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Coping with stress

Student Services Hub

Lecturer and student

Our team of advisers are based within your Student Services Hub and can provide information, advice and guidance on a range of topics from accommodation and funding to exam stress and wellbeing. Drop us a line or pay us a visit.

Stress is something that is completely normal. Everyone experiences stress from time to time and sometimes it can be positive, encouraging us to strive to do our best. However, stress can become a problem if you are feeling stressed very frequently or so severely, that it impacts on how you would usually live your life. There is no need to feel embarrassed about stress.

Short-term stress is our body’s response to a feeling of threat or danger. Evolutionarily, our bodies would flood with adrenaline if we were attacked (known as the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism), so we could deal with the situation. Nowadays, the feeling of threat can come from many sources, and we rarely need to fight or flee, so all the adrenaline stays in our system – we don’t burn it away by action.

This can lead to a faster heartbeat, sweating, muscle tensing, our bodies shutting down areas currently unneeded (eg digestive system – hence we get feelings of nausea), racing thoughts. We can often deal with this if it’s only for a short time (eg when giving a presentation), but this response can build and go on for longer term situations. Our initial adrenaline has gone, but we still feel on-edge, overwhelmed and tired.

  • Causes of stress

    Different people find different things stressful, and there’s a huge range of things can cause stress. Some people seem to thrive in stressful situations while others find it difficult to cope and function normally. Frequently, we learn to avoid situations that cause us stress, but this only leads to further stress when we can no longer avoid it (eg not checking our emails because we don’t want to deal with something, but not checking them for a long time means we would now have to deal with lots of things). Causes of stress can include:

    • close relationships, friendships, and relationships with colleagues, bosses, supervisors etc
    • study demands
    • work-related issues
    • coping with illness
    • life changes, such as moving house, marriage, retirement, divorce
    • day-to-day activities and task
    • positive events, such as organising parties
    • juggling many roles or commitments at the same time

  • Signs of stress

    Even if you are suffering from mild stress you might experience any (or a combination of) the following symptoms:

    • worrying
    • feelings of anxiety
    • irritability or moodiness
    • feelings of wanting to be left alone
    • feelings that you have to pretend to others that you are ok
    • feelings that you can’t cope
    • difficulty getting to sleep, or waking up frequently while you are sleeping
    • headaches
    • back and/or neck pain
    • upset stomach
    • increased blood pressure
    • changes in appetite
    • rashes or skin breakouts (spots etc)
    • chest pains
    • worsening of any current physical problems
    • susceptibility to colds/viruses

    Any of these symptoms reduce quality of life and people suffering from stress often realise that their work and/or relationships suffer as a result. Stress puts a lot of strain on the body and can cause serious health problems. If you are stressed, it is better to identify it and do something about it rather than ignore it.

  • Helping yourself

    Some people are aware of what triggers stress for them and this helps them prevent the stress or handle it more effectively. This can take a lot of practice and insight, and a lot of people can’t identify individual events or causes, or avoid causes they can identify. If you often experience stress, think about what triggers it for you and try to think of some ways to make it easier on yourself (eg ensuring that emails are checked at least once a day means it cannot get to the stage of high levels of stress).

    Identify what causes you stress and act on it

    Try to identify things that you can control and manage better. If there are things that are out of your control, try to see how you operate better around them. Try not to simply avoid things that cause you stress, but find ways to work round them - it will make you feel stronger and more able to cope.

    Balance work/life

    Try to find an even balance of work, things you have to do, and things you like to do. Always working and not spending time with friends and family can cause stress, as can doing it the other way round!

    Exercise

    Exercising regularly will give you more energy in the long run and you will feel better able to deal with problems around you. Being fitter also means fewer health concerns if you are stressed.

    Eat

    Try to eat a healthy diet. In the long run you will feel healthier, fitter and more energetic

    Sleep well

    If sleeping is difficult, try to follow good sleeping practice – get up earlier than you want to, go to bed earlier, and try not to engage in tasks that engage your brain too much directly before going to bed. Studying last thing at night means our brains are engaged in thinking about the work, not sleeping.

    Learn calming techniques

    Breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness are all calming techniques that can help you to relax.

    Talk to friends, family or colleagues

    Don’t assume the level of stress you feel is normal for everyone. Talk to those around you and share your worries (if this is appropriate).

    Further support

    Look for reputable websites with information and resources, for example:


  • Get help from others

    Personal tutor

    Speak to your department – if you are feeling stress related to study pressures it’s a good idea to talk about this with your personal tutor. They may be able to help.

    Mindfulness courses

    At the Colchester Campus, we run mindfulness workshops and courses throughout the year. Mindfulness is about experiencing the world that is in the ‘here and now’. It helps to promote a way of thinking that frees you from automatic responses and unhelpful ways of thinking (such as stress and worry about the future).

    Contact your Student Services Hub

    Speak to someone in your Student Services Hub – visit or contact us. This can be the first step in seeing a counsellor, psychotherapist or other wellbeing practitioner. There are also support groups available as well as one-to-one support.