Stress (noun): a fact of life for college students.
April is National Stress Awareness Month, not that college students aren’t aware of it. Chronic stress is linked to six of the leading causes of death in the United States, so it is more than just the occasional pimple, so it is important to recognize the signs and the small every day things that you might not know are increasing your risk. Once you are familiar with the signs of stress, and there are some strange ones, there are simple ways to relieve that stress, as well as some large life changes that can help manage stress.
SIGNS OF STRESS
- More forgetful- No, this is not just you getting older. Stress can cause your working memory to be impaired. Your brain could actually be shrinking. Stress inhibits your brain’s ability to create new synapses (connections between brain cells when new memories are made) according to new research out of Yale. This brain shrinking can have secondary problems with your emotional control.
- Fatigue- Fatigue, different than just being tired after a hard workout, is usually associated with a sense of mental exhaustion.
- Visiting the bathroom more frequently- Stress causes a similar biological response known as a flight-or-fight response. Chemical changes cause your body to think there is a threat and reacts to make it easier for you to flee dangerous situations. The idea is that relieving yourself will also “relieve” you off excess weight.
UNCOMMON CAUSES OF STRESS
- Not eating breakfast- I get it, eating a donut every morning is tempting, but it doesn’t prepare you for a successful day. Maintaining proper nutrition throughout the day sets you up to make healthy choices. You’re more likely to not bail on your workout if you’re feeling full and healthy.
- No bedtime routine- Other than sleeping just being so darn amazing, its an important time for your brain. It is a time for your brain to do all the things you had done during the day; clean, relax, and make memories. An irregular sleep schedule means you don’t have time to wind down, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Drinking too much coffee- Good news or bad news first? Good news: coffee isn’t making you stressed. Bad news: your cup of joe does cause changes in your body that make it responds like you are. It causes a rapid heart rate and increases blood pressure, similar to when you are stressed.
QUICK MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
- Create a mantra– Mantras are a word or phrase that are used while meditating to help you concentrate. I will be honest, I’ve tried meditating and it just is not my thing. But, a mantra is one good thing I took from it. One that you have probably heard before, “this too shall pass.” Create one that is right for you, something to ground you in that moment. Need some guidance or ideas? Click here.
- Laugh it up- Stress is all about hormones, but so is laughter. Research has found that it actually reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in blood. Additionally, it causes the brain to release the “happy hormone,” Oxycontin. So, laugh it up a your teachers bad jokes, it is actually helping more than you know.
- Power nap- Researchers at a French university found that a quick nap (just 30 minutes) is able to reduce the negative hormonal impacts that lack of sleep has on the body. Since lack of sleep is often a cause and a result of stress, sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on your health that is hard to recover from. Taking a nap when you have so much to do may seem counter productive, but trust me, it will help. Can you tell yet that I love sleep?
KICK STRESS TO THE CURB FOR GOOD
- Keep a happiness or gratitude journal- Journaling nightly can be a bit time consuming, but you can keep it simple. Each night or morning, or lunch break even, write the things in it from the day before that have made you grateful or happy. It is also helpful in identifying the things that are causing you stress so you can remedy them.
- Reevaluate your priorities- This is the hardest thing for any of us to do, but probably the most important. Think about the life you want, about what will make you the happiest version of you. Then make a conscious effort to put those things first. If spending time outside or reading a book makes you happy, but you haven’t had time for it, making it your conscious priority over other things will make you measurably happier.
- Establish a routine- Whether it is just a morning or evening routine, a routine for scheduling appointments, or a weekly routine for working out, it will ensure you have time to fit all the things in your day that you want or need to. It takes only about 21 days to establish new habits. So, give it a try. Wake up early to enjoy a nice cup of tea with your cat. You deserve it, and a stress free life.
- The Daily Beast– 7 Ways You Stress Yourself Out
- Shape– 10 Weird Ways Your Body Reacts to Stress
- American Psychological Association– How Stress Affects Your Health
- Shape– Four Foods That Can Cause Stress