If you’re an overwhelmed college student, you may accept chronic stress as a normal part of your daily life. It’s a completely valid response when adjusting to a new environment, difficult classes, pressure to succeed, and the soaring cost of college. Though high stress is understandable, it has the potential to have a harmful impact on your mental and physical health. Here we will explore the effects of stress and the best ways you can manage it no matter your circumstances.
Effects of Stress
When faced with stressful situations, your body’s “fight-or-flight” response helps you react quickly and protect yourself during an emergency. A little bit of stress is normal, and can even be beneficial. However, when your stress levels remain elevated over a long period of time, it can have a lasting impact on your health. Some serious consequences of chronic stress include a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, depression, anxiety, and a higher risk of diabetes and heart attack.
You may be familiar with the physical symptoms of stress: quickened breath, upset stomach, clenched jaw, racing heart, and sweaty palms. But there are other symptoms to look out for! You might feel irritated, lonely, pessimistic, forgetful, or worried. You may see differences in your behavior such as eating too much or too little, procrastination, and increased use of drugs and alcohol. Understanding the ways you respond to stress is an important step in managing it effectively.
Ways to Manage Stress
Rest, rest, rest
We’re not just talking about sleeping for 8+ hours every night. If you’re constantly on the go, give yourself permission to lay down and relax. For some, you may be relieved; bring on the hammocks and fuzzy blankets! Others may feel uncomfortable with the thought of being unproductive. Remember, your worth is not tied to your productivity. Making time to relax without any guilt is essential to being a healthy adult. You may even find that you are MORE productive returning to your studies and obligations after a well-deserved break.
Make a plan
Map out your weeks by keeping in mind the time you need for your studies, work, family, friends, and self. Keep your stressors in mind when setting priorities. Are you feeling overwhelmed by your academics? Prioritize tutoring or office hours with your professor. Is the price of college keeping you up at night? Set aside time to create a budget or visit with your financial aid office. Being proactive in the areas of your life that are causing strain may alleviate the burden.
Find an outlet
Discover an outlet to channel all that pent-up anxiety and worry. A great question to think about: How do you enjoy expressing yourself? Consider activities that focus on creating rather than consuming. Maybe it’s cooking a new recipe, knitting, drawing, playing sports, or taking photos with friends. Remember, you don’t need to be an expert at any of these things. You can burn the cookies, knit the shortest scarf ever, and draw stick figures. As long as you are enjoying yourself, you have found your outlet!
Seek mental health support
If you or a friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts or self-harm, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255). The hotline is available 24 hours a day. If your stress is interfering with your daily routine, make an appointment with a mental health counselor. Some colleges combine their health center and counseling center, so be sure to explore your school’s website to see where the mental health resources are located. You can typically call to make an appointment, schedule one online, or stop in after class. Even if you don’t consider yourself dealing with severe mental health issues, talking to someone can be super helpful in learning how to cope with stress, sadness, and anxiety.
No matter where life takes you, you will always encounter stressful situations. Learning to handle stress is a skill that you will take with you long after graduation. With these tips, we hope you can take the measures you need to make your learning environment more relaxing!