Academic Stress

Updated: July 23, 2022

Learning can be a wonderful experience, but it can also involve academic pressure and stress. Healthy stress levels can motivate us to do well, indeed many people do well under a little pressure.  However for others, academia can bring about a feeling of overwhelm which can feel unmanageable.  This can have consequences for our ability to achieve goals, and for our mental health, leading to anxiety and depression.

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What Is Academic Stress?

Stress is thought to be a crisis relating to lifestyle and it was previously believed that students don’t have any problems and reasons to be stressed as all they have to do is study, something not viewed as stressful. Stress however can impact any one of us at any developmental stage of life.  Academic stress is a combination of environmental stressors, and how a student might evaluate and react to them.


It is increasingly recognised as a significant concern due to the impact it has on students’ mental health. Alarmingly, academic stress can lead many university students to take their own lives, due to the pressures they feel, if for example they fail exams, or feel unable to live up to parental expectations.

Girl studying with a concerned expression, surrounded by books and papers

What Are The Symptoms?

Avoidance and Procrastination

Due to stress, worries, and fears, individuals will put off what needs to be done, that is., studying.  They will do this by distracting themselves with any number of activities.  Usually these activities are not in any way a priority, but they are more appealing because they enable avoidance.

Disrupted Sleep

Sleep becomes impacted when we experience stress, especially when it is related to particular worries.  This means you may find it difficult to fall asleep easily, or you might wake up throughout the night, or wake up early with worries on your mind.

Feeling Detached

When people are feeling preoccupied and distracted by worries, they are unable to relax.  This means they find it difficult to be present, and will experience a sense of detachment.  For example, you may have experienced reading a book and coming to the end of a page without taking in anything you’ve read.  This can also happen in social settings with other, we are there, but we aren’t.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Academic stress occurs due to changes, for example, more responsibility, and the fears associated with grades and the ability to achieve.  As the pressures mount, students will often start to feel overwhelmed by the build up.


When we are overwhelmed, we are not easily able to regulate our emotions and mood very well.  This is often noticed by others who may experience us as irritable, when for example, we snap at them.

Lack Of Enjoyment

When people are feeling pressure a lot of the time, they can start to become overwhelmed by it.  This makes relaxing almost impossible, and means life is hard to enjoy.

Poor Concentration

When people are stressed they often experience difficulties with concentration.  This is due to a variety of compounding effects.  For example, stress and the worry that underpins it can impact sleep.  When sleep is affected, so are cognitive abilities, including the ability to focus and concentrate.

Stress Becomes Normal

You might find yourself experiencing a perpetual state of stress anxiety, such that it becomes your normal state.  Others will often notice this about you and may perceive you as a generally stressed or anxious person.


Academic stress is often underpinned by a sense of worry.  Those who experience it will tend to worry a lot, often feeling preoccupied.  This only exacerbates matters because stress and worry take energy, and impact capability, only adding to the problem.

What Causes Academic Stress?

  • A number of factors can lead to academic stress, for example, going from one level of study to the next can be academically challenging.
  • Studying remotely due to COVID-19 may also have been a contributor.
  • Exams and assessments can feel like a lot of pressure.
  • Many students leave home and may feel out of place and uncomfortable in the new setting.
  • Equally you may be distance-learning which can be isolating and make it hard to manage your time.
  • You might have to manage finances on a tight budget.
  • You may have an existing developmental or mental health problem (for example, autism or an anxiety disorder).
  • Meeting new people can feel daunting.
  • You may be living with people you don’t get along with.
  • Feeling the pressure of parent’s expectations.
  • The learning environment itself may be challenging.
  • You may feel inadequate when comparing your abilities with those of your peers.
  • Failing assessments or exams.
  • Worrying about your future.

How Phinity Can Help

  • Stress management techniques: We can teach you various stress management techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness practices. These techniques can help you reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and cope with academic stress more effectively.


  • Cognitive restructuring: We can help you identify and challenge negative or irrational thoughts related to academics, such as self-doubt, excessive worry, or catastrophic thinking. By using cognitive-behavioral techniques, we can assist you in reframing these thoughts and developing more balanced and realistic perspectives.


  • Time management and organisational skills: Academic stress often stems from feeling overwhelmed by multiple tasks and deadlines. We can help you improve your time management and organisational skills, teaching you strategies to prioritize tasks, create study schedules, and break down larger assignments into smaller, manageable steps.


  • Goal setting and motivation enhancement: We can assist you in setting realistic and achievable academic goals by helping you develop strategies to enhance your motivation and maintain focus, such as identifying intrinsic motivations, creating rewards systems, or finding purpose and meaning in your studies.


  • Exam anxiety management: If exam anxiety is a significant source of academic stress, we can provide techniques and interventions to manage and reduce test anxiety. These may include relaxation exercises, cognitive restructuring to challenge negative beliefs about exams, and desensitization techniques to gradually expose yourself to test-like situations.


  • Building self-confidence and self-esteem: Academic stress can erode self-confidence and self-esteem. We can help you build a positive self-image and develop self-compassion. By addressing self-critical thoughts and focusing on your strengths and achievements, you can enhance your confidence in your academic abilities.


  • Coping with perfectionism: Perfectionism can contribute to academic stress by creating unrealistically high standards and fear of failure. We can help you recognize and challenge perfectionistic tendencies, set more realistic expectations, and embrace a growth mindset that values learning and progress over perfection.


  • Healthy coping strategies: We can guide you in developing healthy coping strategies to manage academic stress, such as engaging in self-care activities, maintaining a balanced lifestyle, seeking social support, and finding outlets for relaxation and enjoyment outside of academics.
What Causes Academic Stress?How Phinity Can Help


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