If you’ve been at university for any length of time, you’ll no doubt have heard the familiar complaints. Sleepless nights, unable to swap shifts at work, assignment deadlines, impending exams and various other swords of Damocles. Theses challenges can shape you into a stronger person once you’ve come out the other side, but until then, it can’t hurt to have a little help!
A little bit of stress can be a powerful motivator, but a lot can harm your mental health and academic performance. In this article, we’ll define stress, the causes of stress and how you can counteract them when things get a little too tough.
It’s a tension caused by a variety of stimuli. Cortisol is released via the adrenal glands, causing bodily functions non-essential to ‘survival’ to be curbed and others enhanced. It can enhance memory formation, regulate metabolism and blood pressure. If stressed for too long however, a person can experience physical detriments, such as weight gain or fragile skin. As for the mental effects, well… I’m sure we’re all familiar by now!
Just about anything perceived as negative or difficult by a person can cause stress. It can be as serious as the loss of a loved one or something simple, like delivering a presentation to the class. Whatever the cause, we all develop stress in different ways. Here are just a few other common causes to look out for:
Social obligations to friends or family
Relationship issues, including but not limited to
Those regarding a significant other
Assignment group members
Competing priorities/ timetable clashes
If you’re dealing with more than one of these, you’re in the right place!
Like we say, shying away from stress entirely is ill-advised, but before it gets too bad, it’s worth taking preventative measures.
For instance, developing keen time management skills. Students who know when everything’s due, estimate how long each task will take and stick to self-imposed plans set themselves up for success and minimise stress. Part of the reason stress is so common among uni students is because deadlines bank up and they don’t have a plan to tackle any of it. They just wait until the night(s) before. Nobody wants to be up at midnight doing assignments, or working through the night and missing sleep. Even if you’re normally content to take life as it comes, it’s worth getting into good planning habits at least academically if you want to avoid stress.
It also pays to stay knowledgeable on all upcoming tasks. A lack of certainty can be highly stressful, so go out of your way to ascertain as much as you can about each task and be content when there’s nothing more to learn (either by the instructions being transparent or having not been released yet). This carries the added benefit of being able to carry out these tasks more effectively.
Another stress avoidance trick is to make breaks a sacred part of your routine. There’s always stuff to do, but that doesn’t mean all your time must be dedicated to these tasks. Make time for yourself, however brief, so you’re not overwhelmed.
Sometimes you’re in the middle of the quicksand and you’ve just got to deal with it. Maybe it’s exam season. Maybe it’s busy at work and deadlines are coming up. Whatever it is, there are a few things you can do to soften the blow.
Exercise regularly. Make time for runs, going for a swim or even just a 20 minute walk each day. Whatever it is, exercise has a wonderful way of counteracting the negative elements of cortisol. It can be tough getting into an exercise routine with tonnes of obligations on your plate, but it’s worth making the time somehow. Be it getting up earlier for a run, or just going for a walk at lunch. There are plenty of ways to squeeze exercise into your routine if you get creative. For instance, your uni likely has a gym and you likely have free periods between lectures and tutorials (unless you’re an organisation master!). Why not plug in some earphones, listen to a lecture and use the equipment? So long as your routine is sustainable, you’ll be able to form a great anti-stress habit.
Sleep the full eight hours. Just do it. Doesn’t matter what’s due; plan to sleep the full duration, or your life’s just going to suck. If you’ve thrown all planning out the window and something’s due midnight, sure, you’ve got to make some exceptions, but if you get into the habit of fooling yourself that it’s sustainable, you’ll be a zombie for the next three to five years. If you’re reading this article later than midnight right now, read it in the morning! We’ll still be here! Get some sleep you clown.
Start saying no to people. You’ll have friends badgering you to come out and do things despite how busy all your lives might be at that time. Regardless, don’t feel obligated to say yes to everything. If you’ve got a lot on your plate, keep those regular scheduled breaks, but unscheduled long periods away from what you’re doing could do more harm than good. That pubcrawl can wait until after the storm has cleared up a bit. Use the time to get some sleep and exercise so you’re ready for the next busy day.
Above all else, remember that it’s only temporary. Even if you absolutely bumble your way through the stressful weeks to come, life will go on and you’ll have come out the other side with new lessons and experiences under your belt. Whatever happens, you’ll have come out better. So whether you’re just trying to veer away from stress, are right in the middle of it, or aren’t even yet at uni and want a leg up, we wish you all the best and know you’re going to nail it.
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