Summer days are winding down, and before you know it, your schedule is going to be filled with essays, quizzes, and emailing back and forth with professors. But before you start immediately dreading all-nighters in the library, remember that now is a good time to get ahead of your responsibilities before your busy schedule picks up. If you’re feeling nervous, you’re not alone, and fortunately, there are many ways you can start tackling your stress head-on from now. Here are seven ways to relieve back-to-school stress and start the year on a good note, according to experts and current college students.
1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK EARLY
I don’t mean start doing your calculus problems before you step foot in the classroom, but make sure you’re prepared! Before classes begin, see if your professors have any materials online about what you need to succeed in their class. Ingrid, a senior at Auburn University, tells Her Campus, “I like to read the syllabi before my first day of classes, that way I know exactly what to expect before I even walk through the door.”
Quickly scanning through a professor’s syllabus, classroom procedures, or list of required materials can help you get ahead of the game and more constructive questions on the first day. Reviewing the homework early might even help you decide whether or not the class is a good fit for you.
Karen Aronian, Ed.D., a parenting and education expert, university professor, and the founder of Aronian Education Design, says that preparation is key to reducing stress during the semester. “If you want to stress less, prepare more,” Dr. Aronian tells Her Campus. “There’s nothing better than the endorphin rush from checking off your assignments. You can set up study game plans with your suitemates, or even have a go-to check-in with a school mentor or support services counselor.” Dr. Aronian also reminds students that it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for help if you need support after the semester starts. “Make sure you have a support plan in place if you need help getting started or remaining on task,” she says.
2. MAKE A “BUCKET LIST” FOR THE SEMESTER
Maybe you finally want to land your dream internship this year or be a fitness fiend and hit up the gym between classes. Whatever your back-to-school goals are, having a “bucket list” with each one listed out can help you stay motivated throughout the school year. Make sure your list is all about you and not about the classroom (although that’s important, too!). Hyping yourself up to achieve your personal goals can leave you with a feeling of empowerment that writing a 12-page paper doesn’t always provide.
Once you’ve listed your goals, Dr. Aronian says to remind yourself of them in creative ways. “Create a wish list for the semester by designing a vision board or a list of to-sees and to-dos,” she tells Her Campus. “Then, post this reference in several places as reminders: [your] mirror, refrigerator, the inside of the front door, on your phone, and as a saved image on your computer desktop homepage. You can even set an app on your phone and email to consistently remind you weekly to check in with your bucket list.”
If you’re worried about not sticking to your semester bucket list, get your BFF or roommates to collaborate on it, and start crossing dreams off your list together! At the end of the semester, you might even take it a step further and make a “reverse bucket list,” which can help you feel more confident and accomplished, according to 2015 research on gratitude from the Journal of Positive Psychology. Soon, you’ll be on your way to a semester that feels less stressful and way more exciting.
3. TREAT YOURSELF
It’s no secret that being a college student is a ton of work. Doing something nice for yourself — like a spa day or buying yourself a nice pair of shoes for trekking across campus — will be a reminder that you’re a person who deserves to enjoy things, and not just a busy student.
Dr. Aronian recommends finding a way to unwind during the semester, whatever that looks like to you. “How do you relax?” she says. “Is it a bath, a talk with a friend, a morning gratitude prayer, meditation, yoga, run, a forest bath, or early morning walk? Make sure you slot this into your daily schedule to take the time to better tune into yourself.”
Alexa, a junior at the University of South Carolina, tells Her Campus, “I think the best de-stressing activity is getting your nails done, which doesn’t have to be expensive! You can just get a nail polish change for like $8, and it’s still a treat.”
Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be big, but it never hurts to do something purely for your own enjoyment. Think about what you do on the weekends or when you have a day off. Do you go on a mini shopping spree? Do you get milkshakes with your friends? Do something that makes you happy before classes even start and the positivity will carry over into the semester.
4. GET ORGANIZED
There’s no better way to start the school year than by buying every cute school supply Target has to offer — including your dream planner to write down everything, including your dog’s birthday (very important). Staying organized can help reduce that overwhelming feeling when all of your tests and paper deadlines are on the same exact day. Having everything written down in a planner, locked into your Google Calendar, or in an organized place can help reduce your stress significantly.
Madeline, a senior at Oregon State University, says that staying organized in college is everything. “My recommendation is to get a planner,” she tells Her Campus. “Get your school supplies organized by class, and map your route to classes beforehand.”
