Managing Stress in College and University
Managing Stress in College and University
By: Meghan Lederman, R.P., M.A.
Many post-secondary students are quickly approaching or are in midterms at this point in time. This can be especially overwhelming for first-year students; but all students feel the pressure. Knowing what to do to get you through this period with your mental health intact is vital. We have 5 stress and anxiety busting techniques here:
- Organize and prioritize
Knowing what is crucial and what can be given less attention is important. While all your classes, exams and projects are important, they are not all worth the same percent of your final grade. There may be classes that you are performing better in than others, and there may be classes where you need all the marks you can get. Think about what is most important to you, and where you need to focus your time, energy and effort. Think about and estimate how many hours you will need to finish an assignment or complete a study guide; schedule that time in your schedule over the mid-term period. Create a visual calendar so you can track your time, deadlines and test dates. Don’t forget to show in your schedule your work and social commitments too. This will help you to plan and focus so you don’t get stuck cramming everything in to one weekend.
2. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Meditation is a skill that helps us to focus on and remain in the present moment. The more you think about the future, the more stressed out you are likely to be. The more you think about the past (especially when under stress), the more likely you are to reflect on shortcomings or negative experiences, and thus the more discouraged or down you may feel. We want to try and bring our focus of attention to the present moment. This will help alleviate unpleasant emotions. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase focus and enhance our emotional regulation skills – all necessary during high stress times. We really like the apps available at www.headspace.com to get you on the path to regular meditation.
3. Physical Activity
Get active. The benefits of physical activity are plenty, but activity can be particularly helpful for boosting your mood and managing stress. Often we experience stress physically in our bodies, and so using our muscles, stretching, and increasing blood flow through the body can help us register body stress, and teach the body to relax. Get outside. Go for a walk or a run. Hit the gym and lift some weights. Attend a yoga class at a studio, or at home lead by a book or video. Whatever you decide to do, make activity a priority when managing stress.
4. Watch your nutritional intake
Stress has this way of influencing our food choices. Whether we crave carbs, sustain ourselves on coffee, or survive on fast food; stress is having its influence. Be aware of intake and strive for lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, limited processed or fast foods, and a healthy balance of all food groups. Although a sugar of coffee buzz provides you a quick boost of energy, you are likely to crash and feel sluggish afterwards. Excessive carbs may be soothing and comforting, but they don’t give you the balance you need to maintain good focus and sustained energy levels. Try to find balance in your nutritional intake.
Knowing how to relax and making time for it is paramount. Allow yourself permission to spend time daily on activities that promote relaxation for you. This could be spending time with friends, reading, having a bubble bath, or walking the dog. It could also be structured relaxation strategies like deep breathing, meditation, and guided relaxation. There are lots of excellent guided meditation and guided relaxation activities available on Youtube just enter those phrases into your search. A breathing technique I like is diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing). In this breathing exercise you are focusing on pulling the air on an inhalation down past your lungs and into your diaphragm. This causes your stomach to rise with each breath in and fall with each breath out. This is easiest to do while laying on your back with your hands resting gently on your stomach. Don’t force the air to your stomach, rather lay still, take slow deep breaths and you will notice your stomach begins to rise and fall. Sit with this, and gently focus your attention on your breathing. You may want to count your breaths as you do this. “1” on the inhale, “2” on the exhale. Do this to 10, and then start again.
6. Bonus Tip – Self-talk
The narrative we keep in our minds has a significant impact on how we feel and how we cope. If you are repeatedly telling yourself that you “can’t do it”, or that your work “isn’t good enough” you are increasing your risk of feeling stressed, overwhelmed and even depressed. The messages you give yourself are important, and you want them to reflect feelings of confidence, calm, and productivity. Think of a mantra you can use to help you get through the tough situations. Something like “don’t sweat the small stuff” or “this too shall pass” may be helpful. Additionally, don’t let those negative thoughts take over. Challenge them with the truth. Reminding yourself that you have a history of doing well on tests, or that you have put in your best effort on an assignment can help to alleviate that self-doubt and anxiety. It doesn’t need to be phrases of “rainbows and sunshine”, just simply something truthful that builds your confidence in yourself and “pokes holes” in some of those unhelpful beliefs.
If you are still having difficulty coping, and you are worried that your anxiety, depression or stress is worsening or unmanageable, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Many colleges and universities have counselling offices onsite, ready to help with these exact concerns.
Meghan Lederman is a registered psychotherapist in Welland, ON. She provides support to students attending Niagara College and Brock University. To contact Meghan, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org