6.4 Stress

“Stress should be a powerful driving force, not an obstacle.”
– Bill Phillips

Questions to consider:

  • What is stress?
  • What are some of the ways to tell if you are holding onto stress?

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify sources of stress, particularly for college students
  • Describe the symptoms and effects of chronic stress

Free The Frog Stock Photos

                                               The stressed Frog. Image by alexas_photo from Pixabay

We all live with occasional stress. Since college students often feel even more stress than most people, it’s important to understand it and learn ways to deal with it so that it doesn’t disrupt your life. Stress is a natural response of the body and mind to a demand or challenge. The thing that causes stress, called a stressor, captures our attention and causes a physical and emotional reaction. Stressors include physical threats, such as a car we suddenly see coming at us too fast, and the stress reaction likely includes jumping out of the way—with our heart beating fast and other physical changes. Most of our stressors are not physical threats but situations or events like assignments and tests that are due at the same time or an emotional break-up. Stressors also include long-lasting emotional and mental concerns such as worries about money, finding a job or taking care of your family.

Causes of Stress

As a student, you’re probably plenty familiar with the experience of stress—a condition characterized by symptoms of physical or emotional tension. What you may not know is that it’s a natural response of the mind and body to a situation in which a person feels threatened or anxious. Stress can be positive (e.g., preparing for a wedding) or negative (e.g., dealing with a natural disaster).

Stress can hit you when you least expect it—before a test, after losing a job, or during conflict in a relationship. If you’re a college student, it may feel like stress is a persistent fact of life. While everyone experiences stress at times, a prolonged bout of it can affect your health and ability to cope with life. That’s why social support and self-care are important. They can help you see your problems in perspective… and the stressful feelings ease up.

Sometimes stress can be good. For instance, it can help you develop skills needed to manage potentially challenging or threatening situations in life. However, stress can be harmful when it is severe enough to make you feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Strong emotions like fear, sadness, or other symptoms of depression are normal, as long as they are temporary and don’t interfere with daily activities. If these emotions last too long or cause other problems, it’s a different story.

Signs and Effects of Stress

Physical or emotional tension are often signs of stress. They can be reactions to a situation that causes you to feel threatened or anxious. The following are all common symptoms of stress:

  • Disbelief and shock
  • Tension and irritability
  • Fear and anxiety about the future
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Being numb to one’s feelings
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Loss of appetite (or increased appetite)
  • Nightmares and recurring thoughts about the event
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Feeling powerless
  • Crying
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
  • Trouble concentrating

It’s not only unpleasant to live with the tension and symptoms of ongoing stress; it’s actually harmful to your body, too. Chronic stress can impair your immune system and disrupt almost all of your body’s processes, leading to increased risk of numerous health problems, including the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

No wonder we view stress as such a negative thing! As much as we’d like to eliminate all stressors, however, it just can’t happen. Too many things in the real world cause stress and always will.

Unhealthy Responses to Stress

Since many stressors are unavoidable, the question is what to do about the resulting stress. A person can try to ignore or deny stress for a while, but then it keeps building and starts causing all those problems. So we have to do something. Consider first what you have typically done in the past when you felt most stressed. Here are a few examples of how college students have responded to stress.

  1. Drinking alcohol
  2. Drinking lots of coffee
  3. Sleeping a lot
  4. Eating too much
  5. Eating too little
  6. Smoking or drugs
  7. Having arguments
  8. Sitting around depressed
  9. Watching television or surfing the Web
  10. Complaining to friends

What’s wrong with the stress-reduction behaviors listed above? Why not watch television or get a lot of sleep when you’re feeling stressed, if that makes you feel better?

While it may feel better temporarily to escape feelings of stress in those ways, ultimately they may cause more stress themselves. If you’re worried about grades and being too busy to study as much as you need to, then letting an hour or two slip by watching television will make you even more worried later because then you have even less time. Eating too much may make you sluggish and less able to focus, and if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll now feel just that much more stressed by what you’ve done. Alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and drugs all generally increase one’s stress over time. Complaining to friends? Over time, your friends will tire of hearing it or tire of arguing with you because a complaining person isn’t much fun to be around. So eventually you may find yourself even more alone and stressed.

Yet there is a bright side: there are lots of very positive ways to cope with stress that will also improve your health, make it easier to concentrate on your studies, and make you a happier person overall. The next section will discuss ways to cope with stress using some self-care strategies.

Tips for Success: Stress

  • Pay attention to, rather than ignore, things that cause you stress and change what you can.
  • Accept what you can’t change and resolve to make new habits that will help you cope.
  • Get regular exercise and enough sleep.
  • Evaluate your priorities, work on managing your time, and schedule restful activities in your daily life. Students who feel in control of their lives report feeling much less stress than those who feel that circumstances control them.
  • Slow down and focus on one thing at a time—don’t check for e-mail or text messages every few minutes! Know when to say no to distractions.
  • Break old habits involving caffeine, alcohol, and other substances.
  • Remember your long-range goals and don’t obsess over short-term difficulties.
  • Make time to enjoy being with friends.
  • Explore new activities and hobbies that you enjoy.
  • Find a relaxation technique that works for you and practice regularly.
  • Get help if you’re having a hard time coping with emotional stress.

Watch the video Tips for Managing Stress as a Student

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wh5HyJ1rxzk


Enjoy a recording of one of the Wellness Wednesday workshop on De Stress.

Follow this link to participate in weekly sessions: Wellness Wednesdays

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3ny2yzxy14


Key Takeaways

  • Stress is a natural response to a demand or challenge. Stress can be good if it motivates you to action.
  • Chronic or acute stress can cause unhealthy responses.
  • Learning to cope with stress in a positive way can maintain and improve your health emotionally and physically.

Attributions and References

This chapter is adoption from the following OER:

Stewart, I & Maisonville, A. (2019). A guide for student success. Windsor, ON: St. Clair College.
Book URL: https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/studyprocaff/
Section URL: https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/studyprocaff/chapter/success
License: CC BY NC SA: Attribution

Dillon, D. (2021). Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skill and Time Management Strategies. Pressbook.
Book URL: https://press.rebus.community/blueprint1/
Section URL: https://press.rebus.community/blueprint1/chapter/52-stress/
License: CC BY: Attribution

College Success. OER Commons. Lumen Learning
Book and Section URL: https://www.oercommons.org/courses/college-success-2/view
License: CC BY: Attribution

Image The stressed Frog by alexas_photo from Pixabay


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Fundamentals for Success in College Copyright © 2022 by Priti Parikh, Centennial College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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