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Biology 103
2000 Third Web Report
On Serendip

How to deal with stress productively

Sarah Naimzadeh

"I'm stressed." Walk through the dining hall, the dorms, the library or the computing center and the word is stress. At Bryn Mawr, we hear the word so often that it has lost all meaning. Everyone, from the frosh with a three page final to the senior looking for a job, will readily describe the stress they feel. The combination of a very short exam period and the holidays has put much pressure on many students.

As I write this paper, I am engaged in one of the stress management techniques I will later discuss: time management. Stress can have a harsh affect on the body, such as extreme fatigue, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, acne and depression. (1) One professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore wrote that stress is not only bad for mental health, but may also lead to weight gain. (2) While we all know that this is one opinion among many, the article does stress the importance of exercise, another stress management technique. An interesting thing about stress is that it has little to do with the actual work to do and much more with how you deal with that work. And so for this, my final web paper, I am interested in looking at the many ways to deal with stress productively. For our purposes, I define "productively" as effectively. It is not effective to focus solely on one's academic work, ignoring stress. By dealing with stress well once, we can deal with it and even bypass it in the future.

What is stress?

We all know how stress feels and that stress can affect people differently but there are actually four different types of stress: survival, internally generated, environmental and job and fatigue and overwork. Survival stress generally involves a life-threatening situation in which you experience "fight or flight." The second type, internally generated" results from a situation beyond your own control or fast paced lifestyle. Environmental and job stress is due to working conditions or home location (i.e.- one who hates noise and dirt should not live in a city). Finally, fatigue and overwork stress occurs when the stress builds over time and "can occur where you try to achieve too much in too little time or where you are not using effective time management strategies." (3) I think that internally generated stress along with fatigue and overwork, characterize most Bryn Mawr students. Obviously, there are other factors in the stress that students feel, all deadlines fall on the same two days, the holidays are approaching rapidly, many are traveling on the busiest days of the year and some of us will move out to go abroad. We are in what some of my friends call "hardcore mode;" the number one priority is not health or happiness but finishing a paper. But by ignoring our other needs, such as quality socialization, the stress just increases.

How to deal productively

  • Time Management:

    Both fatigue and overwork and internally generated stress are elements of long term stress and calls for effective time management techniques. "Time cannot be controlled but it can be managed." (4) While there are many methods, the following may be the most pertinent to Bryn Mawr students. First, it is very important to learn to set realistic goals. A thesis cannot appear over night and so specific, realistic goals help ease the process. Another strategy is to set priorities. Decide early what is important to you. If the 3.7 is important to you, then stay at home and work. If you can live with a 3.3, then go out and have some fun. Finally, learn to write everything, all goals, professor-imposed deadlines, extracurriculars, etc., in a planner or notebook. There is a reason why Bryn Mawr SGA gives us planners at the beginning of the year.

  • Private Time:

    It is also a good idea to enjoy time alone, relaxing instead of worrying about classes. Common methods of relaxation are taking a bath, reading a book, going for a walk and listening to calming music. Dinner time should be a social time; instead of comparing workloads, try to talk about something more relaxing, like fond memories. The time in and out of class should not blend together; academic time and social time should be distinct.

  • Fitness and Nutrition:

    The article about stress and weight gain brings up an interesting aspect of stress management: exercise. Another excellent way to keep, or put, stress in check is to exercise. A regular fitness routine of thirty to forty-five minutes per day three to four times per week will "strengthen your heart and lungs. These two vital organs - especially the heart - bear the brunt of the body's physiological stress response, constantly being called upon to 'fight or flee' from job, school, family, financial, relationship and every other kind of stressor we confront daily." (5) Other benefits include a change in metabolism and an ability to sleep better at night. To aid this the BMC fitness center is currently open from 6:30am to 9pm Monday through Friday of no charge to students. Along with this fitness regimen, a balanced diet is also crucial. Most of us are very familiar with the food pyramid, but it is worth another look now that we have to fend for ourselves in the dining hall. The USDA recommends six to eleven servings of pasta, cereal and rice, three to five servings of vegetables, two to four servings of fruit, two to three servings of dairy products, two to three servings of meat, fish and bans and occasional use of fats, oils and sweets. (6) All of these items are available daily in all of the Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College dining halls.

    Food Pyramid

  • Sleep:

    I do not know if there is a word more seductive than sleep. Unfortunately, most college students do not get the recommended amount of sleep, which is more than eight hours. (7) Sleep rejuvenates. An excellent way to get quality sleep is to exercise.

    Stress can easily become out of control and snowball into much larger and much more serious problems such as depression. Should this happen, a good place to turn is to the Counseling Center in the Health Center. A big myth about stress is that only extreme symptoms require attention. "Minor symptoms of stress are the early warnings that your life is getting out of hand and that you need to do a better job of managing stress." (8) Counselors are available to meet with students for a variety of reasons and will work with students to come up with solutions. (9)

    Many these stress tips are circular; the basic key to stress reduction is to cultivate good life habits. The most important thing is to remember that you need to take care of yourself even when during exam periods and other stressful times. None of these techniques are miracle cures or revelations. Instead these tips are really about paying attention to you body and an end result will be stress reduction.

    WWW Sources

    1)AMWA: How Stress Affects the Body, Stress and Women

    2) - Health - Stress is bad, but one expert says it's also fattening - October 30, 2000, CNN article on stress and weight gain

    3)Mind Tools - Effective Stress Management - Understanding stress, comprehensive sight on stress

    4)Contents, Stress News

    5)Go Ask Alice! Exercise motivation....for stress reduction, Columbia University's Health Education Program

    6)Food Guide Pyramid, A Guide to Daily Food Choices

    7)Sleepless at Stanford, They think they known about sleeplessness

    8)APA HelpCenter: Get the Facts: Psychology at Work, Six Myths about Stress

    8)Bryn Mawr College ~ Counseling Servies, Information on Counseling at BMC

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