Assignment deadlines, going to college while holding down a job, upcoming exams – stress can be a big part of student life.
The HSE defines stress as “the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure”. They say that pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope.
Stress isn’t categorised as an illness but if it’s ignored for long enough, it can cause other issues including insomnia, lack of appetite or overeating, difficulty concentrating and for some can lead to more serious medical conditions.
Any type of mental pressure can bring on stress. It is not a sign of weakness and things don’t have to be extremely bad in your life, it is simply a result of any type of mental strain that you are unable to cope with. Everyday issues that many of us will experience can result in stress.
Money or job worries, assignment deadlines, family problems, issues in your living situation, or even just the pressure of balancing classes with other commitments can be factors. It can be one event, a build-up of events or a mixture of both where something tips you over the edge.
In a similar way to anxiety, stress releases certain hormones in your body which boost your body’s ability to deal with threat. It crosses over into anxiety when there’s a huge surge of adrenaline, tapping into your “fight or flight” response.
If you are under constant pressure, the level of these hormones continues to be high which results in a constant feeling of stress symptoms.
These symptoms can include irritability, a general low mood, worrying or experiencing racing thoughts, overthinking things and imagining the worst. There are often physical symptoms as well like headaches, nausea, dizziness, muscle tension and sweating. Symptoms can differ from person to person.
The most important thing is coming up with a coping mechanism that works for you. Many people fall into using coping mechanisms that aren’t ideal such as alcohol, smoking, drug use and using food by either overeating or not eating enough.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to try and find something that helps you cope and does not have a negative impact on your health.
The counselling service in your university or college can be invaluable in giving you a space to talk and helping you come up with ways to lower your stress levels.
If you don’t want to talk to someone, many people find that writing your thoughts down can be a way to calm racing thoughts and the feeling of being overwhelmed.
In the same vein, those who find themselves struggling to manage their time might benefit from taking half an hour on a Sunday night to sit down and write a plan for their week to work out how they’re going to get everything done comfortably.
Exercise can be a huge help whether it be going for a walk or a run, doing some yoga, going for a swim or heading to the gym for an hour.
Sleep is something which most students find hard to come by sometimes but it really is invaluable for your overall health.
Finally, basic breathing techniques are extremely helpful for calming down your “fight or flight” response as it helps to lower the levels of adrenaline in your system. Many variations can be found online easily.
The HSE has looked at stress and found that 25% of the population is suffering from subclinical stress and in the UK, research found that almost 90% of all visits to GP’s were stress-related.
They are definitely not ideal statistics but it means that if you are suffering from stress, you are not alone and help from doctors, counsellors or helplines is readily available to anyone who needs it.