I know you have stress, what are you doing to deal with it?

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Photo – Workers Law Watch

The life of a college student is stressful. The stress begins with the initial transition to campus from home, then the transition in expectations from high school to college life; the longer you stay in school, the harder classes tend to get; roommates and others might be difficult to share space with; professors may have unrealistic expectations…and then there’s the exams.

As I watch the students around me melting down as we ramp up into final exam period, I understand that everyone has reason to feel distressed. This is a busy time of year, there is still a limited amount of sunshine in our northern climate, and everyone is ready for a break from classes. When I talk to students about how they are caring for themselves, though, I find that they are not doing some of the helpful daily things that can assist them in finishing the semester on a strong note. Some appear intent on burning themselves out, apparently forgetting that just because the semester is nearly over doesn’t mean they will have some magical recovery once the last test or paper is handed in.

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In order to help one’s self deal with stress there are some very practical steps a person can take.

1. Create a pattern of sleeping, eating, homework/study that allows for breaks while studying as well as time to sleep and eat.

2. Sleep at night – for many students the time for sleep may be midnight to seven a.m. and for those taking medication or with certain disabilities, getting to bed before midnight may also be necessary.

3. Give your brain time to relax before it is time to sleep – make a relaxing walk, shower/bath, listening to quieting music or whatever works for you – part of your ‘wind down’ time before going to bed.

4. Don’t engage in activities that get your brain or adrenalin going just before trying to sleep. No exciting video games or pumped up music or activities that will leave you revved up instead of winding down.

While it is important to create this routine for yourself, it is also helpful to work every day, throughout the day, on your homework and study. Most students have under-utilized chunks of time during the day that just slips away – use these time slots to start working on an assignment, or to complete some of the reading that has been assigned in class.

Leaving all homework and reading until the evening again increases stress, decreases how much you will remember, and thus feeds into the cycle of feeling like you’re working hard and getting little in return for that hard work. If you have trouble with time management, seek out an academic adviser or councilor who can assist you with working on these skills.

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Recognize also, that by the end of the semester one either has been keeping up with the information needed to pass a class or they have not. Waiting until the final weeks to try and learn a semester’s worth of information basically does not work. Instead of trying to pull a passing grade out at the last second, consider what can be done differently in the future to avoid repeating the mistakes of the present. Set up appointments with counseling services for the beginning of the next semester. Talk to your academic adviser about your proposed course load, and reconsider taking foundational courses that were barely passed – you probably didn’t learn as much as you will need. Future courses build on the information you were supposed to be learning in foundational courses.

A degree, by itself does not get a person a job. A person’s grades and the experiences they gain through work study, internships, projects, research etc. are all important. Stress increases when a person realizes they are struggling and if one is struggling too much in classes that are corp to one’s field of study, then one may need to consider changing their field of study.

If you are a student who is stressed out all the time, then you may simply be studying in the wrong subject area  – career service advice is available on basically all college campuses. If stress seems fundamental to the area of study you are pursuing, then talk to career services about possible areas of study that might prove less distressing for you, given your personal strengths and challenges. Remember, education is supposed to be challenging, not painful.

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If your stress is based on the other hand, on not being prepared for classes and tests – then you may need to re-examine if you are ready to be in college yet, or if you need to spend time in a minimum wage job. Until one feels a personal motivation to be in college, one is probably wasting time and money, and invariably increasing their personal stress level for the wrong reasons, by being in college. If you have no personal reasons for being in college, then the entire process is likely to be stressful – and an expense that might take years to pay off.