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Coping At University

Updated: Jul 25, 2021

Disclaimer: this blog about coping is based on my personal experiences and what I learned during semester 3. It in no way, shape or form replaces professional advice.

After being at uni for one and a half years, I have realized that being at uni is not all about sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes I struggle with the workload, feel lonely without my family and childhood friends around, and sometimes, I just struggle to cope with everything that’s happening around me.

At university, we need to solve our own problems, deal with our own mistakes, and look for ways to relieve all the stress from studying, exams, and daily life. This can be very overwhelming and to be very honest, I’ve been struggling to cope these days due to the political unrest happening back in my home country.

That’s why in today’s post, I would like to talk about coping in hopes that it might help someone. Whether you are struggling to cope with the workload or other aspects of uni, or whether you are a Burmese student like me currently studying aboard, I would like to share with you the different ways we can all cope to relieve stress.

What is coping?

Coping is a way of managing the stressors we view as difficult or stressful for us personally. This can be either emotionally managing how the stressor is affecting us or physically doing something to try to get rid of it.

Often, we cope to defuse a stressor or reduce its emotional burden on us. We also cope to tolerate or make changes to negative events that might be harming us and to also maintain a positive image of ourselves.

How do we cope?

According to Lazarus and Folkman’s transactional theory, coping involves primary appraisal, secondary appraisal, evaluation and re-evaluation of the situation and our outcome of coping:  

When faced with a stressor, we first look at whether the stressor is actually stressful/harmful for us. According to the theory, this is the primary appraisal. If the stressor is seen as stressful, then we would see whether we have the necessary skills, resources, or appropriate ways to cope with it. This is the secondary appraisal. Then, based on the primary and secondary appraisal, we would actually move onto trying to cope with the stressor using different ways of coping (see below). These different ways of coping would depend on the skills and resources we would have.

Evaluation and re-evaluation come in after we’ve tried to cope. It’s a way of seeing whether our efforts to  cope are successful; if so, we would go back to look at whether our stressor is still stressful (back to primary appraisal). If coping has been unsuccessful, and the stressor is still bothering us, we would then redo our secondary appraisal and try to think of new ways to cope with the stressor.

What are the different ways we cope?

There are different ways people cope. According to Leventhal’s model, there are 2 types of coping:

  1. Approach coping: confronting the stressor head on by taking direct action

  2. Avoidance coping: minimizing the importance of the stressor by denying that the stressor exists, not thinking about the stressor, and avoiding direct action

Avoidance coping may be more effective at solving short-term stressors but approach coping is more effective at solving long-term ones. Knowing when to use which of these 2 coping methods is really important to deal with stressors effectively. For example, if you run away too much from a long-term stressor, you might feel less stressed at that moment but after a while, the stress may become worse since the stressor won’t go away.

Personally, I find that approach coping works better for me for most of the stressors I encounter at uni. For example, stressing out about a huge workload can only be dealt with approach coping. Sure, avoidance coping may help when you’re feeling super tired or stressed out to work but we need to know when we have to stop with avoidance coping and when we need to step in and take action to reduce the stressor.

There are 2 other ways of coping:

  1. Problem-focused coping: taking action to reduce the stressor

  2. Emotional-focused coping: trying to manage the emotional burdens that come with the stressor

People tend to use both of these coping methods for different situations but depending on the person, some may use one method more than the other. Problem-focused coping may be more useful when you can actually do something to manage the stressor but emotional focused coping is really important when you feel like a stressor is out of your control.

Since I am a person who likes to have control over situations, I personally feel like I use problem-focused coping more. I find that after I try to actively deal with a stressor and diffuse it, I feel a lot better. I struggle to cope when I feel like things are out of my control and I find that emotional-focused coping helps only to a certain extent. This might be the reason I might be struggling to cope with the situation back at home since I have no control over it. In cases like these, emotional-focused coping does help.

So, how do we effectively cope?

We’ll be both faced with both long-term and short-term stressors at university as well as situations we have control and no control over. So, to effectively cope with these we should:

  1. Think about whether the stressor is really that stressful/harmful. Is it actually that bad of a situation like we make it out to be? This is because sometimes we think of stressors to be worse in our heads than they actually are and put unnecessary stress on ourselves.

  2. Know when to use approach or avoidance coping. This all depends on the situation. I think avoidance coping works well for situations that you have no control over and situations that’ll pass with time even if you don’t do anything about it. For example, avoidance coping may be useful when you’re stressfully waiting for exam results. You’ll be minimizing stress by not thinking about it until the results actually come out. However, this won’t work with other stressors that are not likely to go away on their own.

  3. For longterm stressors, set a limited amount of time for avoidance coping if you’d need time away from the stressor. For example, give like a day or a week to avoid the stressor so that you can come back to it with a fresh mindset.

  4. Understand whether dealing with the problem head-on or dealing with it emotionally will make you feel better and take necessary steps afterwards.

  5. Is there anything you can do to defuse the stressor?

  6. Can you talk to someone about this and ask for help?

  7. Who can comfort you in times like this?

  8. Reach out to others if you think they can help. Sometimes others might have better ideas to deal with a stressor or provide a new perspective. I find that even opening up to someone about my problems help me cope better.

  9. Call your family and friends back at home

  10. Contact Student Pastoral Support (SPS), Nightline, and other services at university to talk about your problems

  11. Remember, that’s always a way to deal with something. I know that sometimes stressors can make us feel like it’s the end of the world but there’s always a way out. After they pass, we often don’t even remember that we were once stressed about them. Remember that you are strong and that you’ve made it through a lot of difficult situations in your life.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I hope you learn something from it. For whatever reason, if you are feeling stressed out or want to talk about something, our DMs on Instagram are always open. We also suggest you reach out to university and other professional services if you are extremely stressed or are struggling to cope. Check out our other blogs on this page for university related content and studying medicine!

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