Stress and anxiety

There is nothing like an upcoming exam, being overwhelmed from too many assignments or a series of new and challenging experiences to trigger both stress and anxiety

Both stress and anxiety are very common, and it is normal to feel one or both now and then, however, there can also be times when it can feel like it’s too much and we need some help. Learning to understand what is normal for you, and to recognise when your level of stress or anxiety is increasing is an important part of caring for ourselves, especially when we’re at University.


Stress is usually caused by an external trigger. As a university student, this could be caused by upcoming assignment deadlines, exam worries or events happening at home. The symptoms caused by stress usually go away after the event, but if the stress trigger is continuous, it can start to feel never-ending and overwhelming.


Anxiety differs from stress in that you have similar symptoms but there may be no obvious reason for the feelings. Anxiety can also look like excessive worries that are prolonged or don’t seem to go away.

Common symptoms

The symptoms of stress and anxiety can be very similar, however different people will experience different combinations of them at different times.

Common physical symptoms can include:

  • Feeling tense or wound up,
  • Rapid heart rate,
  • Sweating,
  • Fast breathing,
  • Dizziness,
  • Trouble sleeping,
  • Change in appetite,
  • Headache,
  • Shaking,
  • Fatigue.

Common psychological symptoms can include:

  • Feelings of dread, nervousness, or panic,
  • Irritability,
  • Trouble concentrating,
  • Overthinking or obsessive thinking and a racing mind,
  • Excessive fear or worry,
  • Irrational anger,
  • Hopelessness.

How to manage stress and anxiety

Luckily there are many ways we can relieve stress and anxiety that can be used interchangeably. Sometimes stress and anxiety is something that we can manage by ourselves, whilst other times we need help from others. The following techniques are some tried and true practices that we can do to support ourselves but are by no means an exhaustive list. Give the following a try and if you’re still struggling, reach out to the supports at the bottom of the page.

Sometimes we can block our emotions because they feel too difficult or too uncomfortable which can place additional stress on our mind and our body, sometimes even making them worse. Acknowledging them and not “beating up on yourself” can be the first step in letting anxiety and stress go.

It is something we’re often not taught how to do. Try exploring the following steps and see if they are supportive for you.

1. Stop – take a moment to stop, put down the phone, turn off the computer, close the study books and just be with you.

2. Name It – ask yourself “what are you feeling right now?”. Start by describing the physical sessions (e.g., tight chest, upset tummy, heavy limbs, shaky head etc.) and then do the same with your emotions and feelings (e.g., sad, tired, angry, hurt, overwhelmed etc.). Saying this out loud to yourself or to a trusted person can be supportive.

3. Explore the Cause – ask yourself “why am I feeling this way?”. Did something happen? Did someone say something? And I avoiding something? Am I scared of something? Sometimes we can’t always put our finger on the ‘why’, that’s okay. If the answer doesn’t come, give it some space and move onto the next step.

4. Make a Move – ask yourself “what can I do right now to support myself?”. We may not know why we’re feeling the way we are and we may not be able to immediately fix or stop it, but we can choose how we’re going to be with it. Go for a walk, connect with a friend, prepare a nourishing meal, take a nap, complete some homework, go out to a cafĂ©, do the thing you’re avoiding – understand what is will be supportive for you in the moment.

Sometimes we can become breathless from stress and anxiety and we might find ourselves wound up in a tight ball of nerves without realising it. Here are some short term and long-term things you can practice which may be supportive.

Short term – In The Moment

Stopping to take a minute to do some deep breathing, connect to your body and allow yourself to feel your breath entering the body. Feel it deep in your lungs, even imagining it going down to your belly button. Count to 5 in your head on your inhale and on your exhale; do this 10 times in a row.

Longer-term - Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a great skill to start to develop. If you feel stressed and anxious often, practising mindfulness can help as it is about learning how to keep calm and stay present in the moment.

Exercise is essential to your body’s health and wellbeing, including your mind – remember your mind is part of your body is not separate from it! Putting your body through movement or exercise can relieve mental stress. By doing this and eating well you give your body and such your mind the best opportunity to be clearer, more focused and happier. This is essential for strengthening your immune system and looking after your overall health and wellbeing.

  • Move your body in a way that works for you: walk, run, stretch, yoga, cycle, clean the house, dance. Studies have shown that at least 30 minutes of accumulated moderate-intensity physical activity (i.e., fasting walking) most days can support reducing anxiety and depression.
  • Try to eat whole foods like fruit, vegetables and healthy carbs and keep it balanced – Two-minute noodles every night is not going to cut it!
  • Avoid excessive alcohol as it is registered in the body as a depressant.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine and energy drinks as they can increase stress and anxiety.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Spend time outside.

Sleep plays an important part in regulating our emotions. Try and make getting between 6-8 hours of sleep a night a priority to help combat stress and anxiety.

Some tips to help get a good night’s sleep include:

  • Get enough exercise during the day,
  • Go to bed and get out of bed at the same time each day,
  • Limit evening tech,
  • Do not keep your phone near your bed,
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal before bed,
  • Expose yourself to bright natural light during the day and avoid it in the evenings (such as TV glare) to regulate your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm),
  • Try to get as much sleep before midnight and not after, and
  • Try not to fall into the trap of thinking you can ‘catch up on sleep’, this can place excess stress on your body which then can translate to stress within your mental health and wellbeing.

When to seek help

If you have tried the above techniques, or you feel like stress or anxiety is getting on top of you then always reach out for support.

Supports and Resources

Internal supports

  • Health and Wellbeing Centre: Call or drop-in to the Health & Wellbeing Centre located at Peribolos East Ground Floor (PE101), Bundoora Campus, which operates Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm. The Health & Wellbeing Mentors are available to offer drop-in sessions, provide information on accessing supports within the university including mental health, counselling, accessibility support and learning plans.
  • Emergency: In an emergency ring 000 and then security 9479 2222
  • Use our La Trobe University Crisis Line for Out-of-Hours Mental Health and Wellbeing Support. Phone 1300 146 307 or text 0488 884 100. This service operates 5pm-9am on weekdays and 24 hours during weekends and public holidays.

External resources


  • ARCVIC -  Anxiety recovery Centre Victoria, Monday-Friday (10am-8.30pm) 1300 269 438
  • Lifeline – For anyone experiencing a personal crisis, 24 hours a day 13 11 14.
  • Headspace – Check out their COVID-19 resource on coping with stress related to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Self-Help Programs

  • Mental Health Online - free self-guided programs; small fee for therapist-assisted programs
  • moodgym – Free self-help program, interactive skills training for depression and anxiety
  • Anxiety - Free self-help workbook and worksheets by the Centre for Clinical Interventions