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 (speak to your lecturer or tutor about how these affect you)
  • Exams
  • Not getting the support they needed
  • 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
  • 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.

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?

Try out some of the activities below

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:

The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) has compiled a practical and evidence-based list of tips for well-being, prosperity and mental health. Whether you want to learn to be more content in general or are struggling to cope with a challenging situation it is worth checking these out.

Find below 15 of these tips:

Look after your basic needs first: Eat and Sleep.

Before trying to tackle any of the complex demands of day-to-day life it is vital that we start with good energy levels. Feeling tired and/or hunger can make many problems seem worse, so make sure to get the sleep you need and maintain a good balanced diet.

Do what you love.

Getting good at something doesn’t often come easy. It’s practice that makes perfect. If you like something,you are more likely to work hard at it to become very good at it. When it comes to choosing what you would like to do, choose something that you like.

Don’t let a little anxiety stand in your way.

While there are obviously certain fear-inducing situations or activities that should be avoided, often we can avoid doing things that we want to do which are potentially of benefit to us. Actively engaging in these activities or situations can add to our experience of well-being. Avoiding only results in increased anxiety about these activities/ situations.

Listen to your body and use your breathing.

Take time each day to pay attention to your body and what it is telling you. Try to recognise when your body and mind are stressed. Can you feel the tension of stress building up? Sore back? Headaches? Don’t ignore these signals.Try to alleviate them before they build up. Take a few deep breaths, then imagine you are breathing into and out from this tension and letting it go.This can be the most useful immediate tip to stop getting caught in a cycle of stress.

Set academic goals to better yourself, not others.

It can be a competitive world and we can often feel pressured to do better than the people around us, rather than simply trying to better ourselves. Research has show that students who work towards improving their own performance,rather than working towards outperforming others,show the best motivation,learning strategies and academc outcomes.

Set yourself realistic goals.

Break your big goals into smaller steps or tasks. Smaller tasks are much easier to complete and it’s easier to see your progress. This also provides a gradual sense of accomplishment that can motivate you to continue.Rome wasn’t built in a day but some of it was!

Focus on the things you can change.

When you are not doing as well as you would like at a particular behavoiur try as best you can to focus on what you can change and on what is controllable e.g the amount of effort you put in or on the way you are going about it. This can help to foster a more positive feeling of hope and help you to persist at the task.

Write things down.

Writing things down can greatly help when planning and/or when coping with a problem(s). It can help you to organise and formulate your situation,thoughts and feelings. It can allow you to look at the situation as an outsider and to subsequently rewrite it from this more detached perspective. You can then keep, delete or tear up these notes when you’re finished.

Be flexible in your thinking.

Avoid as best you can “all or nothing” “black or white” and absolute thinking. Do you find yourself using words like “should”, “must” and “can’t”? Using such language can mean that you end up living by very fixed rules. This can lead to increased stress and even anxiety or low mood. Try substituting a different word. Instead of ” I must” or “I should”, try “it would be helpful if I …” In addition notice how you label events. Is missing that bus really a disaster? Or is it a nuisance,inconvenience and annoying? How you think and talk about events can really influence your mood and its intensity.

Ask for help.

The longer you leave a problem the worst it may become. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a family member, friend, tutor, student support adviser, or professional. Asking for and accepting help from a trusted family member and/or friend strenthens your ability to cope. If you feel overwhelmed or have difficulties meeting your goals on your own, consider seeking help from a professional.

Engage in meaningful, creative activities.

Get involved in meaningful creative work. Do things that challenge your creativity and make you feel productive. Things like playing an instrument,drama,drawing,writing,singing,building something etc.

See fun as a priority not an indulgence.

Give leisure time a priority. Do things for no other reason than that it feels good to do them.Listen to music,read a good book, take a walk, go to a fun movie, meet up with a friend. Fun is an emotional and well being necessity.

Get active.

While physical activity (that suits you and your level of ability) is good for your body,exercise is good for the mind too. Regular exercise gives you energy, improves your mood and relieves stress, anxiety and depression. Once you get into it is can also be great fun!

Drink alcohol responsibility and in moderation.

The Department of Health and Childrs advises that up to 21 standard drinks a week is considerd low risk for men and up to 14 standard drinks a week is considered low risk for women. Drinking above this advised weekly limits is associated with much poorer outcomes for one’s mental and physical health. Also if you enjoy a drink it is advised to spead out your drinking over the week and not save it for one session or big night out.

Develop and maintain close relationships.

Almost every close relationship may involve some negative experiences. However the positive emotions, shared experiences and closeness that comes with such relationships have a strong link with well-being and health and also helps to buffer against stressors.

Foot Note: For a full listing of the Psychological Society of Ireland’s 40 tips for mental health, well-being and prosperity visit

DCU Counselling Service

The Counselling and Personal Development Service is a professional, confidential and free service, which is available to all registered undergraduate and postgraduate DCU students.

The service provides one-to-one psychological counselling and specialist input on a wide range of personal, academic, family, social, psychological and mental health issues that hinder a student’s academic performance in a non-judgmental and open manner. This includes support and help at time of immediate crisis.

DCU Counselling provides a number of services to both staff and students at the university including:

  • One to one psychological and confidential counselling
  • A mindfulness, wellbeing and stress reduction lunchtime series with online resources including podcasts, student handbook and videolinks
  • Anxiety, stress and low mood workshops
  • Bereavement facilitated student forums
  • Online cognitive behavioural therapy for anxiety
  • Online self-help wellbeing practices and information including bibliotherapy
  • Provides a full listing of ‘after hour supports’ including 24/7 helpline services which you can view here.

Making an Appointment with DCU Counselling

For The Glasnevin Campus:
Please Email :

For The St. Patrick’s Campus:
Please Email :

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

Useful links

Mind tips for coping with student life

HSE Mental Health Tips

NHS student stress tips

Student Anxiety Guide

You can read more about healthy living in our post here.

If you would like to learn more about the services the library provides you can read our post here.