Let’s play a game – a stress game. It’s called “How Stressed Am I,” and the rules are simple: Just follow along and fill in the blanks. Give yourself five points if your answer is “always,” four points if it’s “often,” three points for “sometimes,” 2 twopoints for “rarely,” and one point for “never.” But before we begin, a warning to players: Just like in golf, the lower the score, the better off you are.
First statement: I am _____ having financial difficulties.
I _______ have health problems.
My home is __________ unstable.
A member of my family is _________ seriously ill.
Doing things for fun is ___________ unheard of in my life.
My hard work ___________ goes unnoticed.
I ___________ feel that I live in a dangerous environment.
I am ___________ paranoid about the security of my job.
I am ___________ trying to lose weight.
I ____________ lack energy.
According to the University’s Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, anyone scoring a 23 or higher has a high level of stress, which is caused mostly by lifestyle or routine changes but can also be caused by things such as bright lights, noise, deadlines, traffic, caffeine, pessimistic thinking, having unrealistic expectations or working too much.
Students said friends and money were also common causes of their stress.
“Staying in touch with friends back home stresses me out,” RC sophomore Yuri Kashima said. “My friends at home are important to me, but recently we’ve all been falling apart. And it stresses me out thinking that I’m not going to be able to stay in touch with some of them in the long run.”
Financial woes and the uncertainty of things to come are what LSA freshman David Lawrence-Lupton said stress him out the most.
“I suppose right now, I’m stressed out about what to do with the housing next year. I suppose that it’s the doubt about what living in the dorm next year will be like. This year was fun, but I don’t know how next year will turn out,” he said. “I’m also pissed at Entertainment Weekly. I got a four-issue trial thing at Media Play for buying something with a credit card. Now, they’re still sending me issues that I don’t want, and billing me for them, even though I directly asked the person making the offer if I would have to cancel, and they said no. I try not to be a stupid consumer, and yet things like this still happen.”
Living a stressful life may be a commonality for college students – many of whom juggle classes, part-time jobs and serious relationships while preparing for a future outside of higher education – but, says Martha Kimball, a faculty member in the University of Michigan Health System’s Preventative Cardiology Department, it shouldn’t be.
“Sometimes people get used to pain. They just think, this is the way life is,” she stated.
She added that stress – a mental or emotional condition that causes the body’s chemicals and hormones to become unbalanced – only becomes a part of life after victims fail to take care of themselves or separate themselves from the pressures surrounding them.
“There isn’t a patient alive that doesn’t know that we are all engaged in our own wellness,” Kimball said, adding that patients often make their conditions worse by worrying about the problems instead of the solutions.
“When the patient is highly stressed and doing nothing about it, they are very seldom compliant,” she said. “They don’t exercise, they don’t eat right. They continue to feel bad.”
Short-term stress, she added, can cause everything from irritablity and hostility to sleeplessness, depression and anxiety.
According to the UMHS, stress can also cause fatigue, headaches, insomnia, muscle aches, back and neck pain and stiffness, chest pains, cramps, nausea, coldness, sweating and colds.
And that’s not all. Stress can also causes memory and concentration problems, indecisiveness, blankness, confusion and humorlessness.
In addition, those suffering from stress can also become easily angered, frustrated, worried, impatient and short-tempered. The symptoms can make them pace, fidget, smoke, drink alcohol, cry, yell, swear and throw things.
The symptoms prove true for LSA sophomore Lisa Franklin, who said she often loses her temper without realizing it when she’s stressed.
“I feel fine normally, just not relaxed. But I guess I don’t realize that I’m being rude to everyone until it’s too late,” Franklin said. “I don’t mean to be, but when I’m being pulled in 4,000 directions, I’m not a pleasant person.”
Franklin added that she, like many others, has developed some nervous habits to help ease her mind when she’s stressed, like biting her nails and smoking.
“Smoking is relaxing because you don’t have to think about anything. You can just smoke,” she said.
But according to University Health Services, habits like smoking and drinking only contribute to a person’s stress level.
Though there are different medicines sufferers can take for each of the symptoms, the most important and effective ways to combat stress are mental, Kimball said.
There are short-term solutions. For example, when people have depression, they can take antidepressants,” she said. “But in the long term, people need to manage their own lives.”
According to lifestyle therapist David Posen, author of “Always Change a Losing Game,” the best ways to combat stress is to change lifestyle habits. These include caffiene intake, changing stressful situations and becoming a more positive thinker.
Exercise, Kimball said, also helps combat stress because endorphins – hormones released during physical activity – help rebalance the body’s chemicals
Kimball, who teaches several classes on stress management, recommended several alternative therapies, such as meditation, deep muscle relaxation, yoga, self-hypnosis and conscious breathing, to aid those who are stressed out.
“There are two ways they help,” she said. “The first is because they break up the stimulus-and-response bond that causes stress. The second reason is because it enables you to stop the stress where it enters the body, which is the mind.”
For those not enrolled in her classes, Kimball offered some how-to instructions.
“In conscious breathing, you take your attention – your full attention – and you focus it on your natural breath, and you watch your breath as it enters your nose at a cold temperature and as it leaves your body at a warm temperature,” she said, adding that it allows those who are stressed to focus entirely on something besides the things that are causing the stress.
Similarly, in deep muscle relaxation, a person focuses their attention on purposefully contracting their muscles in order to release built-up tension.
Although most experts agree that such methods can help a person manage their stress levels, many students say they haven’t tried meditation or self-hypnosis simply because they don’t have the time.
“Yoga could help, but I’ve never tried it,” RC sophomore Yuri Kashima said, noting that often times, her busy schedule has kept her from participating in activities that are recommended stress-relievers. “I used to kick box last semester, and it did help me get out my aggression… I had to stop because I’m taking too many classes this term and doing too many extra-curricular activities.”
But Kimball said that kind of thinking isn’t healthy, adding that any activity that helps relieve stress will eventually save time rather than spend it.
“Learning stress management techniques adds time to your life because you’re not constantly doing things that are the biproducts of stress, like forgetting your purse or sleeping badly,” she said. “People who learn how to manage their stress generally have more time and more attention to spend on the things they want to do.”
Still, Kashima said though she recognizes that there are things she could do, such as eating healthier, sleeping more and procrastinating less, she still believes the best stress relievers are her friends.
“I write letters or call up a friend or talk to my roommate,” she said. “I tend to go out more because I feel like I need to be having fun and forget about being stressed out.”
Other students have their own ways of dealing with the anger and frustration that come with the homework and fatigue.
Some students admitted to turning to childhood activities, like coloring or playing video games. Others said they choose to express themselves by painting or writing. While other students vent their frustration physically, through running, boxing or basketball.
Whatever the method, many students say they find procrastinating to be key.
“I procrastinate because, that way, all of my stress is focused into a short time frame,” Lawrence-Lupton said. “Video games are how I unwind most of the time. I suppose that the ability to take aggression out on virtual characters is good … it’s like hitting a cyber pillow.”