Spotting Signs of Student Stress

Purdue Calumet Counseling Center

Stressed StudentMid-terms, final exams, tests, quizzes, and large projects and/or papers can lead students to display outward signs of stress while in the classroom or at work.  Faculty members and staff who employ students at the university may witness students exhibiting different behaviors, verbal and non-verbal, during times of stress.

Some of the outward behaviors a student may display include:

  • Irritability / Snapping at others
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Excessive fatigue-sleeping in class when he/she is usually awake and alert
  • Upset stomach
  • Poor hygiene
  • A change in physical appearance
  • No longer making an effort to work towards his/her goals, completion of assignments, or solving problems because he/she does not know where to begin

A student may also report to you that he/she is experiencing:

  • Racing thoughts
  • A sense of dread when he/she wakes up in the morning
  • Becoming harshly critical of him/herself
  • Lack of energy and/or appetite
  • Lack of interest in people or activities he/she used to enjoy
  • Social isolation
  • Excessive eating and/or alcohol or drug use
  • Being unable to sleep
  • Body symptoms such as:  headaches, tenseness of muscles, tension in jaw / clenched teeth while sleeping, high blood pressure

If a student comes to you expressing these signs of stress encourage the student to utilize effective and healthy coping techniques to combat the signs of stress which may include:

  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Exercising at least a couple of days a week
  • Breaking down large assignments into smaller and more manageable tasks
  • Prioritizing one’s schedule/creating a to-do list
  • Engaging in activities that are enjoyable and are fun
  • Use relaxation and deep breathing techniques to calm oneself down
  • Using positive self-talk
  • Avoiding comparing oneself to others
  • Having a support system of someone(s) he/she can talk to

It is important to note that there is a difference between stress and anxiety.  Two of the key differences are that stress has identifiable stressors that lead one to experience the symptoms described above, whereas anxiety does not and stress typically is short lived while anxiety can last for weeks, months, and years and anxiety interferes with one’s ability to function.

If the student is still having difficulty managing stress or anxiety, you can also encourage him/her to talk to a counselor in the Counseling Center (Gyte-5; 219-989-2366  Explain to the student that the Counseling Center services are free to currently enrolled students and confidential as defined by Indiana state law.  Additionally, on the Counseling Center’s website, there is further information and tools on test anxiety which can be found at the following link:


American Institute of Stress.  (n.d.).  Effects of stress.  Retrieved from

Davis, M., Eshelman, E. R. & McKay, M.  (2008).  The relaxation & stress reduction workbook 6th edition.  Oakland, CA:  New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Hajdo, D. (n.d.).  Differences between stress and anxiety.
Retrieved from