During my time at the university, your student days were called ‘the best time of your life’. Although life luckily had (and hopefully will have) many more good times for me, I doubt if people still use this quote that easily.
Student life seems to have gotten surrounded with more worries and stress. The current system with student loans implies large debts for many students. Employers ask more of their future employees, from high grades to extensive CVs. On top of that social media allow us to compare ourselves with others in the blink of an eye – while often showing an incomplete picture, hiding less beautiful bits and pieces. And although it might be possible to handle all of these, be aware of not getting into a toxic cocktail of severe stress. In this article I give some ways to better manage stress during your student days.
First, stress does have its positive sides. A bit of stress helps us through life. It makes you more alert and gives the extra energy needed to meet a deadline or to pass an exam. However, when experiencing stress becomes part of your daily life, it’s another story. Continual stress causes physical and mental symptoms and might even result in (near) burnout: you’ve been pushing yourself too hard for too long.
Short outbursts of stress increase your heart rate and cause sweaty hands. These signals fade away when the stress situation ends. Continual stress has different outings like stomach issues or headaches, problems with concentrating, anxiety or emotional instability. Eventually you might reach a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion.
How to manage stress?
There are several things you can do to cope with stress and stressful situations in a more effective way (meaning good for you and your health). They range from healthy living habits, to being conscious about what you really like in life and what you don’t, to introducing time to truly relax your brain.
Introduce healthy habits
Proper self-care should be a habit like brushing your teeth twice a day: routine. Go for healthy foods, not too much coffee and alcohol, and make sure you get the amount of sleep you really need (not the amount you can survive on). Take breaks every hour or two.
Thirty minutes of light, daily outdoor exercise relieves stress and releases happy hormones. A walk or bicycle ride is perfect and sports is fine as well!
A crucial part of self-care is thinking nicely about yourself. You’re as valuable as everyone else! Become aware of the thoughts that make you be hard on yourself.
What about work pressure?
The study load has several peaks during the academic year and for most students these are stressful periods. The university has a responsibility to spread the work pressure wisely, however making an adequate planning will help you a lot as well. Why wait for the deadline to finish a paper, especially when that deadline is during exam period? Postponing work (‘studieontwijkend gedrag’) increases stress.
Share not only the happy stuff
On social media life might seem all rainbows, glitter and unicorns, but real life isn’t! Share it with your friends when you have an off-day, when you feel stuck or if the tasks in your project group have not been assigned evenly. It might feel difficult in the beginning, but showing more vulnerability pays off. You can read more about this in ‘The power of vulnerability’ by Brené Brown. This is one of my favourite books and there is a great TED talk from her on YouTube as well.
Energy sources and drains
To keep your energy tank full, it is important that more energy goes in than goes out. You can make a list of all the things that give you energy (sources) and those that are energy drains in private life, study and work. You might also track this on a daily basis for one or two weeks. The list will help you prioritize what you really love to do. In addition, try to get rid of (part of) the energy drains.
A simple NO
Start with saying ‘no’, or something similar like ‘I do not have time for that’, ‘maybe person X can help you with this’ etc. Might feel awkward in the beginning, but practice makes perfect. More about saying NO (article in Dutch) you can read here.
Give your brain some rest
Another important factor in coping with stress is to give your brain some true rest. Although an evening with Netflix might feel good, your brain will still be active as it is when you are using your smartphone etc. Better to go for a walk or to just stare out of the window. Get bored!
Constantly checking your phone could also be a way of avoidant behaviour (as could be drinking, gaming, etc). It seems like an escape from difficult emotions like anger, sadness or disappointment or certain thoughts like doubt, but be aware that these emotions or thoughts will pop up again and again. Till you properly address them, so I would say, better do that today than tomorrow.
Ask for help
If you experience moderate to severe stress symptoms, please talk to a friend, family member, your GP, student advisor, student psychologist, or another professional care giver. It is important to get (professional) help, as it is one of the best ways to learn new and more effective coping methods. Universities often offer courses about stress management as well.
Do you want to read more?
Do you experience stress related symptoms? Or do you have questions about your personal development or career and do you want to learn more about how I can help you with that? Please contact me to plan an introductory meeting. This 30 minute meeting is without obligations and free of charge. It will give you an impression how we could work on your questions or goals. After this meeting you can decide if you start coaching sessions with me or not.
On my English page you can read more about career coaching and burnout coaching and my way of working.
I’m looking forward to meeting you!
Photo How to manage stress during your student days: Tim Gouw via Unsplash
This article has also been published on the website of W.S.V. Simon Stevin and will be published in their magazine Simon Ster. W.S.V. Simon Stevin is the study association for Mechanical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology. Counting more than 1800 members of which about 150 participate actively in 25 committees, organising all kinds of events interesting for mechanical engineers.