University can be a stressful experience. Whether you’re a new undergraduate or a seasoned postgrad, it’s likely that you’ll experience stress at some point in your studies. That’s the bad news. Fortunately, a little stress can be helpful, and besides this, there are plenty of ways to help students manage stress. Dealing with stress early can prevent it becoming a bigger problem that affects your grades. So, read on to find out what stress is, how it affects students, and what to do about it.
What exactly is stress?
Put simply, stress is a natural reaction that helps us to manage challenging situations. These situations stimulate our bodies to produce stress hormones that trigger a “fight or flight” reaction: this helps us to respond to danger more quickly. Sometimes, this stress reaction can be useful for students – for example, it could help you to perform better in exams. However, repeated or prolonged stress reactions can affect your physical health and leave you struggling to cope with your studies.
What causes stress in students?
Students can experience stress for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons are directly related to studying – such as a heavy workload, deadlines, pressure to perform, and difficult subject material. Certain courses bring extra pressures, especially those that require you to study abroad, and clinical subjects that involve shift-based placements. As well as this, the wider experience of student life can throw up a number of stressful situations – leaving home, meeting new people, and building up debt are just some of these. Clearly, exposure to stress is unavoidable for students. So how can you tell when you’re becoming stressed?
What are the effects of stress?
Stress affects students in a variety of ways, and recognising the sign of stress can help you to act as soon as possible. The problems caused by stress can be split into three categories: Physical, Psychological/Emotional, and Behavioural.
The physical effects of stress include sweating, breathlessness, rapid heart rate, a dry mouth, and a churning stomach. The psychological effects of stress may involve feeling depressed or anxious. This could lead to problems with your cognitive functioning – such as poor concentration, or difficulties with learning and remembering. Finally, stress can affect your behaviour, making you withdrawn, prone to irritable outbursts, over (or under) eating, and disturbed sleep. Your friends may notice these behavioural effects before you do, so if they raise a concern with you – listen. Don’t become defensive. Their observations may be an early warning sign that helps you to tackle stress head-on before it becomes a long-term problem.
How to manage stress
If you (or someone else) has noticed that you’re showing signs of stress, the most important thing is to identify the cause. This could be something obvious, like an impending deadline or exam. It could be something else – like money worries or relationship problems. Identifying the cause of your stress will help you to resolve it. As well as this, there are several things you can do to help manage your stress levels before they affect your health and academic performance.
- Eat healthy
Having a good diet with regular, balanced meals will help stabilise your blood pressure and blood sugar levels. This in turn will limit the damaging physical effects of stress. Also – and we can’t emphasise this enough – stay hydrated. Dehydration will affect every aspect of your physical and mental functioning, so make sure you drink enough water. Along with this, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and avoid sugary and salty foods – they will only dehydrate you. Finally, limit your caffeine intake. Even if you think coffee helps you to study better, too much caffeine will make you jittery, and less able to concentrate.
- Take a break
You can’t study every minute of every day, and trying to do so will just make you more stressed. So, don’t be afraid to take a little bit of time out. Visit a café, watch a film, spend time with friends, or even get some chores done. Stepping outside of your own thoughts for a short while is healthy, and it can help you to regain some objectivity.
- Get some exercise
Be active. Beyond the obvious health benefits of exercise, physical activity releases hormones that help to lift your mood. Choose an activity that fits with your interests and abilities, whether that be swimming, lifting weights or simply taking a walk. You’ll be surprised by how mentally refreshing exercise can be.
- Plan your workload
Don’t leave things till the last minute. Exam dates and deadlines are set well in advance, so plan your workload and revision timetable accordingly. Doing this puts you in control, and will help reduce your stress levels. Also, if an unexpected situation occurs which will could seriously disrupt your work plan, you’ll be able to let your tutors know earlier rather than later.
- Seek help
Lastly, and most importantly, seek help. Stress is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s ok to admit that you’re struggling. Sometimes, just chatting things through with a friend or family member can help to clear your thoughts. However, if your stress levels need more than a chat over a cuppa, you may need to talk to a professional. You may be able to access counselling through your university, and you can contact your GP to discuss prescribing options and referrals to psychological services. Also, and this is vital, make your tutors aware of what is happening. You won’t be the first, or last, student to struggle with stress. Your tutor may be able to reduce your workload, or extend your deadlines to help reduce the amount of pressure you’re under.
Your health and wellbeing are the most important things, so don’t be afraid to make YOU the priority. If the demands of academic writing are causing you stress, why not speak to Wordsmiths? Maybe you’re worried about the grammar in your essay or the structure of your dissertation. Perhaps you want an experienced set of eyes to give your article a final professional check before you submit it for publishing. Whatever your needs are, Wordsmiths’ specialist academic editing service is here to help. To find out more, email us, chat direct via our website, or message us on Facebook and Instagram. If you’ve enjoyed this article and want to see more from Wordsmiths, don’t forget to subscribe to our emails to receive our latest news and blogs first.