Just in time for finals: Stress release tactics for college students

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Written by Jamie Retana

For University of Nebraska at Omaha student Elizabeth Tippery, a “normal” day includes hitting the snooze button countless times in the morning to stay as far away as possible form her to-do list.

More often than not, Tippery finds herself relying on her favorite coping mechanism: sleeping.

“Some people say that it’s a way to run away from their problems, but I see it as a way to let my mind take a breath,” Tippery said.

Dealing with an unreliable vehicle, work and school, are just her “main priorities”, Tippery said. “I have to make time for family, friends, chores and cooking because I don’t have the money to go out to eat every night.”

Stress can come from many different factors and affect someone in many ways. It can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle where it affects your mind, body and spirit.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, stress can cause a feeling of depression and anxiety. The body sends out a chemical to your brain as a flight-or-fight response in reaction to a stressful or traumatic situation. This leads to a feeling of an adrenaline rush and you go into panic mode.

If you allow the thoughts in your head to consume you, you may begin to feel overwhelmed.

Some coping methods to try when under stress that are common sense are deep breathing and meditation.

“If you’re in a high stress situation, take a deep breath,” said Marcia Adler, director of health services at UNO. “It improves the perfusion in your brain; just chemically it alters what is going on.”

By doing that several times, it can improve your thoughts and physical being. Another way to stay calm in a high stress situation is to simply meditate.

“Pre-identify things that are restful or relaxing for you and go to the place when your under stress,” Adler said. “Give your brain a place to land.”

Changes in your body are common when under stress. Stress has the ability to slow down the body’s immune system, which can cause weight gain. Under stressful times, it’s easier to reach for a bag of chips than to bite into an apple because it’s seen as a comfort food.

Cutting out smoking and drinking from your diet can make a drastic change. While some may seek them to reduce tension, it in fact can make matters worse according to the Mental Health Foundation.

“One of the things, I think, impedes college student’s success in the stress arena is that they don’t eat well,” said Adler. “They cut corners because it’s too expensive, so they eat junk.”

By switching up your diet to include more water, fruits and vegetables, your physical and mental being overall improves. You feel a sense of energy and the foods work as a fuel for both the body and brain.

“Every meal should be considered a fueling session,” said Derek McBride, an assistant for Mav Rec Wellness at UNO. “You give your body the energy to do what it needs to do and function optimally. Don’t hinder it with things that will slow it down.”      Dehydration ties into stress in many ways, says Adler. As seen by athletes, they make sure to stay hydrated throughout a game or workout to keep the stress levels low. Water has many benefits such as flushing out toxins, weight loss and energizing muscles, according to the WebMD website.

For many college students, school isn’t the only worry on their plate. Along with the external factors, they have to worry about time management.

Due to her busy schedule, Tippery can’t find time to fit in exercise in her routine but said she manages to keep a healthy diet by avoiding fast food that “slows her down.”

“Exercising feels like a chore. If I found something I enjoyed doing, like boxing for example,” Tippery said, “I wouldn’t mind making time for it.”

Exercise is a great way to cope with stress. Whether that means going for a ten-minute walk every day or doing yoga right as you wake up, the release of endorphins is rewarding.

“I find that a nice intense 10 to 15 minute exercise will have me feeling great because your mind is only on your exercise,” said McBride.

Other forms of exercise could include something you enjoy doing, such as a sport. Playing a sport is also a form of meditation. Devoting your thoughts and concentration into the sport can clear your mind of all the negative in your life. “Mediation in motion” as McBride said.

Lifting weights and cardio can not only release endorphins and have you feeling great, but you will see improvements in your overall physique.

“I find that there is some confidence boost when you learn a new skill in the weight room,” said McBride. “That boost in mood and confidence carries to other parts of life.”

Lastly, making sure you get enough hours of sleep every night is important. On average, people need about a solid eight hours of sleep per night, according to the Mind Tools website. When people are short of sleep, their concentration reduces and energy levels tend to drop.

“College students experience poor sleep hygiene. They tend to see sleep as disposable,” said Adler.

Better sleep habits decrease the risks of dealing with anxiety or depression. For many college students, time is their main stress factor- to have time to be social along with keeping up with their priorities. So sleep becomes more of a privilege than a priority.

Lack of sleep can also lead to poor food and beverage choices. You tend to reach for an energy drink that is full of sugar and added chemicals to stay alert throughout the day.

A nap or two to get re-energized throughout the day is more effective and less harmful to the body and mind.

“When I’m stressed, regardless of the activity I’m doing, the stressor is still on my mind,” said Tippery. “Sleeping has the ability to give my thoughts a break.”

From external factors to unsatisfying physical changes, stress can consume you if you let it. Although college students may have a lot on their plate, it is important that they always take sometime to themselves to take a deep breath and exhale all the negative.

By maintaining a healthy diet or adding some super foods, such as avocado and asparagus to your daily consumption, that feeling of becoming overwhelmed can deteriorate.

Remember to stay active, whether that means parking far from class and walking a good five to seven minutes every day, or stretching right as you wake up to get some endorphins going. The imporatnt thing is to just get your blood pumping.

And lastly, manage your time. Form a good sleeping habit. Try to plan your activities and work around your sleep to make sure you’re getting at least a good six to eight hours of sleep.

“There are some people who go for walks, some who drink to soothe their sorrows and some who take a drive,” Tippery said. “For me, there’s nothing a good nights sleep or nap can’t cure.”

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