Managing stress at university
So it is creeping up to that time again, where essay deadlines are looming over us, dissertation deadlines are piling up and before we know it, the exams hit! For many students, this comes with waves of stress, anxiety and exhaustion, and we often don’t even recognise the symptoms until they really hit hard. There has been loads of blogs recently about managing mental health and stress, so if after reading this you still want to find out more, then definitely check out some other blogs too. For this blog, I’m going to talk about how I personally manage stress because for the people who know me, they would probably say that I don’t ever look stressed but of course I do, I just really concentrate on looking after myself.
Signs of stress, as previously mentioned, often go unnoticed because they can be as mild as just feeling tired and having low energy. However, not recognising these signs can lead to headaches, colds, upset stomach, etc., which is very inconvenient during essay/exam season. So, I’m going to list the best ways that for me personally, have had a really positive impact on my mind and body.
for those of you that don’t know what mindfulness is, it is described as a psychological process of bringing your attention to the external and internal experiences happening in the present moment. Basically, mindfulness can simply be sitting on a chair, closing your eyes and breathing. Mindfulness is so underrated and is often associated with exercises like Yoga, yet there is absolutely no physical exercise involved. Most people will say that they don’t have time to be mindful because of how busy and hectic university/life is, but everyone can spare 5-10 minutes being mindful, even if it is just before you go to sleep. Recommended sources for mindfulness: Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book ‘Finding Peace in a Frantic World’: is an 8-week mindfulness course where you practice a new mindfulness technique each week, it also comes with a CD, which guides you through each technique. The University of Warwick Counselling Service hold ‘Mindfulness (an introduction)’ session each term that you can register for, which just introduces you to the idea of mindfulness, practicing present moment awareness, self-acceptance, etc. Even just using Google to learn more or using Youtube to watch mindfulness talks, or do some meditations. It is so important to check in with yourself, even if it is just for a few minutes, because you’re more likely to listen to what your body is telling you and this can massively reduce stress and anxiety.
Physical exercise/activity- if any of you have read my previous blogs, you’ll know that I do love my sport and I am always sneaking it into my blogs because I am really passionate about encouraging health and fitness, especially amongst students. Being active has so many benefits, if you do group activities then you’re more likely to make friends, go to social events and improve your skills. If you do an individual activity, e.g. running, cycling, skiing, etc., they are great for spending time with yourself, keeping your body healthy but you can still be a part of clubs/societies for these, therefore you’re not missing out! But what all sports/activities have in common, is their ability to benefit both your health and your mind! This is because you are in a new environment where your attention is shifted away from stress-related activities, your heart rate and adrenaline is being directed towards a workout and the end result is often better nights sleep because your body is worn out and your brain won’t have the energy to get worked up about essays, etc. There are many studies that suggest a correlation between mental health and sport, for those of you who aren’t involved in any sports that’s ok, even doing a workout at home, or going for a short run can relieve stress. I woud definitely recommend joining a club because you’re taking part in a group exercise with friends, which is so much more fun and enjoyable and often lifts your spirits.
Sleep- students are probably one of the worst groups for not getting enough sleep, which I would say is fair enough because we go on more nights out, we socialise with friends late into the evening and more likely to write essays into the night if there is a deadline. Plus, our generation definitely interacts more with technology e.g. late night texting, movies and gaming, which studies suggest makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, and you’re more likely to lightly sleep therefore are more alert and sensitive to noise. Adults on average should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night, however studies indicate that students get less than this. Speaking from experience, I know that when I’m tired I don’t concentrate in lectures, I will engage less in seminars and I am definitely more irritable. It is well-known that sleep and stress are very related and its worse for students because there are a lot of expectations and pressures at university, which trigger stress and anxiety. The best way I deal with this is firstly, plugging my phone in on the opposite side of my room so that I’m less tempted to check messages and social media. Turning off my laptop and putting it on my desk in its sleeve, which stops me from opening it to check emails and watch movies. I sometimes read before going to bed so that I’m not using technology just before I fall asleep and I always aim to be in bed for 11, especially if I have a 9am! These techniques definitely have given me better nights sleep and really help my concentration at university but if you want to find of more then definitely do some research on Google, I know some people that do mindfulness, yoga, meditation before they go to bed, which relaxes your mind and body, helping you to fall asleep quicker.
Time Management- managing social relationships, university work, hobbies, etc., requires quite a lot of planning beforehand so that you have time to engage in each one. Realistically, many of us (even myself) fail at balancing our time because we procrastinate or we just assume we will remember what plans we make however, because student life is so busy and filled with interruptions I can honestly admit that I have missed plans with friends, fallen behind on work and double-booked events. Time management is definitely a skill that needs constant attention and usually improves with age, but university is definitely one of the most sociable times in young adult life and is often a huge distraction from work. If you are applying for graduate programmes and internships, delegation skills are really important and key to employers because they want to see that you have the ability to plan and manage your life effectively. Historically, diaries were an important method of managing events, my parents still have them however our generation is more likely to use our calenders on the computer or phone. Either way, writing down and creating timetables are very effective because you can set weekly goals for yourself and also fit hobbies and social events in. If this doesn’t work for you, setting reminders on your phone is a great because you can rely on something else to remember plans however you might be more likely to double-book things because you haven’t written it down. Also eliminating distractions, for example going onto campus stops interruptions at home, not taking headphones so that you’re less likely to go on Netflix and switching your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’ blocks pop-ups, notifications and messages. Managing your time and being organised, stops you from getting stressed because as the famous saying goes; fail to plan, plan to fail.
For me, these are the four most important elements that have significantly helped maintain a good mental health and reduce stres level. There is no point punishing yourself for making mistakes and falling behind, because everybody does it! The key thing is to check in with yourself, listen to what your body is telling you and look after your mind and body. I hope this has been helpful but feel free to drop me an email, I am happy to give any advice that I can but there is also facilities like Warwick SU, Warwick Counselling Service and Nightline who are there to support anybody struggling at university. Have an amazing weekend everyone!