Stress: it doesn’t have to consume you

By Ivana Susic

It’s the first week of school and for many the stress has already started to mount. Sleep deprivation has set in and caffeine intake has increased. No one is immune to stress, but it’s the level and frequency that can cause trouble.

Constant pressure has been linked to health and emotional problems: depression, frequent colds and even hair loss are among the possibilities when no time is left for relaxation. So take a deep breath.

Dr.  Cheryl Carmin, director of the Stress and Anxiety Disorders Clinic in Chicago, said one of the most important ways for students to begin dealing with tension is to examine where it is coming from so it can be properly addressed.

“Don’t minimize the stress,” Carmin advised. “Take a hard look at it.”

One important, but underlooked, aspect of stress management is to have fun.  Doing things we enjoy allows an opportunity to unwind, Carmin said.

“We give up things that are effective at coping with stress,” she said.

Instead of saying there’s no time to have dinner with family or to spend a while doing something enjoyable, it’s important to make the time.  Isolation is never a good idea when anxious, Carmin explained.  If necessary, she suggested restructuring one’s schedule to fit loved ones in.

She emphasized the importance of finding other healthy ways to cope, such as methods that have worked in the past or reflecting on a time that made you feel good.

Alcohol should not be considered a way to feel better or to cope with stress, Carmin said. Drinking is never  a  productive way to solve problems.

“Don’t presume alcohol will help you de-stress,” she said. “Finishing a fifth of vodka will not help.”

She added that it’s important to remember that caffeine is a drug and is prone to abuse, too.

Dr. John B. Houck, who has been a clinical psychologist for more than 40 years, said the most important thing to remember about  stress is that it is what we make it.  If we choose to think of an exam as stressful, then it will be.

“Stress comes not from the outside, but from the meaning we give to those things [that cause stress],” Houck said.

To prevent anxiety the first thing to do is to change how one thinks. If the stress cannot be avoided, relaxation is key.  Taking the time to breathe could be the difference between being consumed by anxiety and taking back control.

“Wherever you feel tension in your body, focus on it, try to let it go. Squeeze it, then let it go,” he said.

No matter how much advice is given on stress management,  it is up to each individual to figure out the most effective way to relieve the tension.

“I can’t make you stop yourself [from being stressed]; I can just suggest some things to do,” Houck said.

Many of these suggestions are outlined by the American Institute of Stress. One of the most applicable for college students is always setting reasonable goals for oneself, which means learning how to handle things that are within your power, not ones that require hard work to reach.

The American Institute of Stress also recommends managing your time appropriately; no one should schedule more in a day than can actually be completed.

Dr. Paul J. Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress, said while there are basic tips for handling stress, they are not the only option. Everyone deals with stress differently and therefore de-stresses differently.

“There’s nothing about stress that applies to everybody,” Rosch said.

Factors like time management become important because the minute we feel we are falling behind, there is a sense of losing control, which leads to more anxiety.

“One thing all of our studies show is that the perception of not having control is always stressful,” Rosch said.

To manage stress or avoid it altogether, Rosch said you should look ahead and prepare for what you know you will need to do.

“You have to anticipate what might happen and plan accordingly,” he said.