Student life means dealing with various forms of challenges. Learning, developing and being assessed can feel stimulating, but also demanding. It is also common to set high demands on yourself, both when it comes to studies and other achievements in life. If your stress reaches a level where it becomes problematic, please don’t worry – there is help to get and methods to use to handle the stress better.
Stress during student life
Finding enough time when you feel you can always do more and when the boundaries between studies and spare time are vague, can sometimes cause problems. It is common to feel stressed both by your own expectations of your studies and achievements and the expectations of others. Financial aspects and accommodation can also be strenuous. If your sense of self-esteem and how you look after yourself suffers, you need to revise the situation.
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s natural defence mechanism that makes you prepared for fight or flight when faced with a danger. The reaction is necessary to enable you to solve a challenge, but in modern society, the solution is often not to physically fight to survive. Still, the same thing goes through your body if you are nearly run over by a bus as if you are running to catch a bus. Stress reactions are also sparked when going through psychological efforts, for instance when you get upset or have too much to do. Both an outer situation and something inside yourself – such as a thought or emotion – can trigger a stress reaction.
A stress reaction is not dangerous or harmful in itself. It can even be experienced as positive as it helps you perform a challenge, such as a race, an exam or cooperate with new others. The reaction releases hormones into the body that help you focus and give you energy. But when the cause of your stress does not reduce shortly but carries on day after day and you don’t get a chance to recover, the entire bodily balance is affected. Chronic stress risks affecting both the body and brain negatively.
People become stressed at different levels by the same thing. Some situations that are pleasant to some can cause strong stress to others. It is important that you make yourself aware of what stresses you. Some things that commonly cause stress are the following
Lack of control
A new situation
High demands on yourself
Having too much or too little to do
Film: Headspace - Mini meditation
Short breathing exercise to listen to. The film is approximately 1.10 minutes.
If your studies are often like that, it could be a good idea to try to change the situation in various ways. Further down on this page you can find some strategies to try.
Common symptoms of stress
When stress continues over a long time and you do not get enough time to recover or when you do not have the appropriate conditions to handle the pressure, you can experience symptoms of stress. Here are some common symptoms of stress.
Change in appetite
Anger and annoyance
Sensitivity to infections
Memory and learning difficulties
Worry or anxiety
Pain or tense muscles
Sweating or cold shivers
Difficulties winding down
If you suspect that these symptoms can be caused by something other than stress, it is important that you seek medical advice at a health centre.
Stress can cause you doing too much or not enough
When being exposed to a stress reaction, we start handling it in various ways. We start acting differently. It is common to start making more of an effort, for instance. You hurry up, speed up the pace of the activity, attempt to do more and reduce the time for relaxation and recovery. Another reaction is the opposite: to try to avoid what stresses you. By postponing tough activities and spending your time doing distracting or soothing things. Both spending too much and too little time on your studies to handle the pressure can result in student life feeling less fun and meaningful.
Strategies for stress management
Has stress become a problem for you? An important first step is to make yourself aware of what stresses you.
Make an overview of your time
By making a time plan you can be made aware of how the balance between demands and recovery take shape during your days and weeks. The plan can also help you set important boundaries, both for yourself and others.
Managing stress in study groups
Is there anything you can change straight away? Are you stressing each other in the group by speeding up or raising your ambition levels? Can you encourage everyone to take breaks and to set reasonable targets for your work? It can be good for everyone in the group if you practise lowering the pace.
Stop multitasking and don’t be available at all times
We now know that constantly being available and often shifting focus between activities stresses us. For that reason, it can be wise to turn off notifications and put your phone away when you are studying or doing something that requires concentration. Practise doing one thing at a time.
Take short breaks often
A good way of reducing stress when studying is to take short breaks during your work. Take three deep breaths before you start your next task, stand up, roll your shoulders back or go get yourself a cup of coffee even when you feel that you don’t have time as it creates a short moment of recovery. It is better for your body and brain to take short breaks often when studying rather than to sit long hours studying intensely. Maybe try setting a timer that could help you take a break and then return to your task.
When you feel stressed, you often think and worry about things in the future, instead of focusing on the present. You may have noticed that it is particularly hard to look after yourself when you are under pressure. Maybe you become more self-critical too? By practising mindfulness, you get help to stop for a while, be in the moment, find calm, recover and control your attention to what you want. It can help you to notice the needs you have right then, for instance being hungry, tired or be needing the bathroom. If you are unused to mindfulness, you ought to start with short practice sessions since it takes time for the brain to learn to think differently. You may also need to look around a bit to find the form of mindfulness that works for you. Here are some good mindfulness exercises you can try.
How stress affects your brain
How stress affects your brain – Madhumita Murgia. In this film from Ted-Ed, we learn how stress affects the brain, what happens in the body and what you can do to protect yourself from negative stress. The film is 4.15 minutes.
Take care of your body
Taking care of yourself by adapting regular habits for eating, sleeping, relaxing and physical activity has a great impact on reducing the risk of developing symptoms of stress.
Find the right form of recovery
In simple terms, you can say that strains on the brain work in the same way as for the rest of the body. If you stand on one leg for a long time, it can be sufficient to change legs for a short while to be able to stand on the first leg again. Changing the type of strain is therefore a very good way of not overexerting the brain. Strains can be roughly divided into five categories.
Cognitive (thinking, focusing, sorting and solving problems).
Social (being in the company of others).
Stimuli (impressions through our senses such as sound, light, smell, taste and touch).
Emotional (emotional experiences and reactions).
If you are spending a long time on a cognitively straining task, a physical activity, such as a short walk, can give you well-needed recovery. If your study environment contains lots of stimuli, it can be restful to switch to a calmer environment. A socially and emotionally strenuous situation in which you feel judged can be sandwiched with easy-going and undemanding social activities or time to yourself. Having too little or uniform stimuli can also become stressful. For that, you may need to find situations where you get other types of impressions.
Recovery often works best if you choose another of the categories than the one you have just strained. The more often you actively shift the form of strain you use in one day, the better, and it is also positive to shift categories of strain. If you notice that your usual recovering activity does not work, it could be that it is too similar to the one you have just used. Relaxing with a book when you have spent most of the day reading may be difficult if you don’t get active by moving for a while beforehand.
Do you need more support in how to manage your stress?