Stress is a natural part of life. There is no doubt that many college students report feeling stressed. We may know we have stress when we experience it, but what is it exactly?
What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s response to a demand or challenge. The word “stress” is used when we feel overloaded and are struggling to cope with the pressures placed upon us. Common stress triggers for college students are perceived obstacles to achieving goals, a change in of environment, and life transitions.
Some stressors can be positive and motivate you with an extra burst of adrenaline needed to finish a final paper or perform well in sports. However, too much stress can be negative, and may go unnoticed until a physical or emotional side effect presents itself (for side effects see warning signs of stress below).
It is important for students to recognize the physical and psychological warning signs of stress in order to learn to manage and maintain stress at relatively healthy levels.
The primary purpose of the Stress and Wellness Clinic (located in the Student Counseling Center) is to provide tools and resources to increase students’ abilities to meet the demands of stress associated with academic life.
Warning Signs of Stress Overload
- Changes in sleep patterns; taking longer to fall asleep; waking up tired and not well rested
- Changes in eating patterns
- More frequent headaches than usual
- Shorter temper than usual
- Recurring colds and minor illness
- Frequent muscle ache or tightness
- More disorganized than usual
- Increased difficulty in task completion
- Greater sense of persistent time pressure
- Increased generalized frustration and anger
If the list above describes you, or if you have concerns about stress, a counselor can assist you. For an appointment or more information, contact the Student Counseling Center at 865-974-2196 or drop by between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM M-F.
Eight Steps to Stress-Proof Your Day
- Turn a negative experience into a positive one. Say you leave your headphones in the car when you go to the gym—interpret the return trip to the car not as an irritant but as a chance to warm up before you even climb on the treadmill.
- Give to someone else. Doing something nice for others can make you happier and calmer.
- Set goals. Jot down attainable goals for the week and aim to achieve one every day. This is a great way to track what’s going right.
- Build social supports. Brain scans show that the same circuitry fires up when we feel emotional pain as when we feel physical pain—but that circuitry is slower to react in those with greater social support in their daily lives.
- One good thing. Notice at least one good thing you experience each day. Then make it real by telling someone about it or writing it down. The event can be as small as getting out of bed on time.
- Meditate. Meditation can actually alter our brains, increasing gray matter in regions associated with emotion regulation and dampening activity in the fear-responsive amygdala.
- Get sleep. Sleep deprivation is one of the greatest angst inducers—it causes stress hormones to soar and sparks other imbalances.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise works as a mild or good stressor: 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week (twenty-five minutes, six days a week) is linked with both reduced stress levels and increased growth of new brain cells.
Source: Psychology Today (April, 2012) How do people emotionally manage crisis in their life, major life changes or situations that arise in everyday life? (p. 80).