The Going to Uni Workshops: Dealing with Stress

What You'll Need

  • Large sheets of paper or flip chart paper and pens
  • Post-it notes and pens for the group

Aims and Objectives

Aim: To equip students to recognise the signs of stress and develop methods of coping with stress that are proactive.


  •  Help students reflect on their own experiences and reactions
  •  Provide students with the skills and confidence to manage stress at uni


In 2017, Unihealth conducted research into student wellbeing. Eight in ten respondents said that they had experienced stress and anxiety, almost half (45%) said that they had felt depressed, and one in five said that they had suicidal thoughts. They also found that three quarters of students did not ask for help because they didn’t know where to find it, were embarrassed, or thought it would be a waste of time.

In this workshop we’ll be looking at how to recognise the symptoms of stress and how to deal with stress.

Icebreaker: Straw Poll

Ask the group the following questions:

  • Has anyone felt stressed recently?
  • What made you feel stressed?
  • Did you deal with it? How?

Record some the causes of stress and how people dealt with in on the flip chart paper. Are there any common causes or responses to stress in the group?

Recognising the Signs of Stress (10 minutes)

There are four key markers to identify the signs of stress: Physical Symptoms, Emotional Symptoms, Cognitive Function and Behaviour Patterns. The markers will be different for different people, but hopefully this list gives you a good idea of the things to look out for. Symptoms of stress include:

Physical Symptoms like headaches; disrupted sleep; fatigue; involuntary twitching or shaking; getting ill more often than you think is normal and generally your body feeling a bit ‘weird’. 

Emotional Symptoms like less patience; feeling overwhelmed with no way of dealing with things; feeling sad and isolated; restlessness; reluctance to do the things you usually enjoy and increased levels of pessimism.

Cognitive Function like having difficulty concentrating and remembering things, feeling constantly anxious and worried, unwanted thoughts and making judgements that feel out of character.

Behaviour Patterns like an unhealthy change in eating and sleeping patterns; a desire to try things more often that you feel might help you cope e.g. bingeing, smoking or drugs; an increase in subconscious behaviours; an uncommon desire to be alone as well as having difficulty in getting along with people and possibly frequent lying.

Some of these might be harder to spot than others, but being able to recognise the signs of stress will help you to put things in place to alleviate the symptoms before things get out of control. Look out for your friends too; if you think they might be feeling stressed ask what you can do to support them.

Stress Catalysts (10 minutes)

After discussing the causes of stress and how to spot the symptoms, ask the group to think about what might make them even more stressed. Here are a few suggestions if the discussion needs a kick-start:

  • Workload piling up due to missed deadlines
  • Being ill can lead to worrying about your health more
  • Losing friends/support network due to behaviour

How to Deal With Stress (15 minutes)

#1 Get headspace.

This is always a good first step; go for a walk and get away from the desk! Try and put your mind on something else. Taking that quick breather rather than staying stuck in a rut with the stress is going to be an important step in regaining control of the situation. Getting in regular exercise like going for a walk or doing some sport with friends, as well as sleeping well and eating healthily all help clearer thinking too. Pulling all-nighters and eating pot noodles all the time will be massively unsustainable and it will only make you feel worse (however tempting it may be!)

#2 Organise.

Getting organised and making a realistic plan is a great practical step to keep you from feeling overwhelmed, and although it's best to start this early it can be done at any point. Try not to leave planning to the last minute because it can be harder to find time, but it's never too late to get back on track. Try and work out how and at what times you work best when it comes to organisation. You might be a simple to-do list person or you might want to use a timetabled structured day. Try out a few ways and see what suits you best. There are also lots of things that can help you from procrastinating on social media; apps like Forest lock you out of your phone for an amount of time of your choosing if that's a distraction for you, and it "grows a tree" in the process. Being able to work effectively and efficiently is better than setting aside an afternoon to work on an essay and spending 2 hours of the day stuck in a never-ending loop of cute cat videos (again, super tempting but not the most productive...)

#3 Get perspective.

Not all stress will be long term, often there will be specific stress points; new situations can be tricky for some people, but eventually they will become commonplace and you'll adjust. Academic demands are normally over in a matter of months or a few weeks for specific deadlines. With after uni plans it may be helpful to remember that it will work out, even if it requires a bit of patience and flexibility to begin with. Viewing your life in the big picture, with all its seasons and fluctuations, and seeing these stress points in light of this can be a great way to reduce the overwhelmed feeling. Instead of looking at the worst-case scenario, which tends to be our first response, try and envisage the best case and work through the problems one by one as they arise. Don't forget to chat to people if you need help, especially if finances are an issue.

#4 Do something you love.

This one’s a bit of a no brainer, but keep doing the things that you enjoy! We realise that sometimes it’s hard to sit back and relax because you're so stressed about everything, but that's why it's good to be doing something that will give you something else to concentrate on, for example a craft activity or some exercise. Passions are still passions and things that you enjoy will be needed to keep you together and feeling like yourself in these hectic times.

#5 Talk to someone.

Now this is the one we think is most important. If you're feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious about the future, please talk to someone. Talking helps get the inside stuff out in to the open, and even the process of verbalising what's going on in your head can help you to process it. We are designed to live in community and support each other, and a principle of openness is key here. The overriding feeling of stress gets worse when it is stored up, and you can end up crashing and burning when it all gets too much. Do what you can to catch it early.


Go back to the responses from the start of the session and the ways that people deal with stress. Are the things they identified good ways of dealing with stress, or could they be stress catalysts? What might they do differently?

Small Group Prayer Reflection (15 minutes)

Here are some ideas of how your group can reflect prayerfully:

  • Ask each person to write down something that is causing them stress, or something that is worrying them on a post it note. Swap post-its with one another and commit to praying for each other.
  • Print out some scripture passages that can be decorated as a mindfulness exercise. Here are some suggestions:

Isaiah 40:29-31 says, "[God] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint

Joshua 1:9, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

  • Create space where young people can simply sit and be.

IMPORTANT: Remind your group that while prayer is a good place to start, it is a good idea to seek other help too, especially for support with mental health.

Where Next

Stress does not need to be the defining feature of uni. University can be a great, life defining and positive experience! If you do need help, here are some organisations who can provide support:

  • Papyrus (suicide prevention charity):
  • Headspace (meditation made simple):
  • The Samaritans: or call 116 123
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Student Life
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Doubt and Worry
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