Part 17: Good Stress/Bad Stress: What Everyone Should Know

By: Susan Kephart, Psychologist for Potomac State College of WVU

Stress is the "wear and tear" on our bodies as we adjust to change. Stress reveals itself in the physical, emotional and mental response we exhibit, regardless of whether the change is good or bad.  The extra burst of adrenaline that helps a student finish a final paper, win at sports or meet any other challenge is positive stress.  “Students who do not manage their stress well cannot function at their peak performance academically.  Therefore, it is important for students, parents and grandparents to understand how to handle stress,” stated Susan Kephart, psychologist at Potomac State College of WVU.    

As a positive influence, stress is a short-term physiological tensing and added mental alertness that subsides when the challenge has been met, enabling the student to relax and carry on with normal activities.  Using the analogy of a rubber band, positive stress is just the right amount of stress needed to stretch the band and make it useful; negative stress snaps the band.   

As a negative influence, stress can cause feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, or depression.  It can also cause changes in the body such as, increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and stomach and muscle tension.  After a while, these things will begin to take their toll leading to mental and physical exhaustion or illness.  As a direct result, stress impacts a person’s health, thus reducing the ability to reach academic and career goals. 

Signs of stress could reveal themselves in many different ways including an increase in the following: use of alcohol or other drugs, boredom and fatigue, procrastination, problems with making decisions, being anxious and confused, the inability to concentrate, shortness of breath, and problems eating or sleeping.  Other symptoms include hostile or angry feelings, overpowering urges to cry, frequent indigestion or diarrhea, and frequent colds and infections.  

Our goal is not to eliminate stress, but to learn how to manage it.  Anyone experiencing stress symptoms has already gone past the optimal balance.  Just as there are many sources of stress, there are also many techniques to manage stress levels.

Whether a person knows it or not, they have been coping with stress since they were a child, using skills copied or learned from family and friends.  However, now is the time to learn new techniques for managing various levels of stress.  The following is a list of tips a person can incorporate to help them to manage stress better: 

  • Keep a stress diary to identify short-term and frequent sources of stress. 
  • Don't ignore or gloss over problems.  
  • Plan ahead as much as possible and prepare in advance for scheduled events.
  • Use good time management.  Cramming for tests and doing things at the last minute increases stress.  
  • Try to get eight hours of sleep every night and eat well-balanced nutritional meals.  
  •  Perform slow, deep breathing exercises which will bring heart rate and respiration back to normal, and engage in moderate physical exercise at least three times per week.
  • Ask yourself whether it’s worth getting upset over the situation; you have the choice of staying calm and ignoring it.
  • Make a list of all the things you need to do, prioritize it and do only the top few, the rest can be your top priority tomorrow. 

If you are a student-parent attending college, taking care of your children’s needs, handling financial matters, holding down a job, keeping up with community activities and social obligations, then your life can seem like a juggling act at times. 

If you find yourself running from one obligation to another, STOP, set aside a half hour each day that belongs solely to you.  It might be early in the morning or later in the evening after your children have gone to bed.  Breaking your routine is another way to deal with a demanding schedule.  This can be as simple as driving home a different way, shopping at a different store or turning the radio to a different station. 

Finding a balance is not as difficult at it may seem.  It may take a little “Creativity 101,” but by following the tips listed above and a few additional ones, you’ll find that achieving balance is all a matter of effort, patience, planning, a sense of humor and a little well-earned selfishness. 

  • Allow extra time for studying and plan for interruptions
  • Study on campus between classes
  • Give your child attention then ask for cooperation
  • Network with other student-parents and take turns watching each other’s kids
  • Put in a favorite movie and study in the next room while the kids watch the movie
  • Go to a park or swimming pool and study within sight of your children
  • Make use of willing relatives or friends as babysitters when it’s time for exams
  • Designate “homework time” and do it together

According to Kephart, “One of the goals of the counseling office is to provide support services in order for students to be successful.  Therefore, I provide a lot of intervention to help students design individualized strategies to manage stress.”

Expect some frustrations, failures, and sorrows, but don’t let them become overwhelming, it’s all a part of the learning process.  Stress should be viewed as something that can be coped with rather than something that is overpowering.  Set realistic goals and don’t try to do it all; learn to say no when obligations become overwhelming.

Be good to yourself and take a break, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.  Take a “mental vacation” by picturing a beach, the mountains or anywhere else that’s relaxing.  Don’t wait for encouragement from others, positive thinking is a great stress reliever.  

Should you begin feeling overwhelmed, contact your local school psychologist or other health provider at your institution or in your community.  For nationwide information visit the Counseling Center Village at http://ub-counseling.buffalo.edu/vpc.html.

All "College Tips" columns are available at http://www.newstribune.info

 

WV Mentor http://www.wvmentor.org

 

Potomac State College of West Virginia University at http://www.potomacstatecollege.edu or (304-788-6820 or toll free: 1-800-262-7332)

 

Mineral County Technical Center at http://mctc.mine.tec.wv.us/college.htm (304-788-4240)

Eastern Community and
Technical College at http://www.eastern.wvnet.edu (304-434-8000; or toll free: 1-877-982-2322)

Community and Technical College System of West Virginia at http://www.wvtechprep.wvnet.edu (304-558-2411)