The 3rd of November was National Stress Awareness Day. This day is held each year and can be a time when people engage with mental health advocacy or think about ways they respond to stress in their lives.

What is stress?

Unlike anxiety, stress is usually a response by the brain to something we have control over or different aspects of our lives that we could potentially manage better. If unaddressed, it can affect the body, emotions, and memory. Its tendency to improve performance in moderate amounts but damage it when extreme and chronic is known as Yerkes Dodson Law.

Who is most likely to be impacted by stress?

Everybody experiences this emotion at times in their life, possibly with no exception. In a survey, 74% of UK adults said they had experienced extreme or overwhelming stress this year. Stress is not often discussed in depth and all of us could maybe find better ways to manage it. In recognition of National Stress Awareness Day, we have put together some ways to relieve stress.

View stress positively. One of the easiest ways to manage stress can be to think positively about it. What is most important for the brain and body is how we respond to it; a 2012 study showed that people who both experienced a lot of stress and did not view it as harmful to health lived the longest out of all the participants.

The physiological effect of stress resembles that of the emotions of joy or courage, and one upside is that it makes us social by releasing oxytocin, a neural hormone that strengthens close relationships and the brain’s social instincts. Good stress is known as ‘eustress’.

Cultivate your hobbies. They can be a temporary escape from stress and the pressure of commitments. If you think you have no hobbies and/or are looking for a new one, you may wish to join Woolly Matters at Winchester Hub. Here you can learn to knit and crochet many beautiful items, with support available for new starters.

Volunteer. A 2013 study showed that participants who spent time caring for people around them did not have their lifespan shortened at all by major stressful events, which would usually have been the case. At Winchester Hub, there are many ways you can get involved in the community through Woolly Matters or the Give It a Go one-off volunteering scheme. Past GIAG events have included: planting trees, making Christmas cards for elderly residents of care homes, gardening on allotments, and sorting homeless food donations.

For more short-term stress, just priming your brain to think about somebody else, especially if they are present, can break internal monologue and cyclical thoughts.

Prioritising and organisation. Robert Sapolsky showed that people who cannot differentiate stressful from non-stressful events have twice as many stress hormones. Identifying the most stressful/urgent tasks in your life may help you focus on them and narrow down the number of decisions needed.

Laugh. Laughter lowers stress hormones and triggers the release of ‘good’, stress-reducing hormones. For example, you could watch a comedy stand-up on YouTube. Sometimes I laugh when doing various dances to music, and you surely have your own ideas to draw on.

Exercise is good for stress. As well as being an opportunity to see nature and workout, it raises your breathing and heart rate, leading to chemical changes in the brain that increase calmness and well-being. It also increases connections in the hippocampus, which creates memories, something also achieved through meditation.

Deep breathing exercises counteract the body’s fight or flight response and have been linked to reduced test anxiety.

Eat magnesium. The body’s levels of this mineral are depleted after a period of intense stress, but it is so good for managing anxiety and stress it has been called ‘Nature’s Valium’. Magnesium-rich foods include spinach, nuts, legumes, avocadoes, and there are many more.

Thank you for reading. Hopefully, this article was helpful, and you found more ways to cope with stress in student life.


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