Stress happens. Especially when you’ve just moved to a new city, embarked on a journey with new friends and are committed to hours of studying and homework. Being a college student isn’t easy, but it’s definitely manageable! Whether you’re a freshman taking your first steps on campus or a senior preparing for finals and a new life chapter, stressful times will indefinitely surface. Luckily, managing stress can (and should) become part of your daily routine. Here are our top 5 tips to help you along the way.
We’ve all heard that sleep can go a long way when it comes to staying healthy. But do you really know what a good night of rest is doing to your brain? The American Psychological Association notes that good sleep allows our brains to recharge, our muscles to repair, promotes memory consolidation, along with many other benefits. In fact, 21 percent of adults feel more stressed from not getting enough sleep. There are so many reasons why at least 8 hours of sleep every night is great for your body; just don’t forget about the benefits for your brain too!
Still having trouble getting some shut eye? Try relaxing techniques like taking a warm bath, turning down the lights or relinquishing screen time at least one hour before bed.
While it comes as no surprise that we tend to overeat or undereat when we’re stressed, what exactly is happening in our bodies that link stress and bad nutrition? According to Harvard Medical School, stress can both shut down the appetite by releasing a corticotropin-releasing hormone or increase the appetite by releasing cortisol. Either way, your brain stressed out is sending the wrong signals when it comes to healthy nutrition.
Keeping up with your healthy eating habits start by managing your stress. Talk to friends, try meditation or develop an exercise routine to stay on top of stress levels.
3. Be active
If you’re too stressed to find an exercise routine, you may not realize that exercise itself can help you lower stress! The Mayo Clinic suggests that regular exercise not only increases overall health, but also has some stress-reducing benefits. Your brain produces feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. When you are physically active, those endorphins get an extra boost and can even give you that “runner’s” high feeling after a great workout.
If you’re struggling to get in a workout, try inviting a friend, changing up your routine or exercising in increments, which give brief bursts of energy. Don’t forget that all of this work will help the endorphin level skyrocket, keeping your stress at bay.
4. Find connections
Although it might sound obvious to seek out a connection with friends, coworkers or family when the stress levels are high, many people choose to hole up and try to tackle their stress alone. The Mayo Clinic states “studies have demonstrated that social isolation and loneliness are associated with a greater risk of poor mental health and poor cardiovascular health, as well as other health problems.” Many college campuses do a great job creating social groups for students. Try your student life center to see where you might fit in best.
So next time you’re feeling the anxiety creep its way in, call someone, grab a friend for coffee, or better yet, a walk around the park!
5. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help
Stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness all happen. The great news that someone is ready to talk to you about it. Reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Whether it’s a counselor, doctor, friend, parent, etc., asking for help is the first step to feeling better, and even feeling your best!
Janice A. Hall Ph.D.
Director of Mental Health/TimelyMD
Recognizing when a peer is struggling with anxiety or depression is sometimes difficult. Fellow students, classmates, dorm residents, the person who sits next to you in church or your service/social club, plays athletics with you or sits by themselves in your dining area may struggle with worry, depression, loneliness and even thoughts of death or suicide.
Some common signs that might suggest a peer’s need for help include when they:
Make comments about wanting to die, kill themselves or someone else, or death in general
Do not see solutions to their problems/feel trapped
Isolate/withdraw from friends, family or groups
Say that there is no purpose or reason to live
Start collecting pills, weapons or ropes
Increase consumption of alcohol and/or drugs
Express intense physical or emotional pain
Experience mood changes such as bouts of crying, agitation, anger
Take risks that put them in harm’s way, such as driving recklessly or are out late in unsafe places
Start saying goodbye to people at inappropriate times
Have major sleep issues (beyond the college norm)
Give away personal items of importance to them or get affairs in order
Getting Help – Connect, Ask, Stay
There are ways that you can help your friends, family or peers in need. First, connect with the person. Ask how they are doing. Specifically, ask if the person is having any thoughts of hurting or killing themselves or anyone else. All of the above signs are common in people with suicidal ideation. Asking shows concern; asking does not appear to increase suicidal thoughts. Do not promise to keep suicidal thoughts a secret. Let them know you want to assist them in getting help. Stay with them until you get them to help if you are with someone who is talking about killing themselves.
For campus resources, find the numbers below for your university:
Campus Police 24 hr #
TimelyMD (24 hours): Login at timely.care or call 833-484-6359
Campus Counseling Center
Marriage & Family Institute
Title IX Office for Sexual Violence
Dorm Supervisor/Housing Director
If a person is in moderate distress and not having thoughts of killing themselves or someone else, support them while they get help. For example, have them call the campus counseling center or login to TimelyMD (24 hours) or another campus resource for an appointment.
Besides professional support, if the person has another friend, family member, church member/pastor, dorm supervisor, faculty or staff that seems supportive to them, suggest they contact that person.
When a person is in distress, they need a sense of connection, support and belonging. See the powerful video below, “You Belong,” by Mental Health of America Texas.
Following up may include walking with your friend to their appointment at the counseling center, making a time to meet for a coffee/snack or meal, meeting after class, inviting them to a social or church gathering or calling them to see how life is going. If you ask how they are doing, it’s important to be ready to listen. When someone is down, ask about what is going well. Recognizing even small positive happenings is helpful!
Mental Health of America Texas. You Belong. Video developed under Contract No. 2012-039469-001 for Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to Mental Health America of Texas (MAAT). https://youtu.be/UeJL9F-4rNA
Texas Suicide Prevention Council (2019). ASK? Ask About Suicide to Save a Life. https://texassuicideprevention.org/training/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health (2018). Suicide in America: Frequently Asked Questions (NIH Publication No. 18-6389). Retrieved from http//.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-faq/index.shtml