I am a college student. Stress practically defines my life. There are deadlines to meet, meetings to go to, classes to attend. I have it easy—I don’t even have a job. Yet I still find myself in those moments of utter panic and hyperventilation when I just don’t know what to do, except offer one of those short, desperate “help me” prayers to God.
We all know why we’re stressed—it has a lot to do with the society we live in and the expectations of those in our society. We’ve been learning about eustress and distress since the third grade, and sadly, stress is something kids are feeling earlier and earlier in life. While it’s not always possible to eliminate stress, there are some ways we can prevent and deal with it.
This is one of the most important, and hardest lessons to learn. You won’t be stressed out if you take a few minutes each day to organize your mind and your plans. There are obviously some things we cannot control, but we can control whether we decide to squander precious time now playing computer games instead of writing that paper. When we find our faces glued to a textbook a few mornings later after a long, hard night, we’ll wish we’d planned ahead a little better.
You might want to think about buying a planner or Day-timer. Maybe even one of those nifty Palm Pilots. The challenge, however, is whether you’ll actually use the thing. For those of you who would probably just lose the planner and get even more stressed out, look into buying a simple notebook. At the beginning of each week, make a short list of the things you have to get done. Write down everything you can think of. Even if it’s stuff that isn’t immediate, it’s good to keep upcoming deadlines and projects in mind. Go through and mark the stuff you absolutely need to do, and maybe even break it down into days. Monday I will do this. Tuesday I will do this. There. You have a planner and you didn’t even have to shell out the cash for it.
You will be less likely to stress if you have control over your situation. The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine says, “The least harmful stress scenario is one in which an individual has a sufficient degree of control or some idea of predictability. Put simply, predictable pain is less stressful because individuals know when to relax … But when individuals have no warning of pain, they are in a state of constant stress.” If you plan ahead, you have a better chance of controlling what hits you and when.
[DON’T PUT THINGS OFF]
This may be obvious; I’m sure quite a few of us already struggle with procrastination. But it needs to be said: “waiting until later” is one of the main causes of stress. For instance, I hate making calls. I hate it. For some reason, I have this unexplainable fear of talking to strangers on the phone. But I have learned that things will never get done if I don’t just call someone and get it over with. So as soon as you think, “Oh yeah, I need to call and reschedule my appointment,” write it down. Or just go for it. It’s better to endure a few seconds of panic than to spend the whole day agonizing over it, thinking about what you’re going to say and sitting by the phone dialing and redialing whoever you need to talk to.
Trust me, when that crazy car accident happens, it’ll be nice to not have to deal with calls about bills or airline tickets or doctors’ appointments. Simply punch in those numbers and deal with the issue at hand when it happens. If you take things one at a time, there won’t be any opportunity for small tasks to accumulate and turn into huge stressors.
Saying no can be incredibly difficult. But one person cannot handle everything. Learn your limitations — how many hours of sleep you need, how much free time you need to stay sane — and plan accordingly. And don’t forget to take into consideration your other goals, such as spending time with the Lord and doing community service. These things are valid—probably more valid than whatever task you’re being asked to do. If something won’t fit into your schedule, don’t be afraid to gently say, “I just can’t handle that right now.” People are likely to understand.
[HOW TO DEAL]
There is only so much you can prevent. Sometimes things just happen, and the only choice you can make is how you are going to cope.
Here are some tips:
[+] Watch your diet. Eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies; they provide antioxidants which will help neutralize the free radicals (unstable molecules) our bodies give off during stress (Nutritionist Henry Hall, as quoted in Vibrant Life magazine). And stay away from those snacks! According to Susan Lark, M.D., quoted in the Vegetarian Times, caffeine and sugar will only make you more nervous. Pick foods that are rich in protein and vitamins, such as bananas, yogurt and whole-wheat crackers. And go ahead and take those multivitamins.
[+] Exercise. Besides being good for you, exercise helps relieve stress and sends those nice endorphins right on through your body. You might feel like you don’t have time, but trust me, it’s worth it. When was the last time you felt stressed after you exercised?
[+] Talk. Call up a friend or go out for coffee with someone. Things never seem as crazy when you’ve talked them out with someone. When you see your situation through someone else’s eyes, you usually realize it’s not as big a deal as you’d thought. Another person can provide advice, prayer and encouragement.
[+] Pray and meditate on the Word. This may seem obvious, but it’s something I so often forget to do. What in the world am I doing taking on all of those burdens by myself? Remember His promises: You are more precious to Him than many sparrows. He will not give you more than you can bear. He will fight for you. Also, prayer can be a kind of mediation. Make time for your soul to be quiet before the Lord.
[+] Journal. Write out what you’re feeling. This will probably have the same effect as a good long discussion. After putting all those thoughts onto a piece of paper, they’ll actually look manageable. You’ll feel much better.
[+] Stretch. Breathe. Visualize. This is where those “relaxation techniques” come in. These simple ways of slowing down can do wonders for your body and your mood. Don’t forget that it’s okay to just “be” sometimes.
[+] Take a nice, long bath. Include candles, music and lots of great smelling bath products (I recommend Lush products, as expensive as it may be to get them shipped from Europe or Canada).
[+]Do something with your hands. You can do crafts—knit, make cards, make a scrapbook, draw. These will all give you a feeling of accomplishment. You can also bake. I suggest making bread from scratch—not only is it just a cool thing to learn to do, but it’s a great stress reliever to knead and throw the dough around. When you’re done, you’ll feel accomplished and ready to take on the world.
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