Starting college can be an exciting time, if not a little daunting. You have the opportunity to study a subject you have a genuine interest in and a chance at making lifelong friends.
I can honestly say that looking back they were some of the best years of my life, but they were not without its challenges. For most students, this will be their first taste of real freedom and independence (a beautiful thing to be sure), but as uncle Ben said to Peter Parker (aka Spiderman): “With great power comes great responsibility!”
We all experience stress at some point in our lives, so it’s important to recognise it in ourselves and others when it does arise.
If I’m walking down the street at night and someone jumps out of an alleyway and shouts “Gimme all your sweeties!” (let’s keep it light). I would go into the fight or flight stress response. My heart rate will ramp up, followed by a release of some pretty powerful stress hormones. This is survival.
You might notice that you simply can’t get going in the mornings (hello 10 cups of coffee) or whacking the snooze button multiple times
I will either run from my foe or stand and fight. After all, I have these powerful hormones coursing through my body, and I will be faster and stronger than I normally would be. Whatever the outcome, my body will eventually return to a normal state. This is called homeostasis.
But what happens if the body doesn’t return to homeostasis? A prolonged and sustained release of stress hormones can adversely affect our mood, sleep and energy levels. Why would the body continue to release these hormones in the absence of any real threat? Remember, your body doesn’t distinguish between a perceived threat or a real one.
In life, high on the list of stressors would be the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or financial stress. In a college context, it could be mounting college work, assignment deadlines, bullying and the list goes on.
You could be experiencing a stressed and wired feeling – people, places and things that wouldn’t normally annoy you become really irritating. Maybe you find yourself waking at 4am or 5am with a racing mind on a regular basis.
If it isn’t managed, you can become even more stressed and tired. You might notice that you simply can’t get going in the mornings (hello 10 cups of coffee) or whacking the snooze button multiple times. Your mood and memory seem to be getting worse too.
Involving ourselves in such activities can give us back a sense of control and let us get on with the business of enjoying college life
People self-medicate for stress with different coping strategies – some good, some bad. You might turn to alcohol, drugs, smoking, pornography, excessive exercise, abnormal eating patterns or even a Game of Thrones binge!
If stress puts the body into a fight or flight state, it’s good to engage in activities that switch the body back into a parasympathetic state, which is the opposite of fight or flight. Finding that balance again can be difficult for some people, which is why they often try various coping strategies from relaxing to self-medicating. In the US, a few alternative ways to deal with stress are becoming popular among many people. One of which is a class of remedies called psilocybins (click here to get info on an example) which can be known to be a mood lifter in small doses. Essential oils are another natural remedy that some Americans have been investigating, as well as marijuana, and marijuana-based products (Click here to read more about these.)
Another way to destress is by taking a more physical approach. Meditation, tai chi, yoga, pilates and moderate exercise – all these have been proven to substantially lower stress hormones. Involving ourselves in such activities can give us back a sense of control and let us get on with the business of enjoying college life!
Mark McGauran is a fitness instructor and pool lifeguard for Trinity Sport