Column: Combating mid-semester stress

By Gus Bode

Worried? Having trouble concentrating? Relationship or family problems? Can’t sleep? These are common student problems we tend to label as ‘stress.’ Being criticized by someone, not doing well on an exam, feeling left out or alone are examples of stressors that can result in mental, emotional and even physical symptoms.

While some stress is a normal part of life, and may even motivate us to get things done, too much stress can hurt. Stress is experienced in varying ways by different people.

Some keep their feelings inside and feel nervous, edgy or even panicky. Others experience sadness, fatigue, discouragement, inadequacy or being ‘down.’ And still others might feel irritable, frustrated, pressured or angry.’

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You don’t have to be hostage to your feelings, or let stressful emotions dominate your thoughts and life.’

Several strategies have been shown to help students reduce anxiety, concentrate more effectively and actually improve health. Exercise is one intervention that can improve concentration, sleep, fatigue, anxiety, depression and other symptoms of stress by increasing positive hormone levels and cognitive function.’

Talking to someone trustworthy can help you see things from a more realistic perspective and release oxytocin, a type of ‘caring’ neurotransmitter in the brain. This person could be a friend or professional counselor on campus.’

Practicing the relaxation response can counteract the stress response in the body and mind. Well-researched mood-changing techniques are mindfulness or deep breathing to calm yourself. These practices are based on types of meditation training to take control of one’s own mind and emotions. They are used when we are unable to focus. Mindfulness involves observing your own thoughts without judgment and with compassion or kindness.’

Deep breathing is a destress tool you can use any time, anywhere. A study showed that students who used deep breathing two minutes a day before class had a higher grade point average at the end of the semester, than those who did not use deep breathing.

Simply inhaling slowly and deeply, expanding the diaphragm with the in breath, then exhaling fully with the out breath repeatedly for two minutes can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and other physiological symptoms of stress. You can count to yourself while inhaling and exhaling, or just notice the breath while being aware of the body. There are many ways to do deep breathing, and the Wellness Center provides training in these techniques using biofeedback technology. Also, at http://www.siuc.edu/~shc, you can click on wellness, stress management-resources and link to a podcast of a 15-minute guided relaxation exercise.

Distracting oneself from negative thoughts can be useful as well, by encouraging yourself and thinking ‘I can do this. I am OK.”

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At midterms, things can seem overwhelming or frustrating. Remember to get enough sleep to retain information in long-term memory. Use good nutritional practices for brain food. Avoid alcohol and drugs as use of substances interferes with information retention.’

For help with stress or anxiety, contact the Wellness Center at 536-4441 for confidential services.

‘ Elam is the interim assistant director of the Wellness Center.

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