However much fun student life can be, it often comes with a fair amount of stress. Deadlines, examinations and presentations demand a lot of time. Combining a challenging study programme with work, socialising, and not to forget physical activities, is no easy task. Stressed out already? Here are five tips from internist Liesbeth van Rossum, medical specialist and researcher in the area of stress and hormones, for keeping those stress levels manageable.
1. Be aware of the factors that cause stress and of your emotional and physical reactions to stress
“Short-term stress, like that experienced during an examination, is not unhealthy,” Van Rossum emphasises. Various hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol, even cause your memory to improve temporarily. Cortisol readies your body to accomplish the task at hand, which is useful in situations like examinations where stress gives your thought processes an extra boost. “In the long term, however, this hormone has adverse consequences, such as belly fat, high blood pressure and high blood-sugar levels,” explains Van Rossum. Prolonged stress is not only unpleasant, it can also be dangerous. So be aware of situations that cause stress and be aware of how you respond to it. What thoughts start to invade your mind? Where in your body do you feel the tension? In your neck, stomach or elsewhere? Knowing what causes the stress and how to respond to it can equip you to deal with tension when it arises.
2. Build up your physical reserves: eat healthy, get enough sleep and move your body
Van Rossum explains that stressful periods deplete your physical reserves, which is why it’s wise to replenish them later. Also in times when you are feeling tense, a healthy lifestyle can help to alleviate the symptoms. Eat healthy. “Cortisol increases your cravings for salt and fat in your diet,” says Van Rossum. “Salt and fat in your diet in turn cause your body to produce yet more cortisol, which makes your body experience even higher level of stress.” This production of cortisol decreases, however, when you get enough physical exercise. Getting enough sleep also ensures that your cortisol levels remain within the normal range. Getting too much or too little sleep subjects your body to stress and all of its consequences. It’s therefore advisable to get between seven and eight hours of sleep a night and to stick to your usual sleep cycle.
3. Incorporate moments of mental relaxation into your day
Chronically high levels of stress hormones lower your body’s resistance, making you more susceptible to flu, for example. At the same time, your muscles are broken down and replaced by fat. One way to avoid long-term stress is to ensure you are able to relax regularly. So be sure to plan quiet moments into your schedule, even when you know you have a busy day ahead of you. Relaxation is not only a good way to pick yourself up after an examination or a few hours of studying, it also improves your performance. This is because stress experienced over a longer term adversely affects the brain, according to Van Rossum.
4. Work smarter, not harder
Do you have a to-do list the length of your arm and too many deadlines to count in the period ahead? While locking yourself up for days to study or camping out in the library on an almost 24/7 basis are options, there are other ways to get your work done. The keyword here is time management. You don’t need to work harder, but smarter. Working efficiently will let you get just as much done in less time. Go over your list and decide what is actually important and what can be scrapped. In other words, take some time to work out a smart studying strategy.
5. Positive attitude
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to scrap every annoying task from your list, no matter how strategic your approach. According to Van Rossum, you’d be better off accepting the things you just can’t change. Or even better, learn to enjoy those tasks you simply can’t avoid. While this may not always be easy, it can help to reduce the level of stress you experience when doing them. Tasks you enjoy usually produce less stress than those you hate.