Stress affects us all at some point in our lives, and sometimes you might not realise how much stress you can be put under as a student. Many factors can contribute to stress rather than just a single aggressor; academic pressure, money troubles and relationships problems are just some of the big stressors faced by students. Compounded by bad lifestyle choices, stress can leave you feeling trapped or anxiety-ridden and at worst, can affect your long-term health.
Symptoms of stress are varied and you may not even realise that you are stressed until very late in the game. It can cause sleep problems, irritability, anxiety, restlessness, nervous twitching and even chest pains or breathlessness. If you find yourself lying awake at night, unable to stop the thoughts rushing round your head or you wake up in the middle of sleep suddenly worrying about things you need to do, then these are some warning signs that you may be too stressed. Have your eating habits changed? Many people when under stress find themselves either eating more than usual and comfort-eating, or eating less, perhaps controlling their diet to a point where other people begin to comment. Do you find yourself crying frequently? Even if it’s for an insignificant reason, hormones may not always be to blame. If any of these symptoms sound like you, you might be stressed.
There are two different types of stress; there’s “good stress” which keeps you motivated and is the mental push you need to get a job done, and “bad stress” which keeps you awake at night, makes you worry incessantly and can push you to your breaking point. In the long term, stress can have a detrimental effect on your mental wellbeing and on your physical health. Being under constant stress and strain can also lead to depression and/or anxiety. In the long term, stress can lower your immune system, making you more prone to coughs, colds and other infectious illnesses that you come across every day. It can also cause high-blood pressure in the long term, which is one of the most dangerous health problems linked to long-term stress. This can lead to a heart-attack or stroke.
To minimise your stress levels there are many things you can do:
- Get organised; if your deadlines or money worries are building up to a point where they are causing you upset, write a list of everything you have to get done and when for, then schedule it in to your diary. Try hard to stick to your plan, and once you begin to see the workload decrease or your bank balance go up you will be inspired to keep going. If you find yourself worrying about deviating from your schedule, give yourself a break – at the end of the day, we are only human and everyone makes mistakes.
- Eat well; this is fundamental to many things in life. Eating correctly can improve your clarity and concentration levels as well as helping to build a strong immune system. You might think that eating healthily costs more than eating lazily but it doesn’t have to – cooking meals from scratch is generally less expensive. Go round your supermarket at the end of the night – there are plenty of bargains to be had on items that have met their shelf-life. If you can’t eat them straight away, freeze them and use them later.
- Talk; talk to friends, counsellors, relatives, your student support services and anyone else who will listen. By vocalising your worries and stressors you can confront and work though them. Don’t hesitate to ask your listener for advice – an outsider can generally be more objective than yourself, and they could possibly give you tips that you haven’t thought of.
- Take time for yourself; be a little bit selfish for once. If you can, set aside a few hours to do something that you love whether it’s going out with friends, painting, playing sports or just reading a book that isn’t a textbook. This will give your brain a break from stress and give you a Time Out from the anxiety. If you feel that a few hours is too much time to give, start with just half an hour and build up from there. Make sure you use this time to indulge your passions, if you don’t have any hobbies or passions then use this time to find one!
Take a look at http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/stressmanagement/Pages/Stressmanagementhome.aspx for more advice on how to deal with stress. If the stress in your life is getting too much to bear, go and see your GP or tell someone close to you how you feel; constant and crushing stress needn’t be a part of the student experience.