Managing Stress

Stress is defined as a response to demands that are placed on you. As a college student, you no doubt experience high levels of stress, given the steady stream of demands encountered on a daily basis.

But did you realize stress can be a good thing? It’s true! That extra burst of stress-related adrenaline can help you finish your term paper, perform well in sports, or meet just about any challenge. Stress is a short-term physiological reaction to a challenge, which subsides once the challenge has been met. Afterwards, you can relax and move forward with your life.

But if you find yourself unable to relax, or if the challenge can’t be met, those same stresses can turn negative. You may feel there’s nothing to be done about your stress levels, leading to negative impacts on your mental and physical health, your academic progress, and your relationships. That’s why it’s important you learn to manage your stress, before stress takes control of you.

Unhealthy Stress Triggers

Stress can have many triggers – both negative and positive. Here’s a list of both positive and negative life experiences that can trigger unhealthy stress:

  • Starting College
  • New romantic relationships
  • Marriage
  • Pregnancy
  • Graduation
  • New job
  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce of parents
  • Adjusting to a new school/living situation
  • Arguments with friends/family
  • Increase in course load
  • Shift in social life
  • Lower grades than expected
  • Financial problems
  • Job loss
  • Raising children
  • Juggling many responsibilities at once

Are you Experiencing Unhealthy Stress?

How do you know if you’re experiencing unhealthy stress?  Stress can impact you emotionally, cognitively, physically and behaviourally. Here are some common signs that your stress responses have reached an unhealthy level:

Feelings Behaviour
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fear
  • Moodiness
  • Acting impulsively
  • Crying easily
  • Nervous laughter
  • Teeth grinding
  • Increase in smoking, alcohol or other drug use
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
Thoughts Physical
  • Self-criticism
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Forgetfulness
  • Fear of failure
  • Tight muscles
  • Cold or sweaty hands
  • Headaches
  • Back or neck problems
  • Upset stomach
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid breathing/heart rate

Tips for Managing Stress

  1. Breathe! Does your chest feel tight? You may be unknowingly holding your breath, decreasing the amount of oxygen in your blood and causing headaches, muscle tension and an increased heart-rate.
  2. Manage your time. It’s important to plan ahead, and to time for stress reduction and self-care. By spreading yourself too thin, you increase the risk of burn-out.
  3. Talk it out. Bottled-up emotions increase frustration and negative stress levels. By sharing your feelings with someone you trust, you could gain clarity or new insights.
  4. Get physical. Physical activity plays an important role in stress reduction, especially for those who spend much of their day at a desk. Identify an activity you enjoy, and find room in your schedule.
  5. Take care of your body. Eat healthy and get lots of sleep – you’ll feel energized in both body and spirit. Avoid too much caffeine and sugar, as both provide a quick high but lead to a big crash. Well-nourished, well-rested bodies are better prepared to deal with stress.
  6. Know your limits. Stress often results when we try to exert control over people or situations. Accept there are circumstances beyond your control.