After we hit crunch time your final papers, eventually it takes over every aspect of our lives, stress begins to pile up as well. And the worst part is, as students we’re so consumed by the things that are stressing us out that we don’t even notice the toll it’s taking on our mental and physical health.
We asked both academics and an experts to weigh in on some signs that indicate you’re way too stressed and what you can do to handle it.
1. You’re breaking out
One of the most common stress-related complaints from students is that when they’ve got too much going on, their skin breaks out. When you get stressed, you don’t get enough sleep and you risk not really taking care of your body how you should be thus resulting for your skin to act up during stressful times. Remember to wash your face every night before bedtime and drink plenty of water. In addition to always being sure to wash your face before bed, try to incorporate a little something extra to your routine, like a weekly face mask. A face mask clears pores, prevents stress-related breakouts and has a calming, therapeutic effect.
2. You’re tensing up
Stress might seem to be a purely mental thing, but it tends to manifest itself in physical ways. Clinical experts suggests that we must be careful to avoid “forward head posture, which gives you neck and shoulder pain. It you put your head too far forward, this has long term severe health consequences. This happens because we’re stressed out and spend so much time in front of computer screens and looking down at our phones. Get in the habit of sitting up straight and keeping your shoulders down instead of tensed up close to your head and neck—though it takes practice, your body will stop sending out the extra stress signals, and you’ll save yourself a lot of muscle pain in the long run. You’ll notice a big difference when you start practising this early on.
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How often do you complain to your friends that you’re tired or feeling sick? Probably a lot more than any of us would care to admit but many of us are actually stress addicts. Feeling chronically tired, sick or achy is often stress-related. As a student, you might be having backaches, but told that your back’s okay, you have migraines even though you’ve done everything you’re supposed to, you have stomach problems even though you don’t have any food allergies—having something wrong that isn’t being resolved is usually related to stress. If you’re getting headaches or you’re achy and lethargic for lengthy periods of time, try some yoga, go to gym or deep breathing instead of reaching for a bottle of prescriptions and see if it really is stress at the root of your problem.
3. You’re not winding down
You’ve heard a million times that you should be getting your eight hours of sleep every night, but it’s a heck of a lot easier said than done. Most people nowadays can’t go to sleep right away, wake up too early or are just having bad sleep altogether. Part of it is that we go from running and running and running all day to just wanting to switch off the light and go to sleep. Your body just doesn’t work that way. Come up with a nightly routine to wind down with—which is definitely much easier said than done, when we’re often at club or group project meetings until late at night or studying for exams into the wee hours of the morning. Avoid caffeinated beverages after 2.00 pm every day. Lastly, of course (you’ve probably heard this a million times, but it never seems to be enough), you should try to stop checking your laptop and phone at least thirty minutes before you hit the hay.
4. You’re not breathing right
Breathing is something we do without thinking, so it can be difficult to change the way we do it—but it can happen with a bit of focus and practice. Most of us are vertical breathers, meaning we use only part of our lung capacity to take in air, making our breaths shallow. When we’re stressed out, we tend to tense up our shoulders and neck and use them when we breathe in—which sends signals to our body to increase heart rate and release cortisol, inducing even more stress. Instead, we should be making use of our abdomen and diaphragm and expand them outward—horizontally—when we take in air. A physical sign of stress is less oxygen in the blood, and the only way to get that oxygen back is deeper, more focused breathing. This is also called “belly breathing”—it allows us to make full use of our lung capacity.
5. You’re not prioritising
Each day we ask ourselves, “What do I have to do today, and what don’t I have to do today?” We take pride in being busy and a go-getter, because we see it as a sign of being successful. However, there’s a fine line between being accomplished and neglecting our health. We have a false idea in our heads that the world will fall apart if we take even a short time away for ourselves. And most of the time, it won’t. There should be a point where sleep becomes sacred. We should be sure that we are spending our precious time doing things we really need and want to be doing; it can be as simple as not checking Facebook after a certain time, or deciding to leave a party early because you know your eight hours of sleep are more important than hanging back at an event you aren’t even really enjoying.
Of course, when we’re balancing school, clubs, friends and family, eliminating stress completely will probably never be possible. But there does come a point where it becomes too much to handle, and you know you need to scale back. Learning good stress-relief habits now will help you later in life, both personally and professionally. Never feel guilty about taking some time for yourself—self-care is as important as any of your other myriad of responsibilities!