As many as 80% of college students report daily stress sometimes or often. While short-term stress helps us get stuff done and meet deadlines, long-term stress has the potential to wreak havoc on our mental and physical wellbeing.
Much of stress among college student stems from academic workload; however, stress can also come from isolation, relationship problems, financial difficulties, and more. If you find yourself relating to any of this, continue reading to discover ways to identify and manage stress…before it starts.
NAU health coaches are also available to help you manage your stress in a positive way. Click here to sign up today!
How to identify signs and symptoms of stress:
Yes, it is true that everyone experiences stress at some point in their life, which can make it seem a little less daunting – it happens to everyone, right? However, everyone experiences stress differently, and when it impacts us to the point where our health and wellbeing are compromised, it is important to get a handle on it as soon as possible to prevent negative effects.
Successfully managing your stress starts with identifying the causes of stress and establishing strategies to tackle them. The following are common signs and symptoms to pay attention to when you’re feeling stressed:
- feelings of constant worry or anxiety
- difficulty relaxing
- difficulty concentrating
- feelings of being overwhelmed
- feelings of nausea or dizziness
- mood swings or changes
- irritability or having a short temper
- low self-esteem
- changes in your eating habits (eating more or less than usual)
- changes in your sleeping habits
- using alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs to relax
- aches and pains, particularly muscle tension
- diarrhea and constipation
- changes in or loss of sex drive
Take these steps when you start to feel stressed:
Realize when it is causing issues. Try to make the connection between feeling tired or sick and the current struggles you are facing. Look out for physical signs like tense muscles, over-tiredness, headaches, or migraines.
Identify the underlying causes. Place possible reasons for your stress into three categories: 1) those with a practical solution, 2) those that will get better with some time, and 3) those you can’t do anything about. Try to release the worry of those in groups two and three – breathe in and let them go with a long exhale.
Take a closer look at your lifestyle. Ask yourself questions like:
- Do you feel like you are taking on too much at the moment?
- Are there things you are doing which could be managed by someone else?
- Could you be doing things in a more relaxing way?
Consider prioritizing your values and remember that self-care is an integral part of productivity and success!
Do these things to prevent stress:
Get active. Exercise can raise your endorphins (‘happy hormones’) and other natural chemicals that enhance your sense of well-being, helping the day’s struggles fade away. Something as simple as a walk outside in the fresh air can make all the difference.
Eat foods for brain health. Eating foods that nourish our bodies is an important part of taking care of ourselves. There is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates how nutrient-dense foods positively impact our mood. Strive to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains daily.
Be mindful. Mindfulness is a type of mind-body approach in which you focus on being deeply aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without any attachment or judgment. Practicing mindfulness can increase our ability to manage difficult situations and make better choices. Research suggests that it can even reduce the effects of stress, anxiety, and related problems such as insomnia, poor concentration, and poor mood. It is also important to note that mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, at any time!
Connect with others. Social contact can offer distraction, provide support, and help you tolerate life’s ups and downs more effectively. Consider calling a loved one or plan to grab coffee with a friend.
Take time to relax. Find a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself. Remind yourself that it’s okay to prioritize self-care. Are you feeling burned out from studying? Working too many hours but saying ‘I just don’t have the time’? If that’s the case, read more about how taking a break is good for your mental health and overall productivity.
Prioritize sleep. The quality and amount of sleep you get can affect your mood, energy level, concentration, and overall functioning. If you have sleep troubles, make sure that you adopt a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine.
Listen to music. Listening to or playing music can provide a mental distraction, reduce muscle tension, and decrease stress hormones.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember that having a bad day is a universal human experience. Strive to treat yourself as you would treat a loved one: be kind and supportive. Take a few minutes each day to appreciate yourself.
Seek assistance. UCAN health coaches can help you identify sources of your stress and learn new coping skills. For more information, follow this link.
Note: If you are feeling overwhelmed and are experiencing emotional struggles that are interfering with your ability to engage in healthy lifestyle habits (eating, sleeping, exercise) and/or your ability to function at work, school, home, or in relationships, consider seeking assistance from a licensed psychologist or other mental health professional. Check out NAU counseling services to learn more.