Stress: the risks and how to deal

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While college itself can be a hectic time, balancing other responsibilities and commitments is enough to stress out the most laid back student. If students do not take control of their own stress, it can negatively affect their academics as well as their personal lives.

Sometimes the stress feels like it is just too much to deal with, and sitting idly by is no way to deal with it, said Nick Mayer, an undeclared freshman.

""I can't do my work properly unless I'm able to concentrate,"" he said. ""And it's hard to concentrate when you have so many different things going on, especially (early in the semester).""

Often stress on campus works in a cycle. When students become stressed out about school, it makes schoolwork that much more difficult to keep up with. Once students fall into the stress trap of being unable to manage schoolwork, it makes them that much more stressed, Mayer said.

""Somewhere along the way, you have to do something,"" he said. ""If you don't, everything is just going to spin out of control.""

Stress afflicts people mentally. It hinders brain functions and halts personal productivity. This can be especially troublesome in the university setting where students must continuously compete with their peers in order to do well academically, said Dave Swihart, employee assistance counselor for UA Life and Work Connections.

""For new students coming in, they have a lot of newfound freedom,"" he said. ""It is also very stressful too, because students are on their own having to deal with a lot of assignments and deadlines.""

Stress is not only a concern for students, but staff as well.

Budgeting problems at the university have led to significant stress among UA employees.

Due to employee layoffs, some UA workers are doing the work of two or three people while being expected to continue regular productivity, Swihart said.

The first step is to understand how your body responds to stress. There are physical tell-tale signs of high stress levels, whether it is gastrointestinal discomfort or muscle tension, he said.

While the mental aspects of high stress are well-documented, there are long-term negative physical effects that accompany a stressful lifestyle. Such negative effects can range from ailments as minor as the cold and flu, to major health risks like heart disease, arthritis and erosion of immunity to diseases, Swihart said.

Once someone recognizes that stress is potentially hindering their health, the next step is to find ways to alleviate that stress.

Helpful stress relievers

One of the most accessible ways to relieve stress on campus is through consistent exercise, whether on one's own or through the Student Recreation Center, said Mark Zakrzewski, assistant director of fitness at the Rec Center.

""It is well documented that physical activity and exercise are an excellent means of reducing stress,"" Zakrzewski said.

Activities such as yoga, dance, weight lifting and kickboxing are all accessible activities for students on campus.

""All of these are fitness opportunities that can help to reduce stress in both an acute and long-term manner,"" Zakrzewski said.

Exercise is unique in that it not only relieves stress, but it also improves the quality of sleep, the ability to concentrate and one's energy levels, all of which are integral parts of staying on top of academics and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, he said.

For many UA students, finding the time to relieve stress can be stressful in itself because of hectic schedules and constantly being on the go.

""If you organize your schedule, you can definitely make time,"" said Greg Goodrum, a regional development sophomore.

Like many students, Goodrum has to balance a heavy academic workload while holding down a time-demanding job.

Before each day, he schedules time for school, work and himself for the upcoming day. If things get stressful, he takes time out to read or clears his mind by running, Goodrum said.

""When I'm running, I can just focus on that, and I don't have to worry about things,"" he said. ""It's a good way to escape.""

The key to creating time to relieve stress lies with being active and not letting the stresses of the day take away your energy, he said.

""You have to make an effort to find ways to open up your schedule,"" Goodrum said. ""Instead of watching TV at night, read or just go out and run.""

Rather than exercising, students can also take a less physically active approach to knocking out stress, said Sean Chaffin, a fine arts sophomore.

""I have a really busy schedule, so during my free time, I like to read or just spend some time alone with myself,"" he said. ""I think everyone needs their own space, and it stops me from going crazy.""

A stress alternative

For those looking to take advantage of alternative stress relief methods, an activity known as Reiki is gaining popularity in hospitals around the country.

Originating in ancient Tibet, the practice is said to balance the energy in and around the body, allowing the body to heal itself, said Ann Baldwin, a physiology and psychology professor who has been measuring the effects of Reiki on the body.

While physiologists don't know exactly how it works, Reiki reduces the heart rate, relieves stress, enhances the immune system and increases blood flow, Baldwin said.

Although Reiki is now used in an estimated 100 hospitals in the country, the medical community needs more research proof before the practice becomes mainstream, she said.

Despite the medical skepticism, alternative therapy is growing in population because of its differing approach.

""People want more choices,"" Baldwin said. ""They don't want to deal with pharmaceuticals because of the cost and possible side effects.""

While Reiki is mostly used to help ailing patients in hospitals, there is a growing market for the practice in an outside setting to relax the body and relieve stress. Baldwin herself teaches private sessions and leads workshops on Reiki in the Tucson area, which can be accessed through mind-body-science.com.

While there is professional stress help available on campus for students and staff at Counseling and Psychological Services and Life and Work Connections, there are several fundamental ways that people can help alleviate their own stress, Swihart said.

""It's important to take a mental break,"" he said. ""Just take a few minutes to enjoy your surroundings.""

When stressful situations become too difficult to handle, it is important to physically relax the muscles in the body to release that stress, Swihart added.

One of the easiest and possibly most overlooked ways to relieve stress is to keep a regular sleeping schedule, he said.

""Regular sleep is extremely important,"" he said. ""It's how we recharge our batteries.""

The continuous loss of sleep night after night only makes stress worse and causes habitual loss of concentration and health problems, Swihart said.

""Students need to continue to take advantage of resources available to them,"" he said.

Between professional help on campus, the Rec Center and their own personal exercises, students and staff at the UA have everything they need to relieve stress and avoid health risks, resulting in a healthier lifestyle and a more enjoyable college experience, Swihart said.


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