A College Student's Guide to Managing Stress
In our last article (read here), we listed a variety of reasons why students may experience stress. Sometimes stress can make us feel out of control. But this doesn't mean that we can't learn to manage it and continue our journey. Let us understand how stress works and how it affects us so that we can learn how to manage it.
What happens when we experience stress?
When we are stressed, our bodies release a hormone called ‘cortisol’. When our bodies sense danger, cortisol helps to increase our heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, etc. From an evolutionary point of view, cortisol helps us become suddenly active and energetic as a way to run away or defend ourselves from predators or danger. This works for a short period and is effective as a survival mechanism.
However, consistently high levels of cortisol cause damage to our bodies. It can cause various diseases such as ulcers, high blood pressure, anxiety, high levels of cholesterol, and so on.
The trick is to learn how to manage the stress (and cortisol) within our bodies generated from our everyday busy lives. To help you do that, we have put together a few tips to help you manage stress and maintain your mental health.
Note: It is important to recognize that it is not easy to achieve all (or any) of the below steps, especially when someone is under severe stress or dealing with mental health problems. Everyone is different and needs different kinds of support, so do not let this overwhelm or burden you further if you are already stressed.
Get enough sleep
Everyone needs a different amount of sleep. Some people are comfortable with 5-6 hours, while others need 7-8 hours of sleep for their mental and physical well-being.
The key is to understand our bodies and recognize how much sleep our bodies need so that we wake up mentally recharged and not sleepy or physically drained.
We can improve our mental health and decrease stress in college significantly if we allow our bodies the necessary amount of sleep.
While it is becoming more and more common for young people to follow very irregular sleeping patterns, everyone must decide this for themselves. Don’t give in to the peer pressure. Be the odd one out and say ‘good night’ if that is what your body wants you to do.
Learn to be assertive
One of the most critical life skills we do not learn early on is saying ‘no’. When you know you have already committed yourself to different tasks to your fullest potential, learn to say 'no' to additional incoming tasks.
The secret to managing a large workload is knowing how to avoid overloading yourself.
A related skill here is prioritization. Look at each item on your to-do list and think of how urgent it is and how important it is and then plan accordingly.
The same goes with committing to too many social and personal engagements. The inability to choose and desire to please everyone often comes at a great cost of physical and mental well-being.
Take a break
Our hyper-productive culture encourages us to always be switched on. This does not work over a long period of time. Academics, extracurricular activities, internships, and the pressure of building one’s profile can all be very demanding.
Take some time off for yourself and do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Call it ‘me time’ or ‘self-care’. Enjoy nature, sip a glass of fruit juice, try to distract and relax.
Build meaningful relationships
Everyone needs somebody to talk to. That friend to lighten up our mood or discuss our worries. Sometimes, when we are stressed we can’t see the most obvious and simple solutions to our problems.
Talking to a friend can help us come up with creative solutions to overcome our problems.
But more importantly, it is having a support system and the moral support we get from friends and well-wishers that makes us feel strong. It is equally important for us to be there for these same people when they need us. This is what gives true meaning to our lives.
Junk food typically contains high amounts of sugar, salt, fat, and oil. All of these ingredients taste great and give our bodies a quick boost of energy. However, these are mostly unhealthy calories and deplete our core energy levels, leaving us even more susceptible to stress.
But when we eat healthy, we give our body adequate energy and nutrients it needs to fight stress.
Strangely enough, a lack of sleep tends to increase cravings for junk and fatty foods. So this cycle repeats itself and is a recurring disaster. A proper diet when coupled with a reasonable amount of sleep improves our mental well-being and makes it easier to deal with stress.
When you are stressed out, the last thing you may want to do is to work out. But maybe next time you are stressed, you should really try that!
Research has shown that physical activity can reduce stress and elevate your mental well-being almost immediately.
Exercise produces endorphin, a feel-good hormone, that improves mood and helps to relieve stress.
The best part is that you don’t have to join an expensive gym to exercise. Simple freehand stretching, walking, jogging, or yoga can do the job wherever you are at the moment.
Stay away from alcohol or substance abuse
As a college student, occasionally having a beer or two is perfectly OK (if you are of legal drinking age depending on where you live). But if you start to rely on alcohol or other substances to manage stress in college, that can cause unnecessary problems in your life. You also run the risk of getting addicted to them in the long term which can lead a whole set of different problems.
Avoid artificial energy boosters
Tea, coffee, chocolates—these are some popular artificial energy boosters. They help you stay awake for your late-night studies. But ignoring your body’s need to sleep will ultimately result in tiredness and energy crash. This is a perfect recipe for stress.
Skip the caffeine and opt for a healthier option such as fruit (no, not fruit juice!)
Instead, plan your time well and prioritize your body’s needs without opting for such short cuts.
Organizing your life is the easiest way to stay on top of your schedule and minimize stress. You can organize your life by using a planner or scheduler. For example, making a daily and weekly schedule of the work you have to do each day will help you manage those tasks instead of juggling which task you have to complete first.
Find a stress buster
Find a creative outlet to distract yourself from your stress. Hobbies involving physical activities can do this very effectively because they reduce the level of cortisol in our system.
Reading or hanging out with friends also can help to release stress. It’s important to remember that every individual is different. We need to figure out our own stress busters. You never know, it could be something as simple as doing a routine chore like washing dishes, but with some music on! (Did you know, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos wash the dishes at home to relax?)
Meditation is a simple and efficient way to lower the effects of stress. And you can do it anywhere. Simple mediation techniques like breathing exercises and relaxing techniques can help you to calm yourself and manage stress in college better.
Set SMART goals
Many students make this mistake of not setting realistic goals. Thinking about good grades with only studying for a month isn’t a realistic goal.
It’s important to set your expectations right.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
By setting SMART goals, you will be more aware of your goals and not get stressed out in the process.
Ask for help
Asking for help does not mean you are weak or a failure. Growing up a lot of us are made to feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. However, asking for help is also a very important skill. Help can be of different kinds and everyone needs help at some time or the other.
When all else fails if you feel the stress levels rising beyond control, looking for professional help is a very healthy thing to do.
Going to college is exciting, but it can put a lot of pressure on you. By using some of these strategies, you can reduce college stress and make your time there really memorable.
Did you enjoy this article?
Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational and educational purposes only. Lokyatha has observed best effort due diligence and all health related content is reviewed by a trained professional before publishing. However, this should not and can not replace personalized medical help. Please refer to a professional in all cases of need.