At what age do students have the greatest stress? Young parents might say preschoolers have the greatest stress. They are leaving their parents for the first time, and have many reasons to be afraid. Older parents say middle school students have the most stress, having just entered adolescence. Still others will cite secondary school as the time of greatest stress. Most agree, however, that the stresses of university life are very great.
Stress management among students in universities is a hit-or-miss matter. Some universities schedule optional stress management classes, but students often lack the time to attend. If they have the time, they lack interest.
Stress Management Keys
Specific keys will open the door to better stress management among students in universities. Some of those keys are being used, but others are lost or neglected. Without them, stress management is limited for the students. We will not attempt to list here every key, or to put them in any given order. Rather, we would like to suggest stress management keys that may be lost in the rubble of today’s society.
1. Clear definitions: Effective stress management among students requires clear definitions of words such as “stressor,” “stress,” “eustress,” and “distress.”
Students who do not understand clearly what stress is cannot be expected to succeed at stress management. They may be trying to manage stressors, thinking they are managing stress. The outcome may very well be increased stress rather than stress management.
Stress management among students in universities can begin only after they understand that the extra demands made upon them are stressors, not stress. They then must understand that their response to those demands constitutes stress. Finally, if they are to get a grasp on practical stress management, they will need to know that there are two kinds of stress. One, eustress, is beneficial. The other, distress, is detrimental.
Students who understand these concepts, and embrace them, have unlocked the first door leading to stress management.
2. Action Plan: With a firm understanding of the definitions, students are ready to formulate a stress management action plan. They are ready for the proverbial locking of the barn door to prevent the horse’s escape.
Armed with the knowledge that stress is the response to stressors, students can learn to control that response. They can determine to take specific, proactive steps to prepare for stressors. They can, in a sense, ambush the stressors as a step of stress management.
3. Stressor Identification: An important part of the stress management ambush is to learn to identify the enemy. A focused tertiary student will see stressors and know them for what they are. Every university student has stressors. All of us have unusual demands made on us. The key to stress management is to identify those demands as stressors.
In universities and colleges, stressors take the form of unaccustomed activities. Sharing a room with a stranger makes demands on a student. A new form of study is demanding. Financial resources and potentially new dating standards can be stressors.
Whether students are in Italy or Iowa, they are free of the constraints of home, and that freedom is a stressor. Freedom makes unusual demands on one who has not had it in fullness.
All of these and about 2000 more are stressors that a student must identify in order to engage in stress management.
4. Turning Distress into Eustress: Another key that helps unlock the doors to stress management is that of turning distress into eustress. Students often act as victims of their stressors. They believe they can do nothing but suffer. Stress management requires that they learn to turn a potentially negative response to stressors into a positive response.
Eustress, the beneficial stress, is what carries an excited, happy couple through the whirlwind of preparation for a large wedding. From the moment of the proposal, the couple may be surrounded by stressors. Extra demands, unusual demands are being made on them. Yet they are not depressed. The demands do not weigh heavily on them. They embrace them, and respond with smiles. They accept the challenge of getting everything done well and on time because they choose to accept it that way.
The same type of response can be enlisted on other occasions that call for stress management. Much of what students view as negative stress can be turned around, energizing them to excel.
Is this a false, rosy-tinted view of stress management? Not at all. Does this negate principles such as deep breathing, exercise, healthy diet, and regular sleep? No. As we said, this is not an attempt to provide every key to stress management. It is an effort to look at keys that are being neglected.
Stress management among students in universities can be stripped of many programs, drugs, and therapies if these keys are used well.