Don’t start biting your fingernails just yet

In today’s fast-paced society with its constant demands to do things quickly, stress is an ever-present reality. Twenty per cent of Concordia students who seek help at Counseling and Development are in fact suffering from a stress-related problem. With exam time looming before us, everyone will be experiencing stress to some degree. However, what is stress, and how can we learn to deal with it better?
Stress is the body’s response to a perceived demand or threat. It results from changes in our lives whether they are ones that we ourselves initiate or demands that are thrust upon us by others. Whereas stress is a natural part of life for it stimulates us, it can also render us stagnant by paralyzing us. Stress begins with our mental perceptions of situations followed by our body’s response to these situations. Stressors are people, situations, conditions or things that have the potential to trigger in us the stress response and include academic, familial, financial, job-related, relationship or personal issues.
There are numerous symptoms of stress. Some of the mood changes include feeling tense, nervous, irritable, anxious, helpless, restless, depressed or frustrated. Behavioral signals are aggression, emotional outbursts, overreactions, feeling overwhelmed, talking too fast or too loud, disturbed sleep patterns, doing several things at once or leaving jobs undone. Other symptoms include tiredness, lack of concentration, no patience, blowing up over little things, and overeating.
The medical downside of stress includes many things. Back pain, muscular aches and pains, tension especially in the neck and back, an increased heartbeat, chest pain, sleep disorders, digestive disorders, asthma, sexual disorders, and skin disorders are some of the many stress-related illnesses. When the body’s immune system is down, one is more likely to catch a cold or the flu. Headaches, migraines, heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular problems can occur. Furthermore, suicide, drug and alcohol problems, and poor body image can also come into play.
Besides worrying about making the grade and thinking about career choices, students have various other things that demand their attention. Therefore, it is no surprise that students are the most stressed. However, are many students oblivious to the fact that they are suffering from stress?
“They don’t realize they’re stressed because sometimes the symptoms are the same as illnesses such as back pain… They don’t put a lot on stress, but rather on finding a physical problem,” says Owen Moran, the Health Educator at Concordia’s Health Services. “The reason people are stressed is because of the choices they make. Taking five courses instead of four. Working a part-time job and going to school.”
There are some important things that one must do when stressed. “Look first at your environment and what is causing your stress. School? A prof?” replies Nick Gazzola, a counselor at Concordia’s Counseling and Development. “[Then] look at how you’re dealing with this stress. Are you leading a healthy lifestyle, and what are you doing to contribute to this stress?”
Leading a balanced life is vital to one’s health and happiness. Eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and socializing are crucial to an individual’s well-being. Yoga, sports, and laughter are great stress relievers. Focusing on one thing at a time enables a person to not feel overwhelmed. Changing one’s perceptions is necessary, and Gazzola points out how examining one’s negative thinking is important. Finally, talking with someone always helps.
Sadly, dealing with stress is extremely difficult for some people. Psychologists identify two broad personality types, one of which is more prone to stress than the other. The notorious stress prone personality is “Type A” whose behavior and lifestyle constantly stimulates physical arousal. These people are impatient, aggressive, ambitious, and hardworking. Not only do they set high goals and demands on themselves but also on others. The complete opposite of “Type A” is “Type B.” People with this personality are calm, relaxed, not overtly ambitious, and less at risk from stress and heart disease.
Perfectionists are prime victims of stress because of the high standards they place on themselves. When things don’t go their way or situations change, anxiety and stress kick in. “People cannot be perfect,” says Moran. “It’s an ideal that can’t be achieved, yet our Western society promotes this belief.”
Remembering to relax more and have a more realistic, outlook on life is important. Striving to be perfect only makes one even more stressed out and miserable. Reasonable and attainable goals are ones that should be cultivated. Learning from past mistakes and successes is important as well.
Despite all the negativity surrounding stress, it does have some positive aspects. “If we’re too blasŽ about things, we don’t do our best,” points out Gazzola. “A little bit of stress helps us perform our best. It makes us alert.”
What advice then should students heed as exams rapidly approach? “First of all, prioritize. Take things as they come rather than take it all together,” he says. “… [A] lot of students feel stressed because they procrastinate…. Do things methodically and start preparing for exams in advance. Realize that there’s help available and learn some study strategies. The more you know, the better you are.”

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