Reduce your stress levels

As a student, you will face stressful situations, especially during exam time. For some, this stress can feel overwhelming. In the worst cases the worry makes it harder to focus on your studies, causing you to fall behind and in turn cause more worry as the exams approach. This can create a nasty feedback loop of worry and anxiety.

Learning how to reduce your stress levels can help you prevent this terrible situation. Stress management is also a useful life skill that will help you better navigate the ups and downs we all face through the course of our lives.

In this article, we’ll first look at what stress is and the different types of stress before going on to provide advice on how to manage stress and giving links to further guides and services offered by the University of Pretoria (UP) support services.

What is stress and what does it do?

This might surprise you, but stress can be a good thing. As with all things, moderation is crucial. When we undergo stress our bodies release stress hormones as a protective mechanism. As part of our body’s reaction – known as the flight, fight or freeze response – adrenaline and cortisol is pumped into our system to give a major increase in focus, memory and even our immune system.

This means that we actually perform at our best with a little bit of stress. The problem is when there is continued or repeated stress. As more hormones are released, the cortisol level in the body becomes excessive, which can lead to chronic stress along with anxiety, depression, physical illness and low energy. So rather than performing at our optimum, too much stress can leave us tired and lacking in enthusiasm and motivation.

Types of stress

There are many types of stress that we refer to conversationally, mostly classified by their source. These are things like emotional stress, work stress, financial stress and relationship stress. Medically speaking, stress is split into two main types, acute stress and chronic stress.

Acute stress goes away quickly. We experience acute stress when faced with a dangerous or threatening situation and it helps us to deal with the situation. This type of stress is completely normal.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, lasts for much longer. This is usually caused by an ongoing situation that worries or threatens us, such as work problems, relationship issues or worries about finances. It can last for weeks or months at a time and can lead to health problems if not managed properly.

In a previous article on mental health, we spoke of how anxiety is the condition some people experience when they continue to feel the effects of stress, leaving them feeling on edge long after the cause of the stress has passed.

Dangers and symptoms of stress

These are some of the common symptoms you might experience if you are suffering from chronic stress:

  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Insomnia
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling paralysed
  • Feeling emotionally drained

How to deal with stress

It is important that you learn how to reduce stress in your daily life. An important thing in dealing with stress is your mindset. Remaining flexible so that you can adapt to unexpected change is a big part of this. The other key thing is to maintain an optimistic attitude. If you are caught up in a pessimistic attitude, then you are just making your life harder by greatly increasing the amount of worry that is actually necessary.

UP Enterprises put together a tutorial guide for managing stress: Stress Management Tutorial. In the tutorial, they speak of building your stress tolerance so that you are not affected as badly by stressful situations. There are five main things that you can do to increase your stress tolerance:

Sleep:

Getting enough sleep is essential for mental and physical health. On average, people need at least seven or eight hours of good sleep each night. In our high-pressure lives people often say that they can get by on less. While some people do naturally need less sleep, there is still a difference between merely “getting by” and being able to operate at your very best.

Eating well:

A good diet is important. Try to eat everything in a form as close to its natural form as possible. You want to avoid processed foods and preservatives, which means you should also ditch fast food and takeaways. In our previous article, we covered some healthy foods and unhealthy foods for brain health.

Exercise:

Regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do to look after your overall health. We wrote about the benefits of exercise to your brain and body and some home exercise routines you can try out. If you are nearby to any of the three University of Pretoria campuses, you can also make use of the Tuks gym and join one of the many UP sports societies.

Music:

Listening to music that you enjoy reduces stress. It can actually cause your body to release hormones that make you feel better. singing or humming along with the music also helps with those feel-good hormones. Music with a slow rhythm makes it easier to relax.

Smell:

Endorphins are released when we smell certain aromas such as vanilla and lavender. Great stress-relievers include juniper berry oil, jasmine oil, chamomile oil, rose oil and frankincense.

Socialising and laughter:

It is an old cliché that laughter is the best medicine, but the cliché exists for a reason. Spending time with friends and loved ones has many benefits. Laughter is a great way to release tension and having a strong support network makes it much easier to deal with difficult times in your life.

Tools for reducing stress

Fidget toys, also known as fidgets, can help some people to concentrate and to deal with stress. These offer a short term respite from feelings of stress and can help some people, but there is far stronger evidence that a good diet and regular exercise will alleviate stress.

Stress balls have been around for a while, giving the opportunity to work off some physical tension while also slightly improving your physical strength. The popularity of fidget toys increased dramatically in recent years, hitting a point where some of them had to be banned from schools. These include fidget spinners that users rotate between their fingers, fidget cubes offering six different sensory controls and pop it fidget toys to replicate the soothing sensation of popping bubble wrap.

If you’d like to learn more about the different devices and toys available, please have a look at this article: 11 Best Fidget Toys for Adults With Anxiety.

UP support services

University of Pretoria students have access to many support services. There is a dedicated student counselling unit (SCU) to help students and you can take a look at their website to see the services offered.

The university has also put together a repository of self-help material for students on a range of subjects that you can download. Here are some of the resources that relate directly to stress: