Learn more about stress

What is stress?

People often confuse stress with being too busy and actually regard it as an illness. But stress is not an illness – it’s a temporary state which can cause a range of physical and mental symptoms.

A distinction is often drawn between positive and negative stress. But what many people don’t know is that stress is actually vital for our survival. Positive stress is what enables us to perform as well as we can. This is because stress is an important biological mechanism which we are all born with. It can help us when we’re under pressure – for instance in exams and other aspects of life as a student.

The challenge for many students is that they aren’t aware of their own stress symptoms. They might underestimate their significance, or find some reason to ignore the warning signs. This is because the symptoms of stress vary from one person to the next. If you’re in a negative stress spiral, which may lead to exhaustion and burn-out, you may not be able to exit this spiral yourself. Negative stress arises when the pressure to which you’re exposed over time exceeds the resources which are available to you (physical, mental and social).

Here are some of the signs of stress

The symptoms of stress vary from one person to the next.  Lack of concentration, rapid breathing and memory problems may all be signs that your body is in a state of emergency. Ignoring the signals may affect your studies and the quality of your life in the long term.

If you experience any number of these stress symptoms during your degree programme, it’s important that you don’t ignore them. Look after yourself, take control, turn your negative stress into something positive, but be prepared to look for help in your network, from your doctor, or from your student counsellor.

Do you need help to handle your stress?

Stress can be really hard to handle. It often fills you with worries and concerns about your situation, and this can be a major stress factor in itself. It’s like a vicious circle or spiral which you can’t break out of. You need to do something about it – but this is easier said than done. If you want to break the stress cycle, you need to change the way you do things.

The diagram above shows that stress can arise in four different areas: body, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. There are various things you can do to reduce stress or avoid it altogether. Take a look at the four areas in the stress cycle and focus on the area in which change will make the biggest difference for you. Once you start trying to change your behaviour or thought patterns, or once you start taking better care of your body, you can break the stress cycle and change things for the better. The four areas in the cycle all have a positive influence on each other. Try to change the area which seems most relevant for you. This will help you turn a negative pattern into a positive one.


The stress cycle: Thoughts -> Feelings -> Behaviour -> Body -> Thoughts -> Feelings

Who can help?

Student Counsellors’ Office at AU

You’ll find contact information about your local student counsellor.

Student Counselling Service

You can read more about how to handle stress and how your student counselling service can help.

University chaplains at AU

Here you can read more about the university chaplains at AU and how they can help.

Your Graduate school

If you are a PhD student, please contact the relevant Graduate school. For contact info, see.

"The symptoms of stress vary from one person to the next. But if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important that you stop and think carefully about your situation. Stress is a reaction to pressure which you find hard to handle, so it’s important that you take it seriously and do something about it." Lena Pradhan Bakkestrøm, Guidance counsellor, Arts