by Kirsten Falcone, RN,
Hilbert College Wellness Center
It is that time of the year again. School projects are in full swing, and finals are on the horizon. Many students are stressed, and most are losing sleep. Some have caught a “bug” and are now feeling behind. Stress is, according to Dictionary.com, “a specific response by the body to a stimulus, as fear or pain, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.” But, according to WebMD.com, it is more simply “what you feel when you have to handle more than you are used to [handling].” Does that sound familiar? If so, read on.
Certainly, some stress can be a good thing. Some studies show that a little stress may make you more resilient in the long run. The stress of a deadline approaching can also help you to hone all your attention onto that deadline. There is some evidence that short-term stress also provides the motivation to succeed. Once successful, one can reflect upon accomplishments, and this can actually be quite positive due to the reinforcement it provides! There is also some evidence that short-term stress can actually help ward off the common cold.
However, did you know stress also plays a role in most illness? That is because when we experience chronic stress, an overabundance of epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline) and cortisol (stress hormones) prevent many bodily systems, including the immune system, from functioning at full capacity. Even busy college students can take the time to benefit from some key lifestyle changes in order to stay healthy during a stressful time. Some of the ways you can lower the negative effects of stress are:
- Get enough sleep. Go to bed at the same time every night, and sleep at least seven to nine hours. For example, if you do well on eight hours of sleep per night, stick with that. Do not assume that seven will be enough. (For more information on sleep, read a recent Wellness Center article here: https://community.hilbert.edu/2017/10/01/understanding-the-importance-of-sleep/.)
- Make a list each day, and put the most important items at the top. Check them off as you go.
- Don’t procrastinate. Get your homework or important task done right away, so you won’t prolong the worrying and the nagging in the back of your mind. Even just getting started on a long project will lessen the impact of the work that lies ahead.
- Don’t skip meals, and keep healthy snacks, like fresh fruits and vegetables and low-sugar granola bars in your backpack. Conversely, avoid junk food, caffeine, and added sugar. Give your body the fuel it needs. (Here is the link to the Wellness Center article on what to eat at the campus cafeteria: https://community.hilbert.edu/2016/12/07/from-the-hilbert-college-wellness-center-how-to-avoid-the-freshman-15/.)
- Drink enough water. This can range from eight 8-ounce glasses per day to an ounce for every two pounds you weigh. Drinking enough water will also help drive off the munchies, and it will increase your energy level almost immediately. (For my article on dehydration, visit this link: https://community.hilbert.edu/2014/10/31/from-the-hilbert-college-wellness-center-dehydration/.)
- Stay away from alcohol and drugs, and stop smoking and/or vaping. These put even more stress on your body by lowering your immune response. (Follow this link for my article on vaping: https://community.hilbert.edu/2016/10/06/from-the-hilbert-college-wellness-center-vaping-is-risky-behavior/.)
- Take a brisk walk around campus twice, or work out in the campus recreation center. Do this at least three times per week. Look for any special programs that may be open to all students. (For the Wellness Center article on exercise, visit this link: https://community.hilbert.edu/2017/10/31/exercise-the-forgotten-pharmaceutical/.)
- Humor yourself. Find the humor in situations. Subscribe to a joke page on social media. Ask your friends if they know any jokes. There is scientific evidence that making yourself smile actually increases your happiness. It is true that laughter is often the best medicine.
- Talk to a good friend or counselor. Bottled-up emotions come out in other ways. Venting with a friend also helps your friend connect with you.
Some other ways to manage stress are, in no particular order:
Reading for leisure
Crafting, or following a hobby
Progressive muscle relaxation
Singing or playing uplifting music
Volunteering in the community
Caring for a pet
Taking a nap
Worship/Reading the Bible
Bathing or swimming
For more information on stress, check out these sources:
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):
Mayo Clinic, Stress Management In-Depth:
Psychology Today, Why some stress is good:
Health.com, Ways stress can be good for you: