College may very well be the best four years of a person’s life, but reports show that college students are more stressed out nowadays than they have ever been before. This stress creates a breeding ground for mental health ailments, with approximately 37 percent of college students suffering from depression, anxiety or stress. In recognition of this growing epidemic, Daily Bruin bloggers Appurva Goel and Belicia Tang will be delving into this phenomenon and investigating the major issues and stigmas that affect the mental health of college students, as well as what resources UCLA students can seek out for help.
Juggling used to fascinate me as a kid. I used to stand for hours in front of a mirror, trying to keep stolen tennis balls from my brother’s kit high in the air. After I came to UCLA, I realized that attending college is a lot like juggling.
Academics, career prospects, finances and a social life are just some of the many “balls” that we juggle. With each ball that we add to our act, we also add stress, which can have corrosive effects on our mental health.
Although stress can sometimes be a motivating force, there is a fine line between the stress that helps you finish a five-page essay in 50 minutes and stress that interferes with your daily functioning.
If not controlled, stress can cause more severe problems like anxiety disorders. Studies show that stress hormones also play a significant role in the development of depression.
Coping mechanisms can control stress and the mental disorders it can cause to a large extent. Coping mechanisms based on targeting the stressor are considered the most effective, but when the stressor is academics and you’re a college student, behavioral and emotional coping strategies can play a large role in regulating stress.
Here are some recommended student experience-tested strategies to help cope with stress.
Behavioral coping mechanisms
No matter how much we would like to blame our professors, the quarter system or even our dorm neighbors, we have to admit that unhealthy lifestyle habits play a huge role in regulating stress levels. Changing these habits and inculcating good lifestyle practices can help students manage stress to a large extent.
Exercising can be a quick way to reduce stress and elevate your mood. The body releases endorphins while exercising, which trigger a positive feeling in the body – an effect that can last for several hours after finishing a workout. Working out also distracts from your brain from problems and stressors.
Try this: While an hour of exercise everyday may not be compatible with a college schedule, studies show that 30 minutes of daily exercise is more effective than infrequent periods of hour-long workouts. Even a intense 10-minute jog between classes or study sessions can help students relieve stress.
Get enough sleep
College wouldn’t be college without irregular sleep patterns. College sleep culture has reached the point where students will often boast about how little sleep they get, with the most sleep-deprived individual groggily beaming with pride.
Not only is insomnia considered one of the earliest symptoms of depression, but it is also considered one of the possible causes of depression. Sleep is also inversely related to stress, anxiety and optimum brain functioning. Studies conducted by Harvard University show that lack of sleep increases stress, anger, exhaustion and sadness – potential triggers for anxiety and depression.
Try this: Naps are the best option when eight hours of sleep, the ideal recommendation, is not possible with a hectic college schedule . Naps between classes is the ideal way to make up for sleep deficit. However, limit naps to 45 minutes to avoid grogginess.
The kind of food you eat has a direct impact on your brain’s function. Nutritious food replaces the vitamins that are drained by stress hormones like cortisol, while sugary food can leave you feeling stressed and drained after a sugar rush.
Try this: Eat more B-Plate and don’t just go to the protein line.
Reduce caffeine intake
Few students can attend their 8 a.m. classes without coffee, but caffeine can actually contribute to stress. While a definitive causation is yet to be proven, more and more studies are showing a correlation between large amounts of caffeine and depression.
Reduce alcohol and drug intake:
Studies show that substance-dependent individuals have greater dysfunctional attitudes than healthy individuals. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which can leave you feeling emotionally and mentally drained the next morning. The emotionally mediating effects of heavier, sustained alcohol usage can also go beyond the day after hangover.
Students also have a tendency to turn to alcohol to “get away” from the academic stress of college. This escape, however, is momentary and can severely affect both the short-term and long-term health of individuals.
Try this: Stick to beer, cocktails and overall “lighter” drinks instead of consuming “hard” alcohol like vodka or tequila. Jungle juice should be avoided as well, as it often contains unknown amounts of grain alcohol, and the fruit juice or soda can mask the taste of an incredibly high alcohol-to-fruit juice ratio.
Emotional coping mechanisms
Emotional coping mechanisms can prove useful before exams, performances, speeches, or any event that can trigger anxiety.
When we are in stressful situations, many of us tend to hyperventilate. Breathing exercises can help normalize oxygen intake, which in turn reduces stress and anxiety.
- Count to 10 while holding your breath, slowly releasing it after and then letting your body go limp.
- Practice belly breathing.
- Naturalize your breathing by breathing in and out for seven counts.
[Related: Meditation can also help with stress levels]
Controlling the temperature of hands
Another way to calm yourself is by increasing the temperature of your hands. This is because vasodilation, the process that results in dilation of your arterial walls, takes place when the temperature of your hand increases. Vasodilation can help relieve stress and anxiety,
Try this: Clench your fist tightly. After 10 seconds, release your hands and let your entire body go limp.
While these strategies are effective for coping with stress, sometimes stress can accumulate to an extent where individual solutions aren’t enough. Friends, CAPS and other university resources can also provide additional support. This support may decide how you remember your college experience – as the best four years of your life or the worst.
Next week, we will be exploring the impact of friends and college resources on mental health prevention and treatment.