Stress can be good or bad – but moderation is the key
Published: Monday, April 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 01:04
It should come as no surprise that this time of the year tends to be the most stressful for us students. Spring finals are coming up quickly, seniors are preparing for graduation and everyone has a list of assignments that are due.
According to Sandy Wurtele, a professor of psychology, low stress is just as harmful to productivity as high stress. In other words, it’s actually good for people to be under some amount of stress.
Psychologists divide stressors – those things which cause us stress – into two categories: environmental and cognitive.
Environmental stressors are those things which you can’t change – finals are coming up, graduation requirements are getting closer, the class you have to take isn’t available, etc.
Cognitive stressors are your thought processes – how you think about the environmental stressors affecting you.
Wurtele said, “Spring finals, especially, are tough. A lot of students who are graduating don’t know what the future holds, and that’s stressful.”
According to Benek Altayli, the director of the Student Counseling Center, “For stressors in general, being able to have a balanced, realistic outlook for what happens to us is critical.”
When that balanced outlook is lost, the thought processes themselves cause even more stress. When stress levels get too high, that’s when problems start. Altayli said, “Stress is taxed psychological resources.”
As the load on those mental resources increases, the body makes physical changes to accommodate. “There are a lot of different results when stress happens,” Altayli said.
“It affects a person as a whole. Medically, physically, psychologically, in behavioral terms, all through all the areas of their lives.”
Students can run the gamut of stressors. “I think [internal stressors] are huge,” said Wurtele. “That’s where I think the majority of student stress comes from is what they’re telling themselves and what expectations they’re setting up for themselves.”
And the results of extended stress are debilitating. Altayli said, “If the stressor is prolonged, exhaustion sets in, mood and anxiety start showing up and your physical health starts to suffer.”
Not only that, stress can start causing more stress, as well as runny noses, sore throats and all of that fun stuff, so try to pace yourself.
“Staying up, pulling all-nighters, not doing good time management, not eating well, not keeping to your exercise, everything kind of piles in on you, and that ends up adding more stress,” explained Wurtele. “Which is why a lot of people get sick during finals time.”
Students aren’t powerless, though. There are quite a few things that students can do to relieve some of the stress on them.
According to Wurtele, the most important thing that students can do is sleep. “Your sleep is a good barometer. If you’re not sleeping well, you’re either not eating well, not exercising or you’re stressed.”
Altayli expanded this idea to what she calls the big triangle: appraisal, support system and coping strategies. Appraisal is being realistic with your expectations to decrease your cognitive stress.
Support systems refer to any relationships that help to reduce stress. Finally, according to Altayli, coping strategies refers to healthy ways of dealing with stress.
So, punching walls is not a healthy coping mechanism, but exercising is.