A term paper is due at 9 a.m., you have a midterm in two hours, a choir concert tonight and a basketball game after that. Sound stressful?
This is the load many high school and college students are facing this time of year. And while some stress is OK, and sometimes even motivating, there’s a point when it can become unhealthy. We asked Mirka Ivanovic, PsyD, a psychologist at Lake Forest College and Bethany Price, PhD, a clinical psychologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem for advice on how students can manage their mounting stress levels.
1. Identify Your Stress
For many people, stress does not manifest as anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, so it’s important to know how your body reacts to stress. “You may notice you have difficulty concentrating, feel tired, have trouble sleeping, or have other physical symptoms, such as an upset stomach or appetite changes,” Dr. Price says. “Another indicator of anxiety can be increased oral-digital habits such as nail biting, or biting on lips or inner cheeks. These are all signs that tension may be mounting.”
2. Talk It Out
“One of the things I hear most often from students I work with is that they hesitate to reach out to others out of concern that they will be a burden, when actually this is not the case,” Dr. Ivanovic says. “Reconnect with people who are important to you—talk with others about your experiences and your stress.” When you get busy it can be easier to try to hide and conquer tasks on your own, but isolation can often make it worse, and it helps to know that you’re not in this alone.
“Talk to your teachers if you’re struggling,” Dr. Ivanovic recommends. “If you need clarification about a concept, teachers most often prefer that students bring their concerns to them earlier rather than later in the semester. This also gives you time to work out whatever the issue may be.”
It turns out being active is just as beneficial for your mental health as it is for your physical health. Dr. Price recommends getting some vigorous exercise almost daily, as it helps to redistribute stress hormones and rebalance the oxygen/CO2 balance that leads to anxiety through muscle exertion and deep breathing. It also improves sleep and helps with concentration, so a sure way to make an improvement is to get moving!
4. Don’t Avoid
Procrastination is a go-to for many people because it provides some short-term stress relief. But, when that pile of work is still there three days later, matters can really take a turn for the worse. “The best bet for dealing with stress, whether academic or social, is to approach it head on rather than procrastinate or avoid,” Dr. Ivanovic explains. “By avoiding, we make stressful stimuli seem even scarier.”
5. Seek Help
If your stress level starts to become unmanageable or you start to notice major changes in your physical, social or psychological health, Dr. Ivanovic suggests you reach out for help. “In addition to using your friends, family members, and professors, students are encouraged to consider talking with a counselor at their school/campus counseling center. Services are usually free and confidential. If you’re feeling too overwhelmed and unsure about how to manage things on your own, a counselor has lots of experience and ideas on what kinds of things to try.”
What can you do to help? Check out Helping Your Child Deal with Stress: Do’s & Don’ts