How to reduce anxiety and stress

It is normal to feel anxious when starting something new, like a university course, and everyone feels stress at difficult times of the year like exam periods or when there is a lot happening in their lives. It can sometimes be hard to relax. This activity is about helping you to manage these feelings and includes tips from other autistic students.


xkcd comic - pastime
Students in the Autism&Uni surveys said they found these things stressful at university:

  • Choosing the right subject to study
  • Group work (see the Group Work activity)
  • Sudden changes to timetables and assignments
  • Exams
  • Not getting the support they needed (see post how to arrange supports)
  • Noisy classrooms and lecture theatres
  • Not liking where they live
  • Sensory issues
  • Getting lower marks than they hoped for
  • Travelling to and from university
  • Fitting in (see telling people about your autism activity)
  • Making presentations and talking in public


How could this affect me?

Other people on your course will probably be struggling with many of the same issues (hopefully not all at the same time!). As autistic people tend to have higher levels of anxiety than other adults, it’s important to know how to deal with these feelings (alongside other forms of support like therapy, counselling and medication where appropriate) so that they don’t become overwhelming.

If you really enjoy reading around your academic subject this in itself can be calming and productive. On the other hand, taking a break and focussing on another of your interests can be rewarding and calming.

Hopefully you will have been able to access support at university and have other people you trust to talk to when you are finding things difficult, like friends, family members and professionals. However, it’s a good idea to have places where you can go and activities you feel comfortable doing yourself when you feel overloaded and stressed.

What to do next?

Ask your advisor about access to the Calm Zone when on campus.

Practical tips

These activities were popular with the students and graduates in our surveys for reducing stress:

  • Exercise/sport
  • Music
  • Art
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Favourite food and drink
  • Chatting with family and friends
  • Mentoring
  • Talking to lecturers and tutors

There is also a useful breathing exercise video on YouTube:

Here’s what some of the students and graduates had to say about other things that helped them:

  1. “Craft is relaxing, also being prepared for situations.”
  2. “My support worker helps me calm down.”
  3. “Drawing in my notebooks.”
  4. “Chatting in an online forum with other neurodiverse students.”
  5. “Focusing on the causes of the situation.”
  6. “Some friends called the ‘Mental Wing’ were incredibly supportive.”
  7. “Throwing myself into union activities: attending meetings, planning events, helping with campaigns.”
  8. “Email contact with my tutor. Face to face I would have been reluctant to arrange or attend.”

It’s also really useful to have places where you can go if you feel overloaded or need to relax – several students said quiet places were really important to them.

Here’s where they say they go:

  • The library (see the Boole Library article)
  • The gym or pool (see Mardyke Arena)
  • Students’ Union common room
  • Outside for a walk
  • Green space around campus
  • Quiet study rooms
  • Coffee shop
  • Computer rooms
  • Back to their room

The Old College Bar underwent a refurbishment to turn into the Calm Zone – a purpose-built space for students with autism to go when they need a calm place to just relax for a bit. Access is by swiping your student card – ask your disability advisor about getting access.

Questions to think about

  1. What do you like to do at home that makes you feel relaxed?
  2. What food and drink makes you feel better? Can you make sure you have some with you?
  3. Who can you talk to?
  4. What do your lecturers and tutors know about how your autism affects you?
  5. Where can you go if you feel stressed out? Make a list of places.
  6. What is your favourite form of exercise? Even non-sporty people can usually find something they enjoy.

Additional information and links

Visit Keep Well (UCC website)