Take the stress screener on the Mental Health America website. After completing the assessment, check out at least two ways you can reduce stress based on the information provided on the website.
Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life. —Marilu Henner, actress
As a student, you’re probably plenty familiar with the experience of stress, a condition characterized by symptoms of physical or emotional tension. Stress is a natural response of the mind and body to a situation in which a person feels threatened or anxious. Stress can be positive (preparing for a wedding) or negative (dealing with a natural disaster).
Good stress, known as eustress, can help you develop skills needed to manage potentially challenging or threatening situations in life. However, stress can be harmful when it is severe enough to make you feel overwhelmed or out of control. Strong emotions like fear, sadness, or other symptoms of depression are normal, as long as they are temporary and don’t interfere with daily activities. If these emotions last too long or cause other problems, it’s a different story. A lot of stress puts someone into a state known as distress.
If you’re a college student, it may feel like stress is a persistent fact of life. While everyone experiences stress at times, a prolonged bout of it can affect your health and your ability to cope with life. That’s why social support and self-care, like implementing a healthy diet and exercise regimen, are important parts of managing stress.
Common college stressors
Which of the following sources of stress do you identify with as a college student?
transitioning to a new school
learning a new schedule
making it from one class to another on time
managing a commuting schedule
learning how to study in a new way
balancing school work with paid labor and home responsibilities
finding ways to eat better, exercise more, and/or recharge
What would you add to the list?
Signs and Effects of Stress
Physical or emotional tension is often a sign of stress and is a reaction to situations that causes you to feel threatened or anxious. The following are all common symptoms of stress:
Disbelief and shock
Tension and irritability
Fear and anxiety about the future
Nightmares and recurring thoughts about the event
Being numb to one’s feelings
Loss of interest in normal activities
Loss of appetite (or increased appetite)
Difficulty making decisions
Increased use of alcohol and drugs
Sadness and other symptoms of depression
Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
It’s not only unpleasant to live with the tension and symptoms of ongoing stress; it’s actually harmful to your body, too. Chronic stress can impair your immune system and disrupt almost all of your body’s processes, leading to increased risk of numerous health problems, including the following:
Weight gain or loss
Memory and concentration impairment
These avoidable health challenges are why it’s so important to learn healthy ways of coping with the stressors in your life.
Ways of Managing Stress
The best strategy for managing stress is by taking care of yourself, which can be accomplished in the following ways:
Avoid drugs and alcohol. They may seem to be a temporary fix to feel better, but in the long run, they can create more problems and add to stress.
Manage your time. Work on prioritizing and scheduling commitments. This will help you feel in better control of your life, which, in turn, will mean less stress.
Find support. Seek help from a friend, family member, partner, counselor, doctor, or clergy person. Having a sympathetic listening ear and talking about problems and stress really can lighten the burden.
Connect socially. When you feel stressed, it’s easy to isolate yourself. Resist this impulse and stay connected. Make time to enjoy being with classmates, friends, and family. Schedule study breaks that you can take with other people.
Slow down and cut out distractions for a while. Take a break from your phone, email, and social media.
Take care of your health.
Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Get plenty of sleep.
Try a relaxation technique, such as meditation or yoga.
Maintain a normal routine.
Try to spend some time outdoors every day.
Deep breathing exercises
Try the breathing strategies below when you’re feeling stressed. Better yet, practice these breathing exercises when you are not particularly stressed, so you can get used to them. Try to turn to breathing exercises in moments of stress, so you can take healthy action to reduce anxiety and feelings of overwhelm.
Place one hand on your stomach just below your rib cage, and place the other hand on your chest.
Breathe in through your nostrils; your chest should remain stationary, and the hand on your stomach should be pushed out.
Breathe slowly out through your lips; press on your stomach with your hand to help let the breath out.
If the self-care techniques listed above aren’t enough and stress is seriously interfering with your studies or life, don’t be afraid to get help. Health Services and the Counseling Center are both good resources.
Reduce your stress level
Identify at least three things you currently do to cope with stress that aren’t working or aren’t good for you.
Identify healthy replacements for each of them, and write yourself a “stress-relief prescription” that you plan to follow for one week. Try to include one stress management technique to use every day.
At the end of the week, respond to the following prompts in a short reflection:
Which ineffective or unhealthy coping strategies did you set out to change and why?
Which stress-relief techniques did you try during the week? Were any of them new for you? Which ones were most effective?
How much do you think stress affects you in your current life at college? Do you feel like you have it under control or not? If not, what else might you do to reduce your stress level?
