Monday 4 – Friday 8 November 2019 is #InternationalStressAwarenessWeek. Stress is something that gets talked about a lot day-to-day but is commonly misunderstood. It’s normal to hear friends, peers and colleagues tell you that they are “feeling a bit stressed, but it’s okay”. Stress has become normalised in society and has both negative and positive impacts on the human experience. It is important for us all to understand the impact of stress in our own lives, and also how we can better manage any negative consequences that may arise.
One step that we can all take to reduce negative stress is to factor daily movement into our everyday lives. It is by far one of the most under-utilised stress-busting tools and we have lots of ways to help you stay active on campus this year! For more information about how Bristol Uni Sport can help, visit our website to see all the opportunities available.
What is stress?
Stress is the feeling we experience when: “Demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilise.” (Stress Management Society)
In other words, when lots of tasks pile up, or we perceive there to be a high level of expectation upon us that we are unable to cope with, we feel stressed.
It can be argued that a small amount of short-term stress can be a good thing. Short-term stress is sometimes referred to as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response which, bad in the day, would have ensured we escaped or fought off predators. However, these ‘predators’ now take the shape of deadlines or exams. Whilst in the short-term a small amount of stress might help you meet that looming deadline, to be in a state of stress for long periods of time can be detrimental to our overall physical and mental health, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
How to tell if you’re stressed
Signs and symptoms of stress can be physical, emotional, psychological, or behavioural. Only you will know how you are truly feeling, but you may find others who are close to you making comments that you seem ‘not yourself’ and these could be indicators that you are suffering from stress.
Examples of symptoms include; lack of concentration, excessive worrying, reduced confidence in your abilities, irritability, tearfulness or anger, weight-loss or weight-gain, aches and pains, greater susceptibility to illnesses like colds and the flu, increased intake of alcohol, and insomnia (Stress Management Society).
The Stress Bucket analogy
Sometimes it is difficult to identify what is causing you to feel stressed on any given day, particularly if there you don’t feel there are any ‘big problems’ causing you to feel the way you do. The analogy of the stress bucket can help yo explain these unexpected feeling of stress and being overwhelmed.
Imagine all of the tasks, priorities, commitments and expectations you have to deal with day-to-day are pebbles being put into a bucket. Some are bigger than others and take up more space, for example maintaining healthy relationships with your friends and family whilst you’re busy. Some might be smaller, such as remembering to pack lunch for the next day.
If your stress bucket gets too full, it only takes one of these small pebbles (maybe you burned your toast at breakfast) to make the bucket spill over. This leads to you feeling overwhelmed and stressed, even though on another day you may have handled the same situation perfectly well.
Tips for Managing Stress
Stress management tools are habits or practices that you can implement in your every-day life to help drain your stress bucket, and stop it from getting too full. Our top tips are below, but there are lots more that you can discover for yourself.
- Get Active
Exercise and physical movement released endorphins, or ‘happy hormones’ into your body! But it doesn’t have to be a hard-core gym session or tough sport – a 10 minute walk can be enough to boost your energy, clear your head and lift your mood (Active 10).
- Rest and Recovery
Are you getting enough sleep? The average adult needs 7-9 hours per night to function optimally (Sleep Council). It may mean making some short-term sacrifices to your evening social plans, but concentrating on getting some decent shut-eye will benefit you hugely in the long-run.
Making sure you are eating a balanced diet can have a hugely positive impact on your overall wellbeing. Small things you can focus on are: getting a minimum of 5 fruits and veggie per day, drinking 2L of water, ensuring a mix of carbs, fats and proteins are included in every meal and cutting back on caffeine in the afternoons.
- Work/Life Balance
Too much time at the pub and not enough time in the library can of course cause us to feel stressed about the amount of work that can pile up. But spending too much time in the library and not enough time with friends can be just as impactful. Find the balance that works for you to make sure you’re giving enough time to both.
- Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness doesn’t have to mean ‘meditation’ – we know that’s not for everyone. Mindfulness can be an activity that means you’re focused on the ‘here and now’ rather than past, present or future worries. Have a cup of tea, go for a walk or a run, or write a to-do list – it will all help.
- Digital Detox
We’re all guilty of falling into a ‘scroll-hole’ when we should actually be focusing on work. Studies show even having your phone in the same room whilst you work can lower your problem-solving IQ (University of Texas)! Try 30 minutes of phone-free studying to get some focus back.
- Build Resilience
Resilience isn’t just “toughen up and carry on”. Resilience is our ability to ‘bounce back’ from tough times and implement strategies based on past experience. It’s a skill that can be learned and developed – Off The Record have an online ‘Resilience Lab’ that can help you.
- Open Up
Don’t suffer in silence, talk to someone. There are lots of places you can turn for support whilst at University, from friends, family, flatmates and course-mates, to more professional spaces such as Student Wellbeing Services.
International Stress Management Association: https://isma.org.uk/nsad-free-downloads
Student Wellbeing Service: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/wellbeing/
Off The Record Resilience Lab: https://www.otrbristol.org.uk/the-resilience-lab/
Stress Management Society – Understanding Stress: https://www.stress.org.uk/how-stress-affects-your-body/
The Sleep Council: https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/how-much-sleep-do-we-need/
University of Austin, Texas: “The Mere Presence of Your Smartphone Reduces Brain Power”: https://news.utexas.edu/2017/06/26/the-mere-presence-of-your-smartphone-reduces-brain-power/
It’s Time To Log Off: https://www.itstimetologoff.com/