Monday, November 21, 2011

College Stress

Sometimes college life can make you seriously freak out.

With all the exams, late night studying, hard-to-understand lecturers, management of online and real life status, less-than courteous roommates, it’s enough to turn the most intrepid scholar into a quivering and unholy puddle of green jelly.

But hey, it doesn’t have to be this way.

With a few simple techniques and adjustments you can go back to being your own bad-self on campus.  So here’s the scoop...

Stress is defined as an increase in the arousal of the autonomic nervous system, or an emotional and physical reaction that increases the rate of “wear and tear” on the body.

Here’s the thing: You can’t stop stress from occurring.  It is a part of life.  However, you can influence the rate of wear and tear on your body and mind. More to come on this subject later.

A stressor is any positive or negative event that causes such a reaction.  Successful life events such as graduation, marriage and getting a new job can cause as much stress as a break-up, failing grades, or being fired.  So this means we are almost always under some sort of stress.  It may be small or it may be big, but it’s always there.  Kind of like the dishes in your sink.  Just as we wake and put clothes on (most of us anyway), we can prepare to encounter and address stress every day.

Some signs of stress include: fatigue, agitation, feeling jittery or shaky, muscle tension, headaches, feeling drained or overwhelmed, restlessness and poor concentration.

Sound familiar?

Common sources of college stress include: exams and papers, increased freedoms and responsibilities, family and relationship problems, poor diet and sleep habits, alcohol and drug abuse, and the inability to set appropriate limits for yourself and others.

This last one is the most important.  Many stressful events are relational in nature; they arise in the context of our relationships with professors, family members, friends and lovers.  If you learn the skills of setting and keeping limits, you will have most stress management owned.

Here are some secrets to successful stress management:

First, you must be aware of your boundaries, or in other words, your own set of personal limits for yourself and others.  How far are you willing to go yourself before you become uncomfortable, or worse, hurt, with anything?  How far are you willing to let others go?  Figure this out, as much as possible, ahead of time.  Then establish and stick to your boundaries, which you do through good communication.

So second, once you know your boundaries, be assertive about them! Communicate clearly, directly and honestly about your preferences.  Others won’t know what to do or not to do unless you tell them!  After all, no one stops driving unless they see a stop sign.  So throw up that stop sign when you need to.

Third, other tips to deal with stress involve minimizing its effects.  Again, stress cannot be eliminated but its effects can be reduced.  You can accomplish this by doing the following:

1. Notice that you are stressed as early as possible.  If you listen carefully your body will tell you.
2. Identify what is stressing you.  This may not be as easy as it sounds, so think about it deliberately.
3. Learn to be appropriately assertive and say “No” to yourself and others.
4. Develop realistic goals.  A resume packed full of activities you really don’t care about won’t help you.
5. Change the negatives if you can, and change your attitude about them if you can’t.  You will feel better when you resign from being manager of the universe.
6. Learn not to panic or over-react when things don’t go well.  Find one thing that you can do to feel better or move you toward your goals.
7. Take time out to relax daily and exercise at least three times a week.  This is a no-brainer.
8. Eat and sleep well, and limit alcohol and tobacco use.  Have fun without hurting yourself.
9. Take care of academic, medical or other personal problems as soon as you notice them.  Procrastinating makes everything worse.

If you need help with stress, you don’t have to go it alone.  Call your campus counseling service for an appointment to learn other simple techniques to reduce and manage stress.  Most times it only takes a few visits to learn great stress management skills.

Remember, burnout is real.  Success is enduring and doing something well for a long, long time.