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Introducing… Stress Management
By now, I’m sure you’ve met stress. That stomach-churning feeling you get before presenting a project in class, or the clammy-hands and thudding heartbeat before a first date—yeah, that’s stress. You know the feeling; I know the feeling—it’s as universal as happy and sad are.
Stress is our body’s reaction to an “emotional” situation, and by that, I mean any sort of situation that engages our fight-or-flight response. This can be things as small as waking up late, or things as significant as traumatic loss. That’s not to say that stress is only for bad things (though we most commonly associate it with negative events). Stress can happen for good things too. Quick heartbeat before meeting an old friend. Jitters before a wedding.
Stress itself is not a bad thing. We understand that God made our bodies, and everything within us serves a purpose and shows intricate attention to detail. Stress is no different. Stress releases chemicals in our brain that, for a time, allow for improved functioning and quick response-time (thank you, adrenaline). In dangerous situations, these changes can prove to be lifesaving.
The trouble comes when stress becomes consistent or chronic, and these chemical and hormonal changes are constant. And college life has plenty of stress to give.
Types of Stress
Stress can be broken up into three main types of stress:
This is the most common type of stress. Acute stress is the result of day-to-day stressors like forgetting a homework assignment or waking up late. The symptoms of stress will last for a little while and then fade soon after the stressor occurs.
Episodic Acute Stress
This type of stress is a result of experiencing acute stress repeatedly over a short period of time. The symptoms will start similar to that of acute stress and then start to build on each other over time. This can result in headaches and tension in the body.
This type of stress is ongoing, over a long period of time, and usually caused by external stressors that are mostly out of our control. This could be from the grief of the loss of a loved one, or from something like a particularly taxing and difficult class. Symptoms of chronic stress could be weight gain or loss, anxiety, or sleep deprivation.
(For more information about the types of stress, click here)
Symptoms of Stress
When we are chronically or consistently stressed, the chemical changes brought on by stress start to damage our body, affect our long-term mood, appetite, sleep, and our basic ability to function. Unchecked stress can wreak havoc on us physically, behaviorally, mentally, and emotionally.
Physical symptoms of stress can include a racing heart, sweating, high blood pressure, dizziness, stomach cramps, nausea, muscle tension, and fatigue.
Changes in behavior are also common symptoms of stress. Such changes can include loss or increase of appetite, binge eating or drinking, loss of interest, and sleep deprivation.
Stress can cause difficulty or change in mental processing as well. Some mental symptoms of stress include difficulty with or loss of memory, difficulty concentrating, negativity or lack of motivation, and disconnection from feelings, thoughts, or other.
Stress can also mess with our emotions beyond just causing us to worry or fear. Emotional symptoms of stress can include increased irritability, feelings of loneliness or helplessness, hostility, and anxiousness.
Knowing yourself is an important part of determining the severity or presence of stress symptoms. You know how much you regularly eat, sleep, and enjoy activities or things in life. You know when you are more tired than you should be, and you can start to see when that becomes a pattern. And if you can’t always tell, the people closest to you usually can. It’s okay to ask them if they think something is off about you, or if you seem different. It’s actually healthy to have people in your life that know you that well.
What we really don’t want to let happen is leaving the symptoms to persist, the stressors unchecked, and giving way to chronic stress. The symptoms of stress are similar to symptoms of both depression and anxiety, and prolonged stress (and its symptoms) can give way to both. Depression and anxiety can be much harder to fix, much more difficult to deal with, and can exacerbate any other stress from there on. Additionally, prolonged stress can lead to sleep disorders, eating disorders, and muscle problems.
(For more information about the effects of chronic or prolonged stress, click here)
Managing College Stress
College life has its inevitable stressors, what with all the homework, social expectations, grades, and, probably, money. There will be stress—and that’s okay, because stress in small doses is good; it can be the kick we need to get things done. Stress in chronic, unending doses, not so much. So, let’s talk about how to avoid that.
When stress starts piling up and feelings of overwhelm begin creeping in, we want to find ways of managing college stress so that the symptoms don’t leave us in a pile on the floor or amount to something much worse. Keep in mind, the following list is not exhaustive, and there are many ways to handle stress. Also understand that some of these may work for you, and some may not. That’s okay. Find what works for you for managing college stress.
Here are some great ways to manage your stress:
Healthy Diet and Exercise
Taking care of our physical bodies has a lot of benefits. Obviously, there are the energy and strength benefits that come with working out and eating right. But our diet and fitness also have a huge impact on our mental health.
