Learning to manage stress, one step at a time

Alyssa Stencavage, Life Editor

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Stress and anxiety are a part of everyday life. Everywhere you turn, whether it be work, school or just on the go, you are constantly facing some type of it. The pressures experienced by college students only compound this problem.
Stress is not uncommon, and its causes are many. The adjustment to living on one’s own and having to take care of oneself is a major issue for many college students all on its own, which makes prioritizing, managing time well and having study skills in place that much more important.
The idea of socialization is another stressful obstacle in the college environment. Beginning with roommates, sometimes living with others at school works out well for some people, while in other instances having to live with another person has the power to create special, intense stress. For this reason, it is especially important to negotiate respect for each other and each other’s property, sleep schedules and space. Everyone likes their space.
Considering the dissimilarity in nature between high school and college, the work load that college brings can be a slap in the face for students, especially those who are unprepared to take it on. In addition to this, much is expected outside the classroom. Students must take responsibility for their own actions and stay on top of things if a class is missed.
“There are excellent tutoring and student services available, but it is difficult to receive help if you are not requesting services,” Biskup said.
Along with the urge to fit in that so many students feel, comes peer pressure. Biskup said students may feel pressure to engage in the “college culture” and all that that includes.
“Students want to socialize with other students and as such may feel pressure to engage in drinking or other substance use,” Biskup said. “I encourage students to engage in social activities where they are connecting with other students in healthy ways.”
Especially with the daily Wilkes announcements along with the posters and signs hanging all over campus, it shouldn’t be a surprise that students have many opportunities to take part in activities on and off campus through the student activities office.
The community service director also offers many volunteer activities, and students can find spiritual guidance and service with the Interfaith Office, which assists people in finding a place of worship. Of course, taking a trip to the gym is a great way to relieve the stress that so many of us carry on a day to day basis.
Although we tend to think of stress as negative, it is not always that way.
“Sometimes the tension we feel due to stress is positive in that it gets you out of bed in the morning so that you can move forward to accomplish your goals,” Biskup said.
If you take a second to think about those things that get you so worked up sometimes, it may become clear that we are not even really aware of what is actually behind the stress we are experiencing.
“We tend to think that stress is caused by external issues,” Biskup said. “But it’s not the events themselves that are stressful, it’s the way we think about, interpret and react to them.”
We can recognize stress through feelings, thoughts, behavior and physiology. If one is feeling anxious, scared, irritable or a fluctuation in mood, that person is probably experiencing things that characterize anxiety.
People may also have “all or nothing” thoughts  running through their minds, or engage in futuristic thinking, which can also be something that prompts uneasy feelings. Fear of failure, inability to concentrate or focus or forgetfulness are warning signs of someone who spends enough time worrying.
That’s not all to look out for. Continuous talk and frequent tears as well as grinding teeth are behaviors that signal someone is stressed out. When it starts to affect sleeping and eating patterns, that may be cause for concern. Along with that, trembling, neck and back pain, headaches and sweating are all issues that can scream stress.
As pretty much any college student can say, college itself, among all other major life changes, has the ability to make someone crazy and give them anxiety. These changes can come from home, like the death of a loved one or even divorce.
With the start of exams just around the corner, looking for ways to manage this stress may be the first thing on students’ “to do” list. If you think your options of dealing effectively this burden are limited, think again. There are many ways of doing so, some that one may not even be aware of.
First and foremost, focus on your positive qualities and good things that happen in your life.
“A spirit of real, sincere gratitude truly changes people,” Biskup said. “Finding one thing to be grateful for each day allows us to cope better with the stresses of life. Once you begin the practice of gratitude, it continues to grow.”
Another helpful tip to consider is developing assertiveness and being able to communicate your needs. Biskup said it is OK to say no to requests for our time.
“We need to learn to prioritize what is really important to us and what we are capable of completing so that we don’t become overwhelmed,” Biskup said.
There’s also no reason to hold oneself to the same standards as someone else when everyone has their own gifts and qualities that make them unique.
“We live in a competitive world, so we need to avoid unnecessary competition,” Biskup said.
In reality, there are numerous ways to cope with and reduce stress. Biskup shares some of the most important.
Setting realistic goals and priorities, working toward living a balanced live and staying in the present are just a few. Whether it be through exercise, listening to music, expressing yourself via an artistic avenue, there’s a way to take care of body, mind and spirit for a healthier you. It doesn’t hurt get away from those stress producers or practice some relaxation techniques, either.
Biskup said counseling can help one learn positive ways of coping with stress.
“Recognize your humanity and that no one is perfect,” Biskup said. “Even though you want to achieve your personal best, you want to prevent perfectionism. Surround yourself with kind, loving people whenever possible while practicing this attitude toward others.”
Learning Specialist Katy Betnar said the No. 1 reason for college-related stress is time management so taking better control of schedules and prioritizing can help improve that.
“It all goes back to prioritizing,” Betnar said. “Build it into your schedule and map it out. Small changes can lead to more and better productivity. Little things can go a long way.”
Using a planner or a calendar to figure out what priorities one has and then scheduling your daily activities around them can only help.
“Start getting tutoring early, before you have any concerns,” Betnar said.
Another common problem and cause for stress is that so many people want to do it all and end up getting involved in too much. Limit yourself to a certain number of hours for extracurricular activities.
To keep up with the countless assignments, papers and projects throughout the semester and avoid procrastination, set mini-deadlines so that procrastination isn’t an option. Plan for study breaks and review your notes within 24 hours ahead of time.
Betnar recommends 45-minute study periods with 15-minute breaks because the brain can only handle so much.
Finally, never forget the importance of sleep, exercise and eating.
“Some students take that for granted and don’t realize what sleep and exercise does,” Betnar said.
If you’re more of the outdoorsy or adventurous type, those kinds of strategies might be for you.
Adventure Education Coordinator Jill Price gives us some more physical strategies to deal with stress.
Take the time to get fresh air and connect with nature, such as hiking, which will allow you to get away from all the hustle and bustle of college life. Rock climbing is an effective way to confront stress because it requires physical effort and mental strategizing to conquer different routes, or pathways from the bottom to the top of the wall.
Because yoga is filled with meditation, stretching and powerful movement, people often walk away from a session feeling extremely relaxed, centered and revived from the stresses of everyday life.
“The best medicine for stress is laughter,” Price said. “Creating down time to laugh with your friends and try new adventures is time well spent. So often we get caught up in all the things we have to do we forget how vital it is for people to be connected with others and experience life.”
For those interested in being guided through the process of relaxation, the Buddhist meditation sessions at Wilkes could be the place to go.
These sessions are aimed at quieting the mind and sitting and paying attention to breathing, and this is done by learning to concentrate. If your mind wanders off track, you quickly bring it back to where you’re at.
“When you can keep the mind focused better, you learn to relax better and feel better in general,” Associate Professor of Philosophy and the instructor of the sessions Linda Paul said. “We need to retrain our minds. Stress arises because of the way we think, and if we learn to react differently to situations, we will experience less stress.”

Paul encourages people to focus on the present moment and at least do a little and then do more when ready.

“The more often you do it, the better results you’ll get,” Paul said.

Meditation sessions are held at 4:40 p.m. every Wednesday in Kirby Hall Salon.

Contact Dr. Linda Paul for questions at linda.paul@wilkes.edu or give her a call at (570) 408-4243.

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