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What is stress?
Stress is something that many university students are familiar with. It occurs when the demands on us exceed our ability to cope. Stress can be caused by many things – the most obvious for university students are examinations and assignment deadlines, work, problems with friendships and relationships, financial problems, perfectionism and balancing studying and life. However, positive events such as a new relationship, and starting a new university year can also cause stress.
We can experience stress in various ways:
- Thoughts: Our thoughts can become distorted so that we blow things out of proportion and think that the worst thing will happen. We can also worry excessively.
- Feelings: We can feel irritated, tense, frustrated, and nervous.
- Behaviours: We can become short with others, cry, or take our frustrations out on things or other people. Our appetite and sleep may be disturbed. We can also start to avoid situations that cause us stress, drink alcohol, or use recreational drugs to cope.
- Physical: Muscle tension, headaches, stomach problems, restlessness, increased heart rate, and increased breathing rate.
Coping with stress
We all cope with stress in different ways depending on our strategies, and also on the situation. The two main approaches are to change the situation itself, or to change your reaction to it.
Changing the situation itself requires problem solving, and can draw on other skills such as learning to communicate effectively with others (if conflict with others is the source of stress), time management, budgeting (if financial problems are the cause of stress), and developing healthier study habits.
Managing your reaction to the situation in order to reduce stress can include relaxation (to decrease your stress reaction), engaging in physical activity (to burn up stress hormones), and modify any negative self talk that may escalate your stress.
You can't always control what happens, but you can control how you respond.
Coping with Stress
Free online course provided by This Way Up - a non for profit initiative at St Vincent's Hospital Sydney that provides online cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) courses for people suffering from anxiety and depression. The course is designed to help people who are experiencing acute or chronic stress, related to work, study, relationships, or caring for a family member.
This link has useful tips on stress management.
Department of Health Western Australia
This handout lists causes of stress, stress symptoms, and tips for managing stress.
Counselling and Mental Health Centre at University of Texas at Austin
Addresses those stressful situations facing university students.
Centre for Clinical Intervention
Tips for stress management
American Psychological Society
This website provides useful information on stress. You can also take a quiz to assess your ‘stress smarts’.
Better Health Channel
At this website you can find information on managing stress.
This website is dedicated to young people and provides information on stress and how to manage it. You can also find information on relaxation and time management at this website.
Here are some additional documents to help you deal with stress
It is estimated that 13.5 million working days are lost due to stress-related illnesses every year. This makes stress, depression and anxiety the largest contributors to the estimated amount of days that are annually lost from work. However, stress does not only have detrimental effects on the world of work; university can also be an incredibly stressful time!
Symptoms of stress…
Some of the symptoms of stress include feeling anxious, restless and irritable and these can often lead to sufferers losing their appetite, being depressed, or experiencing distorted sleep patterns. Stress may even manifest itself in skin problems.
One of the key reasons that students feel stressed is because of coursework deadlines or exam pressure. This article will explore the various ways of overcoming and dealing with this study-related stress.
Avoiding stress at university…
It may sound like a cliché, but the best way to avoid stress is to plan out your work before your coursework deadlines and exams. In most cases, students underestimate the amount of work that they need to do to complete their assignments and tend to take it easy until a couple of days before it’s actually crunch time.
On the other hand, some students believe that they work better under stress; it may be that their mind responds to challenges better when they are under pressure. However, sometimes that can be a misconceived excuse to leave your work until the last moment.
By avoiding putting yourself in such a situation, you will decrease the amount of stress and pressure you face. This can prevent any negative impacts on your physical or mental health.
When placed in a stressful situation many students panic, cry or give up. A tense state of mind will adversely affect the quality of the work you produce and this will ultimately be reflected in your grades.
When you feel stressed, it’s a good idea to do activities where you can release your physical energy. Good examples of this are sports such as football, tennis and swimming. Many people also find that a short session in the gym can help.
Yoga, aerobics and dance are also good ways of releasing stress, as you are letting your mind relax and using your energy elsewhere. Going for a walk or listening to music can definitely have therapeutic effects too.
Try not to be alone when you’re in a stressed situation. It’s good to talk and share your feelings with your friends. Watching a light-hearted comedy can also help to relax your mind.
One thing that a lot of us forget is that our mood is often related to what we eat, so a healthy balanced diet is crucial to keeping both our body and our minds healthy.
As well as reducing the likelihood of illness and weakness, eating well has the double benefit of reducing your levels of stress-inducing chemicals and improving the way you look, which can certainly lift your mood too.
What to avoid…
Research suggests that food and drinks intended to give you a short boost, such as chocolate and coffee, actually cause a long-term ‘low’ and should be avoided. Moreover, salty foods, such as crisps, dehydrate the body and the brain, causing fatigue.
Meals high in fat raise stress hormone levels and keep them high. In stressed situations, you may want to smoke or drink alcohol to relax or take tablets such as Pro Plus in order to stay awake. However, excessive amounts of any of these will not help you to cope with your stress and could make you ill.
If you have a coursework deadline to meet and there is a lot of work to be done, working in a group may help. Similarly with exam revision, if you work in a group, you won’t feel as though you’re alone.
Believe it or not, others are in the same position as you. Also, don’t expect to complete impossible amounts of work in a single day. To circumvent this, set yourself a realistic target which you know you can achieve. That way, you will feel less stressed, get more work done and have time to relax and unwind afterwards. Furthermore, if you need help, ask your friends to go through topics with you or parts which you do not understand.
Although it may be difficult, try to stay calm and composed. It goes without saying that it’s much easier to prevent the occurrence of a stressful situation than to deal with it once you are already immersed in it.
Planning out tasks and setting deadlines for yourself is always a useful technique. Don’t forget, once the exams are over and the coursework is handed in, you can forget all about it!