A great way to manage stress is to start with what we are putting in our bodies. Eating a diet that is high in nutrients (i.e. Veggies, protein, fruit, and whole grains) has been known to positively impact stress and brain function. The right kinds of food fuel our bodies, promote healing and growth, and give us vitamins and minerals. A diet filled with junk food can leave us open to more stress and a host of other physical and mental problems as well.
Additionally, working out is a known mood-booster. Getting regular exercise can relieve tension in the body and the brain and is a great outlet for stress. And we don’t have to be running marathons every day to see the benefits of exercise. This can be as simple and short as a 10-minute walk, or a yoga video on YouTube.
Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Or a nap. Sleep is our body’s way of recharging. Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule and getting between 7-9 hours of sleep each night is super important. When you are well rested, you give your body and mind the best chances of performing to the highest capability.
Getting proper sleep allows for better physical health, better immunity, better cognitive function, and better memory, among so many other things. When we don’t get enough sleep, we can feel it. You know the feeling I’m talking about; when you’re tired and someone starts talking to you, way too fast, and way too loud? That instant irritation? Yeah, that’s a sign that we need more sleep.
A great way of managing college stress comes down to managing your time well. Sounds like a broken record, I’m sure. But, the reason we keep hearing it is because it really is important, especially for avoiding/managing stress. Don’t leave things “for later” when “later” is undefined. Procrastination leads to one confirmed destination: stress. What happens when we rely on “later” for everything we have to do? Later arrives, and everything has to be done at once.
Managing our time, putting together a schedule for when certain assignments should be worked on, marking down due dates and how much time we can spend on each project/assignment a day can save us from a lot of unnecessary stress and guessing. Don’t get caught up in procrastination and leave yourself open to the inevitable stress that will come down like Thor’s hammer.
Do Something Creative
Sometimes, when the stress hits, the best thing to do is take a break and do something creative that interests you and gets your brain working. This can be things like drawing, painting, animating, reading, writing a poem or story. Creative projects, for fun, can help us relax, brainstorm, and give us an outlet for managing college stress.
God is listening, and He wants you to come to Him for everything. Prayer requires us to turn our attention to God, and in turn we trust that He knows what we need, and He cares how we are. There is no problem too small or too large for Him. He tells us that we can turn to him for anything, and He will sustain us.
“Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.”
Prayer can provide us with peace, strength, and focus as we lean on God and trust Him.
Worship can provide us with perspective in times of stress. Realizing the God that we serve and what He has done and is doing can help alleviate our stress as we realize that by comparison, our stress and problems have no power against Him. Worshipping God can make everything seem a lot more possible.
Additionally, it’s hard to really feel stress or anxiety while worshipping God. It often melts the stress away, even if only temporarily, while we are caught up in the presence of our savior. Even when you don’t really feel like it, or when you are distracted, choosing to worship in the midst of everything else going on is choosing to look to God instead of your problems.
Spending time in God’s word is a great way to relieve stress. Time and again, God reveals Himself to us in His word. Time and again, we see His providence, His power, and His love. He has not hidden Himself from us, and reading Scripture can remind us just how present and good He is. Spending time in his word and meditating on it can bring us peace and strength as we remember that God is with us.
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94:19)
Don’t try to handle it alone. Even just the act of telling a friend that we are stressed can have a big impact when managing college stress. Having someone around us that we can talk to about stress or other feelings is important. We can create a support system with friends or an accountability group to make sure that we aren’t just stressing about the things that need to get done but doing them.
If the stress starts to worsen, and the symptoms of stress become consistent or more extreme, don’t ignore it. Don’t allow yourself to fall further into the stress pit, don’t tell yourself that it’s no one else’s problem, and don’t wait for it to fix itself. When the stress becomes more episodic or chronic, use the counseling department at your school (it’s free), or seek counsel from a pastor or spiritual mentor.
What’s best for you is to get better, to be healthier, to manage the stress. Know when it’s time to seek help—that shows real strength.
Stress is an inevitable part of college life. It can be good if we know how to manage it and use it to motivate us to get things done. But, when we let it grow, it can become harmful and lead to greater problems. Ideally, we never let stress get its claws that deep in us using these methods for stress management.
I strongly recommend prayer, worship, and reading scripture whether stress is present or not, as staying close to God provides us with strength and faith that gets us through anything. Remember, though, that not every form of stress management is as effective for everyone. Find what works best for you and know when to seek out help.
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