College stress? Try these tips for managing stress

The astronomical amounts of college stress new students must deal with on a daily basis can be overwhelming. Most students are on their own for the first time and are faced with life-altering decisions, like choosing majors—choices that can ultimately shape their career paths and the rest of their lives. If that isn’t enough, college students must also grapple with a constant workload of quizzes, tests, papers, projects, group assignments, presentations, and more, from multiple professors with unique teaching styles and sets of expectations. Is it any wonder that 20 percent of undergrads are “constantly stressed”?

There are stats on who seems to be stressed out the most. According to a survey conducted by The Associated Press and mtvU a few years ago, and reported in an MSNBC.com article entitled “1 in 5 undergrads is constantly stressed,” “College women have a more stressful existence than men, with 45 percent of females and 34 percent of males saying they face pressure often. The youngest students cite frequent stress most often. Whites report more stress than blacks and Hispanics.”

Most college students make it out with a degree, mainly because they’ve learned how to deal with their anxieties and, fortunately, there are plenty of healthy ways for managing stress.

Stress-reducing techniques
Integrating stress-reducing techniques into your daily routine can have a huge impact on your happiness and health. Try meditating, breathing exercises, or yoga first thing in the morning to decompress and mentally unwind. If you don’t have any time in the morning, try these activities in the evening (they might also help you sleep). Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that might help you de-stress. You don’t have to devote hours to these practices, either, only about 15 to 20 minutes a day. Choose activities you enjoy and find ways to incorporate them into your daily schedule.

Healthy eating and drinking
Food and drink can have a significant effect on your body. If you’re consuming too much caffeine, your body may develop a dependency that prevents you from maintaining a normal level of alertness without downing espresso every few hours. Too much caffeine can also make you jittery, shaky, and unable to calm down, resulting in less quality sleep and higher stress levels.

Exercise
Exercise is one of the only proven ways to dramatically reduce stress levels and improve your overall mood. On the Mayo Clinic website, an article entitled “Exercise and stress: Get moving to combat stress,” they write: Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits:

  • It pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a runner’s high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike also can contribute to this same feeling.
  • It’s meditation in motion. After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and concentrated only on your body’s movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything that you do.
  • It improves your mood. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise also can improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety.”

Enjoying the benefits of exercise doesn’t have to mean a daily hour-long gym commitment, however. Getting your heart rate up can be as simple as taking a brisk 30-minute walk on campus, playing tennis with your roommate, or riding your bike to the grocery store. If you don’t already fit exercise into your life, consider adding workouts to your schedule three or four days a week. It may just be the answer to diminishing your stress.

Feeling lonely?
If you’re missing the comforts of home—family, pets, old friends, your own bed—the accompanying sadness and stress can feel overwhelming. And this can mean that you are suffering from a lesser-known cause of stress—homesickness. If you constantly feel depressed or alone, it is important to talk about these feelings with a loved one or a trusted friend. Sometimes, simply calling up a parent or sibling can ease the pain and stress of separation. Bonding with friends who are also dealing with homesickness can provide relief too. Consider participating in an extracurricular activity—the team unity can help ease feelings of loneliness.

If you find that depression and anxiety are causing you to fall behind in your classes or are deeply affecting your personal life, there are plenty of on- and off-campus resources you can turn to for counseling—don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Time management
If you don’t already have a planner, consider purchasing one. You may be extremely organized, but visualizing what you need to do for the week can help lower tension. Be sure that your daily schedule includes your responsibilities, and don’t forget to schedule time to exercise and relax. Seeing what is coming up in the days ahead can give you the boost you need to approach the week with confidence instead of unraveling from the stress of having too much to do.

Sticking to a daily routine can keep your stress levels in check, but you also need to get enough rest. Make sure you’re going to bed and waking up at a consistent time—even if your first class isn’t until 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. By staying constant and getting a full night’s sleep each evening—instead of nine hours here and five hours there—you can help keep your energy levels steady and your stress levels down.

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