Stress is a natural response of the mind and body to a situation in which you feel threatened or anxious. How do you deal with stress? Find out about the signs and effects of stress and effective ways to manage it.
Causes of Stress
As a student, you are probably familiar with the experience of stress – a condition characterized by symptoms of physical or emotional tension. What you may not know is that stress is a natural response of the mind and body to a situation where a person feels threatened or anxious. Stress can be positive, such as preparing for a happy occasion, or negative, such as dealing with a disaster.
Stress can hit you when you least expect it – before a test, after losing a job, or during conflict in a relationship. If you are a college student, it may feel like stress is a persistent fact of life. While everyone experiences stress at times, a prolonged bout can affect your health and ability to cope with life. That is why social support and self-care are important – they can help you see your problems in perspective . . . and the stressful feelings ease up.
Sometimes stress can be good. For example, stress can help you develop skills needed to manage potentially challenging or threatening situations in life. However, stress can be harmful when it is severe enough to make you feel overwhelmed and out of control.
Strong emotions like fear, sadness, or other symptoms of depression are normal, as long as they are temporary and do not interfere with daily activities. If these emotions last too long or cause other problems, it is a different story.
Signs and Effects of Stress
Physical or emotional tension are often signs of stress. They can be reactions to a situation that causes you to feel threatened or anxious. The following are all common symptoms of stress:
- Disbelief and shock;
- Tension and irritability;
- Fear and anxiety about the future;
- Difficulty making decisions;
- Being numb to one’s feelings;
- Loss of interest in normal activities;
- Loss of appetite (or increased appetite);
- Nightmares and recurring thoughts about the event;
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs;
- Sadness and other symptoms of depression;
- Feeling powerless;
- Sleep problems;
- Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems;
- Trouble concentrating.
It is not only unpleasant to live with the tension and symptoms of ongoing stress; it can actually harm your physical health. Chronic stress can impair your immune system, disrupt almost all of your body’s processes, and lead to increased risk of numerous health problems, such as the following:
- Digestive problems;
- Heart disease;
- Sleep problems;
- Weight gain;
- Memory and concentration impairment.
That is why it is so important to learn healthy ways of coping with the stressors in your life.
Ways to Manage Stress
The best strategy for managing stress is to take care of yourself, such as in the following ways:
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. They may seem to be a temporary fix to feel better, but in the long run they can create more problems and add to your stress – instead of taking it away.
- Manage your time. Work on prioritizing and scheduling your commitments. This will help you feel in better control of your life, which, in turn, will mean less stress.
- Find support. Seek help from a friend, family member, partner, counselor, doctor, or clergy person. Having a sympathetic listening ear and talking about your problems and stress really can lighten the burden.
- Connect socially. When you feel stressed, it is easy to isolate yourself. Try to resist this impulse and stay connected. Make time to enjoy being with classmates, friends, and family; try to schedule study breaks that you can
take with other people.
- Slow down and cut out distractions for a while. Take a break from your phone, email, and social media.
- Take care of your health.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Try a relaxation technique, such as meditation or yoga, or treat yourself to a massage.
- Maintain a normal routine.
The following video features a progressive muscle relaxation meditation for you to try. There are many many others available on YouTube and elsewhere.
If the self-care techniques listed above are not enough, and stress is seriously interfering with your studies or life, do not be afraid to get help. The student health center and college counselors are good resources.
Check Your Understanding
Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.
- "Stress Management." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2016. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.
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