What To Do When The Stress Doesn’t End

Yes, this is an article about dealing with stress. There are approximately 5,620,382 of these floating around the internet (warning: not an exact number), but our magazine doesn’t have one just yet. Typically, these kind of pieces are read in a state of deep despair and procrastination and attempt to provide temporary coping mechanisms for temporary issues.

But what do you do when your stress isn’t contained to the last few weeks of the semester?

What if it outlasts your finals, seeps into each week of your life? For many college students today, this is reality: In 2015, the American College Health Association conducted their annual National College Health Assessment, which includes student survey results concerning mental health. This survey reported that within the last twelve months, 56. 9% of students experienced severe anxiety, 81.7% felt exhausted in nonphysical ways, and 85.6% felt overwhelmed in general. These statistics are just some of many which relay the message that students are feeling more pressure, and for longer periods of time, than ever before.

So when you go home after the apocalyptic finals week and still can’t seem to stop the cortisol from coursing through your body, here are some things that have the potential to help you out:

1.) Talk about it.

Often, I feel very uncomfortable with this step myself. It’s difficult to feel like you aren’t burdening somebody else with your problems by talking about the things bothering you. In response to this concern, I ask you to think about how you might respond to the people in your life if they sought you out to vent about something, or ask for advice. Would you genuinely turn someone special to you away? If the answer is no, think about how you’re special to people as well, and they will think you in that same manner. Talking through the thoughts that plague you with someone who is genuinely invested in your well-being is not only therapeutic; it builds bonds with that person, can lead you to new insights about your issue, and might bring you just a step closer to resolving it. If you still find yourself too uncomfortable to talk with someone you know personally, consider a therapist or a counselor. Especially today where, clearly, statistics have shown that mental health in the average college student is unhealthier than ever; there is very little stigma associated with talking to a professional. It isn’t just reserved for people in crisis; therapy is for everyone.

2.) Surround yourself with people.

This can be a really tough step for introverted people, and one which feels completely self-defeating. To feel better, why would an introvert surround themselves with people which intrinsically drains them? Here’s why: it’s harder for them to over-think if they’re around other people, and by the time they’re alone, they’ll be exhausted enough to continue that trend of not hyper-focusing on their issue. This is half-true for extroverts as well, who will be pleasantly distracted by company rather than dwelling on their stress. Nonetheless, whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or anywhere in between, being around others often takes one’s mind off of the problem at hand. Distancing yourself from it and taking a break from picking it apart can often allow one to tackle it differently, and more successfully, upon returning to it. Additionally, this practice is relaxing and fun for many. Whether you find more comfort being around large crowds, or just a small group of close friends, the energy of conversation around you can help drown out the concerns in your head, and may show you directly that there are people in your life who care.

3.) Be present.

This one is arguably the simplest advice, but also the most difficult. I spend time every day scheduling the upcoming week and thinking about things in the near or distant future to be either stressed or excited about. In the work I set out to do in the moment, I often recall past assignments and experiences. I’m not alone here. We live in a world dictated by the tick of the clock, and nobody is actually riding on the hand as it inches forward. Glancing at watches and planners, we’re always calculating how much time we have to do or have left doing just about anything. It can all be a little overwhelming. This last step works to fight against the way we live, always trying to be ahead of ourselves. While it’s fine, and absolutely beneficial to learn from past experiences and plan for the future, as things are right now, we obsess over them. So next time you find yourself glancing at the clock, stressing about an appointment, interview, test, family event, or just about anything similar that is coming in the near or distant future, take a breath. Close your eyes, and pay attention to what you feel, hear, taste, and smell. Maybe you feel your feet on the ground, a cup of coffee in your hand, a cold wind against your cheek, the taste of espresso in your mouth, and the smell of a rainy city sidewalk. Once you’ve identified as many things as you can or care to, open your eyes again and just look at everything around you. Try to be in that moment, analyze the details, commit them to memory. You might find that whatever you had been thinking about before no longer has any bearing on you.

If done enough, these techniques might help bring some peace to a stress-filled life. Though some of the steps are a bit difficult and uncomfortable, they are working for me. I hope that they can work for some of you. I hope that whatever has caused the ongoing stress in your life becomes temporary, and can then be resolved through a few minutes with a puppy or a big cup of hot chocolate. Though, I’m a proponent of those resources benefiting long-term issues, too.

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