I'm Stressed, How Can I Handle it All?

Are you finding yourself feeling more irritable and impatient lately? Maybe you are having problems sleeping, frequent headaches, neck tension, stomach upset, or shortness of breath? Maybe you are just plain freaking out!! These are all signs of stress. Chronic stress can lead to serious mental and physical problems, such anxiety, depression and heart disease.

As a post-secondary student, stress is a normal part of the experience, with never-ending demands such as papers and exams. Stress is inevitable, but what is important is how you learn to deal with your stress.  Maladaptive coping includes things like procrastination, or turning to drugs and alcohol to alleviate stress. These are short-term ways to cope with stress, that actually increase levels of stress in the long run.

The first thing to ask yourself is, “Is there something I can do to bring down my current level of stress?”. This is called stressor management. Perhaps there is a problem to be solved, or you can decrease the demands on yourself. For example, resolving an ongoing dispute with a roommate, learning to manage your time better, or quitting a volunteer position which no longer brings you joy.

If you have analyzed your stressors and cut out all that you need to, the next step is to look at ways to bring down your stress- called stress management. Ask yourself on a daily basis, “What can I do to relax and unwind?”. This includes things like, talking with friends and family, engaging in positive self-talk, practicing relaxation, and engaging in activities that bring you joy (e.g., reading, watching movies, hanging out with friends). It is important to have an arsenal of healthy stress relieving tools to use regularly in times of higher stress. You might even want to make a list of things that you can do and then pick at least one thing to do off the list each day.

It is also important to look at your self-care. This includes maintaining a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and exercising regularly. Self-care has a cumulative effect on one’s ability to cope. When you are taking care of yourself over a long period of time, you will find that you are better equipped to deal with daily hassles and stressors. It is all too common for students to let their self-care go at times of high stress, such as during midterms and final exams. Pulling all-nighters, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and skipping the gym are common responses of the overtaxed student.  Unfortunately, this can increase stress, so maintaining balance is key.

Coffee is a big part of the university culture. Look at reducing your intake of coffee which is a stimulant that can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks. Don’t forget, cola beverages, teas, and chocolate also contain caffeine.  A quick note on exercise…exercise has been found to be just as effective in treating anxiety as medication and counseling. Look at engaging in moderate exercise a minimum of 30 minutes, 3 times per week in order to manage anxiety.
These are tips to manage a very stressful time of life and are not meant to replace professional help. If you feel that you are having problems managing on your own, or your level of stress has become too great to implement these strategies, you should consider seeking additional support. Support on campus includes:  Counselling Services and/or the Health Centre.

Bourne, E. (1995). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Nauert PhD, R. (2010). Exercise ‘Therapy’ For Depression. Psych Central.