Manage stress to be successful
Stress kills! This may sound like an overly dramatic cliche, but there is some truth in the old saying. Stress is indeed a contributing factor to heart disease across the world. While it is unlikely to actually kill you, both work and emotional stress can definitely have a negative impact on your life.
Unfortunately, stress is largely unavoidable in life, so it is important to know how to manage it well. Being able to efficiently handle stress will help immensely with your studies and is a useful skill for a successful career and happier life.
In this article we will go into more detail on what stress actually is, the two main types of stress and the symptoms to look out for. We then offer some techniques and tips to reduce stress.
What is stress?
To do battle with something, you need to know what you are up against. The term “stress” is used on a daily basis in conversation. It carries a few different meanings and can be both a noun and a verb, but medically it is more specific. Medically speaking, it is defined as a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension.
Stress as we know it was first described by Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist, Hans Selye in a 1936 paper. He first referred to it as “the general adaptation syndrome”, before renaming it the “stress response” by the time it became better known in the 1950s.
Types of stress
Medically speaking, there are two types of stress. Acute stress is short-term stress that goes away soon after the threat or perceived danger has passed. It pumps our bodies full of adrenaline and we are able to think and act faster in what is called the flight or fight response.
Chronic stress lasts for much longer. This happens when the cause of your worry or stress is something ongoing, such as financial issues, relationship troubles or a problematic work environment. This can carry on for weeks or months at a time.
While acute stress is perfectly healthy from time to time, it is chronic stress that can become very unhealthy and lead to mental and physical problems.
Dangers and symptoms of stress
Earlier this year, we wrote on the topic of “Are you feeling okay?” for World Mental Health Day. Stress is closely linked to mental health and can be a major contributor to poor mental health. In that article we covered the signs of both depression and anxiety, some of the types of anxiety disorder and gave additional tips for reducing the risk.
Here are some signs that stress may be affecting you:
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Frequent aches and pains
- Lack of energy or focus
- Sexual problems
- Stiff jaw or neck
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Upset stomach
- Use of alcohol or drugs to relax
- Weight loss or gain
How to deal with stress
It is important that you learn how to manage stress in your daily life.
UJ’s Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development (PsyCad) posted a handy video on stress management and how to reduce stress. You can watch the full video for more details, but here are the key takeaways from the video:
- Say no
- Hang out
- Deal with problems
- Plan and prioritise
- Stay motivated
- Discard negativity
- Love yourself
- Win or not to win (This one is not as self-explanatory as the others. What they mean is that you shouldn’t worry about what others think of you. Just believe in yourself and focus on completing your studies.)
Stress is also closely linked to physical health and we wrote about how you should live a balanced life by having regular exercise and eating well while you pursue your studies. Regular exercise is a great way to “burn off” your stress and in turn, improve your energy levels and leads to better sleep at night. All round a worthwhile win.
You can give the article a read for some suggestions for home exercise, such as Pilates, aerobics and Calisthenics, or to find out more about the UJ sports clubs.
Meditation and other relaxation techniques
Meditation has many proven benefits, including stress reduction. Just a few minutes of mediation will reduce your heart rate and calm the mind. Regular practice can also improve focus and concentration.
Other forms of relaxation or mindfulness will also help you to manage stress in your life. There are many different breathing techniques and visualisation exercises you can try out. Listening to calming music, especially while engaging in a pleasant creative activity like drawing or doodling also helps many people to relax.
Here are some guides to easy relaxation techniques you can do at home:
Tools for reducing stress
Stress, it seems, is quite a big global business with many different commercial products that promise to reduce stress in our lives. Fidget toys may seem like something of a gimmick, but there appears to be some science behind the hype.
As Scientific American reported, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that fidget toys and items can help some people to concentrate. In one preliminary study, sixth graders who used stress ball toys during instruction independently reported that their “attitude, attention, writing abilities, and peer interaction improved”.
“From a sensory perspective, the touch input is calming. It’s also distracting which can create some cognitive relief from the stress of the day”, Tyrone Edgar, a clinical psychologist with international training in cognitive-behavioural therapy, told IOL. “They are useful but there are many other ways to cope with the stress that may result in better long term stress reduction, such as exercise,” Edgar added.
Here are some popular fidget toys available:
Stress balls are a simple and inexpensive way to combat stress and tension. Squeezing a stress ball can help build up strength, which improves the overall nervous system. It also helps relieve physical tension as it gives a physical outlet, which in turn can relax you and help improve your concentration and focus. Watch this video for more about how to properly use a stress ball.
Fidget spinners are small, pocket-sized devices that users rotate between their fingers. Fidget spinners were so popular at some point that schools had to ban learners from bringing them into class. They can help soothe people who are restless, hyperactive or suffering from anxiety. They also provide an outlet for people who are stuck at a desk for long periods. You can watch this video for more about fidget spinners.
The Fidget Cube started as a kick-starter project that jumped on the growing hype of fidget toys in 2017. Aimed at both children and adults, it has six sides that contain different sensory controls that can be played with. Although there is not much scientific backing, the manufacturers claim it helps people with bad anxiety, panic attacks, ADHD, Aspergers and Autism. Here’s a video explaining more about the fidget cube.
Pop-it fidget device
These devices are the latest fidget trend to have struck the world. They are best described as reusable bubble wrap. Made out of silicone, the devices make a small popping sound when you press in the bubbles. Once the entire side is complete, you can turn it over and start again. IOL recently reported that there were 9 billion views of videos with the #popit hashtag.
Where to get help
We’ve already shared some videos and resources supplied by UJ’s Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development (PsyCad), but they have far more to offer. PsyCad runs various workshops throughout the year to help students deal with exam stress, as well as other useful courses that might make your studies less stressful.
If you find yourself struggling to cope, there is professional counselling and therapy available too. As we mentioned in our mental health article, it is okay to admit that you are not feeling okay. Do not be afraid to reach out for some help. After all, a little mental health pit stop may be all you need to get you performing at your optimum again.