Regular Exercise: Health for Life
If you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another walk. —Hippocrates, Greek physician
The importance of getting regular exercise is probably nothing new to you. The health benefits are well-established: Regular physical activity can produce long-term health benefits by reducing your risk of many health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It can also increase your chances of living longer and help you control your weight; exercise aids in stress reduction and even helps you sleep better.
As a busy college student, you may be thinking, I know this, but I don’t have time! I have classes and work and a full life! Because you have such a demanding, possibly stressful schedule, now is the perfect time to make exercise a regular part of your life. Getting into an effective exercise routine now will not only make it easier to build healthy habits that you can take with you into your life after college, but it can actually help you be a more successful student, too. Exercise is also a powerful tool for improving mental health and memory, both of which are especially important when you’re in school.
The good news is that most people can improve their health and quality of life through a modest increase in daily activity. You don’t have to join a gym, spend a lot of money, or even do the same activity every time. Just going for a walk or choosing to take the stairs instead of the elevator can make a difference.
Physical Fitness and Types of Exercise
Physical fitness is a state of well-being that gives you sufficient energy to perform daily physical activities without getting overly tired or winded. It also means being in good enough shape to handle unexpected emergencies involving physical demands. There are many forms of exercise—dancing, rock climbing, walking, jogging, yoga, bike riding, you name it—that can help you become physically fit. The major types of exercise are described below.
Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate, works your muscles, and raises your breathing rate. For most people, it’s best to aim for a total of about thirty minutes a day, four or five days a week. If you haven’t been very active recently, you can start out with five or ten minutes a day and work up to more time each week. Or, split up your activity for the day: try a brisk ten-minute walk after each meal. If you are trying to lose weight, you may want to exercise more than thirty minutes a day. The following are some examples of aerobic exercise:
A brisk walk (outside or inside on a treadmill)
A low-impact aerobics class
Swimming or water aerobic exercises
Ice-skating or roller-skating
Riding a stationary bicycle indoors
Strength training, done several times a week, helps build strong bones and muscles and makes everyday chores like carrying heavy backpacks or grocery bags easier. When you have more muscle mass, you burn more calories, even at rest. Here are some ways to do it:
Join a class to do strength training with weights, elastic bands, or plastic tubes (if your college has a gym, take advantage of it!)
Lift light weights at home
Do push ups or pull ups
Flexibility exercises, also called stretching, help keep your joints flexible and reduce your risk of injury during other activities. Gentle stretching for 5 to 10 minutes helps your body warm up and get ready for aerobic activities such as walking or swimming. Check to see if your college offers yoga, stretching, and/or pilates classes, and give one a try.
Being Active Throughout the Day
In addition to formal exercise, there are many opportunities to be active throughout the day. Being active helps burns calories. The more you move around, the more energy you will have. The following strategies can help you increase your activity level:
Walk or bike instead of drive whenever possible
Work in the garden, rake leaves, or do some housecleaning every day
Park at the far end of the campus lot and walk to class
Benefits of Exercise and Physical Fitness
Exercise can add healthy, active years to one’s life. Studies continue to show that it’s never too late to start exercising and that even small improvements in physical fitness can significantly lower the risk of death. Simply walking regularly can prolong your life.
Moderately fit people—even if they smoke or have high blood pressure—have a lower mortality rate than their less fit counterparts. Resistance training is important because it’s the only form of exercise that can slow and even reverse the decline of muscle mass, bone density, and strength.
Reduce Risk of Diabetes
Diabetes, particularly type 2, is reaching epidemic proportions throughout the world as more and more cultures adopt Western-style diets higher in sugar and fat. Aerobic exercise is proving to have significant and particular benefits for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes; it increases sensitivity to insulin, lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, and decreases body fat. In fact, studies show that people who engage in regular, moderate aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or biking, lower their risk for diabetes even if they do not lose weight. Anyone on insulin or who has complications from diabetes should get advice from a physician before embarking on a workout program.
Improve Mood, Memory, and Creativity
In addition to keeping your heart healthy, helping with weight loss, and helping you live longer, regular exercise can also improve your mood and help keep depression and anxiety at bay. The following video explains why and challenges you to give it a try:
If you still aren’t persuaded, check out this slightly longer but excellent Tedx Talk, which describes how aerobic exercise can improve your cognitive functioning, memory, and creativity:
Visit the MCC fitness center
Within the next week, visit one of the MCC fitness centers or another exercise option available to you:
The Fitness Center offers an array of aerobic and strength-building equipment for students, faculty, and staff to use.
Brighton Campus, Building 10, Room 112
The PAC Fitness Center is another state-of-the-art facility that promotes health and wellness and is open to the students, faculty, and staff at Monroe Community College. Access to the fitness center and walking track is also available to MCC alumni who support the MCC Foundation. Call 585-292-2830 for hours of availability.