Stressed out? It’s all a matter of coping

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Sometimes it's just too much.

There’s hardly a student that hasn’t felt the burden of stress while in their college years. So much so that many news sources have dove deeper into the reasons why. An article entitled Lessons from College in Psychology Today points out that the years of young adolescence can be times of challenge for many students.

“Young people are learning to regulate themselves in a hyper stimulating world. They’re living on their own for the first time, having left their primary support system behind, and trying to figure out what to do with their lives. That’s not even counting the academic demands of college. Or the urge to begin exploring their own sexuality.” Stress has proven inevitable in a college student’s life. Defined as our body’s individual reaction to any demand place on it, stress causes many effects on the mind and body.

Normal stress symptoms range from a raised heart rate to an increase in blood pressure and ultimately a secretion of “feel good” hormone stimulants throughout our bodies. Symptoms can become unhealthy, leading to depression, mental illnesses, and possible suicide if felt often because they limit an individual’s ability to form coping mechanisms from an unstressed state.

Cynthia Hennard, Director of Counseling Services at Johnson State College finds student’s maladaptive coping skills only add to their stress because of “poor sleep, poor nutrition, and poor time management” including her finding that, “self-responsibility is a work in progress for some students” said in an email interview. Johnson State College students speak about their specific dealings with stress and how they cope with their symptoms.

Caitlyn Sutherland, an Environmental Science major recalls a specific time when “while trying to finish my lab”, she explained, “a teacher showed up in the classroom and began preparing students waiting outside the classroom for the Writing Proficiency exam.” Caitlyn felt like she was being pressured to hurry and reacted physically. “When I took my hand from the mouse I could see the sweat.” Caitlyn further explained that when there are “too many things going on in my mind at once I can’t focus on anything.” Academics and relationships were mentioned most as student’s top two stressors.

Jessica Peterson, a Wellness and Alternative Medicine major finds it very frustrating when her “lack of ability to communicate with them (friends), and their lack of ability to communicate with me” occurs and “it just sits and you spend a lot of time being angry.” Students rely on talking to their best friends or significant others as a method of working through stress. Peterson is a prime example as she said “and I go to him (boyfriend) and I start like crying and breaking down and being like I hate being this angry all the time. I don’t need it.”

High emotions aren’t the only way student’s body’s deal with stress.

Stress can penetrate multiple facets of our mind and body. Simon Dolan, a Psychology major, explains how “dreams involving perceived trauma and an inability to focus on something other than whatever is causing me mental pain” as reason for sleep deprivation when stressed. “I leave music on to drown out my thoughts” continued Dolan. Another method of drowning out thoughts for students, no matter their age, is the abusing of substances to relieve stress.

“Many people lack the physiological tools to adjust their levels of vigilance and guardedness and resort to chemicals, alcohol, weed etc…to impose a relaxation response on the body/mind. Sometimes that’s lovely but it’s not practical as the only go-to 24/7” said Hennard. A presentation at Johnson State brought to campus by JSC’s Coordinator of Student Athlete Development Kristin Cannon, in October of last year included a social norming survey piece.

During the presentation entitled “Campbells Soup, Frosted Flakes and Sex” ninety-three students were given a clicker and asked a series of questions regarding drugs and alcohol use on campus. All answers were completely anonymous.

The results showed students perceived their peers to drink more often in a month then they actually do. Individual students see what is happening around them, but the same cannot be assumed for what is happening on the campus as a whole. Johnson students have found healthier ways of coping with their stress.

Corey Chase, a Health Science major did mention having a relaxing drink with friends once a week as a nice way to enjoy his leisure, along with using time management, and work study time in the library to relax. He also finds quiet time to mediate in his room to a soundtrack of soothing music given to him by a friend. Several other students choose mediation also. Emily Herring, a Psychology major says mediation benefits her by allowing her to “calm down and quite her mind.” She also credits speaking with friends and a counselor once a week as stable stress coping mechanisms.

The counseling center, located with the Health Center at the back of Senator’s south, is a big proponent of both exercise and social support to combat stress. Hennard, expands these practices further including getting enough sleep, maintaining a proper diet (with enough protein specifically), staying hydrated, relaxing, getting sunlight at least 30 minutes a day, spending some time alone, playing, noticing beauty throughout your daily routine in nature etc., and self-talking as a way to remember to be nice to yourself first and foremost. Yoga is also extremely encouraged for good mind, body and spirit practices, which is offered free to students at a studio center in town.

“I am hoping this summer to collaborate with staff and students to create a sort of wellness web page or hub that brings together all of our campus wide wellness and stress-management resources in one place for easy access and to help a person in need get some great ideas for themselves to try out…” said Hennard, while she cited “There is so much available – at the Shape facility, the beautiful trails we have, the frolf course, the pond” for students to turn to as options for developing better ways to manage stress. If students are shy about getting counseling, there will still be a way for them to find trusted guidance on the web.

The counseling center hours are Mon-Thur 9a.m.-12p.m. & 1p.m.-4p.m. and Fri 9a.m.-1p.m. and they remain closed for breaks and summer vacation.