Monday, March 24, 2008

College Stress

While Stress Can’t Always Be Escaped, It Can Be Managed
By Sara Bauknecht

The muscles in my neck are tightening. My heart is palpitating, and my hands are as clammy as moist sponges. I want to bury myself under my bed sheets and drift into a deep sleep. Are these feelings signs of the flu? No—they are symptoms of college stress.

College stress has grown as familiar to me as the assignments and professors that continually contribute to these surges of anxiety. During the past two years of college, taking tests, writing papers, and finding internships have become my life’s main sources of stress. But it is not merely the thought of tackling these tasks that makes my heart pound like a drum. Instead, it is my determination to complete every assignment according to the high academic standards I have set for myself that causes stress to regularly flood my mind with worries.

According to the University of Florida Counseling Center, my stress and frustration are common characteristics of college life and are experienced by numerous college students. The Counseling Center considers career choices, relationship worries, and the competition with other students for top grades to be some of the causes that can lead to college stress. Although the center suggests the stress I am experiencing is normal, academic stress did not just begin for me when I started college.

School-related stress has been a part of my life for many years. Since the first grade, I have always pressured myself to pour 110% of my energy into every assignment. My relationship with stress can therefore be traced back to elementary school.

Based on my long history with stress, I doubt I will stop experiencing stress once I graduate from college. While graduation day may mark the end of college stress, graduate school stress or career stress will simply take the place of college-related anxiety. Since many potential sources of additional stress loom in the future, stress is not something that can always be escaped. As a result, the physical and emotional effects of stress must be managed before they become roadblocks on people’s paths to success.

Learning to handle stress is a skill I have struggled to master over the years. Sometimes I succeed in not letting stress burden me. Other times I place so much pressure on myself to do well on a test or a paper that the stress of striving for perfection causes me to doubt myself and to poorly execute an assignment. T

hese experiences have helped me recognize that college stress, or any other form of anxiety I may encounter in the future, can prevent me from living to my fullest potential and achieving my goals. To avoid letting stress keep me from fulfilling my dreams, I have made learning to deal with stress properly a goal for my life.

The Counseling Center outlines four ways people like me who have difficulty handling stress can try to manage frustration and anxiety. Living a healthy lifestyle through eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep is one way people can minimize stress.

The center suggests discussing problems with others and using relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and self-hypnosis as two other tips people can use to help prevent stress from becoming harmful to their physical and mental wellbeing. Being aware of goals and values can also aid people in eliminating the stress often tied to unhappiness and self-doubt. Through using these four tips, the goal of striving to deal with stress more appropriately does not seem unrealistic after all.

With the future filled with unknown opportunities, the role stress will play in the years ahead remains unknown. We all like to think we will be successful at defeating stress before it defeats us, but future types of anxiety will likely bring their shares of struggles.

So the next time you feel your neck muscles start to feel as constricted as newly tuned piano strings, strive to cope with these feelings by using the tips suggested by the Counseling Center and by remembering the message my English teacher wrote in my fifth grade yearbook-—“Relax, and try to enjoy life a little bit.”

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