STRESS AND COLLEGE
Stress is a state of tension that occurs when there are demands and pressures that tax an individual’s ability to cope. Acute stress is a response to a short-term stressor, such as giving a class presentation. Chronic stress is a response to a stressor that is ongoing, such as an unhappy relationship, a demanding job or academic course load. Although college is often regarded as a time of fun with few responsibilities, the reality is that the college years can be very stressful. College students must adjust to the demands of living more independently, without parents and family to help manage and structure time, cope with challenging academic demands, along with juggle the demands of social commitments and involvement in campus activities. Many students also work a job or continue to help their families with household responsibilities. Added all together, college students have many demands competing for their time and energy.
When under stress, the body summons its defensive forces in an integrated manner, engaging multiple systems in your body, such as the Amygdala and Hypothalamus (structures in the brain), the autonomic nervous system, the Vegas nerve, and the endocrine system. The felt experience of the stress response involves physical symptoms, (e.g., racing heart, sweating, or butterflies in your stomach, sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating, exhaustion), emotional reactions (e.g. anxiety, feeling irritable or on edge, feeling emotional sensitive) and cognitive symptoms (e.g. a tendency toward negative, self-defeating, or perfectionistic thinking, a belief that you can't control important life outcomes).
When stressors are chronic and therefore there is continued activation of the stress response reaction, it can have long-term effects on your body and mind.
Although part of your reaction to stress is hardwired and automatic, there is a lot you can do to help cope with stress. Implementing some of the skills below can change how your body processes and interprets stress.
- Prioritize sleep, exercise, and nutrition. These basics are the first line of defense when it comes to stress.
- Keep a stress diary to better understand the situations, patterns, and activities that cause you stress.
- Relax your body-engage in deep slow breathing, engage in progressive muscle relaxation, or do a guided meditation. Mindfulness practices (having an open and accepting attitude towards the present moment) and Grounding exercises (strategies that help you feel solid, soothed, and connected to your surroundings) are great resources for reducing the impact of stress.
- Set realistic goals and prioritize your time. Consider letting go of some of your activities that you are only doing because you feel you “should.”
- Shift your perception- focus on what has gone right as well as what you can control. Feel proud of your efforts, hard work, and attitude. We have more control over the process of how we approach events in our lives than we do the outcome.
- Reach out to friends and loved ones for support.
- Find time every day for something pleasurable, such as watching your favorite show, enjoying the outdoors, sharing a meal with a friend, or spending needed time alone.
HOW TO GET HELP
Free, confidential counseling is available at the University Counseling Center, 206 Health Services Building, 610-519-4050.