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COLUMN: Stress management is essential



We are seven weeks into the spring semester and midterms are coming up soon, which means the full brunt of academic stress is now upon us. If you get more than six hours of sleep on weeknights, I bow down to you. 

This is normally the time I notice myself and many of my friends starting to bend under the weight of our numerous obligations. However, I want to see if I can manage my stress a bit better this semester, and there are plenty of reasons why you might want to as well.

Beyond its obvious effects, such as irritability and fatigue, stress can also cause chest pain, headaches and disruptions in appetite, such as over- or undereating. 

Some of these symptoms probably seem minor, especially if you tell yourself that you’re making a worthy sacrifice to achieve your goals.  

The longer you are stressed, however, the more dangerous your stress becomes. Chronic stress involves prolonged exposure to the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This can increase your risk for hypertension, heart attacks and strokes. 

In terms of mental health, stress can exaggerate any issues you may already be experiencing or lead you to develop new symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Preoccupation with your stress may also cause you to isolate yourself in order to get everything done. This social withdrawal can worsen other symptoms.

To avoid these consequences, it is important to make feasible plans for managing our responsibilities so that you can actually enjoy your time at this university. 

Researchers from the University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center suggest keeping a journal of three good things that happen to you every day. 

Positive reflection counteracts hedonic adaptation, which is the process by which we become accustomed to positive stimuli and stop appreciating the positive stimuli as we did when they were new. The simple act of remembering to notice what makes us happy can increase our happiness and reduce stress.

Of course there are also the more familiar methods of regular exercise, healthy eating, and reaching out to your friends and family for support. As little as 20 minutes spent taking a walk or calling a friend can make a big difference.

Although I hope some of these strategies will appeal to you, I understand the impulse to ignore the negative effects of stress that you've been warned about and continue on with your work.

After all, when you have group projects, essays, exams, extracurriculars and hopefully some semblance of a social life to balance, taking a break to clear your head and enjoy yourself might seem like a waste of time and productivity.

You are not wasting your time, though – you’re managing it. Reducing stress can stabilize your moods, minimize your risk of illness and improve the quality of your thoughts and relationships. 

It’s great to be busy doing things you are passionate about, but you need to make sure that you are happy and healthy while you’re doing them. 

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