05/12/2014 06:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Best (Stressed?) Four Years of Your Life


We've all heard it before: They tell us that college will be the best four years of our lives. Meeting new friends, taking interesting classes, partying like never before and never again -- all of these things make college so unique and quite possibly the best years we will have. What they fail to mention, however, is the stress that comes along with it, making those other great things harder to enjoy. A survey by the American Psychological Association shows that Millennials have the highest stress levels of any demographic. With our newly found freedom and independence come the responsibility and pressure to balance everything in our lives, a feat much easier said than done. Here are seven things that can take some of the "stressed" out of the "best" years:

1. Don't overextend yourself.

College students, especially freshmen, often sign up for too many activities and make too many commitments. Having an overcrowded schedule can lead to stress, especially when you're forced to cancel plans last minute. Learn when to say yes and how to say no, keeping your own personal capacity in mind. You may look around and see that your friends can somehow fit much more into their schedule. Ask them for advice and tips on how they manage their time, but know that your capacity might not be the same as theirs.

2. Ditch the FOMO.

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, has spread like a plague around college campuses, tricking students into thinking that everyone else is having more fun than they are. It's an unnecessary source of stress that makes whatever you are doing instead less enjoyable. Once you commit to a plan, whether staying in to study or going out with friends, don't think about all the other options that may be better. The truth is, they probably aren't, and even if they are, thinking about them and letting the FOMO take over will only mentally remove you from what you are doing.

3. You don't have to love everything you try.

College is about experimenting with new extracurriculars, classes and friends. You're allowed to try something and decide that maybe that your time is better spent elsewhere. Don't feel obligated to keep up with something that doesn't fit into the college experience you're seeking. Nobody likes to be a "quitter," so make sure you give each opportunity a fair chance. If you're positive it's not right for you, it's better to be honest with yourself than to continue participating half-heartedly.

4. Constantly comparing yourself to others is unproductive.

Whether it comes to grades, extracurricular involvement, likes on Facebook pictures, or summer internships, comparing yourself to others can be detrimental. Use your peers' successes to challenge you and push you to do more, but don't fall into the trap of constantly thinking that others are doing better than you. College is a new playing field and the competition can be fierce and stress-inducing. Try to stay focused on your personal goals and applaud others for achieving theirs.

5. Alternate between which two of the three options you choose.

The diagram is everywhere on the Internet, telling us that we can only pick two of the three options: good grades, enough sleep, and a social life. While that may be true on any given day or week, it's possible to have them all in our lives in general. The key is to alternate between which two of the three you choose. Neglecting one of the three for too long makes our lives stressful and unmanageable. Be aware of where your priorities are in a given week and make sure to switch them up as time goes on.

6. Separate work from play.

Multitasking can seem like a good way to tackle two things at once and manage our time. Unfortunately, multiple studies have shown that multitasking drops our productivity and can have high costs, making us take longer to complete a single task. Instead of trying to do too many things at once, devote yourself to one at a time and you'll find that you get them each done quicker and more effectively. When you're studying, put your phone in another room and give yourself timed breaks to text or check Facebook. When it's time for "play," leave your emails and assignments for later (trust me, they won't go anywhere). People will appreciate that you are present and will value your full attention.

7. Take it one day at a time.

Thinking about all of your upcoming exams, papers, events, quizzes, club meetings, parties and appointments for a given month can be daunting. It's great to think and plan ahead, but don't get overwhelmed and stressed by all of the obligations you have in coming months. Focus on the next few things on the horizon and start working towards them. The seemingly endless amounts of work will become more manageable once you take small steps to get started.

As the classroom competition and the job hunt become more competitive, a little bit of stress is inevitable and can help motivate and mobilize us. Once we take steps to remove the excess stress in our college lives, we can go on to make these years the best they can be.