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  • Student Counseling Services at 205-934-5816
  • Crisis Center at 205-323-7777

How to Help when Your College Student is Stressed?

Any life transition, whether it is a positive or negative transition, brings with it the potential for stress. Each person’s capacity to cope with stress is widely variant, and for college students, this capacity can be revealed in the academic, social and emotional domains. Entering college is typically associated with excitement, anticipation and some nerves. Different situations can be stressful for different college students, depending on their past history and experience of finding coping skills to manage stress prior to starting college.

A few tips for parents and family members who have a family member in college:


The key point about stress is a person’s own perspective and belief that they have the skills and capacity to handle a stressful situation.

For some college students, adjusting to an increased academic load, in a fast-paced environment will feel stressful and overwhelming. For other college students, identifying potential peer friendships and pursuing social activities will feel more stressful than academic work. Each college student will have a different experience in what they identify as stressful. What is important for parents/family members is remembering that whatever your college student says is stressful about their transition or life in college IS stressful to them. Validating, or affirming their perspective helps them feel more supported, and will have a positive effect on their ability to cope with stress in their life.

Know signs of stress

While we all may identify different things as stressful in our lives, the symptoms of overwhelming stress are fairly common across the board. Knowing common signs of stress will equip you to be able to provide positive and encouraging feedback to your stressed college student, or even help get them to a professional counselor for additional support, if needed.

Signs of stress

  • extended periods of erratic sleeping/eating patterns (sleeping too much without feeling rested, not being able to regularly fall asleep, poor quality sleep; low appetite, significant change in eating patterns such as restricting or bingeing)
  • increased irritability
  • lack of patience
  • increased social isolation
  • lack of enjoyment in activities that used to be pleasurable
  • significant changes in lifestyle habits
  • presence of high risk behaviors (such as alcohol or substance abuse, high risk sexual behaviors)
  • generally feeling overwhelmed

Remind your college student what coping skills have helped to manage their lives in the past.

For some students, college and the related stress is so overwhelming they forget they have had to cope with difficult academics or personal relationships at different times in their life. A gentle reminder of past skills that have been helpful in their life wouldn’t be out of place for a supportive family member.

Be knowledgeable about resources and access to resources.

Listed below are on-campus resources for students dealing with stress management issue or other mental health concerns at UAB. Knowing what’s available and how to direct your college student toward mental health professionals is a big step forward in learning how to cope with stressful experiences.

As a parent, look for opportunities to play a supporting role and not a lead role in your college student’s experience.

Particularly when we see someone we love dealing with issues like stress, anxiety or depression, our tendency is to act quickly to remove the distressing circumstance or to lessen the impact of stress in someone’s life. In parenting young adults, the most helpful stance a parent can take is that of a ‘consultant’ in their college student’s life. Students are more likely to pull parents into a decision-making conversation when they know their parent is supportive and willing to be a sounding board when invited to participate. Parents who assume the stance of ‘consultant’ will likely be more valued for their input in their college student’s life than parents who provide advice and feedback without being invited into this process.