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Keeping an eye on stress levels

By Emily Elicker
On February 19, 2013

Can you remember the last time you weren't stressed out about something? As college students, our lives revolve around paper deadlines and looming test dates. Looking at a calendar or day planner filled with assignments, it's hard not to start sweating a bit.

According to USA Today, a recent survey concluded that the Millennial Generation - people between the ages of 18 to 33 - has become even more stressed over the last year. As a result, they are also the age group leading the pack in depression and anxiety disorder diagnoses.

Part of it has to do with the point we are at in our lives. Stressing about homework comes almost as naturally as breathing for college students. We stress about deadlines, the difficulty of classes and keeping our grades high enough to graduate. For some, one test grade could mean the difference between keeping your academic scholarship or having to apply to a local community college.

However, it may also have to do with the way we grew up. Take a look at little league sports. It used to be the kids who won the championship game at the end of the season received the coveted trophies, the best of the best. Now, every child receives one simply for participating because no one is considered a loser.

In being so sheltered and having our hands held throughout high school, it came as a bit of a shock to some of us what college was really like. Add to that the amount of expectations placed on our generation, and you have the perfect recipe for stress.

I'll be the first one to admit that I'm a chronic worrier on top of being a perfectionist. Everything has to be in perfect order, otherwise I will most likely lose sleep over it. I've also learned the hard way that stress is a deadly mistress. I've become physically sick due to too much stress.

As a result, I've started taking some steps to at least attempt to reduce the amount of stress in my life. However, it's healthy to have a little bit of stress in your life, as odd as it sounds. Stress can be a great motivator to complete homework. According to Firdaus Dhabar, a member of Stanford's Cancer Center, "short-lived stress may enhance anti-tumor activity."

The problems start to arise when you become stressed for long periods of time. It's important to not forget due dates and deadlines, but don't let them completely rule your life. Make sure you aren't losing sleep because of stress. Your mind is refocusing and recharging when you're sleeping, which can mean anything from a quick nap to a full night's sleep. If you're pulling an all-nighter because you have a 10- page paper due tomorrow, sometimes sleeping for an hour can be that extra push you need to finish that last page.

Like sleep, your eating habits are also important to pay attention to. Think about everything you've eaten in the last week. If you just cringed or are embarrassed to tell your mother you've eaten more junk than actual food, it might be time to eat an apple. Your body may be adding to your overall stress levels if you aren't fueling it properly.

If you don't have time to sleep or eat properly, you may think there's no way you have time to think about exercising, let alone actually make it to the gym. Exercising doesn't mean working out every day for two exhausting hours. You may need to take a 20 minute walk or bike ride to clear your head.

Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, which act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. Next time you have some free time, think about taking a trip to the Special Events Recreation Center (SERC). It might just give you that little boost you need to get through the remainder of the week.

Finally, find a creative outlet if you don't already have one. This could be anything from painting to gardening to dancing. For me, creative writing has been a great way to reduce my stress levels and work through old emotional baggage.

Others find talking through any problems with a counselor or therapist to be incredibly helpful. The counseling center at Hazen Health Center is free of charge for students to use and is open from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. throughout the week.

These are just a few of the countless suggestions for reducing your stress levels. Ultimately, it's up to you to determine how you best deal with stress in a healthy way so it doesn't spiral out of control.

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