Distress, ‘eustress,’ we all stress to do our best
Advanced Reporting Class—As the end of the fall semester and the holiday season quickly approach, some students already pressured by the demands of classes, work and personal lives can feel like the stress of it all may be too much.
Dr. Robert Hines, associate professor and chair of the psychology department, explained that there are two types of stress, good stress and bad stress. “Knowing how to manage these stresses can lead to better physical and mental health. For students, it can lead to success or failure in goals,” Hines added.
Eustress is considered “good stress.” This is the type of stress people get when exercising. It helps people stay healthy and live longer. The opposite of eustress is distress or “bad stress.” Distress is associated with anxiety and acute physical or mental fatigue, and if not dealt with, can lead to a variety of symptoms.
According to Dr. Kerri Daniels, assistant professor of the department of pediatrics at UAMS, “Symptoms often consist of changes in sleep, changes in interests, decreased energy, decreased grades, changes in eating habits and thoughts of hurting themselves.”
When students are identified with symptoms of distress, Health Services refers them to UALR Counseling and Career Planning Services or to outside facilities that are better equipped to handle the treatment of people with distress and coping issues.
According to Hines, stress can lead to serious illness, anxiety and depression if allowed to go unchecked. In the whirlwind of deadlines, priorities and commitments that UALR students face, Hines reminds students not to forget the most important role one can play in keeping it all manageable – taking care of ones self.
It can start out innocently enough. First, you skip breakfast because you are running late for work. You spend your lunch break struggling to eke out the last few lines of a paper due in your class that afternoon. As you dash off to school, you snag a bag of chips from an ancient vending machine, hoping it will ward off the lightheadedness you feel is about to overtake you. When class is over, you bolt for the door so you can make it to the day care on time. By the time the kids are put to bed, it’s nearly 9 p.m. and you are just now getting a decent meal in you. No time to slow down yet – you still have an all-nighter to look forward to if you are going to pass your midterm in the morning.
This scenario is all too familiar to many UALR students. According to Hines, a few days like this per week, let alone an entire semester, can greatly increase the risk of stress-related illness or chronic fatigue. Hines also pointed out that prolonged periods of stress can cause signs of premature aging, which for some students may be reason enough to worry.
Once set in motion, the “stress cycle” can be perpetual for students who are unable to break it. When dealing with stress, some experts advise that using a good offense may be the best defense. Dr. Michael Kirk, director of UALR counseling and career planning services, believes prevention is vital to dealing with stress.
Good time management skills may be essential for students struggling to find time to stay healthy. The key is taking time to plan, according to renowned author and time management guru Stephen Covey, who suggests that effective time management begin with personal introspection. In his best selling book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Covey teaches the value of identifying the most important tasks you need to accomplish in a week.
This tip seems to work for Jenna Pearce, a broadcast journalism student. “I like to make a list of all the things I have to do. It makes the process less stressful when I can check things off my list that I have accomplished,” she said.
Covey recommends scheduling a specific time and date to accomplish tasks on a calendar, and advises selecting a time when you can focus on tackling your goal – not in a hurried half hour window between classes. For best results, Covey recommends giving yourself adequate time to complete a task. He also warns against overcrowding your schedule. This can lead to added stress, when unexpected tasks come your way.
Some students find themselves overwhelmed with stress, which can lead to depression or anxiety issues. Some signs of depression are sleeping or procrastinating more than usual. These are both avoidance behaviors according to Kirk.
The experts agree that procrastination can lead to “Stress-ville.” Kirk warned that this kind of avoidance behavior can cause an unhealthy loss of motivation, but good time management can help keep it at bay. To avoid procrastination, Covey suggests scheduling your most important tasks early in the day to accommodate any unforeseen circumstances that could force you to put things off.
According to Kirk, it is important that students feeling stress-related anxiety keep trying to meet their objectives, especially when they have lost their desire to do so. He explained that students would be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment later, if they don’t give up. “Make yourself get up and go to class…. even if you don’t feel like it,” he said.
Like Kirk, Hines recommended exercise and a healthy diet as coping strategies. He also suggested getting adequate amounts of sleep each night, meditation, and surrounding oneself with a supportive group of friends.
It is important to remember that if students feel distressed, need help learning coping skills or need someone to talk to, they should contact UALR Health Services, UALR Counseling and Career Planning Services or another medical provider. For more information, visit http://ualr.edu/health/ or http://ualr.edu/personalcounseling/.