The beginning of the semester is an ideal time to create and maintain habits that keeps college stress in check. Ensuring your environment and life choices promote low stress and high wellness is key. Your mind is relaxed, your body is rested and your emotional state is settled enough to plan for the stress you will encounter in April or May.
First of all, identify what causes you stress at school. If most of your mental energies are spent worrying about grades, make a plan now for how you will approach this worry.
- Will you make better use of the TA?
- Will you study more effectively by yourself instead of with friends?
On the other hand, if you are mostly worried about how you will make more friends this semester, start seeking opportunities to volunteer on campus or join a club. Action should be involved in every strategy because when we act, the brain moves from an emotional state to a thinking state and this relieves stress.
Second, become familiar with how stress feels and looks on you. Notice your physical responses when stressed.
- Do you sleep more?
- Do you eat more?
- Do you procrastinate?
- Are you more irritable?
- Do you get headaches?
- Do you isolate yourself?
Routinely scan your body for tense muscles and pain and check your breathing. If you find your shoulders are drawn up to your ears most of the day, schedule frequent ten minute body stretches and slow breathing. Being able to reach this state of mental and physical relaxation is crucial for a low stress mentality.
Finally, if you are experiencing certain feelings that are blocking logical and rational thinking, simply label the emotion and remind yourself that it is just a feeling.
Judging yourself for feeling scared or intimidated will add to your angst. Mentally, if negative thoughts are creating chaos in your mind, convince yourself that irrational thinking activates a stress response. These thoughts are not founded in fact. They are present to trick the brain. Actively create new thinking patterns and consistently practice them. Your brain will eventually believe the new thoughts and automatically think them in stressful situations. For example, every time you feel yourself dreading writing a paper, change the thought from dread to excitement and get started with producing just one paragraph.
Knowing how the brain and body connect gives you a starting point for diminishing stress. Being aware of how stress registers with you allows you to formulate a working plan to manage daily stress. Start now designing a stress reduction plan so that you can easily reach a deep sense of calm when needed this semester.
Begin with proactively formulating a breathing routine. Diaphragmatic breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system which ensures a sense of calm, a normal heart rate, ideal blood pressure and proper digestion. Begin with a slow four-second inhale and a seven second hold. On the exhale force air out through your lips for the longest period of the breathe cycle-eight seconds. Repeat this four or five times and make this a daily practice.
10 Tips to Help Buffer College Stress
1. Don’t fight stress by convincing yourself, “I’m fine.” This only keeps the cycle going. Embrace stress and handle it with care.
2. Minimize multi-tasking, over-commitment, and perfectionism. Make yourself slow down or even say “no.” Tell yourself it is okay to do nothing or to do less.
3. Do what brings you happiness. Ignite an old hobby. Be with friends. Try a new recipe. Read. Anything but technology.
4. Go outdoors. Soak up vitamin D through sunlight. This will improve sleep and mood. Appreciate the sights, smells and sounds outside. Stimulate all five senses.
5. Be mindful of what you put into your body, making an effort to limit caffeine, alcohol, and not to overeat. Most college students who drink both caffeine and alcohol do not realize the effects on nutrition, sleep and mood both have. Now is a good time to monitor your intake.
6. Sleep, a lot, but try to stay on a regular day and night schedule. In other words, sleeping until two o’clock every day will throw you off when you head back to campus.
7. Boost your nutrition. Eat less processed foods and concentrate on vitamin and nutrient rich foods every day, not just once a week. Use this chance to boost your immune system so it can fight when compromised during stress. Foods high in vitamin B reduce stress.
8. Rid yourself of self-sabotaging thoughts. If you’ve been crowding your mind with thoughts of imperfection or thoughts driven by low self-esteem or poor body image, it is a great time to clean it up. Your brain begs for clean thoughts just like it begs for clean foods. Look at your life position at this moment and fit it into the big picture of your life. Keep thoughts centered on what you have control over, and have your actions follow your clean thoughts. A positive self -images and beliefs will increase your dopamine. This in turn helps you feel motivated and accomplished, taking your thoughts out of the negative loop.
9. Self-reflect. What will you do differently this semester? How will things change so that your stress level decreases? How will you better care for yourself? What thoughts do you need to nurture or eliminate? What will your expectations be? How will you better balance all aspects of college living?
10. Make a conscious effort to prioritize your state of wellness every day. Stress starts in the brain which is already overstimulated. Partner with your brain to buffer stress.
Photo credit: Daytripper University
Lori Bender, MSW is a professional lifestyle and wellness coach who helps college students design successful stress management plans. She is the mom of two college kids, a wife, and a blogger on all thing wellness related. Follow her on Facebook at: Students Stress Less Support (and Parents) and at Carolina Lifestyle Coaching.