With finals just around the corner, your workload might not be the only thing that is building. Stress during this time is as common as a backpack on college campuses. Often, we accept stress as part of our everyday lives. There are events on campus specifically meant to help relieve stress and even a therapy dog that comes to visit each month to help offset some of the stress we’re feeling, but did you know that the stress you’re feeling can actually be good for you? Having a moderate amount of stress can motivate you to work harder and perform better. But how much stress is too much?
Barry Wolf, director of the First-Year and Academic Success Programs at Albion, referenced the eustress performance chart when talking about how stress can be good for you.
“Low stress equals low performance, super high stress equals low performance and moderate amounts of stress equals high performance. The idea is that when you have tons of stress you freak out and get paralyzed, which is what most people think of when they think of stress, but if you don’t have enough stress, then you’re just bored and don’t care. Then when you have moderate or mild amounts of stress, then you’re activated.”
This is not to say you should constantly be stressed, however.
“If [stress] interferes with your functioning. If you’re having physical symptoms. If you’re experiencing things emotionally that are unhelpful and unhealthy. If you’re having chronic worry or thoughts that are unhelpful, then that is the point which it turns from healthy to unhealthy,” said Wolf.
A lot of these unhealthy responses are due to the way your body reacts to too much stress. According to Franklin Kelemen, director of Albion College’s Counseling Services, the body handles stress and anxiety as if it is being attacked; so you feel that same level of panic as if you’re in danger.
“Anxiety has to do with the flight or fight response; so that the more anxious you get, the more inefficient your mind gets and the ability to think [becomes harder] because your body is reacting and responding to the world as though your life is being threatened,” said Kelemen. “There is a physical response, and the hormone system is the same if you face a psychological threat as when you face a physical threat.”
Luckily there are a lot of coping methods to deal with stress. Most of these coping methods have to do with your mindset. Approaching stress with an attitude to try and make yourself happier is better than trying to do the impossible task of being entirely stress free.
Try doing activities that make you feel good on the inside. Do a random act of kindness activity. Write down something you’re grateful for each day, or write in a journal. Writing down something you’re grateful each day can train your brain to think about things in a more positive light. Finding something positive in a negative experience is helpful for how you perceive the outcome of it. Journaling about a positive event also helps you to feel those same emotions again that you felt about them in the moment.
Kelemen mentioned that there are various ways to trick your body about why it is feeling the symptoms of stress. If you have a big interview or audition coming up that you’re stressed about, run up a flight of stairs. Your body will relate the slight sweatiness and fast heart rate to the activity, as opposed to the stress you’re feeling. This will relieve some of your anxiety about whatever you have coming up.
Sometimes stepping back from everything for a few minutes can help. Whether it be through social media, emails, TV or text messages, we are constantly being overwhelmed with messages that can add to our stress. If there is something you’re stressing about, try turning off your electronic devices. This can be part of practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you focus on breathing and being in the moment. By concentrating on just one thing, you’re less stressed than when your brain is jumbled by the six things you need to do afterwards. There are numerous free apps that can help with mindfulness, such as Headspace, Breate2Relax, and Omvana.
One great way to manage stress is to think preventatively. Avoid leaving projects until the last second. Instead work on time management when it comes to homework, classes and extracurricular activities. Make sure that you have a balance between fun activities and work so you don’t become too stressed.
Contrary to popular belief, stress doesn’t have to be the enemy. However, if you find yourself still experiencing chronic stress and feeling unable to focus on the things that make you happy, seek help from a counselor and try some of these tips.
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