A Student’s Guide to Managing Stress

University can be one of the most fun and exciting times of your life, but it can also be really stressful. Though mild levels of stress can act as a great motivator, you’re probably already aware that too much stress can interfere with daily life. Constant deadlines, financial obligations or even moving away from home can be overwhelming for some students.  Thankfully there are many ways of keeping stress in check. In this guide, we’re going to be getting sciency as we take a look at stress response and some effective measures for handling stress.

Your Brain’s Response to Stress

The left image shows the person watching a TV show about sharks. The right image shows the same person later at a beach imagining that there's sharks in the water.

How the availability heuristic works | Emily Roberts, Verywell

Your own mind can really stab you in the back sometimes.

Dr. Rongjun Yu explains that “a whole train of biological responses to stress has evolved to allow organisms to make a fight-or-flight response.” These biological responses include the negativity bias—the tendency for your brain to fixate on negative occurrences more than good or neutral ones, and also the availability heuristic—the tendency to judge something based on examples that easily come to mind. While this might have helped our ancestors survive, it’s not practical in many modern day situations. When you’re convinced that the worst will happen and your brain gathers evidence that seems to support you, your stress will rise.

So what can you do instead of relying on your literal primal instincts to save you in a stressful situation?

  • Ask yourself whether or not you have control over the problem.
  • Ask yourself if you need to change your expectations.
  • Create a plan ahead of time that takes into account potential problems.
  • Trick your mind into thinking that the world is out to do you good. For example, a fast-approaching test can be thought of as an opportunity to become more time-efficient in studying.

Build Resiliency

There are things you can regularly do to be more resilient when faced with stress.

  • Exercise – If you thought you could make it through a blog post written by me without seeing something fitness-related then you thought wrong! Exercise releases endorphins which relieves stress. So please pick up an activity that can get you moving at least 150 minutes a week whether that be running, swimming, or something else entirely.
  • Start a journalStudies show writing your thoughts and emotions in a journal can be a beneficial practice for stress management and self-exploration. There is no one way to journalling, but the key is to do it regularly and to write whatever feels natural to you. Every morning, I spend two minutes writing three prompts:
    1. I will let go of… 
    2. I am grateful for… 
    3. I will focus on… 
  • Get creative – Play an instrument, photograph the city, write a story, or knit a sweater. Anything artistic that you find enjoyable.
  • Join a club – Student groups, affiliate groups and course unions can be great places to connect with like-minded individuals outside of the classroom. Find one that interests you on the Ryerson Students’ Union website.
  • Talk to someone – Sometimes talking to a friend or loved one is all you need to feel better. You may also find it valuable to speak to a professional. The Centre for Student Development and Counselling can provide you with both individual and group counselling as well as referral services.
  • Find humour in your lifeLaughter is the best medicine. Maybe you’ve heard that saying? Humour can in fact be quite an effective stress-coping mechanism so try watching a comedy show or reading a funny article from time to time.
  • Reward yourself – Hard work should not go unnoticed. Go ahead and treat yourself to something nice every once in a while.

FOMO

The fear of missing out (FOMO) refers to the anxiety that comes from thinking others are having more rewarding experiences than you are. A study conducted on first-year university students found FOMO to be associated with stress, fatigue, and sleeping problems. Interestingly enough, social media has been shown to be both a cause and effect of FOMO. For example, let’s say someone is already not thrilled about missing a party because they have to finish an assignment. They may feel compelled to go on social media to see what they are missing out on and in doing so, their FOMO would increase.

Here’s how you can minimize FOMO:

  • Avoid using electronics an hour before bed. You will fall asleep faster if you aren’t busy thinking about how much fun your friends are having at the club.
  • Take up more mindful activities during your breaks. Instead of scrolling through your phone, go for a walk around the Kerr Hall Quad.
  • Journalling can also help you develop a private appreciation of the things that make your life great. If you find yourself seeking too much approval on your social media posts, record some of the moments in your life in a journal instead of on social media.

Hydration

Lastly, I’d like to point out that there’s a naturally occurring substance that can provide you with energy, improve your mood, and detoxify your body. It goes by many names—hydroxylic acid, dihydrogen monoxide, but most people know it as water! Isn’t it strange how the importance of water—a literal building block of life—is so commonly forgotten?

Dehydration and stress share a close relationship. You’re more susceptible to dehydration when you’re stressed since you’re more likely to neglect eating and drinking well. Registered Dietitian Amanda Carlson-Phillips states that dehydration leads to fatigue and an increase in cortisol—a stress hormone.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to feel more energized and less anxious by just drinking some water. That’s right—H2O—water! Not juice and certainly not coffee! Of course, downing some water isn’t going to magically cause the stress of your deadlines at school to disappear. But at least you won’t have the additional stress from dehydration adding to your burden.

Okay I know this was long, but I hope all of you reading this now have a better understanding of stress and how you can have control over it the next time it appears in your life.

All the best!

— Jeremy

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