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Let’s get PHYSICAL

by Archives March 16, 2005

From midterms to money matters, student life is rife with stressors. In juggling schoolwork, part-time jobs and personal relationships, we’re forever in flux between breathing easy and burning out. And while a certain level of pressure keeps things interesting, too much stress over a long period may be damaging to our health, performance and relationships. That’s because our bodies simply weren’t designed to handle the stress of modern life.

Our reaction to stress is a primitive response from the age when life-threatening dangers were omnipresent. That rush of adrenaline, the so-called fight-or-flight response, came in quite handy when charging a wooly mammoth or fleeing a horde of barbarians.

Fast-forward to the present day, where new and challenging situations still evoke this instinctive reaction. But today it might be a looming deadline or a spat with your significant other that provokes the stress response, resulting in a spike in blood pressure and heart rate, reduced stomach activity, causing the feeling of “butterflies”, and increased perspiration. These physical changes, while helpful in the face of danger, are useless and potentially harmful when induced by modern-day stressors. Your body is unable to use the extra adrenaline produced, which leaves you wound up with no release. If you stay in red-alert mode for a prolonged period, problems such as insomnia, headaches, reduced immune function and stomach upsets may persist. Stress management is key if you hope to avoid these related discomforts; read on for strategies to help you keep your cool while everyone around you is losing theirs.

Manage Your Minutes

Time management is an essential skill to master when trying to keep your stress level in check, because it can help you find precious extra minutes in your day.

Begin by assessing how effectively you’re using your time, and brainstorm ways you might improve your time-use habits. Aim to complete essential tasks first and avoid multitasking. Prioritize less important jobs, delegating where possible and dropping low-value tasks completely, and strive to manage and avoid distractions.

You must also learn to differentiate between mandatory tasks and those you committed to out of guilt or to satisfy others. It’s okay to say “no”, and doing so will greatly lessen the demands on your time and energy.

Monitor Your Intake

Caffeine, sugar, fat, alcohol and tobacco all tax your body’s ability to cope with stress. Try to eat foods high in fiber and protein but low in fat, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy products.

Move!

Rigorous exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, your body’s “feel-good” hormones and natural stress-fighters, and also helps lower levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. The result is a happier, healthier you, far better equipped to deal with both physical and mental demands.

Meditate

Creating emotional distance from troubling thoughts and stressful situations is another key tactic in stress management. You must train your body and mind to relax effectively to allow for temporary respite from the demands of daily life. Traditional relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing are all worth trying and can be practiced in the comfort and quiet of your own home.

In the end, stress management all boils down to one basic concept: Balance. By sticking to a schedule, skipping the junk food, working up a sweat and tuning into your spiritual side, your days of feeling frazzled should be few and far between.

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