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.


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


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 (speak to your Disability Adviser about a wellbeing referral to Sport Sheffield)
  • Music
  • Art
  • Meditation and mindfulness.  The University’s Counselling Service run workshops to help with anxiety and stress
  • Favourite food and drink
  • Chatting with family and friends
  • Support and Guidance Mentoring (this is a type of support that can be recommended through DSA but speak with your Disability Adviser about this as interim mentor support might be possible).
  • Talking to lecturers and tutors

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.”
  9. “Getting away from horrible food in the residences.”
  10. “Clubbing :-)”


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
  • The gym or pool (very popular)
  • Students’ Union building. On Level 2 in the Students’ Union there is a Quiet Room.  If you’re unsure about how to find it, ask at the Welcome Desk in the Students’ Union entrance
  • Outside for a walk
  • Green space and parks around University
  • Quiet study rooms
  • Coffee shop
  • Computer rooms
  • Back to their University accomodation room
  • Drinks machine

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

The Disabilty and Dyslexia Support Service – if you already access the service and think you need to speak with someone about support for stress and anxiety, contact your Disability Adviser.  Your Support and Guidance Mentor will also be able to signpost you to University services to support your wellbeing.

If you have specific worries linked to being at university, you might find useful information and services through the University’s Student Online Support.

Student Access to Mental Health Support (SAMHS) – If you need support for your mental health, SAMHS is a university service where students can explore a broad range of psychological support with a Mental Health professional – you don’t need to have been diagnosed with a mental health condition to access SAMHS.

You might find it useful to go to the University’s social group for autistic students where you can chat with students who are studying at the same university as you and might have experienced some similar worries.

Big White Wall access is available to all University of Sheffield students and available online 24/7.

The Wellbeing Cafe is based in the Students’ Union, with a proactive focus on wellbeing.

Mind tips for coping with student life

NHS student stress tips

Student Anxiety Guide