Eighty percent of college students report ongoing stress. For adult students, the pressure can be both chronic and intense. You may be juggling many roles—parent, worker, spouse, child, and now, student.
The daily grind can be tough, but what may be even tougher are the high stakes. You know that your future success is closely tied to your performance in school. So when you’re trying to manage a toddler having a tantrum, a spouse who’s also stressed with everything that’s going on, and a paper deadline, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
The good news is that this is temporary. Your stress today buys higher earning potential and increased job opportunities tomorrow. With a better job and more money, you'll have more control over your life and schedule, access to high-quality childcare, and many other resources that can help life’s challenges feel less overwhelming. Here’s what you need to know about managing your stress until you graduate.
The Importance of Stress Management for Adult Students
Stress is not just a temporary inconvenience. Although it’s normal to occasionally feel stressed in anticipation of a test or a big event at work, chronic stress is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, a weaker immune system, depression, and other illnesses.
If you feel like you have more obligations than time in the day, you may feel like you're failing in every role. You might beat yourself up and wonder why everyone else seems to have no difficulties balancing school and everything else. The reality is that most adult students deal with stress. It’s not your fault. Nevertheless, there’s still plenty you can do to make it feel more bearable.
Get Into the Right Frame of Mind Before Each Semester
Managing stress begins before your workload gets out of control. Develop a ritual for getting into the right frame of mind before each semester. Some strategies that can help include:
- Buying all of your books and school supplies before the first day of class.
- Finding a way to make the transition back to school fun, such as by investing in a planner you like or splurging on fancy notebooks.
- Clearing off your workspace and creating a calm, quiet place to work.
- Making your work area comfortable and appealing. Try putting a few plants on your desk or investing in a mug you adore. You’re going to be spending a lot of time on schoolwork, so you should enjoy the space where you study.
- Testing all of your technology to ensure it’s ready to go. The first day of class is not an ideal time to learn that your microphone is broken or your laptop screen is damaged.
- Lining up as much support as you can. Schedule childcare ahead of time, or work with your spouse to devise a load-sharing schedule you can both live with.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important ingredients in the recipe for good health. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll slog through each day with a foggy mind and little motivation. Sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system and make you more vulnerable to infections that take you out of school and work. It’s tempting to stay up late so you can squeeze as much time out of your day as possible, but those extra hours may come at a huge cost, sapping your productivity and destroying your mood. Go to bed at a reasonable hour, and make healthy sleep a priority.
Ask for Help
If you have the motivation and drive to return to school, chances are you’re driven in other areas of life too. However, that doesn’t mean you should have to juggle all of your day-to-day responsibilities alone. Asking for help can feel difficult, but it’s critical to staying successful and reducing burnout. One of the best ways to overcome this is to turn to your inner circle first. Ask your spouse to pick up more slack. Work out a childcare and household chore schedule together. Consider investing in quality childcare so that your kids can learn and play while you're studying.
Then look for other opportunities to get—and possibly give—help. Can you trade carpool days with the dad down the street? Is your neighbor willing to watch your kids during the week if you’ll help her get a few hours of time on the weekend? Can your parents or siblings pick up your kids from school or walk your dog once or twice a week? The people who love you want to help you because they want you to thrive. But they may not know what to do. So ask them for what you need. You might be surprised by how willing they are to join your team.
Keep Your Course Load Manageable
A better career is just over the horizon. Running too fast, however, can actually backfire. If you load up on classes, you’ll have less time to invest in each course, and you may get lower grades. It’s good to be ambitious, but success also requires a realistic approach. That’s why SNU offers an innovative one-course-at-a-time model for adult students. You’ll gain the chance to get to know your professor, dig deeply into the material, and get better grades than you would get if you tackled an unmanageable load.
Develop Strategies for Managing Your Kids
For many adult students, the challenges of parenthood are the biggest barrier. You want to spend time with your kids, and you may feel guilty for spending more time away from them or for checking on coursework when you’re supposed to be playing. Shake off those feelings of guilt, because a college degree is one of the best things you can do for your kids’ future. They will have more opportunities when you’re done, and you’ll almost certainly be able to spend more time with them. The stress is temporary; the benefits will last a lifetime.
Of course, eliminating your guilt doesn’t eliminate the many obligations of parenting. Discover how to entertain your kids in ways that can enrich their lives while giving you time to study. We’ve compiled a great list of resources for studying alongside kids. Or check out our suggestions for establishing a routine that works for every member of your family.
Establish a Strong Routine
While we’re talking about routines, let’s consider your own. Getting up each day with no idea what you plan to do or when you will do it is inherently stressful. It becomes even more so when you don’t knock out key tasks. So set a routine and stick to it. There’s no right routine that works for everyone; instead, your goal should be to identify your strengths and find a schedule that caters to them. Some strategies for building a successful routine include:
- Plan each day. Budget your time just as you budget your money. You should identify a list of important goals for each day, then set aside blocks of time to achieve these goals.
- Figure out when you do your best work, then schedule study time for that period.
- Practice a closed-door policy when you’re studying. If at all possible, schedule child care—either from a family member or a paid care provider—for some period of time each day so that you can focus solely on school.
- Make breaks, meals, and sleep part of your routine. They’re just as important as your to-do list.
Stop Bad Habits Before They Start
Your habits will define your life as a student. Good habits are easy to repeat and require little thought. Bad habits can undermine your best efforts, and kicking them to the curb can feel impossible. So stop these bad habits before they begin—and if you’ve already adopted them, commit to quitting right away:
- Multitasking. If you try to study while talking to a colleague and playing with your kids, you’ll accomplish only one thing: doing a bad job at each task.
- Skipping meals. You need food to live, and you especially need it to feel good.
- Taking your frustration out on others. If you yell at your spouse or kids because you're overwhelmed, everyone loses. You’ll all feel bad, and you’ll lose time trying to repair the damage you’ve caused. Take a deep breath, and talk about your feelings instead.
- Sitting on the couch all day. Exercise does a body and mind good. Spending just a few minutes moving each day can help you better manage stress and even lower your risk of depression.
- Studying in front of the TV. Your brain cannot simultaneously take in two complex pieces of information. Turn off the tube, and you’ll study more quickly.
Consider Extra Support if You Need It
If you had a headache that just wouldn’t go away, you’d go to the doctor. A therapist is a treatment provider for your mind, and their role in combating stress is difficult to quantify. If you feel depressed, or if you’ve tried everything and the pressure is still unbearable, look into counseling. Your doctor can refer you, but SNU also offers a counseling center for students who struggle.
SNU believes in a holistic approach to education. We hope to help you excel at school while thriving in all other areas of your life. We’re here to help you manage financial aid concerns, get academic support when you need it, and nurture your spiritual life with the help of our chaplain. We invest deeply in each student, and that includes you. For more tips on how to succeed as an adult learner while managing stress, subscribe to our blog.