For many of us, stress seems to be an inevitable part of daily life. Working adult students can have many sources of stress, particularly at certain times such as during final exams or when life events create anxiety.
Signs of stress
The first step in dealing with stress is recognizing that you are stressed in the first place. This may not always be as obvious as you might think.
Stress can cause a wide assortment of physical and mental symptoms, which can vary greatly from one person to another. Among the most common signs of stress are headaches, insomnia, muscle pain, and fidgeting or other nervous habits. Too much stress can also make it difficult for you to concentrate, and can lead to mood swings, irritability, and depression.
The symptoms of stress vary widely, and so do the ways in which people handle it. While some people might choose to sleep more, exercise more, or socialize more, others might choose to retreat, avoid interactions, or ignore the cause of stress entirely. It is important to know how you experience stress in order to be able to recognize the problem and seek support.
Paying careful attention to how you feel — both physically and mentally — and being alert for any unusual changes that occur during periods when you are under a lot of pressure or feel anxiety will help you identify the ways in which you react to stress.
Handling stress in a positive way
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers some suggestions that might help you reduce or manage stress:
- Accept your needs. Recognize what your triggers are. What situations make you feel physically and mentally agitated? Once you know this, you can avoid them when it’s reasonable to and cope when you can’t.
- Manage your time. Prioritizing your activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure that you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines.
- Practice relaxation. Deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.
- Exercise daily. Schedule time to walk outside, bike, or join a dance class. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health.
- Set aside time for yourself. Schedule something that makes you feel good. It might be reading a book, going to the movies, getting a massage, or taking your dog for a walk.
- Eat well. Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood.
- Get enough sleep. Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. They don’t actually reduce stress; in fact, they often worsen it. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.
- Talk to someone. Whether to friends, family, a counselor, or a support group, airing out and talking can help. (Consider attending a NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group in your area.)
NAMI also offers some specific tips for handling the stress related to final exams.
Resources available to Penn State World Campus students
We encourage Penn State World Campus students to explore resources available through World Campus Mental Health Services that can help you deal with stress and other issues affecting your mental health. These include:
- supportive listening
- case management
- community resource referrals
If you prefer to go at your own pace and would rather explore self-help options first, WellTrack might be a good option for you. To get started, sign up, complete the assessment, and choose what interactive program you prefer. Options include programs that address symptoms of stress, depression, or anxiety, as well as options to help you build strategies for resilience. In addition, WellTrack offers features like the Zen Room, where you will be guided through relaxation techniques, and a Thought Diary feature, where you can keep track of your progress over time.