How often have you heard this statement around campus? How often have you said it? (Or thought it?) “Oh, my gosh! I’m so stressed out!”
Being a student can be very stressful. There are a lot of demands on your time and energy and too much stress can make it even harder to do what you need to get done, let alone enjoy the college experience. The good news is that you don’t have to let stress take over your life. There are lots of things that you can do to cope with stress in healthy ways.
Sources of Stress
The first thing to do is identify the sources of stress in your life. They can be due to the circumstances in your life as well as issues that go on inside your head. Here are some examples of things that may be causing you stress. Rate each of them on how much stress you are feeling from these sources. (1 = no stress, 5 = huge stress).
UPCOMING DEADLINES: All of the things that have to get done in your class: exams, papers, homework assignments, projects, etc.
PREVIOUS DEADLINES: Getting behind, trying to catch up, guilt over not doing what you should have been doing
YOUR JOB: Pressure or problems at work, trying to fit in work
MONEY: Trying to make ends meet, getting enough money for tuition next semester, dealing with debt, etc.
RELATIONSHIPS: Tension with roommates, boyfriend or girlfriend issues, family problems, etc.
ANNOYANCES: Losing your keys, dropping your soda, getting stuck in traffic, a sink full of dirty dishes, not being able to find a parking place, etc.
HEALTH: Getting a cold, worrying about unexplained symptoms you are having, dealing with chronic health issues, being pregnant, dealing with substance abuse issues, worrying about the health problems of a loved one, etc.
WORRIES: Feeling pressure to do well, expectations of your parents or yourself, fear of not doing well, negative thoughts about classes or professors, etc.
THE FUTURE: Not knowing what to major in or what classes to take next, facing big decisions that you need to make, conflicting priorities
Effects of Stress
Once you have recognized the sources of stress in your life, next it helps to notice what effects those stresses are having on you, both physically and mentally. Here are some common problems caused by stress. Check off any that you are typical for you when you are feeling a lot of stress.
Digestive problems (ulcers, gas, etc.)
Feeling tired all the time
Weight loss/weight gain
Getting frustrated easily
Lack of patience
Feeling hopeless or depressed
Fear or anxiety
Having trouble remembering things
Feeling angry or irritable
Lack of motivation
7 ways to deal with stress
Knowing what effects stress is having on you can motivate you to do something about it. You can’t usually eliminate the sources of stress in your life, but there are things you can do to help you cope with them better and avoid some of the negative effects.
1. First of all, avoid unhealthy ways of dealing with stress
Don’t make it worse! Some of the ways people deal with stress actually make the problem worse. If you find yourself resorting to these behaviors when stress hits, it’s time to replace them with better behaviors. Do you ever use any of these unhealthy ways of dealing with stress? Check off any that you sometimes do in unhealthy ways or amounts.
- Addictive drugs (heroin, cocaine, pain meds, etc.)
- Sitting around doing nothing
- Facebook or texting
- Getting angry
- Eating junk food
- Video games
2. Take Action
If there is something you can do about the things that are causing you stress, get on the ball and do it! End that unhealthy relationship, make an appointment with a doctor, clean up all of the dirty dishes, ask for fewer hours at work, go to the Tutoring Center and get help with your homework, etc.
3. Get Organized
Make a plan. If you feel like you have too many things to do, you can run around in circles trying to get everything done and not end up finishing anything. Instead, make a list of everything that needs to get done, all the deadlines that you have, and then plan when to work on each one.
Focus on one thing at a time. Identify the most important thing you need to be doing right now and concentrate on that. Don’t get distracted by everything else that needs to be done — you’ve already made a plan for when you will do them.
Eliminate non-essentials. If you have a lot of deadlines for school, put off other things you usually do that can wait. Don’t get distracted by unimportant tasks.
4. Shift your way of thinking
Change your attitude. Hating every second of working on math homework, for example, only makes it worse. Accept that this is what you’re doing now and it may not be your favorite activity, but if you work at it, it will get done and you will be able to move on to other things.
Remember your goals. When things get tough, remind yourself of the higher purpose of all this stress. In a few years when you have a good, satisfying job, you’ll be glad you made it through.
Use positive self-talk. Don’t run yourself down by what you’re thinking. Tell yourself that you can do this, you’re going to make it, and it will be OK.
Don’t DEMAND perfection. Adjust your expectations to be realistic. You don’t have to ace everything to fulfill your goals. Decide what things are most important, and do your best on those things.
Choose to laugh. Try to shake your head and chuckle at the craziness, rather than letting yourself get more and more frustrated. Take a quick time out to watch something that makes you laugh.
Put it all in perspective. In five years, how much of this will matter? In 20 years? In 100 years?
Anticipate the ending. Remember that this, too, shall pass. Plan something fun to do when your list of most important things gets done.
5. Stay healthy
Get enough sleep. Most people need about seven hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep decreases mental processing, can cause depression, and can interfere with memory (which you need for studying!). You are only about 50-70% as efficient if you’re tired.
Eat good food. Make sure to eat balanced meals, including lean protein, whole grains, fruits, veggies, and lots of water. Junk food will stress your body and make it harder for you to cope.
Get some exercise. Staying active also helps your body and mind deal with stress. You’ll have more energy, sleep better, feel less stressed, feel better about yourself, and maybe even lose some weight. Go for a walk, run up the stairs, or something else that keeps you active. For best results, spend 30-40 minutes doing aerobic exercise three times a week. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, take it easy and just get moving. Get out in the fresh air if possible.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. Caffeine causes nervousness, headaches, irritability, insomnia, and stomach irritation. It gives you energy for a while, but then you pay for it by being more tired than you were before. If you are used to using a lot, taper off gradually to minimize withdrawal effects. Alcohol and tobacco are also stressful for the body. Seek help if you are abusing these or other substances.
6. Practice some relaxation techniques
Meditation. Practice learning how to clear your mind and relax. If you haven’t learned how, find a comfortable sitting position and try one or more of the suggestions below.
Deep breathing. Breathe slowly in through your nose for a count of five, hold for a few seconds, then breathe out through your mouth for a count of seven, making a whooshing sound.
Progressive relaxation. Concentrate on relaxing each part of your body from your toes to your head. First your toes, then your feet, then your legs, then your torso, then your fingers, arms, shoulders, neck, face, etc.
Visualization. Picture in your mind a place or a situation where you feel safe and happy, adding all the details you can think of. If you practice this, you can train yourself to relax by recalling these details.