Manage Stress

It is important to be able to Manage Stress

Going to college is stressful, even to the most confident students. You are usually away from home. It is up to you to schedule your time and study hard enough to make the grades you want to make. You are meeting different people and encountering different ideas.

Freshmen may be dealing with homesickness, finding their way around, and meeting new friends.  All students experience some stress at the beginning of a semester when beginning new classes. Will the classes be too hard? Will you like the professor? How much work will be involved?

But the end of a semester is probably most stressful time of the year. You have papers to write. You need to study for and take exams. And then, you wait anxiously to see how you did on the test and to see your final grades.

The causes of stressA young woman finds it hard to study because of stress.

Dr. T.H. Homes and Dr. R.H. Rahe studied the most stressful events in a person’s life. Among the most important crisis situations are the “death of a spouse or immediate family member, injury, being fired or laid off work, sexual difficulties, and gaining a new family member.

Look at the girl in the picture. She has just finished reading a chapter and realizes she doesn’t remember anything. I would guess from her expression that she is under a great deal of stress.

Perhaps there are other stressful events in her life. Maybe her father recently lost his job. Maybe she has just broken up with her boyfriend and even worse, she might be afraid she is pregnant. Maybe her brother is in the military and has recently been seriously injured. There are many reasons that might explain her stress.

For college students, like anyone else, the main factors causing stress are often personal. Perhaps someone in your family or a close friend has died or is very sick. Perhaps you, your parents or close friends are getting a divorce or have serious problems in their marriage. You may have been (or still are) abused physically, sexually, or verbally. You may have grown up in poverty, never feeling secure about having a place to sleep and food to eat. If any of these are true, It should not be a surprise that you would have difficulty focusing on your textbooks, doing your homework, or preparing for a test.

In recent years, stress is far more widespread. Men and women who have served in the military return with disabling memories of what happened, memories of friends who died, memories of terrible injuries, memories of the terrible things people do to each other.

A soldier shoots his gunThe soldier shooting the machine gun is now back home and starting college. It is hard to study while suffering symptoms of PTSD. Even veterans who are not labeled with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), still experience a great deal of stress. Even if your problem isn’t as severe as other soldiers you fought with, it may still interfere with concentrating on your studies.

In recent years, another source of stress has become all too common. Someone you know, perhaps someone in your family may have lost their investments, may have lost a job and not been able to find another, or may have lost their house because they had no way to pay the mortgage. Families that once had a comfortable income may even find themselves homeless, wondering where the next meal will come from. Most students, even if their family hasn’t been affected by such problems, have relatives or friends who have. Students read about the terrible rates of unemployment and worry about how they will ever find a job when they graduate.

Just going to college is certainly not as stressful as these situations but, for many students, flunking out of college would come very close. I suspect, for many college students, failure might be more stressful than being laid off a  job. To some students, even  the  thought of not making all A’s like they did in high school, is stressful, especially if they need those grades to get into medical school. Some students will be feeling guilty that they are using so much money, knowing their family cannot afford it. With all these problems, stress is certainly understandable. and stress affects the way we learn.

But, just because terrible things have happened to you, it is still possible to function well. Stephen Covey, in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has advice for us. This is one of those quotes that is worth memorizing.  It is worth reading five or six times, worth putting on your bulletin board, worth copying inside your notebooks so you can read it when you feel discouraged. I would change only one part. In the first sentence, I would end with “that hurts us or helps us grow.”

 It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us. Of course, things can hurt us physically or economically and can cause sorrow. But our character, our basic identity, does not have to be hurt at all. In fact, our most difficult experiences become the crucibles that forge our character and develop the internal powers, and the freedom to handle difficult circumstances in the future and inspire others to do so as well.     — Stephen Covey p. 73

Others have expressed the same idea.

No one can hurt you without your consent.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.

While some students find it difficult to work because of stress, others work best under a certain amount of stress. They may register for more classes and take more difficult classes because they are looking for a real challenge.

Physical causes of stress

Some people will tell you it’s all in your mind, and certainly your mind is involved, but the symptoms of stress are very real.Physical causes of stress can include not eating a healthy diet, not getting enough sleep, and not getting regular exercise.

Signs of stress

The website at Iona College has an excellent article on understanding and managing stress. They include these four signs of stress.

“Physiological responses –  Immediate responses include muscle tension, heart racing, nervous tics, sweating, strong startle response, and restlessness. Chronic stress can cause frequent colds, insomnia, or sleeping too much, tiredness, and a general lack of energy, as well as pain, skin problems and heart disease.

Behavioral signs – Hyperactivity, cursing, walking or talking faster, irritation with delays, panicky, avoiding people, nervous habits (overeating, smoking, drinking, compulsive actions) or a change in habits (becoming less or more organized), poor memory, confusion, or stumbling over words.

Emotional signs – General lack of motivation, boredom, inattentiveness, excessive worrying, holding a grudge, irritability, anger, easily losing your temper, anxiety and crying.

Cognitive signs – Excessive preoccupation with a situation, repeatedly obsessing about an upsetting event, unstoppable negative thoughts and self-defeating beliefs.”

How Stress affects your brain

  • The brain, sensing a threat, produces stress hormones including adrenaline.
  • Your sweat gland are activated to prevent over-heating.
  • The pupils in your eyes grow larger ( in primitive times – so you can see the enemy approach.)
  • Your blood coagulates faster to prevent hemorrhages in case you are injured. Your heart is pumping faster sending four times as much blood to your larger muscles.
  • With the blood rushing to the muscles instead of the stomach, digestion stops. This makes your stomach feel strange.
  • You breathe faster and the oxygen goes to your large muscles rather than to your brain so you will be strong enough to fight or escape. (and your thinking skills are weaker)
  • While it feels like you can’t think, the problem is that all your thinking is focused on facing danger. This means you can’t waste your efforts to think about questions on your test.

For practical strategies to reduce or conquer stress:   reduce stress

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