How to manage stress during your first year of university

Faculty of Engineering
Student life

By your Engineering Mentors

Engineering mentoring centre (STE 1030), Faculty of Engineering

Student studing together
Are you having a hard time dealing with the transition to university ? Are you feeling homesick ? Many students face these challenges during their first year, but with a little bit of effort, you can transition smoothly to life at university and enjoy your first year!

Starting university can be very challenging and stressful. For many students, this may be their first time experiencing some independence. At first, especially during the first month, it can be quite tough, especially for students who live far from home. From buying groceries to getting good grades, you are now responsible for managing your time and maintaining a balanced lifestyle. As hard as it can seem, here are some tips to make your first year very rewarding.

1. Build your network 

The best way to deal with homesickness and stress is to surround yourself with new friends.  

If you live in residence, talk to your community advisor: they are there to support you. They organize activities every month that will help you meet other students and make new connections.  

You could also join a student club or association. There are many clubs on campus and if you find one that interests you, join it. You’ll probably meet other students with the same interests and make new friends. 

Participate in events. Students usually make a lot of new connections during on-campus events. You may meet new people with whom you have much in common.  

Finally, make sure to stay in touch with your family and friends back home by scheduling phone or video calls with them during the week. 

2. Eat properly  

Many students often neglect their health and struggle to maintain a healthy diet, especially when studying. As a student myself, I am guilty of this: I often skip meals when studying or just because I’m feeling too lazy to cook, which is definitely unhealthy.  

If you go to the dining hall, make sure to eat a balanced diet. Try your best to incorporate healthy food in every meal.  

On the other hand, if you are responsible for cooking your own meals, be sure to buy groceries regularly and spend your money wisely. I usually buy one week’s worth of groceries at a time. I know it can be a hassle to carry, especially when you don’t have a car, but it will save you a lot of time and you won’t be as lazy when it comes to cooking because you’ll have everything you need in your fridge. If you can’t cook every day, why not try some meal prep, where you cook a large batch of food and freeze some for days when you don’t feel like cooking.  

If you’re still struggling to maintain a healthy diet, feel free to speak to a dietitian or doctor.   

3. Know what resources and services are available 

From academic and mental health support to financial support, the campus is full of resources to help you adapt to your new lifestyle. Make sure to use them when you feel it’s necessary. It is also very important to realize that you shouldn’t be ashamed of asking for help. It is okay and highly recommended that you reach out whenever you’re facing any situation you need help with. After all, that’s why these various services exist! 

There is mental health support on campus which you can access for free. The Engineering and Computer Science Mentoring Centre can help you understand your course material, build a study plan, and find classmates to study with. You can also meet with someone at the Engineering Undergraduate Studies Office if you have any academic questions or concerns.  

In terms of finances, be sure to apply for scholarships since there is a wide range of different scholarships available to help you cover your student fees. You could look into the CO-OP program or getting a job on campus to help finance your studies.  

4. Give yourself permission to have fun 

University isn’t just about studying and getting good grades. As a human being, you need to give yourself some time to relax and regularly find ways to have fun.  

For example, if you enjoy sports, go to the gym or make the most of other sport services, that might interest you, either on or off campus. 

When you have a bit of free time, be sure to go out and enjoy the beautiful city of Ottawa.  

You were a human being before you became a student, so make sure to find healthy ways to enjoy life and take care of yourself so that you can stay productive. 

5. Manage your time  

Students often struggle with time management as they juggle classes, studying, work, and other time-consuming responsibilities, which can be quite challenging. 

You may want to consider keeping an agenda or building a schedule to help you manage your time, especially if you feel overwhelmed by too many responsibilities. If you’re struggling to manage your own time, it can be very helpful to meet with someone (for example, at the Mentoring Centre) who can help you build a strategy that works for you.  

6. Don’t wait until the last minute  

If you notice that you don’t understand something during a lecture, be sure to review it before the next lecture. This will give you a chance to read up on it and maybe figure it out on your own. If you still don’t understand it, you’ll now have enough time to prepare some questions to ask your professor. You can also ask your teaching assistant or attend a study group. Your friends and faculty mentors could also help you. Just do everything you can to understand the concept because very often, the next topic will be built on the one you’re having trouble understanding.  

7. Make sleep a priority 

Due to their heavy workloads, university students often find it very challenging to get enough sleep. Nevertheless, you need to be disciplined and try to manage your time so that you stick to a proper sleep schedule. Try to do the important things first, especially on weekdays. For example: eat dinner, work on your assignments, review what you need to review… and then, if you still have time, you can do something else, like play on your phone or watch a show. By doing what you absolutely need to do first, you’ll enjoy your leisure time that much more since you won’t get that nagging feeling that you should be doing something else. This will also help you relax and deal with stress. However, if you start off spending time of your phone before looking at your assignments, you may underestimate the time you need and finish late at night, which will upset your sleep schedule considerably. My advice to you is: do what you need to do first, then do what you want to do.