The Science and Solutions to Stress

The Science and Solutions to Stress

Grace McClung and Nina Dorighi, Journalists

The first semester is coming to an end and that means it’s time for students to take the dreaded finals. This time of year is accurately described in one word: stress. Stress about finishing up the semester strong, doing well on finals and studying. It’s important to understand the relevance of stress in your life to be able to deal with it in a healthy way. The feeling of stress is a complicated one and a normal one, which is why students everywhere should understand how stress works and ways to cope with. 

Before learning how to deal with it, it is important to understand how stress works. Stress is a natural response that has evolved over millions of years and has helped our ancestors survive in the wild. And in the wild, most stressful episodes were extremely beneficial and were resolved quickly. However, the problem today is the modern world and modern issues creates chronic stress. There are things going on all the time and everything from family to friends to school to sports can stress us out. Stress is like an alarm system. It begins when the amygdala sends a threat to the brain and the nervous system works to protect you from an attack. This would work if you were out hunting for food but it’s not so helpful when sitting down to take a test. Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t know the difference and our alarm system is set off more times than it needs to be. This can be problematic because eventually, too many alarm signals can cause serious physical damage. According to naturopathic physician, Holly Lucille, “you start to create something called hippocampal brain damage, and the results of this are disturbed circadian rhythms: Your sleep-wake cycle is disturbed. You get moody, and you get memory loss, brain fog.” Stress can impact nearly every part of your body including your heart, stomach and intestines, glands, and even some natural processes such as aging. Of course, we need stress to identify real threats and protect us from potential danger. We can’t change that part of ourselves but we can change the type of stress we deal with and how we respond to it.

Believe it or not, there are good types of stress. A lot of it today is bad, but we do need to experience some stress. The most common type of stress is acute stress which is the least damaging of all types of stress. We experience this type multiple times everyday and it is a quick response to an immediate threat such as being late, forgetting something, or giving a presentation. “Our minds extend acute stress,” according to the american psychology association. Things like irritability and sadness occur during this stress, but subside after the stress has passed. As long as it doesn’t continue and turn into chronic stress, acute stress can actually be good. There is something called the stress paradox which shows that stress is always part of a happy life-style. A study done in 2013 by Roy Baumeister showed that people saw stressful situations in their lives as the most meaningful ones. We don’t grow without a little pressure and stress that pushes us out of our comfort zones is extremely beneficial. However, it is only beneficial in small doses. When acute stress turns into episodic acute stress or chronic stress, it can be very unhealthy. Episodic stress occurs when people have more frequent bursts of acute stress. They can be hostile towards others, have strained relationships, and struggle with stressful situations more than others. Chronic stress is when emotional pressure convinces a person they have no control. This is bad because it can lead to anxiety and depression. Knowing the signs of each type of stress and identifying good and bad stress in yourself is the first step towards it. 

Every person experiences stress in one way or another. Its beneficial to learn techniques to ease your mind when it comes to acute stress. Whether that be distraction with a hobby or taking deep breaths and reassuring yourself. Students especially face stress when it comes to school work, activities, social media and social pressures. Dealing with stress is different for everyone. Usually people need to have an outlet, like working out,  playing sports or meditating and relaxing. It could be a creative outlet like writing/ journaling or drawing. It could even just be talking to someone you trust like a friend or a family member. To cope with our stress, we listen to music, talk to family/friends, and take our mind off of it by working out. At South, there is a team of counselors and psychologists happy to listen and offer advice if you need to speak to someone. Whatever makes you feel relieved and allows you to take a step back to relax. It’s very easy to get caught up in the intricacies of life but being able to self diagnose and “medicate” when you are feeling overwhelmed is a skill we all need. Other things include living a healthy lifestyle like getting enough sleep at night and eating well.

As we are approaching finals, make sure to take time for yourself and recognize when you need to take a step back to cope with the stress. As high schoolers, our lives can be extremely busy and stressful as we navigate school and life so it is important to remember that everyone is going through similar things and there are tons of support systems here at South. Stress is an extremely common thing but it is only beneficial in small doses so make sure you are taking care of yourself and keeping your stress at a minimum while preparing for finals.

Stress exists as a defense mechanism developed for our ancestors who needed to be on edge and prepared for the dangers of living in a different era. Today, this defense mechanism still exists but it is not necessary for finals. So remember to relax and be glad you don’t have to worry about getting eaten by a bear. 

 

Here are some quick solutions to stress:

  • Listen to music
  • Go outside
  • Talk to friends or family members
  • Work out
  • Access a creative outlet
  • Talk to the South counselors and psychologists
  • Take a break: Do something fun!
  • Take a deep breath and a step back/mindfulness and meditation
  • Remember you are not alone!