Stress and College Students Introduction
(For more information, look into taking CPD102AH)
College life can be stressful. No news there. It seems we are constantly walking on a tightrope trying to balance our time between going to classes, studying, working, and of course, socializing. How can we effectively manage each of these responsibilities without feeling out of control? This short article will address this question.
Although we typically think of stress as “bad”, we need to understand that stress is only harmful when it is excessive or intrusive. Actually, much of the stress that we all experience can be helpful and stimulating (such as increasing our energy and motivation to rise to a challenge). The challenges of life tend to be stressful and an attempt to avoid stress completely would lead to a rather boring and static existence (or to an even more stressful life!).
Most stressors are not life or death. They are often small, cumulative and chronic annoyances or inconveniences that add up to become unmanageable. Of course, some stress reactions are part of deeper and more serious emotional problems (counseling is available for these stressors), but many are not; they can be handled with relatively simple counseling and stress-management techniques. You can use the following guidelines to help manage your stress:
Identify your stressors, their causes and consequences, and your role in creating these stress reactions
Learn and apply time-management skills
Learn and apply specific relaxation techniques
Gain perspective on problems by discussing them ("We are only as sick as our secrets")
Where is your stress coming from?
Examples include noise, pollution, traffic, crowding, and the weather.
Examples include illness, injuries, hormonal fluctuations, and inadequate sleep or nutrition.
The way you think affects how you respond both emotionally and physically to stressors. Negative self-talk, comparing, Catastrophizing, and perfectionism all contribute to increased stress.
Examples include relationship conflicts, financial problems, school and work demands, social events, and experiencing a conflict or loss.
If you need assistance knowing whether or not you are experiencing stress, here are some clues to look for (remember the symptoms of stress impact the person who is experiencing stress as well as those around him or her):
Colds or other illnesses
High blood pressure
Fear or anxiety
Unwanted or repetitive thoughts
Coping Ideas for Stressed Students:
Stress reactions to various situations are also affected by your overall level of health. Someone who is always feeling overwhelmed, eats poorly, and does not get enough sleep (a description of many students) usually has a limited ability to cope with stressful events. You need to pay attention to your own well being. The right balance of sleep, food, exercise, work, school, and recreation is crucial.
Some people are in a constant state of trying to catch up (any procrastinators out there?). They find themselves rushing and hurrying from one activity to another, always racing with the clock and never getting on top of things. Part of this problem, for many students, is not being well organized. Effective time management can help. See the Learning Support Center’s website, Online Links for more about success strategies and tips, including time management.
How often have we felt hopeless or completely overwhelmed by a situation, only later to realize that we made it bigger than it was or that we were able to deal with it much better than we thought? It is easy to get caught up in a problem, lose all perspective, and feel that any problem is a catastrophe. Discussing your problems with a trusted, empathic friend (or with a counselor) can allow you to gain a new perspective and move out of what might seem like a lonely and difficult world. Simply verbalizing your concerns with a non-judgmental listener will often help give you a sense of control and understanding.
Relaxation techniques are extremely valuable tools in stress management. The Counseling Center offers counseling as well as stress management classes. These techniques are easy to learn but may be difficult to fit into your schedule. If you don't have an opportunity to get instruction, just practice sitting quietly for 15 minutes, with no interruptions. Let yourself relax by focusing on something peaceful - a beautiful scene at the beach or in the mountains, for example. Sometimes it is your negative thoughts or worries that create tension. You can practice "thought stopping techniques" and learn how to use positive self-talk to cope with stress. Stop and take a purposeful 10-minute break. Go for a walk, breathe deeply, call a friend, put on some favorite music. Keep your sense of humor! Remember, you can talk with a counselor in the Counseling Center in KSC: Student Services to learn more about how to develop these stress-reducing skills.
Keep trying! Get back up, brush yourself off, and keep trying. Success requires persistence.
Adopt healthy habits. Eat well, get exercise, and go to sleep early. Improving your physical health benefits your mental health.
List your choices. You almost always have multiple options for how to deal with a situation.
