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Stress & The Body: My Experience As A College Student

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

Stress is a staple of life as it accompanies us through a variety of obstacles that we face. As college students, stress is inevitable when we encounter new experiences, challenging classes, and lifestyle shifts. When we think of stress, we usually think of our tense emotions and feelings of anxiety, however, the physical effects of stress are often overlooked, and sometimes, we might not even realize the extent to which stress impacts us.

Stress and the Fight or Flight Response

The flight or fight response is a major characteristic of the stress response, and a large part of this response is due to the action of the sympathetic nervous system. Fight or flight causes a release of hormones, making the body prioritize survival over all else. If a physiological factor is not needed for the body’s immediate needs, it is placed in the peripheral while the stress response occurs. This response was crucial for the survival of our ancestors when they experienced many immediate physical dangers. Today this response is prompted more by psychological and mental stressors, such factors may cause the stress response state to be activated for prolonged periods, causing many physiological effects on our body.

Stress and Acne

One of the biggest visible impacts of stress I have experienced is acne flare-ups before a big test or during finals week, and research shows that this is not an uncommon occurrence, especially for college students. When female medical students were asked about their stress while also being assessed for acne severity, a correlation emerged between those with more stress and those with more severe acne. This inconvenient phenomenon is due in part to the production of more androgen hormones when the body is under stress. This causes oil glands to be released and hair follicles to be blocked, increasing acne severity. Cortisol is another consequence of stress that can worsen acne.

Stress and the Endocrine System

The body’s response to stress involves the fluctuation of many hormones that cause various physiological effects. When we encounter a stressful situation, our brain initiates a cascade of events to cause the endocrine stress response to occur. The hypothalamus will signal to the pituitary gland telling it to produce more hormones that will stimulate the adrenal gland to increase cortisol production. Cortisol is an important aspect of stressful situations as it allows for an increase in energy fuel, utilizing glucose and fatty acids from the liver. This increase is meant to prepare the body for the perceived threat it is experiencing. However, too much cortisol due to chronic stress can cause issues elsewhere in the body, such as the cardiovascular system. Cortisol contributes to an increase in heart rate and elevated blood pressure leading to conditions such as hypertension or heart attacks.

Stress and the Musculoskeletal System

Headaches, clenched jaw, and teeth grinding are all side effects of stress that manifest in the musculoskeletal system. When the body undergoes stress, muscles tend to tense, oftentimes without us taking any notice. When studying, this is not something I typically consider, but there are times that I’ll recognize the rigidity of my shoulders as I’m working, emphasizing how easily our bodies can naturally fall into a tense position that is often difficult to get out of. Chronic stress can generate different physiological effects as muscles are in a tense state for long periods of time, and this results in more frequent headaches and migraines.

Stress and the Gastrointestinal System

The physiological and mental effects of stress may cause our diets to fluctuate and our eating patterns to be abnormal, such as eating more or less than normal, and this trend can lead to side effects on the gastrointestinal system. When we are stressed out, it can be easy to eat more than usual, maybe as a reward for work or motivation to get through another hour of studying. Consuming more or even just different foods than normal can cause heartburn or acid reflux. I find that when I get stressed out, I cope with this emotion by eating more chocolate than normal, and from this, I definitely notice a change in the way my body feels. The role stress plays in food intake also relates to changes in weight, whether that is an increase due to more food eaten or the loss of weight when stress causes a loss of appetite, both cases are a cause of concern. Stress also causes other issues such as bloating, nausea, and stomach discomfort.


Stress is something we all experience in some form or another, but we often don’t think about the effects it has on our bodies. It can be easy to overlook the physical toll of stress and forget about how our bodies may respond, especially when our mind is preoccupied with the stressful situation at hand. However, stress has vast consequences that should be addressed. Knowing these potential consequences is important to curb the stress response as much as possible to avoid these effects. As college students, chronic stress is often normalized as just another component of college life, but this is a dangerous cycle as stress can cause long-term distress to the body. Telling yourself to relax, however, is easier than it sounds. I find that stress often starts without me consciously recognizing its presence, so it is important to find ways to address this stress response and find healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise, reading, art, or other activities that reduce your stress levels and help you relax.

April Kelly

U Conn '27

April Kelly is a freshman nursing major from Connecticut. She currently works at Chick-fil-A and has been working there for three years. She is a member of the running club at UConn and enjoys running half and full marathons.