Have you ever felt anxious one day before your exam or got stressed when you have to submit many assignments in a week? But do you know what is ‘stress’ and how can they occur? In biological terms, stress refers to the effects that a person feels after failing to respond to an event properly. The after effects can be physical, emotional, or combination of two. Furthermore, a report from the Government of South Australia (the Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology, Multicultural SA, and the Department for Health and Ageing) described some issues related to international students’ the determinants of stress. They mentioned problems in financial, accommodation, and employment can cause health issues in international students. Academic issues, language difficulties, and discrimination also significantly affect students’ well-being.
Stress is not a spontaneous thing, but it is developed through three stages: the initial alarm (producing more adrenaline), the resistance stage (trying to cope the stressful event), and the exhaustion stage (the first occurrence of stress’ symptoms). Loss of concentration, headaches, and elevated heart rate are the common symptoms of stress. Some people also have a short temper and loss of appetite when they get stressed. Moreover, the untreated stress is a potential factor of long-term diseases because the unbalanced hormone levels may induce depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and gastrointestinal problems. So, how can we deal with stress? Let’s try these three sections!
General Tips on Stress Management
Stress management can be done through a set of habits, as mentioned by the Health Service of the University of Michigan and the Stress Management Society:
- Do mind relaxation and treat yourself well
Allocating your time to do some hobbies and listening to your emotions are the basic things to start managing your stress. By listening to our emotions, we will be likely to calm our mind and identify what kind of action that we need to deal with stress. Having a proper rest (including sleep as well) and do some social interactions are also useful for helping our mind works properly. Mind relaxation can also be achieved by doing meditation and prayer.
- Be positive!
A negative way of thinking will be an obstacle in our normal thinking and decrease our self-esteem as well. So, instead of criticising yourself, look at your work and list some possible solutions, then start finishing them.
- Build some activity plans with realistic goals
The list of academic activities (and assessments, too!) is usually delivered at the beginning of the semester, which is helpful to set a weekly plan. This plan should be flexible and manageable, otherwise you will be trapped in a tedious life. Your plan should not include only academic stuff, but it’s better to also put ‘road trip’, ‘volunteering’, or ‘watching a movie’ in your plan. Don’t forget to consider your professional goal of life and your capability in setting your academic goals, since the realistic goals will help you to reduce stress.
- A healthy life is essential
Having a healthy eating pattern and doing some exercises are the basic healthy lifestyle to maintain body and mental health. Avoiding alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes are also recommended since they are likely to exacerbate your stress.
- Seeking help
Once you feel the stress’ signs and symptoms, get help from the appropriate care. Australian Medical Students’ Association has listed some mental health services available at universities, such as mental health monitoring program and mental health first aid.
Healthy Diet Plan
The Stress Management Society described several poor eating habits that commonly follow a stressful life, including skipping meals, fast food consumption, and excessive food picking. These habits can induce more stress and bring adverse health effects since they can disrupt hormonal balance, cause weight gain, elevate blood sugar, and lowering body immune as well. So, what kind of food that is helpful for avoiding (and managing) stress?
- The first principle: fulfil the necessary nutrients
Your body needs a range of nutrients to be healthy; however, no single food that contains all nutrients. Thus, you need to consume various foods that provide energy and macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well.
- What’s next: try to be balanced
A balanced diet is not merely completing all kind of nutrients, but also considering the food quantity. Nonetheless, it is usually uneasy for students to consume a nutritionally balanced diet. So, the first thing to do is managing your eating time become three times a day with two or three snacking times. This diet management will provide adequate nutrition and prevent you to consume extra foods when you get stressed. In terms of food type, complex carbohydrates (e.g., grain, pasta, vegetables) and proteins are the recommended energy sources, while fruits and yogurts can be the healthy snacks.
- Here are some nutrients that can reduce your stress
- Vitamin B (a range of food types including meat and poultry, dairy products, soy, and vegetables)
All types of vitamin B are essential for the metabolism of your body and controlling your nervous system.
- Proteins (both animal and vegetable proteins, e.g., meat, dairy products, and tofu)
Protein is important for body tissues, immune systems, and other metabolic functions.
