Academic Stress and Time Management

Some thoughts and literature to consider

Stress affects all of us differently, but some thoughts and ideas are offered to help you manage your time whilst at university.

Heading through university can be inherently stressful. Adjusting to a wealth of new things: environment, people, locality and career. As I write this, I question whether I'm a good source of knowledge at all. I thrive on stress and high pressure environments, probably representative of why I previously enjoyed critical care nursing. However, maybe there's something from 7.5 years at uni that you might find of interest. Probably, that's just my ability to find literature that may be of use...

The obvious stuff

Plan your time! It's always helpful to plan out when all your assessments are due including clinical assessments (if applicable) when you might be heading on placement and include your social life when you're planning out your time. If you've got important social or work events, try and get your assignments done ahead of time so that you can enjoy these events without the worry of assessments hanging over you or the need to pull all-nighters to get them done. Many students write out assignments the night before and whilst on the rare occasion they turn out well, as a general rule they're noticeably rushed and often perform poorly.

I'd be lying if I didn't say that a glass of red wine (or a beverage of your choice) is a nice respite from university life. However, I've consulted the literature to give you something objective across a few different domains. Where possible I've tried to include systematic reviews and/or populations involving university students, however this has not been a definitive literature review.

Alcohol and stress

Magrys, S., & Olmstead, M. (2015). Acute stress increases voluntary consumption of alcohol in undergraduates. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 50(2), 213-218. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agu101

Key findings from their study of 75 university students:

Voluntary consumption of alcohol is increased due to acute stress - Within the study design, placebo and control groups were included to limit other potential factors, such as thirst.

Not a finding from the study but discussion I felt relevant to include:

The pharmacological effect of alcohol, in conjunction with impulsivity and stress interact to increase consumption - Linked to discussion surrounding the pharmacological effect of alcohol and cognitive mechanisms.


Small number of participants... efforts were made to simulate a normal drinking environment for undergraduates, but some factors within this study may not reflect typical circumstances or drinking behaviour

Exercise, healthy eating and stress

Stults-Kolehmainen, M., & Sinha, R. (2014). The effects of stress on physical activity and exercise. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 81-121. DOI 10.1007/s40279-013-0090-5

Key findings from their systematic review:
Physical activity is influenced by stress
Inverse relationship between stress and physical activity demonstrated in the great majority of studies
Stress affects individuals' attempts to be more physically active, just as it can influence other health behaviours negatively ie smoking, alcohol and drug use
A positive association was found between stress and physical activity in a smaller number of studies, suggesting that some individuals use exercise to manage stress


Many included studies lack rigorous experimental designs & future research needs to understand why some individuals become inactive whilst others are immune to changes in physical activity due to stress

Schultchen, D., Reichenberger, J., Mittl, T., Weh, T., Smyth, J., Blechert, J., & Pollatos, O. (2019). Bidirectional relationship of stress and affect with physical activity and healthy eating. British Journal of Health Psychology, 24(1), 315-333. DOI:10.1111/bjhp.12355

Key findings from their study of 51 university students:

Physical activity was reduced in the presence of higher stress and a negative affect, in addition to a lower overall positive affect whereas higher physical activity was associated with a lower negative affect, more of a positive affect and less subsequent stress

No effect was found for the impact of stress and healthy eating or vice versa


Research took place during an examination period, therefore may be difficult to generalise to other life periods involving non-stressful or varying stressor periods, gaps of around 2.5 hours for participant sampling, student population was predominantly female, variables reported were subjective rather than objective, low sample size & European student sample.

Mindfulness, meditation, yoga & stress

Regehr, C., Glancy, D., & Pitts, A. (2013). Interventions to reduce stress in university students: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 148(1), 1-11.

Key findings from their meta-analysis:

Results demonstrated that cognitive, behavioural and mindfulness-based approaches were effective in reducing the effects of stress in university students, levels of anxiety, depression and cortisol (hormone produced in response to stress) were also reduced.


Results included only those found published in peer-reviewed journals and in English, most research participants were women, studies were limited to only those examining the effectiveness of cognitive, behavioural and mindfulness-based interventions. Some controlled studies have evaluated arts-based and educational interventions, however there was insufficient data to perform rigorous analysis of these interventions and thus they were not included.

Pascoe, M., Thompson, D., & Ski, C. (2017). Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and stress-related physiological measures: A meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 86(1), 152-168.

Key findings from their meta-analysis:

Yoga practice appears to inhibit physiological stress, observed through reductions in cortisol, blood pressure and cytokine levels. A broad range of populations were included, suggesting that the observed effects are not specific to a certain population Compared to an active control, such as exercise, therapy or education the observed reductions are greater with yoga practices


No follow up periods, concerns raised as to the longevity of the observed effects, many studies classified as having a high risk of bias, published studies for inclusion only in English, however no studies excluded due to languages other than English when reviewing inclusion criteria.

Lastly and the most important part. Uni is a great place to meet lots of people and make lifelong friends. A good group of friends will help tremendously. Whether it's studying together, encouraging each other, having fun on placement or dealing with the inevitable challenges that come your way, they're an awesome source of assistance, motivation and inspiration.