Managing Stress and Anxiety
The college years are a time of many changes and offer new challenges, opportunities, and connections. The college years also involve exposure to a variety of new stressors. Stress is generally defined as any change that you must adjust to. Stressful events can be positive or negative, and come from our environment, our body, and our thoughts. Positive stress can motivate and focus our efforts; negative stress can have less desirable consequences.
Environmentally, we are constantly faced with time pressures, performance demands, threats to our self-confidence, noise, bad weather, and various things over which we have little control. Physiologically, we are stressed by illness, accidents, changes in schedule, lack of sleep, and so on. Psychologically, how we interpret and label our experiences, or what we predict for the future or imagine others to be thinking can increase our overall stress in the same way as environmental and physiologic threats.
Our bodies have evolved to protect us from threat, and respond to the stress of a big test or a disruptive roommate in the same ways they might respond to an earthquake or flood, but instead of protecting us, the stress response can make us vulnerable to a variety of problems. The stress response, (or “fight or flight” reaction) allows response to a physical threat with increased heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and energy supplies.
This system is self-regulating, your body systems return to normal once a crisis has passed. Some threats set off the alarm system and are not resolved. According to the Mayo Clinic, what is good for your body in a short-term crisis can be harmful over longer periods and can disrupt your body’s functioning, leading to increased risk of obesity, insomnia, digestive problems, heart disease, depression, memory impairment, physical illnesses, and other complications.
How we cope with the unavoidable stresses of every day life as well as more obvious stressors also plays a role in the impact such stress will have on our bodies.
Coping with stress in a healthy way involves some ongoing strategies as well as some specific skills for responding to discrete stressors. Generally, a healthy lifestyle will help combat the ill effects of too much stress. Finding a balance involves addressing both physical and psychological factors. Some tips for minimizing the ill effects of stress include:
- Time management
- Find time each day for 15-20 minutes of “alone time” to meditate, reflect, journal, and generally relax, or practice an intentional relaxation strategy.
- Abdominal breathing
- Progressive relaxation
- Altered self talk
- Behavior visualization
- Use humor and positive thinking to respond to stressful situations or relationships
- Communicate your concerns to someone you trust: a friend, family, roommate, hall staff, work study supervisor, faculty, counselor, or healthcare provider. The support of others and someone to listen is a powerful stress management tool.