Coping with our stress is something that we are normally good at. One way or another we manage, survive and persevere and have our times of enjoyment, peace and fulfillment. At the same time however, our balance, stable though it usually is can be taxed beyond its limits and we can become overly stressed.
Common Sources of Stress
Some of the more common sources of stress for students include managing the transition from home and school to college, academic and workload issues, exam stress and fear of failure. Family or relationship difficulties, bereavement, unexpected trauma such as a car accident or an assault. A fear of disapproval or rejection, associating our self-worth with external success or expecting ourselves to be perfect.
Common Signs of Stress
Some of the more common signs of stress we experience include:
- Phsycically : Tense muscles, heart racing or pounding, shortness of breath, stomach churning or in knots, persistent tiredness, aches or pains, headaches, feeling lightheaded or faint.
- Mentally or Cognitively : Difficultly concentrating and focusing, mind racing and in a whirl, forgetting things, difficulty taking information in, negative self-statements, loss of confidence in ourselves.
- Emotionally : Feelings of panic and fear, that things are getting increasingly out of our control; increase in our irritability which can put a strain on our relationships. Periods of crying or emotional flatness/numbness.
- Behaviourally : Changes in our sleeping or eating patterns, an increase and over-reliance on drug and alcohol use. Finding it difficult to get up in the morning and missing lectures. Withdrawing from our friends and family.
Easing your Stress
Some of the key ideas for help easing our stress are outlined below. Generally we find that the more physically and emotionally relaxed we are the better our mind works and the more alert, capable and adaptable we can be. For the following to be of real use we need to build them into our everyday life so that when a stressful situation comes along we are already practised in managing our time and our stress.
Self – Awareness
Note those particular situations in which you become stressed. What are the early warning signs for you?. Do you become stressed before and during a presentation or an exam for example?. Knowing this can help you prepare in advance to identify and put in place techniques to reduce the tension.
Note times in the past when you have dealt well with a stressful situation. How did you go about it ?. What worked for you?. Would a similar approach work again for you on this occasion?.
Strengths and resources
Take some time to review your strengths and your skills. For example: Are you normally a good problem-solver? Are you a creative person? Do you have a good sense of humour? What other people skills would you say you have?
A good network of family and friends is often very helpful in dealing with stress. So it can be a good idea to have a think about what supports are available to you. Is there someone in your family or a friend(s) who you trust and can talk to? How might you approach them?
It can be helpful to review how you are using your time. Take a step back and prioritise key things you need to address and get done. Set realistic short-term goals that will form a balance between studies, work, leisure and social life.
Develop a weekly and daily schedule that is realistic, that you will be able to follow without pushing yourself beyond your limits.
Time for yourself
Take time for yourself everyday. Identify the activities that normally energise you and give you enjoyment. Review your hobbies/interests and continue to pursue them. Alternatively try something new, something you may have had an interest in but haven’t tried to date. This will mean scheduling time for them in an already busy schedule but it is really important to do this as it is a great way to reduce tension, stay relaxed, and refreshed.
Relaxing Physically: Breathing
Stress often causes rapid, shallow breathing and this in turn can cause many other stress responses that can affect your health. Taking notice of your breathing is a way to get back in touch with your body and help you relax.
Exercise: Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Where is your breathing coming from your chest or your belly? Belly breathing is what we are aiming for as learning to breathe this way will help calm your mind and body.
Take 5-10 minutes a day. Sit comfortably, somewhere quiet, close your eyes and pay attention to your breathing, as you take it in and let it out. Give yourself time to get into the rhythm of your breath. Each time you notice that your mind is no longer on your breath, just notice where it is. Then let it go and come back to your belly and to your breathing. Over time, try and extend the time you sit with it.
Relaxing Physically : Exercise
Taking frequent exercise is one of the best physical stress-reduction techniques available. Some of the benefits are that it enables you to think and respond clearly when under pressure. It positively affects your overall sense of well-being. Walking, taking the dog for a walk, sport, horse-riding, dancing are some of the many possibilities. Listen to your body and what it needs. Note the forms of exercise that are good for you. Start gently and build up to a pattern of 20mins.per day exercise.
Sleeping & Eating
Regular sleep and a balanced diet are very important in easing our stress. If you are having difficulty sleeping then try to go back to your breathing. Focus on the natural flow of your breath as it can help us move our attention away from our anxious thoughts allowing our mind and body to slow down.
A regular bedtime and bedtime routine can also give our body a chance to wind down. So if you are studying in your room give yourself time to relax before going to bed.
Spend time with those you are closest to-your friends, your family. Talk to them if you are feeling burdened, take courage to express how you are feeling and what you need.
Sometimes we prefer to talk to someone separate from those closest to us. If you are feeling this way then there are a number of people on campus who you can contact.
There is the Counselling Service, the Chaplaincy, course tutors / year heads, the Student’s Union all of whom are willing to give you the space and time to talk through what is stressing you.