The stresses of being a student are no joke. If you’re feeling the heat, consider one of these stress management tips.
The start of an academic year is a time buzzing with nervous excitement and chaos. But as the school year progresses, anxiety slowly begins to pile on in the form of heavy parcels, all begging to be carried quickly and simultaneously to a certain destination, until their weight eventually breaks our spines and causes us to drop all that we’ve been carrying. We must come face-to-face with this insidious, devilish enemy of our well-being, success, and happiness: stress.
Stress can come for anyone at any time, seemingly without a moment’s warning. For some, stress slowly builds up in staccatos and crescendoes into a large BANG! For others, it hides in the dark and creeps up from behind in the form of a large looming wave. While it can feel like there will never come a moment where stress will want to relinquish its menacing grip, we can attempt to slowly relieve its tensions in increments. To do so, we must tackle the enemy in small, manageable steps.
Identify the source and patterns of your stress behaviour
Sometimes the reasons for our stress can be indeterminable, trivial, or confusing. But it’s our job to acknowledge them nonetheless. Rather than forcing yourself to be content at all times with empty reassurances—like “everything’s fine” or “my problems are nothing compared to those of other people’s”—allow yourself the privilege of responding to your own feelings. Be honest with yourself, and identify what it is that makes you feel stressed. No matter how big or small, problems are still problems.
Identify your stress behaviour
- Carefree vs. Tense: Are you naturally prone to stress and constantly in a state of nervous energy or is there something specific weighing on your mind at the moment?
- Active vs. Passive: Do you prefer to confront a problem, be it large or small, and reach a satisfying conclusion or would you prefer to avoid it if possible?
- Level of Awareness: Do you tend to ignore signs of stress or are you usually aware when stress is building up?
- Mindset: How do you feel towards stress? What is your relationship with stress? Do you blame everything on yourself or on others?
- Response to Stress: In the past, how have you responded to various kinds of stress? Were they effective? Why or why not? Do you respond to stress in healthy ways or in poor habits that lead to a vicious cycle?
- Impacts of Stress: How often do you feel stressed? How does this stress impact your day-to-day life?
While some people can manage a multitude of tasks under pressure, others can become easily stressed or overwhelmed when there are more commitments than can be counted with ten fingers. For the latter kind of people, stress often lurks in the background and never seems to disappear from the picture. Identifying the patterns of your stress-response behaviour is a key step to addressing it. You can talk with friends and family or mental health professionals if you need help identifying the origin of your stress. Consider jotting down a few lines on how and why stress arises and how you respond to stress.
Identify the type of problem you are currently faced with
- Specific vs. General: Is the issue one that can be dealt with in a specific time frame or is one that requires a consistent and gradual effort to solve?
- Internal vs. External: Is the stress coming from yourself or from other people, their expectations, deadlines, or interactions?
- Concrete vs. Abstract: Is the problem something specific that can be addressed (e.g. approaching deadlines, paying taxes) or is it something more general and abstract (e.g. self-esteem, interactions at work or school) that requiring consistent effort?
- One vs. Several: Is there one main cause for your stress or is it a combination of many that you need to tackle?
- Small vs. Large: Is the issue something small or something much larger?
- Possible Solutions: Is the issue avoidable or solvable? Are you able to make changes to the situation or are you forced to deal with it?
While you might not have much control over certain stress factors in your life, you have control over your mindset as a means of stress management. By compartmentalizing your problems into their respective categories, you can have greater control over when and how you respond to stress factors, thus greatly reducing feelings of anxiety and of being overwhelmed.
Figure out short-term and long-term ways to manage stress
Stress management is a crucial skill, not just for students cramming for midterms or churning out essays the day before the deadline. Stress management is crucial for teenagers and young adults in general as it affects their health, development, and happiness.
Short-term stress management
Some people manage stress in the short term by binging—eating chocolate, watching television series, shopping for clothes. In moderation, these can be perfectly acceptable ways of brightening your mood after a bad day But when they are used as an escape, that’s when they can become detrimental to your health, and in some cases, your wallet. It’s better to leave behind these short-term stress management band-aids and opt for other, more sustainable methods.
- Talk to someone. A counsellor, teacher, friend, or family member. Consult whoever you’re comfortable with, somebody who has the time and patience to listen to your problems, and somebody who genuinely cares for you. Even if these people might not be able to help you resolve the problem, they can help you feel supported.
- Delegate tasks when possible. Sometimes it gets so busy that it seems as though there is more expected of you than you could possibly do. If a task doesn’t require you specifically, consider entrusting it to somebody who is willing to do it for you.
- Set yourself a reward. Regardless of whether you prioritize a task or procrastinate until the last minute, you still have to do it in the end. So why not have yourself a nice little treat for your hard work? A dinner with family, a good book, time to browse social media—anything that can transport your mind to a different place.
Long-term stress management
I know, I know. Sweeping changes are not possible for everyone. Sure, it would be ideal if we all exercised more, slept longer, and ate healthier every meal. But it’s simply unrealistic to expect change to happen overnight. What’s most important is that you commit to at least one habit with the potential for a notable, positive impact on you. Then, give yourself the time to get used to this new habit. You don’t want to overload yourself with more than you can handle and create new reasons to stress.
- Eat healthy. A well-balanced, well-proportioned, varied diet is obvious. It can help maintain healthy body weight, lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar, and so much more. Eat lots of protein, and vegetables and fruit for different kinds of nutrients, vitamins, and fibre; decrease the intake of highly processed foods, sugar, and salt; opt for whole grains in lieu of refined grains. Consult Canada’s food guide for more information.
- Exercise. I used to think people fell under two extremes when it came to exercise. There were the fitness gurus who never seemed to get tired or bored…then there was everyone else who was too lazy to join in. Good news, you don’t need to become an Olympian to reap the benefits of some physical fitness every week.
- Sleep. Sleep seems to be the hardest lifestyle change for a lot of us. With so many assignments, projects, and life commitments bombarding us, it can be tempting to say that you don’t have time. (Pro tip: there’s almost always room to be made for an extra 30 minutes of sleep). But maintaining a regular sleep schedule and a good quality of sleep will undoubtedly help your body feel less tired and anxious throughout the day. Even if you can’t get the optimal eight-hour sleep, at least try to sneak in a few extra minutes when you can.
- Hobbies. It’s always better when you have something other than deadlines and assignments to think about. It can be a personal project or a recent skill or interest you’ve developed. No matter your choice, having structure in your personal life can greatly balance the rigorous demands of work and school.
Any of these long-term changes can have a great, lasting impact on your overall health and wellbeing. Of course, these solutions—or rather, lifestyle improvements—are easier said than done. But honestly, you likely won’t regret adopting a few healthier habits. While a well-balanced lifestyle won’t magically dispel the stress from your life, it can certainly help ensure that stress doesn’t prevent you from performing daily functions.
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