The Stress Factor

By: Cecily Fernandes

hattieJunior Hattie Chandler knows a thing or two about stress.  With a double major in Latin American studies and Spanish, a minor in Political Science, two jobs, and an injury she has a lot on her plate.  Many things like work, classes, life changes, relationship difficulties, financial problems, class, and family issues can cause an overwhelming amount of stress in the life of a college student, which can lead to negative physical and emotional responses to that stress.

“On an average day I tend to worry about things like school, money, work, planning for my future, my weight, and dealing with my injury,” Chandler said.

Chandler tore her Achilles tendon two months ago and is forced to be in a cast and on crutches, which makes her life a lot more difficult and stress inducing.  For many college students like Chandler, stress is a daily part of life that can become dangerous and harmful to his or her health.

After her surgery, Chandler got behind in a lot of her classes and is still struggling to make up for the work she missed.  She used to work out to relieve stress, but since she could no longer use that outlet; she found the amount of schoolwork overwhelming and the stress of keeping everything together too much.

She decided to take control of her life and the stress by enrolling herself in meditation classes two times a week to cope with all the pressure she was feeling.  She also used music and reading to help her wind down at the end of a long day of school and work.  Through these methods, she was able to feel better because she realized that her stress was temporary and easily manageable.

“I have learned to take things day by day and live a life of balance,” Chandler said.  “I created stress for myself by worrying about things in my life, which made me even more stressed and created a vicious cycle that I couldn’t control.”

Stress is a normal physical response to things that make you feel threatened or upset your life balance in some way.  When the stress response works properly it can help you feel alert, focused, and energetic.  When the amount of stress in your life becomes too much to handle it can cause major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Chandler was able to find safe and effective outlets to deal with her stress and improved her life through meditation and music.  Some students don’t take this route but instead try to forget about their stress through destructive practices like drugs and alcohol, which can have long-lasting effects.

Jude Kehoe works at the University of Oregon health center and facilitates many stress judeprevention programs at the health center, including relax and renew, got sleep, healing touch, and meditation programs.   Kehoe believes that stress is a major problem for college students and feels the biggest issue is that students don’t know how to manage stress correctly, so they turn to damaging measures to cope.

“Partying, not getting enough sleep, finances, and not eating properly all lead to physical, emotional, and mental problems,” Kehoe said.  “Eventually, all these problems are going to lead to academic and/or work failure.”

According to Kehoe, stress can affect college students in a number of ways, many of which can lead to serious health issues.  The most severe effects of stress include headaches and migraines, a suppressed immune system, digestive problems, relationship difficulties, alcohol problems, and depression.

Freshman are some of the most susceptible to stress because of the many life changes they go through when entering college like challenging classes, living in a dorm, and adjusting to life without parents.

Kehoe suggests a variety of ways that students can safely and affectively reduce stress in their daily life; the number one way being exercise.

“It’s so important to stay moving because it increases circulation and allows you to think clearly,” Kehoe said.  “Exercising allows you to relax and not think about the problems that are causing you so much stress, even for a short period of time.”

Kehoe also stresses the importance of learning how to induce the relaxation response in the body through meditation, energy work, and breathing work.  The relaxation response is a method originated by Dr. Herbert Benson that allows the body to reach a state of deep rest and changes the emotional and physical responses to stress.  This trains your body to deal with stress more effectively instead of using the fight or flight response.

At Freedom Yoga in Eugene, Chandler is able to forget about all stresses in her life and unwind.  Sitting cross-legged with her eyes closed and her hands in the prayer position, her mind goes blank as she enters a state of intense relaxation for 60 minutes.  When she comes back to reality she is able to conquer life successfully.

College is a stressful time in a person’s life for a variety of reasons that are different for each individual.  Researchers say small amounts of stress are normal and sometimes healthy but once that stress overcomes a person’s life it is important to know some ways to deal with stress in a healthy and constructive manner.  Methods like yoga, mediation, music, and exercise all help manage stress so a person can live a life without constant worry.

Susan Badger Q&A:

Susan Badger is a marriage and family counselor in San Francisco that works with adults, couples, and adolescents in her private practice.  She holds a Masters Degree in both Interdisciplinary Studies and Marriage and Family Counseling.

Q: Do you have a lot of patients that have problems with stress?

A: College has always been more or less stressful for kids based on a number of factors:  Their parent’s expectations (i.e. ‘legacy’, their parents spending huge amounts of money they may or may not have, the culture of the school, cultural mandates – Indian and Chinese families, etc.)  There have been alarming statistics about suicide rates, especially with Indian kids who feel that they have failed their families.  It may be worse for kids who feel duty-bound to maintain their family’s reputation, or if their parents are putting all of their hopes and dreams – and money – on the kid’s education.

Q: Why do you think stress is a big problem today?

A: I think that there is a very unique problem currently that is making stress a really dangerous problem at the moment: I think that kids at every academic level are being distracted by social media and other forms of online activity.  Kids are not doing ‘their best’ because they are scanning back and forth between social media, gaming, texts, etc. while they are trying to study.  They are also prone to being worried and distracted by drama that is unfolding via social media, etc. that makes them nuts.  This makes it very difficult for students to concentrate long enough to do what they need to do when they are studying or writing a paper, etc.  Their lack of ability to concentrate forces them to stay up too late because they can’t get anything done in a timely fashion.  They use Adderall, energy drinks, caffeine, coke etc. to stay up and ‘focused’.  They then compensate for sleeplessness and anxiety by drinking and smoking pot.

Q: What are the negative effects of these practices?

A: Their health suffers and they are much less able to self-regulate and get their work done.  Anxiety and attempts to regulate anxiety become a real problem.

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