Do what’s hardest first. Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” We don’t recommend eating frogs, but doing what’s hardest first can give you a sense of accomplishment and make other activities seem easier.
Get Organized. Buy a planner. Make a list. Organize your desk and your desktop. And while you’re at it…
Schedule your day. Giving yourself structure and scheduling productive activities can increase your sense of control.
Make a plan to achieve specific goals. Clearly define your goal and give yourself a due date. As you make progress…
Experiment. Try out new behaviors. If your tendency is to do one thing, consider doing the opposite. Be brave enough to risk making a change.
Act “As If” Ask yourself “What would a happy/confident/persistent person act like?” and then behave that way. Lead with your behaviors and your emotions may follow.
Just do it. No, this isn’t an advertisement for Nike sportswear. When something is stressing you out, the easiest way to de-stress is to resolve the situation at its root. Solve the problem.
Make a final decision. If you’re stuck between two courses of action, think it through, but once you decide, accept your choice and move on.
Take it one day at a time. Do what you can today. Leave future worries for the future.
Do what will help, not necessarily what feels good. If you know the right course of action, go ahead and take it, even if it’s harder.
Give back. Support a friend, volunteer for a club or community organization, etc. Helping others makes us feel happy and competent.
Remember your motivation. Are you motivated by your friends, family, or a certain goal or purpose? Reminding yourself of what’s important can increase your motivation.
Visualize a relaxing and peaceful place in your mind—one that makes you feel differently.
Write yourself a new story. You are the hero of your own story, and you can change your story’s theme and the meaning of the events you encounter.
Imagine the future you. Imagine your future self and what actions you can take now that will benefit that person.
Trust the process. Moving toward our goals sometimes involves taking two steps forward and one step back. If you come up short, don’t worry. Small failures are an inevitable part of growth and doing something new.
Substitute Activities. If you find yourself coping in a way that’s unhealthy, try substituting a different soothing activity. For example, instead of getting drunk or high, consider watching your favorite TV show or getting some exercise.
Reframe the situation in your mind. Think about it from a perspective that allows you to feel happier and more empowered.
Question your assumptions and beliefs—especially those that are making you unhappy. Are you sure that the situation is as bad as you think?
Remember your successes. You’ve made it through difficult times in the past; you can make it through this one.
Ask yourself: What can I learn? All challenges help us grow into wiser, stronger human beings. What can you learn from your current situation?
Remember your motto. Find a wise saying that helps you, such as “Taking it one day at a time” or “Better an oops than a what if” and repeat it to yourself as often as needed.
Don’t take it personally. If someone is upset with you, let it be their problem. Don’t feel the need to get wrapped up in their issue.
Leave unhealthy situations. If a relationship or situation isn’t healthy, choose to go somewhere else.
Say no. It is your right to say no, and you don’t have to justify your decision.
Distract yourself. If you find yourself getting bogged down, take a break: go for a walk, write a poem, paint something, etc. before getting back to work.
Take responsibility. Ask yourself, “Where is my power in this situation? What do I have control over?”
Cry, if you’re moved to. Crying is our body’s natural mechanism for releasing emotional stress.
Listen to yourself. Ask yourself “What do I feel right now? What does this feeling suggest that I need?”
Understand your different sides. If you have a feeling that you don’t like or understand, think about what purpose it might be serving, or how it might be trying to help you.
Expect positive movement to feel uncomfortable at times. Progress brings us to new places, and new places can feel strange and scary, even if they are good.
When in doubt, be honest. Clear, straightforward, and thoughtful communication is often necessary for resolving relationship stress.
Ask for help. Reach out to someone you trust, share what’s going on, and ask for assistance. Even the best people get help from friends.
Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself with the same kindness and care you would offer to a good friend who was having difficulties.
Encourage yourself. Use positive self-talk (e.g. “I can do this,” “Slowly and steadily I’m getting it done,” etc.) to encourage and keep yourself going.
Drop by the counseling center. The friendly staff at PVCC Counseling Services will support you and help you meet your goals.