This week is International Stress Awareness Week, so we thought we would take the opportunity to consider a topic that may be very present for some of you, at some point in your university career, that being stress and how to cope with it.
If you’re feeling, or have ever felt, stressed, or even if you would just like to learn some simple ways to insulate yourself against feeling stressed in the future, please read on.
Identifying signs of stress
Perhaps the first thing we should all ask ourselves during Stress Awareness Week is ‘am I feeling stressed?’ and once we have asked ourselves this, an important follow up question is ‘how would I know if I was feeling stressed?’.
That second question sounds daft doesn’t it? I’d know if I was feeling stressed because I’d be feeling stressed, surely. Well, yes, that’s true to an extent but what if I’m so busy that I’ve been running on autopilot all week? If I’ve barely had time to feed myself properly, I probably haven’t stopped to consider how I’m feeling either. I could be having all kinds of feelings without consciously realising. Taking time to notice how I’m feeling is as important as taking time to eat regularly; if I don’t, I’ll become disconnected from my experiences and my stress levels could rise dangerously without me even knowing, potentially leading to emotional breakdown or illness.
Consciously asking yourself how you’re feeling and giving your body and mind time to answer is called mindfulness. It is particularly important to practice mindfulness when you notice signs of stress, such as not sleeping properly, feeling as though you don’t have time to eat well or look after yourself, or feeling more emotional than usual but even if you’re feeling great, mindfulness is an important life skill.
You can bring mindfulness to your experience any time. This simply means noticing how you’re feeling and not judging what you find. Try sitting comfortably, with your eyes open or closed, and bringing your awareness to each area of your body in turn. You might notice things like ‘my feet are cold’, ‘my heart is beating’, ‘my head is full of thoughts’. Alternatively your awareness might go straight to an area of the body that’s aching or uncomfortable. Just notice what you find. Try not to judge or label it and try to stay with the way it feels, rather than getting carried away with the story of why it feels that way.
If you do nothing else this Stress Awareness Week, give this exercise a try.
If you find that you are stressed then mindfulness can absolutely help but it is also important to find ways of managing the things that made you that way in the first place. A certain amount of stress is normal – we all need to sit exams, work and do other things that will place us under manageable amounts of stress. However, it’s important to identify the stress we’re under to make sure that it is manageable and take steps to change our situation when it gets too much.
So ask yourself, ‘what are my stressors?’ or ‘what stresses me out?’. While you’re at uni, you’re going to have to sit exams but if you find that your optional activities are putting you under stress too, maybe you could decide to take a break from them during exam time, to make life more manageable.
Stress Awareness Week
The topic of focus for International Stress Awareness Week 2018 is ‘does hi-tech cause high stress?’. This is another great question to ask yourself. Looking at a screen late at night can over stimulate the brain and affect sleep. Texts from friends and family can reduce stress by helping you feel supported and connected BUT they also have the potential to wake you up at night or distract you from your work. Perhaps something as simple as turning your phone off for the hours you’re in bed, or not watching TV late at night, could reduce unnecessary stress.
If you feel that you need additional help or support, begin by asking in university. Most universities have a student support team. Some even offer mindfulness, or other forms of emotional support. If you would prefer to look outside of uni, the great news is that there are lots of groups, events, workshops and courses happening in Preston all the time, that could help you to limit and cope with stress.
Why not make Stress Awareness Week 2018 the week you take action against stress?