Alternative ways to deal with stress

By Sarah Gamard

(Livin Spoonful/Flickr)
(Livin Spoonful/Flickr)

For the average college student, life is plagued with stress. With the ability to control our reaction to it, this leaves opportunity for a positive relationship with stress or to fall victim to the endless cycle of it.

Stress is a natural feeling and, in certain capacities, can be healthy, according to the American Institute of Stress. It motivates us to finish our midterm papers on time and helps us survive in times of peril or danger.

A little bit of stress is not harmful and can be productive. But excess stress, which most students have in surplus, is the opposite. It causes us to be counterproductive and develop deleterious moods, habits and behaviors.

Stress can be mental, physical and emotional, but usually surfaces as a combination of this insidious trio. This makes it hard to realize the effect stress causes on one’s personality and overall wellbeing.

The University of Michigan provides some overlooked indicators of stress for students that include a change of sleeping habits, tight muscles, physical fatigue despite lack of strenuous exercise, changing in eating habits, avoiding responsibilities like work or school, difficulty performing well in school, increased agitation, substance dependency or addictive tendencies, inability to relax, a sudden lack of interest in social activities and constant negative thoughts. These indicators can persist for months or years in certain cases.

To combat these effects of stress, many turn to methods they hope will relieve their stress when actually those methods are harmful. For example, stress can cause fatigue. No matter how much someone sleeps, exhaustion persists. Excessive amounts of caffeine and sugar consumption paired with minimal exercise will heighten levels of stress exponentially. Though caffeine, sugar and lack of exercise have not been shown to cause stress, they are capable of exacerbating already-existent anxiety.

Resorting to alcohol to relieve stress is perhaps the most common remedy among college students. Despite its ubiquitous practice, this method does not work. While the depressant has temporary relaxing properties, the consumer remains unproductive during that period, thus it only serves as an unhealthy and potentially damaging form of procrastination or temporary emotional escape.

Other times, stress will be ignored. Students may think that the best thing to do when feeling stressed is to persist, push down the stress and ignore these emotions. This is a mistake as stress inevitably will find any way it can to come out. This is mirrored by Zach Braff’s medication-dependent character in the popular movie, “Garden State.” Braff was told by his doctor, without “some form of therapy, whatever’s going on in your mind will find a way to peek its little head out of the water.”

Therapy does not necessarily mean seeing a regular therapist and talking out your problems to a certified stranger. While this method does work for many, it may not be the best option for others. Therapy can also be found in day to day activities. Any form of exercise, simple meditation, going out to eat with friends and family, openly talking about what is bothering you to someone you trust, watching some TV, reading poetry, cooking dinner or going for a walk are all possible healthy coping mechanisms to stress. Remember to allow yourself to simply live your life and enjoy it. Life is too short to be consumed by unnecessary negative emotions.

Sarah Gamard can be reached at [email protected]