Ways to identify and conquer stress before you burn out

May 10, 2017
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Its 8pm, you’ve just finished a long shift at work and have an essay due at midnight, do you:

  1. Down a coffee and get writing
  2. Stress-watch Netflix in bed
  3. Do some breathing exercises and colouring in

If you answered A or B then this article is for you. If you answered C then close this page and enjoy your clearly stress-free life (or find an article about pathological lying because you probably don’t deal with stress as well as you say you do).  Sometimes knowing when you’re overworked and being able to take a break is just as important for surviving university as pumping out late-night caffeine-fuelled garbage.

Identifying that you’re stressed

Being able to identify the causes of your stress and the periods of high-workloads can be helpful to ensuring you stay sane throughout a semester. Michelle Walsh, Community Engagement Officer at Brookvale Headspace, says “Sometimes it’s hard for an individual to reconcile where stresses are coming from”.

So how might someone recognise they’re stressed if they’re living in busyness-induced denial?

“There are lots of little signs – physiological responses such as increased heart rate or changes in breathing patterns,” Michelle says.

“Sometimes when you’re studying you might notice you’re suddenly able to hear yourself breathe more rapidly. Even just feeling a physical pressure can indicate excess stress.”

There are lots of little signs – physiological responses such as increased heart rate or changes in breathing patterns.

The symptoms of stress

The list of symptoms of stress is long and often contradictory. If your appetite suddenly decreases noticeably during a period of high workload, you may be overly stressed, but the same is true if it suddenly increases. What about constipation? Or diarrhoea? Either could be your body physically telling you that you’re doing too much.

These physiological symptoms can be dangerous if unresolved as chronic stress can add to your risk of heart attacks, strokes or hypertension if left undealt with in the long-term.

Long-term unresolved stress has been linked to severe side effects throughout the various systems of the body, which could ruin your uni lifestyle. Love to hit the gym? Stress will give you tension headaches. Love to drink? Stress is not friendly to your liver either. Love to sleep? Un-bloody-likely if you’re stressed.

Ways to de-stress

Avoiding these symptoms and the consequences that follow can start with almost anything.

“Anything that works for someone to de-stress them is the right solution,” Michelle says.

Yoga or meditation might be the answer for you, or it could be a daily routine of painting, making music or exercising.

“It really is just about balancing things out,” Michelle says.

Everyone handles their stresses differently so for some people, taking a break or dropping some commitments might be effective.

“It’s about being able to identify when something is affecting you and being able to take a break, whether that is a short-term thing or a long-term thing,” Michelle says.

Most importantly, taking time off commitments isn’t necessary to prevent digging yourself into a hole of stress. When you’ve got uni, a part-time job, an internship and a personal life, this is often the hardest foursome to balance. But realistically, if you can add a light dusting of relaxing activities, you should be able to keep everyone satisfied without having a breakdown.

It’s about being able to identify when something is affecting you and being able to take a break, whether that is a short-term thing or a long-term thing.

Speaking to someone, even a friend, about your workload can act as a start to making plans and taking time to relax. Services like Headspace could be beneficial if you feel like one-on-one therapy, online check-ins or group sessions could help you manage stress. And if you’re too busy to make time to talk to someone about how busy you are, maybe take that as a sign.

Next time you find yourself burning the midnight oil for the third day in a row, remember to take a breather, think about your priorities and try a short activity that might release the tension in your temple. Having too much on your plate can be dangerous in the short term and long term, but it’s easily manageable, so maybe it’s time to stop working and start doing a bit of yoga.

Darcy Munce

Darcy is a Journalism student at UNSW who can be found either watching American sport or ’90s sitcoms. He dreams of one day anchoring at ESPN with enough downtime to re-watch Scrubs for the thousandth time.

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