Stress Less: Tips for Stress Awareness Month

 

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

  1. 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.
  2. Fatigue- Fatigue, different than just being tired after a hard workout, is usually associated with a sense of mental exhaustion.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Additional resources

  1. The Daily Beast– 7 Ways You Stress Yourself Out
  2. Shape– 10 Weird Ways Your Body Reacts to Stress
  3. American Psychological Association– How Stress Affects Your Health
  4. Shape– Four Foods That Can Cause Stress
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Four Things to Consider When Registering for Classes

By: Chelsea Brown

There a few things more stressful during a semester for college students than midterms, finals, and registering for classes. Personally, I think registering for classes tops that list. Between remembering your Student Portal password and being sure to fit all of your questions in to your short meeting with your adviser, considering anything else is just overwhelming. Hear me out though. These are four things that you are not going to want to forget!

FRIENDS

While being able to coordinate every class with your friends sounds like a dream.MC-Campus-April2016_0048 Be honest with yourself and think about the impact that will have on your grades. Will you be able to focus with them sitting next you to?  At this point in your college career you have at least taken one semester of class and should have a pretty good understanding of how your brain works. Some people have laser focus in class, so having your buddies sitting next to you would not be an issue. Some people notice the geese outside the window and end up thinking about what it would be like to fly and not on the math equation on the board.
Still worried about FOMO? If you take a different section of the same class you can study together.

DATE NIGHTS

I’m not necessarily talking about the dinner-and-a-movie date night (because let’s be honest, how many of us can actually afford a $15 movie ticket these days). Our brains need a break. So whether its a girls’ night in, a guys’ night out, or a snuggle sesh on your couch with your dog and a pint of ice cream, you really need to ask yourself  if you have given yourself enough time for some R&R. It doesn’t  have to be an evening time. Block out a few hours in the morning or afternoon for a run or yoga class. Even a nap can help! I have been told by some very influential people  how important it is to not miss your favorite TV shows. So don’t over schedule yourself.

APPOINTMENTS

While you are probably thinking you can cram in a little “Me Time” on the weekends, remember that is when the rest of the world is taking time for themselves, too. So if you or a family member have regular doctor’s appointments or meetings, don’t just assume they can all be completed on the weekends. Working your schedule around so you can at least give yourself enough time once a week to run errands or make phone calls is a proactive way to keep
from stressing later in the semester.

BEAUTY REST 

Only less than 5% of the world’s population can function off of less than the recommend 6 to 8 hours of sleep. I am not one of those people. If a class has multiple sections, I automatically rule out any that happen at 8 am. Especially for the commuters among us, think about how much time you will have to add on to your morning or evening commute. Then factor in traffic. My love for sleep is why you will only catch me on campus (ideally) between the hours of 10 am and 7 pm. Now, who is with me to petition for 8:30 start times?

BE REALISTICschedule

For some reason, registration always makes me feel really optimistic about my study skills. I picture myself instantly never procrastinating again and thinking I can survive an overloaded course schedule. Deep down I know better and so do you now that you have this semester in the books. Wanting to challenge yourself is great, but don’t pile too much on your plate. In the end, it is better to focus and excel on a few classes, than it is stretch yourself too thin on too many courses and not be successful.

Registering for classes is really about identifying your priorities and making compromises between your educational requirements and your personal needs and wants. It is also about balance. While I have no doubts that you are capable of accomplishing whatever you put your mind to, but you should never put your sanity or happiness at risk for an extra two credits. Other important things concerning your future schedule like student loans or work should also be considered. You can’t predict how your future semester will go, but you can properly prepare yourself for success.

Giving Sustainability the “Old College Try”

Written by: Chelsea Brown

My morning routine is much like any of the thousands of other college students across the world. Step one: coffee. Step two: breakfast on the run. Step three: more coffee. The combination of late night study sessions and early morning classes leaves little time for thinking about anything more than your exam on Friday. But with the amount of plastic waste in our oceans becoming a regular major headline and the threat of some pretty wacky weather as global temperatures rise, it may be time to take a break from sipping your third Starbucks and think about your impact on the environment. It took me about two seconds of cleaning out the backseat of my car a few years ago of what felt like a hundred empty plastic water bottles to realize I needed to make some changes to my consumption habits. Don’t worry though. As a notorious over sleeper and procrastinator, the changes I made were simple, easy, and perfect for my fellow on the go coffee/snack/smoothie lovers.img_5204

BABY STEPS. The first thing I did was take a good long look at what my daily life consisted of. A quick rundown: one or two cups of coffee from K-cups, a few individually wrapped snacks, anywhere from two to four plastic water bottles, and my daily smoothie habit meant grabbing a bottle of one pre-made. That doesn’t include my weekly grocery trips or the occasional trip to the mall and the plastic bags I accumulated. And things that most people don’t even think about like the tooth brush you swap out every few months or those dryer sheets when you finally breakdown and do your laundry for the first time this semester or the plastic straws in basically everything.

