Stress can be experienced in many different ways. For some people it manifests in physical reactions - hot sweats, palpitations and exhaustion are among some of the many physical responses to stress. For others, it can embed itself in your mind, meaning thoughts go awry and it can be difficult to focus on anything. Some people experience all of the above, and it’s very possible to sometimes experience these at the same time.
Managing stress is really important and there are many ways that you can cope with these feelings. Here are some of our top tips for dealing with stress and unwelcome feelings when they arise.
Reshape the present moment
Sometimes we can feel completely overwhelmed out of the blue. A situation can feel stressful and our minds become unable to rationalize the reality of what’s going on. To bring you back into the present moment, you sometimes need to reshape your reaction to the situation and breathwork is a great way to do this.
Take a deep breath in through your nose
Try to relax your facial muscles; particularly your jaw
Drop your shoulders down, try and relax your body, with both feet on the floor
Deep breath out through your mouth
Breathing exercises can reduce stress as breathing increases your oxygen exchange, which reduces your blood pressure, slows your heart, and releases any tension held in your abdomen. These physical acts can bring you into the present, into a state of mindfulness. Some people use box breathing, a technique used to stabilize your breath and bring you back into the present. The idea is to breathe in and out and imagine you are drawing a box. It’s a good idea to practice these breathing techniques when you feel calm so that when moments arise when you feel suddenly overwhelmed, you know what you need to be doing!
Breathe in counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs. (side 1 of box)
Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Try to avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 seconds. (side 2 of box)
Slowly exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. (side 3 of box)
Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you feel re-centered. (side 4 of box)
Take a break from media outlets that aren't bringing your joy
With so much going on in the world, it can often feel stressful that places we turn to to learn about what’s going on are dominated by negative and worrying news stories. We can end up feeling overwhelmed with what’s going on, and helpless that we can’t change the situation. Sometimes, the best thing to help ourselves in that moment is to take a break from anything that’s making us feel uneasy:
Reading certain magazines or newspapers
Programs that are making you uncomfortable
On most phones and smart devices, you can turn on headline news alerts if you feel more comfortable knowing you will get primary updates.
Exercise is like meditation in motion. Physically moving your body helps you produce more of your brain’s ‘feel-good neurotransmitters’ or endorphins. Exercise, in whatever form is most achievable to you, can clear your mind for a period of time and can reduce some of the emotional intensity that you're feeling. Often after exercising, people feel that they can deal with problems more calmly.
Find an exercise that is suitable for your life.
Try and block out 30 minutes a day where you’re physically moving your body. It may be a run at lunch or walking to campus.
If you used to be part of a sports team, have a look at if your institution has one! It could also be a great way to meet new people and make new friends.
Make time to unwind
Studying, working, socializing, exercising - sometimes just trying to get through the week can feel daunting. It’s vital that you block out some time to do things that allow you to switch off.
Read - sometimes getting stuck into to someone else’s story can give you a bit of a break from your own mind
Watch TV shows or films - sometimes watching an old but gold classic that you know inside and out can alleviate some stress. Knowing the ending of a film already allows you to fully switch off.
Sleep, sleep and sleep some more! Although when we’re stressed it can be very difficult to do so, the more shut eye you get the better equipped you’ll feel to tackle the next day.
Connect with others
Having a good support system will really help you in moments of stress. Hopefully friends, colleagues, family and peers can help you see things in a different light. Talking through your worries can sometimes alleviate you of them entirely, just by getting them off your chest. Sometimes, your peers may help you find solutions to some of your problems!
There can often be nothing better than getting something off your chest
Talk to friends and family via whatever method feels most appropriate. A face-to-face walk/coffee, WhatsApp, writing letters. There are a whole bunch of ways you can communicate with people!
Talk to other students. You are NOT alone.
A popular concept amongst many of our TalkCampers is to journal. It’s writing down your thoughts and feelings to help you to understand them more clearly. This can take many forms; physically writing things down with pen and paper (or fingers and keyboard) and sometimes following guidelines to journal (we provide a resource on this in the wellbeing section of TalkCampus), or mentally/verbally noting things that are stressful, and things that you’re grateful for. Journaling is an excellent way to manage anxiety, cope with stress, and reduce overwhelm. It also helps you to be more mindful of the present - what are you grateful for, amidst the stresses of university life?
Decide which way suits you to journal - pen and paper? An app on your desktop? TalkCampus? The notes section of your phone?
List your stresses down - if using pen and paper, you could even throw them away after.
Make lists to help organize your mind and your life. To-do lists can help minimize stress and are often best managed when created daily. What are your priorities for that day? What doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get done?
Note down what you’re grateful for - try writing three things down every day that you’re grateful for. It could be a great coffee, the fact you finished an assignment, you read a good book, you got outside for a walk.
Journaling is a great way to help you prioritize problems, fears/concerns, but also things that bring you joy. It also helps students track their triggers, which can also help them to learn how to better control them.