- Vitamin A, C, and E (a range of food types including dairy products, colorful fruits, and vegetables)
These vitamins are antioxidants that can minimize oxidative stress inside your body.
- Magnesium (dairy products, meat, fish, and green leaved vegetables)
Magnesium is needed for muscle relaxation and regulating heartbeat, both in a normal situation and under stress.
- Start lowering your consumption of caffeine, trans fats, and sugar
A small amount of caffeine (e.g., coffee, carbonated beverages) may stimulate your brain; however, too much caffeine is associated with stress and anxiety. Moreover, consuming caffeine under stress will drain your B vitamins. Meanwhile, excessive consumption of fats and sugar is the determinant of obesity and noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
- Again, leave your cigarettes and alcoholic beverages
Some people argue that smoking can reduce stress; however, the disadvantages of tobacco products are related to numerous adverse health effects. Similarly, a small amount of alcohol is also believed as a heart protector. In fact, consuming alcohol under stress will trigger the release of adrenaline, causing nervousness, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Managing Your Study Life
It is not uncommon to face a lack of motivation and get stressed during your study. However, it is still manageable, and you can try these tricks provided by Oxford Royale Academy and Youth Central:
- Read with purpose
When finishing a stack of reading materials, set a couple of questions so you will have something to get from that reading. Writing a synthesis based on your reading will also help you to revise your reading.
- A study group is beneficial
Studying with some friends will be a good place for discussion, sharing information, and social interactions as well.
- Learning is a process
It means that you need to do learning regularly as your habit in a well-planned schedule, instead of revising all learning materials only during the SWOT Vac. Also, managing your learning stuff (e.g., recordings, notes, lecture slides, and past exam papers) can help you to find it easily.
- Try a range of different learning methods
A certain way of learning may be suitable for your friend, but it could be ineffective for you. Instead, it is recommended to find your own method. You can try studying with the help of your favorite music or listening to the recording of your lecture while traveling around. Both tips no. 3 and 4 will be the best way to keep your study motivation since you can identify your best study time, the time limit of your focus, and your favorite way of learning.
- Knowing all about your exam
To reduce stress during the exam week, you have to read thoroughly the description of the exam itself. For example, the type of your exam, the covered topics, even the date and location of your exam.
- Asking questions
Once you get issues while studying or preparing your exam, see your lecturers to clarify your confusion or contact the learning advisors to assist you.
- Do the exam carefully
You have already revised all learning materials and brought all the required stuff, so the only thing you need to do is finishing your exam. All good exam preparation that you have done will help maintain your concentration and stay calm during the exam. Start your exam by reading the instruction and all questions carefully, answering the questions that you’re convinced first, and allocate some time to review your answers.
To conclude, stress is a common thing in study life, but it is also manageable. Stress does not occur spontaneously, so you can minimize it by managing your academic life and leisure time. Consuming a nutritionally balanced diet and maintaining mental health are also important. Lastly, a set of good study habits will help you to treat stress as a friend.
- The Stress Management Society and Bodychef. Combating stress with a balanced nutrition diet. 2009. Available from: http://www.mhit.org/assets/combat-nutritional-stress.pdf
- Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology, Multicultural SA, and the Department for Health and Ageing. International student health and wellbeing: a health lens project. The government of South Australia; 2013. Available from: https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/c6a74e00408cbd439e18be222b2948cf/International+Students+Health+Lens+Project-Final+Report-PHCS-HiAP-20130730.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-c6a74e00408cbd439e18be222b2948cf-lSjWj2u
- AMSA Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Committee. Current university student mental health interventions: a global perspective. Australian Medical Students’ Association. 2013. Available from: http://www.amsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/AMSA-SMHW-Global-review-of-Student-Mental-Health-Interventions-Report.pdf
- University Health Service of the University of Michigan. Ten things you can do for your mental health. University of Michigan; n.d. Available from: https://uhs.umich.edu/tenthings
- Oxford Royale Academy. How to study when you’ve lost motivation: 8 sharp tips to get back on track. Oxford Royale Academy; 2017. Available from: https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/tips-studying-motivation.html
- Youth Central. Top 10 exam tips. Youth Central; 2018. Available from: https://www.youthcentral.vic.gov.au/study-and-training/help-with-study/how-to-study-better/top-10-exam-tips