At the beginning of the semester, set aside an hour or two to write down due dates from your syllabi in your planner and write out your schedule so you can visualize it. You may know the campus like the back of your hand, but when you originally registered for classes, you may not have realized you only have five minutes to get from one end of campus to the other! Knowing details about your schedule and classes will leave you with fewer surprises on your first day back.
5. START A YOGA, MEDITATION, OR MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
Jeremy Raynolds, PhD., a private school counselor, yoga teacher, and professional editor at EduBirdie, recommends that college students start a mindful practice to help reduce stress during the school year. He tells Her Campus, “As a yoga teacher, I always have a new flow of students joining my classes at the start of each academic year or during the exams. Breathing and meditative practices can help students balance out the stress, while some reasonable physical activity allows their brains to switch and rest.” As a counselor, Dr. Raynolds also recommends that students find a “soothing, slow-paced hobby” to help them stay grounded during the semester, whether it’s yoga or otherwise.
If you’re interested in meditation and mindfulness, there are many ways to get started. Oprah, AKA the queen of everything, teamed up with Deepak Chopra to make a 21-Day Meditation Program to help you stay grounded and present. If you’re not up for the commitment, browse the App Store for a meditation program or app that fits your needs — I recommend platforms like Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer.
If you’re feeling intimidated, remember that meditation isn’t just for yoga teachers and zen masters. There are many different ways to “meditate,” and it doesn’t have to be super serious, either! Juliana, a senior at Temple University, thinks it’s essential. “Mindfulness meditation grounds you and makes you become aware of what’s currently in front you,” she says, “so then you’re able to put everything into perspective and move forward with a clearer mind.” Meditation is also the perfect excuse for “me” time, giving you a chance to reduce stress and unwind for a few minutes each day.
6. GET CRAFTY
I know you have a Pinterest board dedicated to every DIY project you wish you had time for! To relieve back-to-school stress, pick a craft (or creative arts activity) you genuinely enjoy, whether it’s scrapbooking, painting, making a collage, or even building your own succulent garden for your dorm room. Take a few minutes to get creative, and chances are, you’ll start to notice some stress-relieving benefits.
Ouriel Lemmel, the CEO and founder of WinIt and a mentor for college students, says that creativity can be a great way to reduce stress throughout the semester. He tells Her Campus, “Creative pursuits can often be put on the back burner during college, especially if you are majoring in a subject that doesn’t seem to value the arts. Making art can be a useful tool in managing mental health and stress.”
Apart from being a fun stress-reliever, Lemmel reminds students that creativity can be a valuable “skill” to flex during college and beyond. “Honing your creative skills while in college will only be an asset to you down the road,” he says. “Think of the packaging for Apple products or ads…this marketing is all coming from a place of creative freedom. Arts and creativity is a secret weapon once you enter the workforce.” While your arts and crafts adventures can be purely for enjoyment and stress relief, it’s always nice to know your creativity is boosting more areas of your growth than one.
7. GET YOUR CREW TOGETHER
When you’re with your besties, stress tends to go right out the window — after all, it’s a fun time to focus on each other, your inside jokes, and, of course, the gossip you forgot to share in the group message. If you’re looking for a fun way to relieve stress, plan an old-school sleepover complete with matching pajama sets, sleeping bags, and Mary-Kate and Ashley movies before you hit the books again, or get your friends together for a fun dinner party.
“My high school friends and I always plan one night at the end of the summer to get together before we go back to school,” says Erin, a senior at Duquesne University. “We all call off of work, pick a nice place to eat, and then get ice cream at our favorite place.” Whether it’s grabbing coffee, planning an end-of-summer beach trip, trying a new TikTok recipe, or making it a point to hang out after your first day of class, getting your crew together and engaging in activities you love will be an awesome way to reduce back-to-school stress.
Back-to-school season can be overwhelming, especially after a year of virtual classes, uncertainty, and relaxing poolside all summer with no homework in sight. However, the new semester can also be a time for a fresh start and exciting new opportunities. Start incorporating stress-free activities into your schedule before your first lecture of the year, whether it’s meditation, arts and crafts, or a movie night with friends, and remember to carry your self-care practices into the school year. When in doubt, review these expert-approved tips, and you’ll be on your way to a (mostly) stress-free semester that you won’t forget.
Ingrid, Auburn University
Alexa, University of South Carolina
Madeline, Oregon State University
Erin, Duquesne University
Watkins, P. C., Uhder, J., & Pichinevskiy, S. (2015). Grateful recounting enhances subjective well-being: The importance of grateful processing. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(2), 91-98.