Old habits die hard: The science of stress and how to conquer it

While a college education expands minds, the common stressors that come with an extended education has proven to wreak havoc on the bodies of students. Because a college student’s problems are long term and less physically based, this reaction to stress can have an adverse affect according to UCLA Professor Robert Sapolsky during an interview with the LA Times.

"For the vast majority of beasts on this planet, stress is about a short-term crisis, after which it's either over with or you're over with," said Sapolsky. "When we sit around and worry about stressful things, we turn on the same physiological responses - but they are potentially a disaster when provoked chronically."

According to a national survey of over 200,000 freshmen conducted last year by the Higher Education Research Institute, the number of incoming students who feel their emotional health is below average is higher than ever.  Work, family obligations, and other stressors bog down the modern student.

“Working 45-plus hours a week can cause a good amount of stress,” said Laine Baker, a former SMC student. “I've not studied for an exam before, or skipped homework because of projects at work, or shows.”

Students are seeing their stress manifest emotionally and physically.

Brenda Shea, another former student, had trouble concentrating in class due to her stress reaction.

“My anxiety would manifest in this crazy fight or flight thing where I would start twitching in my seat thinking, ‘What am I doing?  I wanna go home!  I gotta get out of here now.’ I would have to talk myself down inside my own head," said Shea.  "This made concentrating on the lecture a challenge.”

The American Institute of Stress says that there is no actual cure for stress, and that the methods of reducing it are as varied as its causes. They say a relaxing physical activity such as yoga (which is offered as a class at SMC) can help, as can a change in diet, personal hobbies, and talking with someone who supports you emotionally.

The real trick, though, is preventing the stress from happening at all. Sleeping more and drinking less caffeine can be a huge aid in this aspect. Planning ahead as opposed to procrastinating also helps students feel more in control and less overwhelmed by the tasks that are stressing them out.

Stress is a part of life, but you don’t have to let it overwhelm you. Just keep calm, stay grounded, and breathe.