Strategies for coping with stress

This tends to be a busy time of year for students. Exams are approaching; papers are due; the LSAT, MCAT and every other test imaginable are just around the corner; grad school applications are due; holiday gifts need buying and visits home are right around the corner!.For some unknown reason, the gods of stress decide to heap it all on us just before and during the holiday season. So what should students do when they’re struggling with LSAT problems, trying to finish a 15-page paper and an Oracle article for tomorrow, convinced that no law school is going to accept the well-crafted application and mad about a forgotten math assignment?

Stress isn’t all bad. In fact, a moderate level of stress allows one to do well on a test, presentation or even a first date. If one’s level of stress is too low, however, he or she won’t have the motivation to perform well. After all, it’s that little fear in the pit of your stomach that motivates a student to actually shower, brush one’s hair and teeth and show off one’s best manners on that date. Without this mild level of positive stress, a person might not do these things and the date might think one boorish and unkempt.

While too little stress can turn you into a slug, too much stress can give a person a heart attack. It can also cause digestive problems, high blood pressure, menstrual irregularities, memory problems, depression and a host of other unpleasantries. Those choosing to deal with stress in a destructive manner, such as drinking, eating excessively or using controlled substances, could really derail their lives. The good news is that many USF students are already on the right track to coping with the stresses of student life.

When elementary education major Megan Deavers feels the pressures of school and family, she takes a day off to shop or to go to the beach. Others, such as sophomore Sandra Dorman, go for a run or hop in the hot tub. Evan, a freshman majoring in engineering who did not give his last name, uses prayer to relieve stress. And when finance major Stefan Hagley-Nanton needs to blow off some steam, he hits the bedroom.

All of these students are doing exactly what the experts recommend for stress relief. For example, Dorman and junior Stacy Thornhill cited exercise as one of their favorite methods of stress relief. In fact, exercise is one of the easiest and most popular ways to blow off some steam. Dr. Melissa C. Stoppler, a stress specialist, explains why exercise can be especially beneficial: “When you exercise, you produce lovely little substances called endorphins. Endorphins are formed within the body and naturally relieve pain and induce feelings of well being and relaxation.” And that’s just one more reason to exercise.

Another method of stress relief is learning how to relax. Deavers and Dorman know how to take time out to do something fun, and Evan uses prayer to center and calm himself. “I feel like I am very good at dealing with stress,” he said. “It is simple, I pray. I slow down, I take a look around me and I give thanks to everything that I have. Taking a few minutes every day to be thankful and see God’s beauty is enough to keep me humble and happy,” he said.

Similarly, an Oct. 25 survey of 3,680 third-year college students done by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute stated that, “College students with high levels of religious involvement and commitment report better emotional and mental health than those with little or no involvement.” Integrating spirituality, whatever one’s religion or preference, can be a powerful way to center oneself and put things into perspective.

Dr. Stoppler’s take on relaxation? “Relaxation is also a uniquely individual activity. While some may find sports relaxing, others find them stressful. Napping or reading a good book might be your idea of relaxation, but the inactivity might drive your best friend crazy. Finally, many people need, or want, a structured relaxation program, such as a course in meditation, martial arts or yoga, while others prefer to be spontaneous and avoid structure at any cost.”

While exercise and relaxation techniques are useful in times of stress such as exam weeks and holidays, if students should find themselves living in a state of emergency 24/7, it may be helpful to evaluate themselves and see what is causing them to be a human train wreck. Dr. Stoppler suggests that certain attitudes and behaviors can lead to high levels of stress:

Feeling a need to please others at the expense of a person’s needs and well being.

Blaming others.

Perfectionism and relentless comparisons between oneself and others.

Having poor organizational skills.

If a stress factor is dispensable, remove it. Don’t cling to a lousy job, an unhealthy relationship, an unnecessary class or a car that’s broken more often than it actually works. Sometimes what seems like a small change can redirect the course of one’s life.

So what if a student has tried exercising, taken breaks from time-consuming activities, connected with a spiritual side, managed time efficiently and had more sex, yet still constantly feels anxious and worried? That student may want to speak with a counselor in SVC 2124. Sometimes life circumstances can’t be changed and stressors can’t be eliminated, but with a little help, students can learn to minimize the impact these factors have on their lives. At other times stress is caused by another problem that needs to be addressed. The Counseling Center for Human Development (CCHD) can help with that too. And no, I am not being paid for the advertisement.

Tereza Zambrano is a junior majoring in international studies and is a triathlete. Students can e-mail her questions at