Stress and College Students Introduction
(For more information, look into taking CPD102AH)
College life can be stressful. No news there. It seems we are constantly walking on a tightrope trying to balance our time between going to classes, studying, working, and of course, socializing. How can we effectively manage each of these responsibilities without feeling out of control? This short article will address this question.
Although we typically think of stress as “bad”, we need to understand that stress is only harmful when it is excessive or intrusive. Actually, much of the stress that we all experience can be helpful and stimulating (such as increasing our energy and motivation to rise to a challenge). The challenges of life tend to be stressful and an attempt to avoid stress completely would lead to a rather boring and static existence (or to an even more stressful life!).
Most stressors are not life or death. They are often small, cumulative and chronic annoyances or inconveniences that add up to become unmanageable. Of course, some stress reactions are part of deeper and more serious emotional problems (counseling is available for these stressors), but many are not; they can be handled with relatively simple counseling and stress-management techniques. You can use the following guidelines to help manage your stress:
- Identify your stressors, their causes and consequences, and your role in creating these stress reactions
- Learn and apply time-management skills
- Learn and apply specific relaxation techniques
- Gain perspective on problems by discussing them ("We are only as sick as our secrets")
These four ideas are expanded upon below.
Source and Symptoms of Stress - From where is your stress coming?
- The Enviroment - examples include noise, pollution, traffic, crowding, and the weather.
- Physiological - examples include illness, injuries, hormonal fluctuations, and inadequate sleep or nutrition.
- Your thoughts - the way you think affects how you respond both emotionally and physically to stressors. Negative self-talk, comparing, Catastrophizing, and perfectionism all contribute to increased stress.
- Social Stressors - examples include relationship conflicts, financial problems, school and work demands, social events, and experiencing a conflict or loss.
If you need assistance knowing whether or not you are experiencing stress, here are some clues to look for (remember the symptoms of stress impact the person who is experiencing stress as well as those around him or her):
- muscular tension
- colds or other illnesses
- high blood pressure
- stomach pains
- difficulty sleeping
- fear or anxiety
- feeling overwhelmed
- mood swings
- unwanted or repetitive thoughts
- difficulty concentrating
- negative self-concept
Develop a Balanced Lifestyle
Stress reactions to various situations are also affected by your overall level of health. Someone who is always feeling overwhelmed, eats poorly, and doesn't get enough sleep (a description of many students) usually has a limited ability to cope with stressful events. You need to pay attention to your own well being. The right balance of sleep, food, exercise, work, school, and recreation is crucial.
Some people are in a constant state of trying to catch up (any procrastinators out there?). They find themselves rushing and hurrying from one activity to another, always racing with the clock and never getting on top of things. Part of this problem, for many students, is not being well organized. Effective time management can help. See the Learning Support Center’s website, Online Links (http://www.pvc.maricopa.edu/lsc/online.htm) for more about success strategies and tips, including time management.
Gain Perspective by Discussing Problems
How often have we felt hopeless or completely overwhelmed by a situation, only later to realize that we made it bigger than it was or that we were able to deal with it much better than we thought? It is easy to get caught up in a problem, lose all perspective, and feel that any problem is a catastrophe. Discussing your problems with a trusted, empathic friend (or with a counselor) can allow you to gain a new perspective and move out of what might seem like a lonely and difficult world. Simply verbalizing your concerns with a non-judgmental listener will often help give you a sense of control and understanding.
Specific Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques are extremely valuable tools in stress management. The Counseling Center offers counseling as well as stress management classes. These techniques are easy to learn but may be difficult to fit into your schedule. If you don't have an opportunity to get instruction, just practice sitting quietly for 15 minutes, with no interruptions. Let yourself relax by focusing on something peaceful - a beautiful scene at the beach or in the mountains, for example. Sometimes it is your negative thoughts or worries that create tension. You can practice "thought stopping techniques" and learn how to use positive self-talk to cope with stress. Stop and take a purposeful 10-minute break. Go for a walk, breathe deeply, call a friend, put on some favorite music. Keep your sense of humor! Remember, you can talk with a counselor in the Counseling Center in KSC: Student Services to learn more about how to develop these stress-reducing skills.