It’s not unusual for students to go through a great deal of stress during their time at university. Swansea is constantly voted as one of the places to be for the “best student experience”, but if you feel like exams, a busy social calendar, or the sudden change in surroundings is beginning to overwhelm you, Evey Moriarty has some advice that we think will be of use.
I don’t think many will disagree that being a student is pretty awesome. We have access to amazing learning resources, a varied social life, the chance to meet great new people, and a lot of freedom. Unfortunately, students are also extremely susceptible to a large amount of stress, which can be caused by a number of things.
It’s difficult to put a figure on how many students suffer from stress, because what causes an individual stress will vary from person to person. It’s a normal reaction to having a lot of pressure – a hectic schedule, assignments, trying to find a work/life balance, etc. – therefore stress can be a positive thing that helps us to get things done and to perform to our best. Sadly, though, a lot of students find that the stress caused by our lifestyles doesn’t stop at simply motivating us to study for exams and deadlines. All too often they find that it becomes a serious problem.
If unresolved, stress can be physically and mentally draining. It suppresses the immune system, makes us tired, causes panic attacks and can even lead to depression. I’m speaking from experience here; during my A levels I suffered from panic attacks that were so severe I mistook the first for a heart attack. As well as this, I know our fearless leader here at the Siren, Roisin O’Connor, suffered a series of panic attacks over the summer.
“I was suffering from palpitations, headaches, chest pains, dilated pupils, and had difficulty breathing. I thought I was genuinely ill,” she said.
“I phoned an ambulance and they came round straight away, before telling me I was under a ridiculous amount of stress for a nineteen year old, but other than that I was fine. Their opinion was that ‘I needed a drink’, which I thought was a very astute medical diagnosis. I have obviously taken their advice very seriously since the incident.”
The NHS estimates that 25% of us suffer from mental illnesses or periods of being mentally unwell during our student careers, which includes stress, anxiety, depression and illness on the bipolar spectrum. I personally deal with the latter condition on a daily basis, and dealt with it for several years before I started university, though it only really became so extreme that I had to receive treatment once I got here.
25% is a frightening statistic, and one which makes me wonder what exactly about being a student makes us so vulnerable to stress and illness. I asked Rosie Luffingham, a second year psychology student, what the factors that worsen stress are, and why students in particular are at risk.
“Stress can be both caused and worsened by what is considered normal student behaviour. An irregular sleep pattern, lack of a set routine, alcohol and drug abuse can all worsen stress – which more or less sounds like a standard year in halls.”
And it’s not just the more fragile students, like me, that can be affected adversely by student life.
I asked a friend of mine, a girl who is possibly one of the most mentally robust, well-adjusted people I have ever met, about her experiences with stress in her first year of university. Although happy with the workload and able to keep up with the nightlife expected of students, she encountered financial difficulty in her second term (which is now, happily, resolved), which led to stress so bad she had to seek medical attention for the extreme headaches she experienced. Although a lot of the adverse effects of stress are mental, it can be physically damaging too.
“It felt like someone was pressing down on my head,” she told me.
In addition to these headaches, her menstrual cycle became irregular and infrequent; a common effect of severe stress on females. She tells me that to combat the stress, she tried to get a lot of sleep and began exercising; something doctors agree is an effective way to fight both stress and depression.
When the late nights, socialising with friends, and huge workload became too much for me last winter, it pushed me into a period of being extremely unwell. Simply sleeping and exercising in this case didn’t do enough, and I had to take advantage of Swansea’s excellent wellbeing services and begin both therapy and medication.
My case is a fairly rare one, and although most students suffering from stress won’t require it, Swansea does offer a variety of very good counseling services if you feel you need them. Your doctor is also a good person to talk to if you begin to feel that your stress levels have become overwhelming.
If you feel the late nights, drinking, university work and general student lifestyle are getting on top of you, don’t hesitate to be selfish and focus on making sure you’re healthy, even if it means skipping a night out, dropping some commitments or even deciding to have a night off your studies to have fun. From a combination of research, my own experiences, and the advice of those I’ve talked to about this issue, I have a few tips on how not to let stress overwhelm you.
Sleep: It’s important to get enough sleep when you’re feeling stressed, preferably in a regular pattern. Eight hours a night is the recommended, healthy amount that will ensure that you feel well-rested and healthy the next day.
Exercise: It’s good for you, both physically and mentally, as it helps your produce the chemicals and hormones that fight anxiety and depression. A healthy (or as healthy as you can manage on a student budget) diet is also good for your mind.
Work: But not too hard! Although it’s important for you to revise and get your work done, it’s also important to just let go every once in a while and have some fun. All work and no play was never good for anyone.
Eat and Drink: It’s important to have a healthy diet, since a healthy lifestyle is a way to combat stress. In moderation during periods of stress or other mental strain, a drink can also help. However, although getting out and having a few bevvies can relax you, it’s not a good idea to drown an already stressed out brain with what is essentially a depressant.
Talk: Whether it’s your personal tutor about work you’re having problems with, your flatmates about maybe keeping it down to let you get some rest, your friends or a doctor about how you’re feeling, it’s important not to bottle up feelings of stress or anxiety.
If you are suffering from stress or anxiety, don’t hesitate to talk to someone about it. You can contact The Siren with further questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.