All of those things amount to quite a bit of garbage. While some is recyclable, it doesn’t always end up where it is supposed to. Annual beach cleanups around the world report single use plastic items making up a large majority of the trash they collect. So that is where I focused my efforts. Where could I eliminate the single use items from my life? Pretty much everywhere. So I put a little list together of things I changed, perfect for busy students. All it takes is a little bit of extra planning and reworking of your shopping habits. Nothing a bunch of smarty pants college students can’t handle.

NOT JUST FOR JAMS. I have two very important words for you: MASON JARS. Honestly. They are simple and so handy. I have used them for coffee, smoothies, salads, soups, and snacks. They help me eliminate about 80% of the plastic waste that I used to generate. With a little night-time prep I no longer need to purchase a salad in a plastic container, a smoothie in a plastic bottle, or granola bars or crackers in plastic wrappers. img_5195Plus it’s the perfect way to try all of those smoothie recipes you have pinned on Pinterest.

GREEN YOUR CAFFEINE FIX. An amazing classmate of mine introduced me to the glory of coffee during my senior year of my undergraduate career. My life has never been the same. But when I first started drinking it, I was getting one or two cups of coffee from Wawa a day using their single use plastic and wax-lined paper cups. While the lid is recyclable, the cup portion is not.  You’re probably thinking: but Chelsea I use a reusable mug filled with my home brewed coffee. To which I ask: Are you using a K-Cup to brew that coffee? Unfortunately, that little cartridge is not recyclable at all and even the inventor regrets creating something so detrimental to the environment. So when I did my soul-searching in order to green-up my life, I knew my coffee habit was top of my list.

The first step I took was buying a reusable coffee mug. Which most of you already probably have. But did you know you can use it to get coffee at Wawa and it is CHEAPER?! You save money and the environment. But I often forgot my mug at home or didn’t have enough time to stop (did I mention I’m an oversleeper?) and I was always resorting to bad habits. So don’t worry friends. I have two options for you if you want to have more control over you coffee making. One, get a French press. Two, get reusable K-Cups. My French press is my favorite because I can make more than one cup at a time and it can be brewed hot or cold. (Side note: if you haven’t tried cold brewed coffee, you should). With the French press I eliminated the plastic K-Cup, the filter sometimes used with reusable K-Cups and coffee makers, and you can save the coffee grounds for some DIY magic.

TECH BREAK. Adapting a greener life-style is as simple as one extra click. At night or when you’re in class, just simply put your laptop on Sleep Mode instead of leaving it powered on all day. Most laptops will do this on their own now, but if yours doesn’t you could save up to 13-15W of power, the same amount of energy it takes to charge your iPhone for an hour. Another technology based tip, print double sided as much as you can. Two years or four years of college means a lot of paper. Printing double sided basically cuts your usage in half. Even better, avoid printing all together by taking notes directly on your laptop or tablet. Disable the wifi so you don’t get distracted in class. img_5189

HYGIENE HIJACK. No, I’m not telling you stop showering every day to save water. Last year, President Obama passed a law phasing out the use of mircobeads in all hygiene products culminating with them ultimately being banned completely by 2019. Don’t wait until then. Start early and switch your body care products next time you shop. Use the free app Beat the Microbead to scan a bar code or search a product while in the store or a safe bet is to just avoid any products that have ingredients that start with “poly.” With there being enough plastic microbeads in one bottle of exfoliant to equal a full plastic bottle according to the United National Environment Programme, it certainly won’t hurt to start early.

SAY NO TO THE STRAW. By now you have probably already seen the video of a the sweet little green sea turtle that had  a large piece of  plastic straw removed from his nose that went viral this summer. So when you’re out with your roommate at Taco Tuesday or eating on campus, skip the straw. I won’t say you won’t get some weird looks, but think of the turtles. Plus, some cities like Miami have already banned them, and we all know how cool the people that live in Miami are.

My biggest tip of all, start small. Choose one thing that you know you can manage. College is overwhelming enough, no need to make yourself even a little extra stressed. Have a friend join you or make the announcement on your social media for a little accountability. Living a green lifestyle in college doesn’t require you selling your old gas guzzling car or moving into a log cabin off the grid. All you need is a little extra planning and a couple handy items and you’re on your way to saving the planet and maybe a few bucks, which is always helpful for college students.