabus and making special note of any big assignments or exams. Encinas also uses a daily planner to note assignment deadlines and then crosses them out once they are completed.

By staying organized, Encinas is able to see what’s ahead, prepare for the next assignment or exam, and have a sense of accomplishment once things are finished — which, in turn, reduces her stress.

Similarly, Philippeaux writes down not only his to-do list for the week, but also his short-term and long-term goals as well. “Always think of that long-term goal and take the steps to achieve it,” he said. “Be confident in your abilities.”

Seek advice. Students often don’t take advantage of the resources available at school. But professors or advisers can often help alleviate a student’s stress levels by offering them guidance or easing their anxieties about something they may not fully understand.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” said Courtney Privette, who graduated in May from Ohio State University with a master’s degree in accounting and was recently hired by Deloitte’s office in Raleigh, N.C.

Be prepared. Review material after every class so that you are well-versed for the next exam, “instead of cramming a week prior,” Philippeaux advised. In addition, if a professor posts slides online, read those before your class so you are ready for the lecture, he added.

Take care of yourself. When your world seems to be crashing, it can be tempting to eat for comfort. But that can backfire: Greasy food can cause sluggishness, and too much sugar can lead to energy spikes and crashes. Choose healthier alternatives that can give you sustained energy. Encinas tries to make her own dishes or purchases something nutritious. “I really like eating salads,” she said.

In addition, get adequate sleep. “Do not stay up all night studying,” Philippeaux advised. “You don’t want to be tired when taking an exam.”

Exercise or find a hobby. Exercise can be key to reducing tension. Go for a run or see what’s available at your school’s gym or recreation center. Philippeaux takes Brazilian jiujitsu classes, which helps him manage stressful times. “There’s always praise and camaraderie at the gym, and it’s kind of like a second home,” he said.

If exercise is not your thing, find a hobby to distract you temporarily from your course load. “Sometimes your mind needs to be cleared in order for you to tackle whatever you are trying to get through,” Privette said.

Breathe, assess, and communicate. It’s easy to blow things out of proportion. Ask yourself, “Is it really as bad as you think?” said Chelsea Jones, senior accounting major at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Evaluate your situation and determine if there's anything you can do to alleviate some of the stress, such as studying more or talking with a professor.

Solicit support from friends and family. “Hang out with people who are going through the same thing,” Jones added. “It’s comforting to know you are not alone.”

By Cheryl Meyer

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, senior editor of newsletters at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

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