Student Stress: Putting Self-Care at the Top of Your 'To-Do' List

Friday, November 20, 2015

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Students tend to know what to do to relax after a big test or stressful experience, but do you make sure to give yourself permission to relax during a stressful period?
Stressed student studying in class.

We all know that some level of stress comes with being a student. Undoubtedly you will experience moments of overwhelm, exhaustion and difficulty. Your limits will be challenged by rigorous coursework and time demands. By accepting stress as inevitable, it makes it possible to focus on positively managing it.

“Most students know things they can do to relax, but they don't do them when stress is high,” says Caitlin Dzikon, PhD, core faculty member in the Department of Counseling and Health Psychology. Dr. Dzikon encourages students to ask themselves: “Is it part of my study strategy to include relaxation?”

It can be tough for students to feel like they can allow themselves time to relax, let alone incorporate regular opportunities into their busy schedules. However, it’s important to remember that the consequences of not managing stress are dire. Over time, the effects of stress on the body can result in hypertension, compromised endocrine function, suppressed immune function, insomnia and much more. Conversely, a mindfulness or meditation practice actually leads to positive increases in gray matter density in the brain.

In other words, it isn’t optional to set self-care as a priority; it’s essential. “Students often tell themselves that relaxation will come after they get through the stressor, like a big test or other stressful event,” says Dr. Dzikon. “It’s important to become more aware of the need to relax — and for students to give themselves permission to relax in the midst of stressful situations.”  

Brad Lichtenstein, ND, BCB, core faculty member in the School of Naturopathic Medicine, teaches students and patients how mindful breathing and meditation can offer a powerful path to wellness. “I'm interested in what we can do to help our health without anything else," says Dr. Lichtenstein. “Breathing is free. Posture is free. Meditation is free. You're not using anything else, not even a supplement or a plant."

Indeed, one of the best ways of addressing stress is deceptively simple: Start by simply noticing it. Notice your breath; notice the specific places of tension in your body. Is your jaw tight? What is your posture like? When we bring awareness to the fact that we are experiencing stress, it becomes more obvious what we can do to alleviate it. “Awareness is key to making the decision to put your own self-care high on your to-do list,” says Dr. Dzikon.

As a Bastyr University student, you have a wealth of support, resources and tools at your disposal for those moments when you recognize it’s time address your stress level. Here are a few places to start.