Stress is an inevitable part of life — especially in college. Here’s some healthy ways to handle it and make the most out of stressful situations.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no stranger to stress. Life is constantly busy, my to-do list is ever-growing and breaks in this onslaught of stressors are few and far between.

At this point, stress seems like an omnipresent feeling. It resides in the depths of my chest, measuring how much work I’ve completed that day and reminding me in periods of rest that there is still work to be done.

As a commonly experienced feeling in daily life and a common attribute of our modern culture, stress seems to have a grip on our lives. And, even worse, it seems as though we’ve willingly accepted that as true.

However, living with this constant stress isn’t healthy.

According to an article from the American Psychological Association, “Our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, but when that stress becomes long-term or chronic, it can have serious effects on your body.”

These effects range from migraines all the way to an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes.

That doesn’t change the fact that life is stressful, and by the looks of it won’t get any less stressful any time soon. In that case, it’s clear that we must find ways to manage the stress we live with to decrease its chronic effects.

Here are four healthy habits to help you practice self-care and manage your stress levels:

Make exercising a routine

Studies show that exercising regularly correlates to a decrease in stress levels and improvement in overall mental health. Unfortunately, studies have also found the opposite is true as well.

Adding exercising into your routine may look different for each person. Some may opt to go to a gym or buy at-home equipment while others might plan a daily walk.

The good news is that exercise can easily be implemented into the busiest of schedules. Daily exercise might look like a 10-minute walk between classes or a quick at-home bodyweight workout on a study break. Exercising is whatever you choose to make of it.

No matter the form of physical activity, what’s important is that it becomes part of a regular routine. Without a planned routine, exercise may take a backseat to other activities and become just another task on the to-do list that doesn’t get checked off.

Find time to be alone for self-reflection

Stress often causes us to feel disconnected from our personal needs or our identity. The tasks at hand become more important and time for ourselves slips through the cracks. Being alone allows you to reconnect with yourself and understand the best ways to manage your stress.

“When I get busy and stressed, I usually take myself to a coffee shop and hang out alone for a little bit,” said Anna Dykes, a sophomore studying Public Relations at Azusa Pacific University. “I tend to get stressed sometimes being around a lot of people, so I really enjoy taking time to just be by myself.”

Being alone doesn’t mean you’re not productive though. You can use the time to journal and process your thoughts or even get work done in an environment without distractions. Productivity doesn’t only correlate to work—taking time to practice self-care is a productive use of time as well.

Implement healthy eating habits

According to studies on the correlation between stress and dietary habits, heightened stress is often associated with unhealthy food intake.

Heightened stress levels push people to make unhealthy dietary choices and choose highly processed foods over whole foods with more nutrients. These foods make people feel less nourished and, therefore, more stressed. Though it feels good at the moment, these unhealthy foods have unintended consequences. 

In order to be better equipped to face stressors and to reduce stress levels, healthy dietary habits are necessary. Instead of reaching for fast food and other highly processed foods, have whole foods—like fruit, nuts, yogurt and hard-boiled eggs—on hand that will fill you up better and better prepare you to face your to-do list.

It’s still important to eat a regular amount of food and maintain a healthy view of food, but the foods we choose to fulfill our daily needs have a large effect on our mood and overall mental health. So, we should be making smart choices to fill those needs.

Celebrate the wins

In my experience, facing stressful situations and putting in hard work to get things done feels worthless if I don’t take the time to celebrate all the work I’ve done. That’s why celebrating the wins is so important to create a greater sense of self-love and to be able to continue working hard.

Moving from one task to another without recognizing the accomplishment of finishing a task leads to a monotonous, unfulfilling life. We should be celebrating the small things.

Getting assignments and work done is a big deal. Going to class or work everyday is a big deal. Celebrate by buying yourself a coffee. Celebrate by spending time with friends. Do something that affirms your accomplishments.

Give yourself time to relax and take care of yourself. Life is stressful, but life is also more than just stress.