Stress at universities is very common. According to a 2018 study by the DZHW in cooperation with the FU Berlin and the Techniker Krankenkasse, one in four students suffers from a high level of stress (25.3%) and exhaustion (24.4%)¹.



What exactly is stress and how does it develop?

Our bodies react permanently to external and internal stressors, i.e. stress stimuli. The brain receives the stimuli and then triggers various biochemical processes that put the body on alert. Our central nervous system reacts (tension) and various hormones are released². Stress or the feeling of stress is therefore first of all a completely normal bodily reaction that helps us to deal with danger.


Stress is subjective³. Reactions to stress factors are very individual and not all people experience the same situations or circumstances as stressful. It also depends on what resources we have at our disposal to cope with stress⁴, i.e. how “armed” we feel. For example, if you have already acquired good learning strategies, an upcoming exam period may be less stressful for you.


It is problematic when stress becomes chronic, i.e. you have the feeling that you are overburdened with everything and can no longer recover.

As you can see, many factors affect your mental health. Sometimes it can be quite stressful.

But don’t bury your head in the sand, you can practise dealing with stress. There are also various tips and support services that you can take advantage of.

The important thing is to take care of yourself!


Mindfulness has been shown to be associated with lower stress levels, less worry and more happiness among students⁵. You can learn various mindfulness techniques on the internet, in guidebooks or in courses, e.g. at associations or adult education centres. There are also guided videos on YouTube, among other places.

Find a balance

Even if you don’t have much time, try to find a balance in your everyday life. Anything that helps you and is fun is good, whether it’s hobbies, relaxation exercises, physical activities like sports or meeting up with friends. It is not only important to switch off regularly in stressful phases and to get other thoughts.

Self care

What self-care means to you is very individual. Of course, it includes doing something good for yourself every now and then, such as doing nice things or eating something delicious. But self-care can also mean giving space to your own worries and feelings and looking at what would help you. It is often helpful to write down what is on your mind. Maybe you will realise what exactly is stressing you out and what would be good for you. You might also realise that you have very high expectations or that you compare yourself a lot with others. It can help you to question yourself and your approach to your studies.

Relaxation & Sleep

Stress can have a motivating effect for a short time⁶. For example, if an exam is approaching and you realise that the material is still not sitting well, the feeling of stress can lead you to make an extra effort in the last few days.

In the long run, however, nobody can consistently function on a peak level. Relaxation, breaks and regular sleep are important. While you sleep, various repair and clean-up processes take place in your entire body, especially in your brain⁷, and what you learn during the day is anchored in your long-term memory.

Sleeping habits

However, many people suffer from not being able to switch off in the evening, which can even lead to insomnia. Maybe you have problems with this yourself. This is no reason to panic, you can also “train” yourself to sleep. It is important to maintain a so-called sleep hygiene⁸. A helpful overview of this is provided, for example, here.


You can also take breaks and relax during the day. Plan breaks and, if possible, make them active and varied (e.g. go for a walk). The Pomodoro method, for example, is popular: here, concentrated work phases alternate with short and longer breaks. You can find more tips in our study guide.

Organisation & Planning


To avoid getting into stressful situations in the first place, planning ahead and good time management can be valuable.

Keep track of your appointments, tasks and goals by documenting them in a visible way. It doesn’t matter if you prefer to use a handwritten planner, an online diary or an app. The only important thing is that you have a realistic overview and schedule enough time for things.

Ask yourself: By when do I have to have done what? What fixed appointments do I have in the near future?

Set priorities

Sometimes you can’t do everything you set out to do. Then it can be useful to prioritise.

Ask yourself: Which goals and to-dos are really important? When can I schedule how much time for them? Who can help me or take over tasks? Where do I want to go?

Sharing with others

Confide in others

Many students find it helpful to share their experiences with other students or friends. I am not the only one suffering from stress – this realisation and sharing strategies and worries can be relieving. If you feel uncomfortable talking about your feelings or don’t want to confide in your immediate environment, you can also find support in anonymous support groups or at the telephone counselling service (see below: “Getting help”).

Getting help

Of course, you are always entitled to (professional) help.

There are support services that can help you if you are not feeling well. Don’t hesitate to use them!

Your environment/your university

You can seek support in your personal environment (friends, fellow students, family) as well as take advantage of low-threshold counselling services at your university or educational institution (e.g. psychosocial counselling centres).

Other support services

There are also various associations or anonymous counselling centres, whose staff can listen to you and refer you if necessary:

Telefonseelsorge (available around the clock): 0800 1 11 0 111 or 0800 1 11 0 222 – only available in German, but you can find links to non-german hotlines on their website  (individual crisis counselling via Whats-App, available around the clock, for people under 25)


If you feel completely overwhelmed by everything, if you are suffering a lot, if you are withdrawn or if you are severely restricted in your everyday life, you can and should seek professional help, e.g. from a psychotherapist.


Due to a high demand for therapy slots, there may be a longer waiting time. In immediate crises, you should contact your doctor, the nearest psychiatric clinic or the emergency doctor on 112!

[1] Grützmacher, J.; Gusy, B.; Lesener, T.; Sudheimer, S.; Willige, J. (2018). Gesundheit Studierender in Deutschland 2017. Ein Kooperationsprojekt zwischen dem Deutschen Zentrum für Hochschul- und Wissenschaftsforschung, der Freien Universität Berlin und der Techniker Krankenkasse.

[2; 6] Rusch, S. (2019). Was ist Stress?. In Stressmanagement (S.6). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

[3] Wippert, P. M. (2009). Hintergrundwissen Stress–Der Körper unter Spannung. ergopraxis2(05), 22-25.

[4] Plaumann, M., Busse, A., & Walter, U. (2006). Grundlagen zu Stress. In Weißbuch Prävention 2005/2006 (pp. 3-12). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

[5] Büttner, T. R., & Dlugosch, G. E. (2013). Stress im Studium. Prävention und Gesundheitsförderung8(2), 106-111.




Tom Green

Student & Alumni Services