“I’m lagging behind in my studies. I just don’t know what to do. Whenever I pick up my laptop and lecture notes to study, it seems my brain is about to explode. I find sitting through lectures tedious as well; I’m unable to concentrate. And don’t get me started on the assignments… they just keep piling up! I can so see myself failing woefully this semester,” Marie laments to her friend while looking extremely disturbed.
According to Penn State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2017 Annual Report, anxiety and depression are the two most common reasons students seek mental health services. Although students tend to wave off stress and anxiety as “just one of those things,” they usually have a significant toll on their physical and mental health, and of course, academic performance.
Signs of Stress and Anxiety
The signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety are pretty hard to pinpoint due to their deceptive appearance and the fact that they differ from person to person. But here are the most common ones.
- Poor academic performance
- Phobia for school
- Emotional instability
- Focus on negativity
- Overcompensation/Obsession with perfection
- Stomach cramps/upset
- Social changes
- Health changes (headaches, dizziness, nausea, sweating, body aches, excessive fatigue, loss of weight, etc.)
- Panic Attacks
How to Manage Stress and Anxiety
It is hard but not impossible to manage stress and anxiety. Here are some practical ways to cope with or relieve stress and anxiety.
Get Adequate Sleep
No thanks to fully-packed schedules, most students end up sacrificing their sleep. We all can relate to this, right? Unfortunately, inadequate sleep drives the brain nuts. Why? Without sleep, it remains alert, thereby getting no time to recharge. When sleep-deprived, you would be less productive, concentrate less, find it more challenging to learn, feel fatigued frequently, and so on.
Yes, school life is so tedious, and 24 hours every day just doesn’t seem enough, but regardless, you should try as much as possible not to neglect adequate sleep. Endeavour to get at least 6-7 hours of sleep every night. And whenever you feel like you need power naps during the day, take them. You’ll feel energized in no time.
Several studies claim that exercising is one of the healthiest ways to blow off steam. It has been proven that exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which help improve one’s mood and calm the nerves while reducing the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. There are several ways to keep your body active without having to go the extra mile. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs once in a while. Are you headed home, school, to work, or to the grocery store? If within trekking distance, you can jog there instead of taking the bus.
You can also try to include exercises into your schedule by probably doing yoga or some other kind of in-house warm-ups right at home. Notably, warm-ups help unwind stress and anxiety-related conditions before tests, exams, competitions etc. And you could also do this before sleeping to help relax your muscles so you can sleep better. Do you also know that Tallinn University has 4 sports halls, of which one is a state-of-the-art gym?
Listen to Music
Whether working, studying, gyming or even on a long car/bus ride, music is an integral part of our lives. It has been proven that listening to music can help relieve stress and anxiety, particularly because it also releases dopamine into the brain. Music can provide an escape from the real world when you need it. The right song can help you get in the mood for a big event, take your mind off pressing situations like upcoming exams or even going on a date, soothe your nerves during stressful times or lift your spirit when you feel down.
You can play mellow and tranquil tunes while studying or getting out of bed and later play upbeat music to stay mentally alert. And what better way to just “relax” than by jamming to your favourite melodies? Here’s what to do - create music playlists for different moods. Don’t have the time to start curating a playlist? The likes of Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music have a wide variety of already-curated playlists for just about any mood.
Staying on top of your responsibilities as a student and combining that with your duties beyond school can be an overwhelming challenge. As you juggle activities from various areas of your life, it is easy to feel stressed out and anxious about everything. If you feel that your life is spiralling out of control or experiencing extreme anxiety or stress, it may be time to look at your organisational structure.
Are you organized? Do you have your activities planned out ahead? How do you stay organized? If you just go through your tasks and duties ‘as they come,’ without planning, you are more likely to leave things till the late hour and then feel overwhelmed. Instead, try planning your day and week. Make a comprehensive timetable so you can work on your to-dos timely. When you plan well, you’ll be better efficient at time management, and of course, you are more likely to rest well.
Sure, a good diet can help you maintain a healthy weight while keeping your immune system strong. But it does way more than that. A 2017 research paper suggests that there is a link between stress and unhealthy dietary behaviours. And likewise, some foods can help relieve stress and anxiety. What you eat can either boost your physical and mental health or sap that which you already have.
A healthy diet doesn’t mean eating just fruits and veggies. It is important to include whole grains, lean protein sources, and good fats in your diet as well. By eating healthy, you would help boost your brainpower, feel better physically, and of course, you’ll also be keeping stress and anxiety far away. Hey, once in a while, you can still indulge yourself and go for those junks… wink, wink.
Staying well-hydrated is essential for a healthy lifestyle. It’s even more important if you suffer from stress or anxiety regularly. The water we drink provides the building blocks for every part of our body, and it also helps to remove the body’s toxic waste. Now think about what happens when the body doesn’t have sufficient water to carry out these internal duties.
Several studies suggest that dehydration leads to higher cortisol levels, which then makes it harder to cope with everyday stress and anxiety-inducers. On the other hand, water is said to have natural calming properties that help relax the body. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that men take about 15.5 cups (3.7 litres) of fluids per day while women should take about 11.5 cups (2.7 litres). Since hydration needs differ from person to person, most people might need more or less.
Think Positive, Stay Positive
Our minds are powerful things. We can control our thoughts and, in turn, manage our stress and anxiety levels through the mind. Do you know that optimists actually experience better situations than their counterparts - the pessimists? It’s true! Making a habit of optimism and positive thinking invites vitality and translates to improved physical and mental health, better relationships, and, yes, better grades. Try to use your positive thoughts and affirmations to boost your mental health. If you keep saying you’re a dullard, you’ll feel dull. If you keep reiterating failure, you are permitting yourself to fail.
Seek Professional Help
Stress and anxiety are common mental health issues that affect millions of people around the world. While some people may experience a little stress or minimal anxiety from time to time, others suffer from chronic anxiety that can impact their daily lives and, eventually, their health. Chronic stress and anxiety have been known to cause various health problems, including migraines, high blood pressure and even heart disease.
Although anxiety disorders are still stigmatized and trifled, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone and don’t have to be alone in this fight. If you have accessed the situation and notice that you just can’t handle this independently, you should seek professional help immediately. Here at Tallinn University, psychological counselling is free of charge and readily available to all students, even during academic leave. You’ll be fine :)