BY ANNELIESE MOLL
For the UAS Whalesong
As students, we all experience some degree of stress. How often and how severe the stress is can change, and is different from individual to individual, but it is still there nonetheless. Since it is still very early in the semester you might not be feeling it now. However, this time could be a key for you. By staying ahead with the readings and homework for your classes, you may be able to stay ahead of stress. Having a well established routine can impact how well you function when the going gets rough (as in your first round of midterms and eventually finals).
When an individual is experiencing a level of continued stress and is unable to create a balance, the stress can intensify. This sounds like a no-brainer, but too much stress can quickly lead to the individual becoming burned out and exhausted both physically and emotionally. All of that can lead to a slough of other problems.
So, the question is now: what can we do about it? The first tip on a long list from a simple search is to simply take a break from whatever you happen to be doing. Eating a nutritionally balanced meal (yes! You should be eating green leafy things, too) or limiting your intake of caffeine/ alcohol can help. Having too much caffeine can really affect your sleep schedule, which can have a negative impact.
However, what if stress itself is not necessarily the problem? What if many of the negative impacts related to stress have to do with whether or not you believe that stress, in periods of low to decently high levels, is bad for you? Well, there is a significant amount of research that investigates how our view of stress impacts our health. In one such study, researchers found that the participants who had high amounts of stress and believed that high stress impacts health negatively were shown to have poorer physical and mental health (Keller et al. 1012).
In another study, researchers looked at how the way we view our physiological responses to stress can actually improve the way our body and mind cope with stressful events. The researchers found that looking at stress responses in a more positive light can actually have positive affects on a person’s mind and body.
While it’s important to keep in mind that there are still many components of the mind that are not completely understood, if you take anything away from this, it’s that some stress is not inherently bad. Prolonged periods of high levels of stress are obviously not great, but in shorter periods (like as you are taking a test) try to imagine your stress responses as your body rising to the challenge. You may find that, with this outlook, stress actually improves your health!
However, as you become accustomed to the idea, there are also many resources both online and on campus that are readily available to you if you feel too stressed out and would like some support.
Jamieson, J. P., Nock, M. K., & Mendes, W. B. (2012). Mind over matter: reappraising arousal improves cardiovascular and cognitive responses to stress. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(3), 417.
Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677.