Words by Leah SchamSchurin
*The following article in no way attempts to replicate or replace medical professional advice and assistance. If you or someone you know is experiencing poor mental and/or physical health, please consult a GP, councillor, or any other relevant professional.
Fact number one: Life is stressful.
Regardless of the responsibilities we face, the environment we lives in, or the authority we hold in society, stress has the calamitous ability to eat away at our lives. For students, with academic responsibilities often intensified by work, family, and/or relationship obligations, our day-to-day lives are rife with stress.
Fact number two: Stress is volatile.
Just when we think we have a handle on stress, it has the unfortunate tendency to spin out of control at the drop of a hat. The smallest of factors can augment already difficult-to-handle situations, and can last for prolonged periods of time.
Fact number three: Stress can be the tip of the ice-berg.
While stress is a natural reaction to pressure and can precipitate a productive response, if we encounter prolonged stress it can have serious physical and mental ramifications. During the current pandemic, with job uncertainty, lack of human connection, and uncertain studying arrangements, many of us have been placed in a temporary, yet long-lasting bubble of stress.
Despite these three realisations, stress does not have to control our lives, and it can be effectively managed. Stress Less week is an important reminder to prioritise your physical and mental wellbeing, and offers insights as to how you can go about it. First, it’s important to understand some signs and symptoms of stress, both in cases of short bursts and prolonged periods.
As provided by Lifeline Australia, these include:
· Lack of motivation and/or concentration
· Over- or under-sleeping
· Mood swings
· Feeling overwhelmed
· Excessive use of substances as a means to cope (including alcohol)
· Lack of ability to manage responsibilities
For students, lack of stress management, particularly around the end of semester when major assignments are due and exams are held, can result not only in low grades but also, more importantly, in a weakened state of wellbeing. Furthermore, this can have carry-on effects into other realms of life and can be detrimental to the relationships we have with others.
Personally, I’ve struggled with mental health issues since I was in my early-teens. Anxiety and depression have given way to high levels of stress, which has had significant effects on not only the way I carry out responsibilities, but also on my own happiness. When left unchecked for too long, poor mental health can and does negatively impact all realms of my life in the short- and long-term. It took me many years before I finally became proactive in prioritising my mental health, and while I still struggle with it now, I have discovered many ways of managing anxiety and stress. Some of my favourite things to do include going for walks in nature, reading fiction novels, painting, cooking (and eating), weight lifting, and going out to restaurants with friends.
As Welfare Officer on the Student Representative Council, I am extremely passionate about protecting and improving the welfare of all university students. It is my hope that this Stress Less week can help as many people as possible, whether that be providing a break from intense studying, or encouraging students to check in with themselves and prioritise their wellbeing.
After reaching out to some of my friends who are also university students, I have compiled a list of why managing stress is important, and tips on how it can be done. Given the current global climate and uncertainty that we continue to remain submerged in, it is important now more than ever to recognise our individual mental and physical limits, and understand different strategies that work in protecting our wellbeing.
Connor - Law and Arts student: Sometimes stress is not a bad thing. We all get stressed from time to time and it can make us perform better as well. But if you allow stress and anxiety to pile up and don’t address the root causes, it can have severe mental health affects and can stop you from studying as much as you need to (or at all). One thing I do to unwind is catch up with a friend and try to forget for a little while about what is stressing me out.
Amber - Health and Medical Sciences student: My favourite ways to handle stress are talking to friends, spending quality time with my family, getting outdoors for a walk/run or bike ride, blasting music and singing at the top of my lungs, reading, and cooking.
Indianna - Psychological Science student: Over the years I’ve learned that if I don’t practice self-awareness and monitor my stress, it negatively impacts on my motivation, physical health, mental wellbeing, and ability to complete work on time. Further, I’ve discovered that it makes balancing university, work and life in general unbearably overwhelming. The most effective methods I’ve gathered over time to mange stress are not quick fixes but rather skills and habits that I’m continuously practicing to build resilience and protect myself for when inevitable stressful events occur. These include practicing self-compassion (positive self talk, forgiveness for unproductive days/lower than expected grades), tackling unhealthy perfectionism (setting more attainable standards and rewarding myself more often) and also finding physical activities that I enjoy doing which provide an escape from work and have many benefits for mental health (for me it’s running and yoga).
It is vital to remember that stress is inevitable, and in some cases can be extremely difficult to manage. We must not punish ourselves for feeling stressed, or for struggling to manage it. I have had many experiences with anxiety attacks, late nights fussing over an assignment that should have been finished earlier, mood swings that my family must suffer through, and long bouts of procrastination as a result of feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities. While it can be very easy to fall into unhealthy habits and let the stress of life take over, it will not bring any happiness or productivity into our lives. Because of this, we must continue to fight against the hardship, realise it’s okay to tumble every now and then, and never give up on prioritising ourselves.
Stress Less Online run by the AUU begins June 1st. Click here to see the event!