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What is stress?

Stress is defined as a response to a demand that is placed upon you. Stress in a normal reaction when your brain recognises a threat. Psychologist Richard S. Lazarus best described stress as “a condition or feeling that a person experiences when they perceive that the demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilise.” For most people, stress is a negative experience.

What causes stress?

Stressors are anything that cause or increase stress. Below are a few examples:

Academics – By far the biggest stressor for college students: the pressure of not failing.

Common major life events that can trigger stress include:

  • Job issues or retirement
  • Lack of time or money
  • Bereavement
  • Family problems
  • Illness
  • Moving home
  • Relationships, marriage, and divorce

Environment – Certain environments can bring about stress such as discussing/viewing heated topics, slow moving traffic, trying to find a parking spot, etc.

Extracurricular – Some students may feel pressured to make extracurricular activities a part of their daily routine to the point where every hour of the day is accounted for.

Peers – Peer pressure is a major stressor, especially pressure that is negatively influenced.

Time management – One of the biggest stressors is not knowing how to plan and execute daily activities such as class, work, study time, extracurricular activities, and time alone.


How does it affect you?

Stress may cause you to have physiological, behavioural or even psychological effects.

Physiological – Stress slows normal bodily functions, such as the digestive and immune systems. All resources can then be concentrated on rapid breathing, blood flow, alertness, and muscle use.

The body changes in the following ways during stress:

  • blood pressure and pulse rate rise
  • breathing is faster
  • the digestive system slows down
  • immune activity decreases
  • the muscles become tense
  • a heightened state of alertness prevents sleep

Behavioural – Behaviours linked to stress include:

  • food cravings and eating too much or too little
  • sudden angry outbursts
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • higher tobacco consumption
  • social withdrawal
  • frequent crying
  • relationship problems

Psychological – Emotional reactions can include:

  • anger
  • anxiety
  • burnout
  • concentration issues
  • depression
  • a feeling of insecurity
  • forgetfulness
  • irritability
  • nail biting
  • restlessness
  • sadness

Stress Management Strategies

Stress management is all about taking charge: of your lifestyle, thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. No matter how stressful your life seems, there are steps you can take to relieve the pressure and regain control.

Learn how to say “NO!” – Know your limits and do not compromise them. Taking on more than you can handle is not a good choice. It is ok if you don’t do every single activity that your club, fraternity, sorority or your friends are doing.

Attitude – It is human nature to want to freak out. Your mind is a powerful tool; use it in your favour. Thinking rationally can take you a long way.

Laugh – Do something that you enjoy, take on a hobby, hang out with friends, and learn to balance your life. If you are feeling upset, express your feelings. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.

Avoid alcohol and cigarettes –This is just a quick fix. Once the chemical leave your body, you are back to feeling stressed and you are probably worse off than when you started.

Healthy eating – Get the proper nutrition. Eat at least one hot-home cooked meal a day.

Exercise – Physical activities can help you in not only burning off calories, but burning off stress. Exercise helps release tension. Exercise for 30 minutes a day for at least 3 times per week.

Breathing and relaxation: Meditation, massage, and yoga can help. Breathing and relaxation techniques can slow down the system and help you relax. Breathing is also a central part of mindfulness meditation.

Sleep – At least 7 hours of sleep are needed in order for your brain and body to function at optimum level. Avoid taking naps for more than 1 hour.

Healthy relationships – Talk and hang out with friends. Find some you relate to and with whom you can share your problems with.

Time management – Get a planner, create a schedule, or even a to-do list. Map out what your quarter will look like. Once you have done that, do a schedule for each week. Then create a schedule for each day. Be specific. Mark down your class meeting times, study time for a specific subject, mealtimes, fun activities, and sleep.

Organization – Learn how to organise your notes, keep track of your assignments and note important due dates or date of exams. Establish your priorities for the day.

Budget – Create a budget for your monthly expenses. Distribute your money according to the bills you need to pay for the quarter (i.e. rent, tuition, groceries, personal items, house bills, gasoline, etc.). Determine about how much money you will be able to spend “for fun.”

Spirituality – Spiritually is regarded as finding meaning in your life, the ability to connect with others.

Determine your learning style – Find out whether you are a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner.

Slow down – take a deep breath and know your limits. Take your time so that you can ensure a well done job.

Find a support system – Whether it’s your mom, sister, brother, friend or counselor, find someone you feel comfortable sharing your feelings with. Sometimes all we need is to vent off the frustration.

Make changes in your surroundings – If you find it difficult to study in your dorm try moving to a place where there is no loud music, and brighter lights.

Delegate responsibilities – When school or work becomes overwhelming, dividing up the work or responsibilities helps alleviate pressure and stress.

The author is a consultant psychiatrist and counsellor

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