A College Student’s Guide To Stress


Stress is a condition that we all experience at one point or the other. For some college students, we lack the words to explain how we feel when we are stressed. And even when we do find the words to express ourselves, we strive to understand the reasons or causes as to why we feel the way we do. While stress can be good or bad, it leaves visible traces or physiological reactions that may include melancholia, depression, tunnel vision, dilated pupils, uneven or rapid breathing, uneven heartbeats, and indigestion, among others.

Stress has been explained by medical science to be our body’s natural response to issues that interfere with our day to day activities, our academic and mental performance, sleeping habits, among others. It can be triggered by environmental, biological, emotional and other factors. The American Psychological Association (APA) states that there are three (3) kinds of stress; acute, episodic acute and chronic stress. Medical science has also identified some key causes of stress to include:

1. Poor sleeping habits: Not sleeping at the right times or getting an adequate amount of sleep, due to one reason or the other, can trigger stress and its symptoms.

2. Poor eating habits: Not eating the right foods or forgetting to eat puts a lot of physiological pressure on the mind, brain and body. This is a key cause of stress.

3. Academic pressure: Trying to perform well academically, especially when you have deadlines to beat on assignments, studying for tests and exams within a short period can cause stress for college students.

4. Full schedules: Having a lot to do academically and fulfilling other social requirements in college can create a full schedule, thereby triggering stress.

5. Finances: College is expensive and trying to figure out how to address its financial requirements can be a key cause of stress.

6. Family and personal relationships: The kinds of relationships students find themselves in can cause stress, especially when they have friends that are not as supportive as they should be.

7. Development of bad habits that compromise health: The development of habits such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, among others can trigger stress.

8. Inability to adapt to a new educational and social environment: A change in environment is also a key cause of stress, especially when students find it difficult to adapt.

9. Relationships: Feeling a lack of social support and friends can cause stress.

So, How Does Stress Affect Me?

Stress has key effects on college students, which could be positive and negative, physiological, mental, emotional and even physical. As the American Institute of Stress (AIS) notes, there are many physical and emotional disorders and other health conditions that have been linked to stress or been triggered by it. Some of these health conditions include an increase of susceptibility to infections due to the disturbances of the immune system, insomnia, depression, hypertension, anxiety, heart issues, gastrointestinal system disorders, among others.

Stress can also cause college students to have physical skin reactions such as atopic dermatitis, rashes, and even hives.  Stress can also increase the risk of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis can also be key negative effects on college students.

Chronic stress can increase the risk of having cardiovascular diseases as it constricts blood vessels. Stress can also cause memory loss. Research shows that many behavioral problems are triggered by stress and depression as they cause brain integration to break down, thereby affecting cognitive memory, academic performance and reactions towards stress and stressors.

However, stress could have positive effects on college students as manageable amounts may help them to focus better by increasing alertness and performance and improve cognitive memory. Negative stress can also impair communication skills of college students as stress makes it difficult to express one’s self logically and coherently.

Stress can also affect the relationships of college students with their friends, families and social networks. Negative stress renders one almost incapable of sustaining relationships or even establishing new ones, thereby leading to stunted social growth. Stress is also capable of distorting emotions, and makes you more aggressive and defensive, and more irritable.

Stress can also cause insomnia, which has a key effect on college students. This is because when stressed, the body is kept in a constant state of physiological alarm, especially when enough sleep and rest is not had by college students. This, in turn, affects memory, cognition and sound academic performance.

Do I Know What I’m Talking About?

Yes. Yes, I definitely do.

Most times in college that I have found myself stressed were times I had tests and exams to study for, and assignments to complete, especially on short notice. I also found myself stressed when I did not eat or sleep at the right times and had social obligations to meet. These times were characterized by fatigue, anxiety that I would not perform well on tests and exams, ringing in my ears, frequent headaches, neck and back pain. I also worried a lot, got depressed, and frustrated easily. I could not breathe easily especially when I remembered all the things I had to do but had not done.

The International Stress Management Association also identifies other ways to know when you are stressed. There are always signs or symptoms to show that your body is reacting to too much or little pressure. These signs could be behavioral, psychological, emotional and even physical in nature. Some behavioral signs of knowing that you are stressed are recklessness in carrying out activities, insomnia, tiredness, changes and neglect in appearance, bad time management which means no time for relaxation and recreation, aggression or outbursts of anger, forgetfulness, relationship problems, anxiety, lying without need, absenteeism from classes and even social withdrawal.

Some psychological signs of identifying stress are distraction, depression, lapses in memory, anxiety, inability to focus or make decisions easily, pessimism and a notable decrease in creativity and intuition. Another psychological sign of identifying stress is noting that you get worried more easily than ever.

Physical ways of identifying when you are stressed include frequent headaches, weight gain or loss, heart palpitations, panic attacks, dizziness, nausea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), frequent infections, high blood pressure, indigestion, heartburn, allergies and other skin irritations, changes in menstrual cycles for women, ulcers and even diarrhea. Stress could also be identified by body aches and pains.

Emotional symptoms of stress, also, can be identified by aggressive defensiveness, lack of motivation to study, frustration, anger, mood swings, irritability, lack of self-esteem and confidence as well as being tearful. Other emotional signs are feeling out of control, feeling extra-sensitive to all forms of criticism and being unable to control anger.

How Do I Manage Stress? How Can You Manage Stress?  

 The first step in managing stress effectively, per the Mayo Clinic, is understanding that you are stressed and identifying the type of stress that you are experiencing. As noted earlier, stress can be acute, acute episodic and chronic in nature. You must also understand exactly what is causing stress and figure out ways to manage it.

I have learnt that sleeping and eating at the right times, having a positive attitude and understanding the symptoms of stress help in managing stress. I also think that taking a break from that issue or people that are the source of stress can help in managing stress. Managing stress takes a lot of understanding and determination.

I manage stress by turning to family and friends who can help to relieve stress. Having fun with friends and family actually helps to reduce stress. When you’re stressed, try as much as possible not to isolate yourself from people. It actually makes it worse.

I believe that stress can be managed reevaluating your academic and life goals and figuring out ways in which you can meet these goals without coping with excessive stress.

Stress can be effectively managed by identifying habits and behaviors that add to stress. These habits could include procrastinating, bad time management, accepting stress as normal and blaming others for causing you stress.

However, to manage stress, you must identify the role that you play in contributing to stress. You must accept it and understand that stress can be curbed by refusing to procrastinate, learning proper time management to get everything on your schedule done and refusing to accept stress as integral to one’s life.

Physical exercise is also another way that I  manage stress. I believe that being physically active and not being sedentary can help you to manage stress or stress symptoms. Help Guide explains that becoming physically active or getting involved in activities that are continuous and rhythmic in nature can help you manage stress effectively. Physical exercises such as tai chi, walking, cycling, running, aerobics, yoga, dancing and swimming are good exercises that can help to relieve stress. It also advises that adding a mindfulness element to these exercises and others can help you to focus less on the causes of your stress and how to deal with them by relaxing and soothing you.

Another key way to manage stress is to identify bad or unhealthy habits that you think help you cope with stress. Replace these habits with good and healthy ones. Unhealthy or bad habits could include smoking, drinking alcohol, abusing drugs and medication, binge eating, social withdrawal, aggression and defensiveness when being criticized, among others.

While these strategies may help in the short term, they have ways of bouncing back in the long run. You must understand that if some habits or behaviors are not contributing to your emotional, mental and physical growth as an individual, they must be gotten rid of by replacing them with good and healthy habits and behaviors.

Reaching out to family and friends when stressed and building new networks or relationships can help in managing stress effectively. A symptom of stress is social and emotional withdrawal and this can be fought against by calling family and friends, making new friends, and opening up to people that are in your close network about issues that stress you.

Helpguide.org also explains that managing stress effectively can be done by avoiding those situations that stress you, altering stressful situations that you cannot avoid, adapting to the stressor by having a positive attitude towards it and accepting those sources of stress that are unchangeable.

Any helpful tip here for you? Please don’t forget to drop a word!


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