Exam season is upon us and stress levels are high. In fact, I think stress levels are high throughout the entirety of university. Often we create a link between university and high stress as if the two are one and the same. Students seem to expect to experience stress to such a degree that they accept it as normal and sometimes don’t even notice it. I speak from experience when I say it’s easy to get caught up in a bubble of assignments, deadlines, essays and revision and whilst stress can act as a motivator of sorts, equally it can hinder productivity. The problem in some cases is that students aren’t necessarily aware of the fact that they’re stressed and therefore can’t work towards helping themselves.
But what is stress?
The feeling of stress is the body’s natural way of dealing with a demanding or potentially threatening situation. In this way, the effects associated with stress are beneficial. For example, situations which are stressful on the body, such as running a marathon let’s say, cause the body to release hormones which help us carry on and push through without having any negative long-lasting effects on our mental or physical health. However, there can also be incidences where the trigger of the stress is longer lasting and the stressful feelings persist leading to harmful effects on mental and physical health.
What are some of the signs of stress?
It’s important to remember that stress manifests in different ways for each individual and is caused by different situations for everyone. There is no one checklist of symptoms we must or must not experience in order to be classified as feeling stressed. From losing sleep to sleeping more than normal, from experiencing a lack of appetite to wanting to eat all the time, everyone’s symptoms are different. Here are some possible indicators of stress:
- Low energy
- Change in appetite (eating more/less than normal)
- Feeling tearful, irritable, withdrawn
- Feeling isolated
- Change in sleep pattern (sleeping more/less that normal)
- Feeling as if you want to avoid certain things/people/situations
The list goes on and on.
What can be done about it?
As well as not being able to recognize signs of stress, an issue some students have is that they feel as if they don’t need to do anything about it. Whilst stress can be normal and a good motivator, once its effects become persistent and begin to affect us for a prolonged length of time, at that point the stress becomes a hinderance. There are different ways that stress can be dealt with and different things will work better for each individual. Here are some ways that my course mates and I help ourselves when we sense ourselves falling too deeply into the gloomy realms of stress…
- Take. A. Break.
This is one of the things that people either love or hate to hear. When you have a million and one things to do before a deadline, someone telling you to take a break is the last thing you want to hear. It makes you feel like people don’t understand how much you need to get done and can make you feel lonely because no one is experiencing the same overworked and overwhelmed feelings as you. But believe it or not, taking a break for an hour after having worked for a prolonged period of time can improve the productivity of your next working session more than if you just push through whilst already in an overwhelmed state. That break away from your books, desk or laptop can clear your mind, calm you down and help you concentrate.
- Try to avoid eating too much junk
We all know the foods we eat can improve or worsen our mood, having a knock-on effect on our ability to deal with stress. High amounts of sugary and fatty foods can make you feel sluggish and as if you don’t have any energy. This makes it more difficult to carry out day to day tasks. But with all of that being said, sometimes having a takeout and watching a movie after working hard is a nice way to relax and uplift your mood. This goes to show how there are different ways for all of us to deal with our stress and provided our diets in general are fairly nutritious and energising, an indulgence here and there is also acceptable.
- Talk to friends
It’s easy sometimes to feel like you’re alone with your stress and as if no one understands, but more often than not, many other students are also feeling the same. It can be beneficial to just talk to each other about your worries and concerns and in doing so, you’ll see that you’re not alone.
- Try a little exercise
This was the one I hated to hear. My logic was, if I already had so many things to do, how would the solution to my problems be to then add something else to my timetable giving myself even less time? But the answer to this is the same as the reason why taking a break is beneficial. The reality is that when you have so much to do, your brain and body can only function at an optimum for so long before they start to get tired. You eventually reach a point where your productivity is slowing and the work you could have completed in 30 minutes ends up taking hours! This is the point where you take a break or try exercising a little. It’s not a myth that exercising releases endorphins – it really does! Exercising doesn’t need to mean hitting the gym for an hour either, it can simply be going for walk and getting some fresh air. Lucky for us at Sheffield, we have Weston Park right on campus!
- Make use of university support
Students at the University of Sheffield have access to mental health support, but I don’t think many students are aware of the services that are available! Student access to mental health support (SAMHS) run a service allowing students to make a one to one appointment with an experienced mental health worker to help create a personalised plan for mental health support. Mental wellbeing workshops are run throughout the academic year for all students with no registration required. The university also offers a completely anonymous service called The Big White Wall which offers 24/7 peer and professional online support and over 75% of users said they felt better following use of this service.
Below is a link to the university website containing information regarding SAMHS and The Big White Wall.