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Dear Dr. H,

What is the best way to get rid of stress?


Dear student,

Stress is certainly having its “moment” these days, and although stress has been around since the dawn of time. The stress we experience now—particularly as students—has greatly evolved from the environmental challenges affecting our crops and potentially wiping out our sustenance for the season, to the every-overwhelming class load, work and social life. Stress is never ending, and the sooner we can develop some coping strategies, the better. Due to the sheer number of things you could potentially be stressed about, I’m tackling this topic in a two or three-part series.

First, I want to differentiate between different types of stress: chronic and acute. I’m focusing here on acute stress, this is very common, short-term stress that presents itself frequently for students: a tough exam, a break up with a partner or getting called into work when you need to study for said exam. This is different from chronic stress, the long-term, sustained stress, as it is more strongly associated with health: not having enough food to eat, experiencing job insecurity and discrimination or stigma that pervades daily life. While I know that students can, and do, experience chronic stress, much of it results from more systemic issues of social injustice and inequity beyond the scope of a 700 word column.

For short-term, acute stress, the “best” ways to “get rid” of stress are those methods that motivate you to tackle a challenge, or rest and restore you after tackling said challenge, without any undue harm on yourself or others.

While it may be tempting to blow off steam by starting the weekend party early, ask yourself if your coping strategy is really your avoidance strategy. Example: If you’re struggling to balance your class load and work, you need sleep, proper nutrition and exercise with ample evidence to support that. Neglect your sleep, proper nutrition and exercise and there’s a slim chance you’ll have the mental capacity to manage your time in a way that reduces the stress of your homework and job. Learning to manage your time will put you on the fast track to managing the stress in your life, which is all we can  really hope for, because many of our stressors aren’t going away.

I can’t emphasize SLEEP enough. If we’re up half the night cramming for an exam, engrossed in Netflix or incessantly checking social media, not only are we wasting precious time, we’re setting ourselves up for diminished performance. Screen time is not restorative time, so put down the phone, tablet or computer at night. If you still want information on sleep hygiene check out:

Next, the healing powers of nature are real, my friends: Get outside. I know, we were all suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder over the winter, but it’s spring now. The sun is out. Take advantage of that. Can you walk or ride your bike to school or work? Can you get a friend to walk around town/campus with you on a break in between classes? Even just incorporating 20 minutes of time outside, use it to re-set for the task at hand or clear your head after a rough conversation.

Finally, if you’re eating crap and keeping within a 10-foot radius of your couch, the sluggishness will overtake your mental capacity to think and act clearly in stressful times. You just won’t feel good and it’s a vicious cycle of stress, poor coping and more stress. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet with plenty of fresh and whole foods, and avoid excess caffeine, alcohol and fried food. Move your body. Sign up for a class through the SURC, dust off that bike or grab a friend and pledge to meet up for morning, afternoon  or evening workout.

If your issue is lacking time for all of your obligations and you’re wondering how to pack it all in, remember that these coping strategies should rejuvenate your fervor for life. Now that you’ve replaced your nightly movie marathon with sleep, you’ll have more energy to actually accomplish what you need to.

More to come next week!

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Ask Dr. H