Simply Scientific: New semester, new stress

Many students experience stress with the start of a new semester, but few know the process behind it.

With the beginning of a new semester, you might have some questions on your mind such as, “why am I already stressed after a week of class?”

Stress is common among university students, especially at the beginning of a new semester. It might be caused by increased workload, new responsibilities, and lifestyle changes, according to NYU’s website.

The Mental Health Foundation defines stress as the “body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event.” When you experience stress, your body generates stress hormones, such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. It causes a “fight or flight” response, also called acute stress response, which helps you quickly respond to dangerous situations, as stated on the Mayo Clinic.

According to Harvard Medical School, when such a situation occurs, the amygdala, a part of the brain that takes part in emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which works as a command centre.

The NIH explains this process as nerve cells linking the hypothalamus to the hippocampus, connecting the event to a past situation, as the hippocampus is the brain’s memory storage. Finally, the adrenal glands, found above the kidneys, will release adrenaline to all parts of the body so the person has enough energy to fight or flee, as stated by the Johns Hopkins Medicine website.

However, this mechanism can also harm you if the situation is too stressful or can’t be controlled, as your body keeps experiencing this “fight or flight” response, which can be overwhelming. While stress is a response to a threat, anxiety is a response to stress.

According to an article in Global News, more college students in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. have high expectations of themselves and others, meaning they expect people and themselves to act in a certain way, which causes more stress.

Stressors can be external, meaning they are situations that happen to you such as life changes or unpredictable events. But they can also be internal or self-induced, which means they are thoughts that you have, such as fears, beliefs or lack of control, as explained on the Mayo Clinic. Pessimism can be an internal stressor.

The Government of Canada shared some common symptoms of stress and a few tips to prevent it. Feeling irritated, sad, guilty or restless, seeing changes in your sleep patterns, appetite or weight, having difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and losing interest in things you used to enjoy, all could be signs of stress.

To prevent stress, avoid procrastinating and don’t be afraid to make decisions, as leaving tasks for later and worrying about them will cause more stress. Let people help you if possible and keep a positive and realistic mindset.

Have a great semester!


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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