How to Manage Stress in College

Effectively Managing Stress in College

What is stress?  Quite simply, stress is the body’s response to any demand for change.  Stress is often perceived as a negative but it does have positive benefits, as well.  For example, stress can have the positive benefit of sharpening a person’s mind as well as their reflexes.  Imagine the stress an Olympic gymnast has during competition.  Channeling the stress to make themselves acutely aware of the task at hand can enhance their mental and physical state of being.

Stress produces a natural reaction within each of us that effectively creates an imbalance.  The body attends to the situation by releasing hormones into our system in an effort to restore balance and order.  As the body works to cope with stress it will alter energy normally allocated to other brain functions like working memory, decision making, attention, and information processing.

Are there different types of stress?  Yes.  According to the American Psychological Association, there are three primary types of stress: episodic acute, chronic acute, and acute.  An episodic acute stress is the type of stress that happens with frequency.  According to the APA, people who suffer from episodic acute stress are often found to be “over-aroused, short-tempered, irritable, anxious, and tense.”  They may be the type of person who has an abundance of energy, finding themselves always in a hurry yet frequently late.

Chronic stress is the type of droning stress that wears on a person.  A person suffering from chronic stress never sees a way out of a difficult situation.  This is the type of stress that comes from unrealistic demands and life pressures that seem perpetual by nature.  Unlike an acute stress that can be new and exciting, chronic stress is familiar and approaches something akin to comfortable over time.

The final of the three types of meta-stress is acute stress.  This is the most common type of stress stemming from near-term and recent-past activities. In small doses, acute stress can be exciting while too much can simply overwhelm a person.   A litany of our daily activities can trigger acute stress from running late to school to rushing to prepare dinner to cramming for a big test.

What are common symptoms of stress?  There are many ways stress can manifest itself in each of us at different times in our lives.  We have broken out a list of things to be aware of when it comes to understanding the stresses in your life and keeping things in balance.  Please keep in mind, experiencing a few symptoms on the list may be normal for one person and very abnormal for another.  If things do not seem right, schedule an appointment to see your medical provider.

A few of the most common physical symptoms of stress include: clenched teeth, trouble sleeping, dramatic weight changes, heartburn, fatigue, headaches, nausea, involuntary shaking, chest pains, muscle aches, nail biting, and pacing.  In addition to the physical pieces, keep emotional symptoms in check by understanding if there are issues with the following: irritability, feeling overwhelmed, lying, seeking isolation, depression, chronic worry, impaired concentration, and a struggle coping with day to day life.

What are some frequent colleges stresses?  The list can be long for some but understand most students tend to cluster stress around a few big themes.  Some of the most common stressors in college are: the everyday demands of performing well in school, no longer living at home, money, social dynamics, and plans after college.  Each of us has our own set of stresses in life.  Learning to manage short-term and long-term expectations and cope with life’s undulations is requisite for keeping your physiological state in harmony.

What are some ways to help manage stress?  There are a number of suggestions for specific types of stress and various situations but understand the following list will give you a roadmap to keep stress in check day over day.

Be proactive.  Do not put off studying or working on assignments until the last minute.  Teaching yourself to procrastinate at a young age will increase the likelihood of developing a perpetual habit later in life.  Teach yourself to remain organized and proactive through it all.

Exercise.  Plan to exercise regularly.  By integrating this into your life, you will teach your body and mind how to effectively process energy associated with stress.

Sleep.  Get into a habit of maintaining a predictable sleep schedule.  Being well-rested will help mitigate the stresses of life.  Conversely, being in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation can be a quick road to irritability, impaired concentration, and a general struggle to cope with everyday life.

Write down your goals.  The simple act of setting personal goals and writing them down will help you maintain a sense of perspective when things get hectic.  Consistently working towards your goals will help you remain focused and energized.

Time management.  Be your own best advocate by managing your time effectively.   Rather than trying to complete a dozen non-essential tasks, make sure the essential activities are completed first.  Staying in control of your time will reduce stress and provide you the necessary time to relax and unwind when the work is done.

Pace yourself.  Think of college the way a runner may approach a marathon.  It is far more important to perform mile after mile than it does to sprint the first 50 yards with everything you can muster.  Stay organized.  Take regular breaks.  Focus during key periods of the day and follow that with well-designed time relaxing.

Write.  We have heard from many students that journaling has had a therapeutic effect during college.  If you consider creative writing a relaxing outlet for the stresses of life, consider keeping a journal handy.

Community.  Surround yourself with great people.  Family, friends, peers can help build you up and enjoy the day to day.  Having a core group of reliable friends will help you both regulate and cope with stress while in college.


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