Three days to go and you have a major paper due. It’s not that you have ignored the task, but rather, you have not had the time to organize the content, primarily due to writer’s block. This issue is likely a result of sleepless nights, too much caffeine and the high stress you are attempting to cope with. The pending deadlines, collaborative project (with a group member who appears to be completely uninterested) and the plethora of demands at university have become overwhelming.
Stress and anxiety are a part of everyday life. In 2013, 23 per cent (6.6 million) of Canadians over the age of 15 stated that most days were either “quite a bit” or “extremely stressful,”according to Statistics Canada. While some stress is normal, chronic stress can lead to negative health consequences, including headaches, skin rashes, irritability and loss of sleep. If left unchecked, stress can lead to serious health issues.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2015) state that stress is a response to a threat in a situation, and anxiety is the reaction to the stress. Stress is predominantly triggered by either positive or negative change. The typical person may feel anxious over an issue at work, or before presentations or tests at school. Not all stress is bad; it can be life-saving. We see this in the fight-or-flight responses present in all mammals including humans; either fight the threat or flee to safety.
Resist the urge to flee with the following strategies. Some are simple strategies that can be done in the moment with beneficial results, while others may take time to see real change.
What’s a person to do?
1) Breathing exercises. Deep belly breathing increases oxygen levels. It helps slow the heart rate and balances the sympathetic nervous system.
2) Eat well. Do,’t skip any meals, even if you’re busy. Be sure to keep healthy snacks on hand.
3) Yoga. Yoga promotes relaxation, tension relief and restfulness.
4) Laugh. It is said that laughter is the best medicine. Humour works fast and balances the mind and body. Find a funny online video to relieve some stress.
5) Meditation. Meditation clears the massive amounts of information that builds up over the day. Several types of meditation can be utilized including guided meditation (visualizing a calming place) and mantra meditation (repeating a calming word).
6) Natural health supplements. Among many beneficial supplements is L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea. It can increase alpha-brain wave activity creating a state of mental calm. Theanine helps promote temporary relaxation without drowsiness, improves learning performance, concentration, and focus.
7) Learn what triggers your stress. Keep a journal when you are feeling stressed or anxious. Look for a pattern. Is it work, family, school? Once you have found a pattern you can take necessary steps to change it.
8) Obtain adequate rest. Most people know sleep is important for physical health. It promotes healing and repair, but people often forget sleep is essential for mental health as well. Keep a routine as to what time you go to bed and what time you rise in the morning.
9) Eliminate caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant. It affects hormones and can raise anxiety and stress levels. Use caffeine free herbal teas. If you really need that cup of Joe, drink it before noon.
10) Accept that you cannot control everything. Put stress into perspective, and ask if it is worth getting worked up over a situation. Is it serious, or a temporary inconvenience? When appropriate, try to let it go. Accept there may be nothing you can do.
Do not forget about the importance of social support. Connect with others – including your professors or TA’s. Remember, while there are certain things in life that will be stressful, there are steps you can take to manage your response. Breaking up with stress may be the wisest move you can make.
***Michele Sevier is the Director of Education for Nutrition House Canada