Stress: Is It Your Major?
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College students face many forms of stress, such as moving away from family and friends to school, new friendships and intimate relationships, academic demands, financial concerns, etc.
The optimal level of stress challenges you but still allows you to succeed (for example, feeling a little anxious before a test may help you study harder). It may allow you to perform better, work more quickly or efficiently and think more clearly. You may not feel stressed at this point.
When we say we are stressed, we generally mean that our stress levels feel out of balance. This includes not only times when you are feeling overwhelmed by work or studying, but also times when you are bored. Slight imbalances of stress force you to adapt, making you stronger and allowing you to grow, but larger imbalances can be very overwhelming.
The aim is not to eliminate stress altogether, but to use stress to your best advantage by maintaining a balance between stress and your coping techniques.
Mental symptoms may include persistent negative thoughts, indecisiveness, poor memory, worrying, boredom, impaired judgement, loss of concentration, bad dreams and hasty decisions.
Behavioral symptoms may include unsociability, restlessness, changes in eating, exercising and sleeping habits.
Physical symptoms may include being accident-prone, insomnia, excessive sweating, indigestion, rashes, nausea, racing heart, teeth grinding, headaches, clenched muscles, rapid weight changes, breathlessness, fatigue, vague aches and pains, constipation or diarrhea, frequent illnesses, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco, other drugs.
Please note that stress and illness have been linked, although the connection has not yet been fully defined. Discussing stress with your clinician may allow for better care.
Emotional symptoms may include irritability, anxiety, mood swings, crying spells, tension, lack of enthusiasm, cynicism, feelings of alienation, loss of confidence and a sense of dissatisfaction.
Change your mindset:
- Develop hardiness, which is an appreciation for challenge, a commitment to living and a belief that you have control over your life. This can lead to greater resilience.
- Talk to friends, family, counselors. Ask for help or just share your feelings.
- Evaluate your coping responses. Replace those that are negative (e.g. excessive drinking, smoking, procrastination) with positive responses (e.g. planning ahead, taking care of your body, facing problems).
Look for the positive aspects of each stressor. Laugh—it's good for body and soul! Find out how much sleep your body needs, and rearrange your schedule to get it! See Sleep: Snooze or Lose. Eat a balanced diet including a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains. Exercise: even a ten-minute walk provides great stress relief. Practice deep breathing and other relaxation techniques. See One-Minute Stress Strategies. Limit caffeine intake. Excess caffeine can add to anxiety-related feelings such as nervousness, irritability, sweating and tremors. For more information, see Caffeine (PDF). Avoid using alcohol and other drugs to relieve stress. Drink in moderation (one drink per hour with a maximum of three for women, four for men) or not at all. See Alcohol and Other Drugs for more information.
Manage your time:
- Make a "To Do" list and prioritize tasks. Let some of the unimportant tasks go. Don't just prioritize your schedule—schedule your priorities!
- Take time to identify your stressors. Plan to minimize or even avoid those that are dragging you down.
- Evaluate your expectations—are they realistic?
- Take time for relaxation, fun and hobbies. How about music or dance lessons, yoga or crafts? See Rejuvenation 101 and Fun Things to Do in Ann Arbor for Peanuts (PDF).
Beat the academic heat:
- Compete only with yourself. You have no control over how other people perform, only how you perform.
- Ask for help when you need it! Advisors, professors, teaching assistants and counselors are there to help YOU!
- Arrange your schedule so that it fits your needs whenever possible. Think carefully about your preferences—for example, do you like morning or afternoon classes, like time between classes, have a work schedule to consider and so on.
- Prepare for tests and papers ahead of time so that you don't have to cram! See Test Anxiety for more suggestions.
- Attend workshops on study skills and career choices. See Resources for Stress and Mental Health.
- LSA Newnan Advising Center Strategies for Academic Success can help you develop your personal study strategies plan.
When should I get help? People often feel as though they should be able to cope with everything. If your stress has gotten to the point of having a prolonged negative effect on your daily life, such as with depression and anxiety disorders, you should get help!
MI Talk is a website for UM students with mental health resources such as online screenings for depression and anxiety, skill-building tools, and recorded workshops, lectures and relaxation exercises.
UM Counseling and Psychological Services
3100 Michigan Union
CAPS is UM students' primary resource for mental health. Individual and group counseling, workshops on study skills, relaxation training. Free and confidential for UM students.
UM University Health Service provides medication management of common mental health issues. 734-764-8320