The number of students with stress and anxiety feelings have risen during the last couple of years. Since 2013, the amount of students feeling stressed within the age of 25-34 years, increased from 29,3 percent to 41,3 percent, and that’s just in Denmark. Also, younger students are beginning to report having stress-related problems. Within 16-24 year olds, the amount of students feeling stressed has gone up from 23,2 percent to 30,5 percent. The reasons however vary from low to high self-expectations, feeling pressure on building the perfect resume, stressing out about exams, and feeling anxious about participating in this study line.
But what is stress actually? And is there a way to avoid it?
Stress is a survival instinct
Stress is actually a pretty important biological protection mechanism that affects our body and mind. Stress is used to help us in critical situations where we are feeling physically or mentally threatened. It’s a survival instinct that is activated when we are forced into battle or have to flee for our lives. All of our senses and abilities increase and we run faster, think faster, and hit harder—we perform better in all ways. This is actually called “Positive stress”. But this is not the kind of stress you feel, is it?
We know that midterms and finals suck, but we doubt that you feel your life threatened when exams are coming up. If stress is a survival instinct, and if positive stress makes you perform better, then what is that feeling you experience in your student life? It’s called “Negative stress”. Mostly negative stress appears because we feel out of control and very insecure about the situation we are in—because we ignore the symptoms of stress. Symptoms could be exhaustion, being forgetful, self-destructive/negative thoughts, headaches, having difficulties sleeping, and feeling drained physically, mentally, and socially. If you don’t take a break and just keep going, this often leads to a negative stress spiral.
Now let’s take a look on what you can do yourself to prevent and avoid stress
You decide how you think
It is important to say that stress appears when YOU somehow feel threatened by a given situation. This means that you can actually change your stress level. Your mind is much more powerful than you think. An exam is in no way threatening, but if you decide it to be so in your mind, stress is activated. Self-expectations are also built in your mind. You decide how you think and if you work on changing the way you think, you can learn how to take control over stress.
Plan your day and gain structure
Structuring and planning your day one of the most effective ways to not lose perspective or an overview, which in turn lowers the stress factor of your everyday life. Start by structuring your whole week and make sure you are being very realistic regarding how much you can take on. Look at the different to-do’s and happenings during your day. The more you can schedule in the calendar, the better. When to get up, go to class, eat lunch, study, get fit, be social like go on coffee dates, do grocery shopping, laundry, paying bills— everything that can be written down goes in the calendar.
Now try to dig deeper and take a look at your bigger assignments. You can easily create a much better overview by breaking the assignments down into smaller pieces and phases. Schedule when to work on which phases and make estimates on how long you think it will take to complete this phase. Always remember: asking somebody else for help is nothing to be embarrassed about. Neither is saying “No thank you” to social events or other things if you really don’t have the time according to your calendar.
Take care of yourself
The most important advice is to remember to take care of yourself and to do something good for yourself. Make it a priority to get a good night’s sleep, eat healthy so your body and brain can keep up, and try to get some exercise—take a walk or go for a run. 20-30 minutes a day is enough to keep your body fit and energized. You also need to plan some “Me time” where you take a complete timeout and do something for yourself that makes you happy. It’s okay to have some “Me time” every day, though maybe you just need it once a week. It’s totally up to you, but you have to make room for it.
You are not alone
Feeling stressed as a student is very normal and as you read above, the number of students feeling stressed are increasing. While that’s no surprise, it doesn’t have to be that way. Think about stress triggers, and whether social media is affecting you in a negative way. It’s important that you remember to just be you. You don’t have to make everything look perfect on the outside. You are not alone, and you can take action against your stress level. Take responsibility and fight to change the way you think. Maybe you can even inspire another student to do the same.