BY LAUREN KEATING
As students, we set on a path to expand our knowledge. In life, we should always want to continue down a course to strengthen our body, mind and spirit. However, as college students, it is easy to take on many responsibilities as we juggle jobs, classes and schoolwork – not to mention family life and everyday occurrences that can make us feel like we are swimming in tasks and drowning in a pool of our own thoughts. This in turn makes it hard for us to stay afloat.
Just breathe. That is what Counselor Liat Tsuman-Caspi advised during a stress management workshop held by the Brooklyn College Personal Counseling Program (BCPCP), located in James Hall. Workshops provided by the BCPCP include those focused on stress management, time management, and test anxiety. In this program, all graduate and undergraduate students are offered assistance with personal issues or problems that arise during their academic careers. These services are free and confidential.
Stress of everyday life begins to creep inside us like an unwanted visitor, growing and infecting our minds, crippling our strength and weakening our bodies. A month into the semester, classes seem to become more serious, as assignments and other duties begin to pile up simultaneously. Some idealize college to be a time when young adults get their freedom from the conformity of high school and live their lives on their terms. Although this is true, with such liberty comes many obligations. In movies, college is all about crazy parties, and is seen by some as simply a time in between breaking out of that awkward teenage phase and getting a job. In reality, “College in general is a stressful time,” Tsuman-Caspi said during the workshop.
Sitting in a circle, she engaged the participants in conversation while the air in the classroom was safe, comfortable and intimate. As students, we can relate to each other, and sharing personal experiences results in finding a common bond. Tsuman-Caspi stated that stress is caused when “external demands overwhelm us internally.” Stress refers to situations that trigger physical and emotional reactions, and the stimuli themselves. The nervous system and the endocrine system are responsible for how our bodies respond to stressors. Hormones such as cortisol (released by the cortex of the adrenal gland) and epinephrine (released by the medulla of the adrenal gland, and also known as adrenaline) are released, which result in changes to our bodies that include: heart rate acceleration, perspiration to cool the body, and the discharge of endorphins that can either increase or block pain.
Participants at the BCPCP workshops were encouraged to discuss what stress meant to them and to identify their stressors. Students (who will remain anonymous for respect of privacy and confidentiality) found a common ground over issues such as not being able to control certain circumstances, and the inability to finish tasks and meet deadlines. Common college stressors include academic, interpersonal, and financial worries, as well as time pressure and anxiety about the future.
Tsuman-Caspi informed the group that stress manifests in different forms and levels. It can be caused by both external and internal factors. Some outside factors include: pollution, noise, relationships, work, school, social situations, and financial circumstances. Internal factors include: low self-esteem, unrealistic expectations, and unexpressed anger.
This apprehension and tension can wear away at our bodies, minds, emotions, behavior, and could cause headaches, loss of appetite, lack of sleep, and may lead us to develop excessive habits, such as drinking and smoking. Extreme anxiety can also result in depression. According to the National Institutes of Health (2008), 50 percent of college students report depression severe enough to affect their daily functioning.
There is no “cure” for stress but Tsuman-Caspi advised that it is important “not to make it go away but how to handle it.” For example, Michelle Yefrusi, a biology major, joined business major, Stefano Chiarizia, outside the Brooklyn College gates to manage their stress. “School makes me stressed – tests and homework,” Yefrusi stated while the pair enjoyed their stress-relieving cigarette. But the friends tried to control their school stress positively, by, as Yefrusi said, “taking a walk with her dog.” Chiarizia agreed, saying that “listening to music” works for him. Living a stress free life is all about finding balance. To cope in a healthy way, seek out exercise, meditation, and address time management. Health and nutrition major, Jackson Quach, manages his stress by keeping a clear head. “I like to relax any chance I get,” said the senior. Although, he doesn’t get stressed often, it is sometimes unavoidable. “I go to school full-time and I work full-time. Sometimes it’s good to just sit back and drink a beer or two,” Quach said with a smile. But he tends to do healthy habits, too, such as working out, which could explain why he finds himself often unperturbed.
Handling the many responsibilities we have can often leave us feeling stranded and spread too thin. School can sometimes be an academic jungle, a survival of the fittest. Tsuman-Caspi spoke about how exercise is such a beneficial stress reliever. Not only do you feel strong, but it is also “a connection of the body and mind.” Just knowing that you can get through things can make you feel tough enough to endure anything physically, mentally and emotionally, leading to overall beneficial health. According to information addressing stress from the BCPCP, “No one escapes stress. In fact, ‘A’ students are more susceptible to stressors than others.
A major difference between more effective and less effective students is not the presence or absence of stress, but the ability to recognize stress when it occurs and to manage it.” One way to avoid stress related to school is to schedule things and to “make boundaries.” Tsuman-Caspi used the example of making attainable goals, such as focusing on homework for 30 minutes and then setting up a break to get coffee with a friend. “Allow yourself flexibility” and remember to treat yourself in order to keep your stress levels down. During that time, allow yourself to relax and not think about the things that are bothering your mind. Often we make unrealistic goals, such as spending a whole day doing productive schoolwork, but then procrastinating and being hard on ourselves when our tasks are not accomplished.
Making lists can also help ease the distressed student mind when we begin to feel like all our papers are due at the same time. “If it is something you can do in two minutes, then make yourself do it, and it’s done,” Tsuman-Caspi stated. Find what works for you, such as tackling bigger projects first or do small tasks throughout the day. By setting realistic goals, such as allocating a specific amount of time to start on a project, more often than not, we exceed that time restraint once we are set into a productive workflow.
After accomplishing each micro task, we feel good about ourselves and are motivated to achieve more. For more information about handling stress, or to reach out for the services provided by BCPCP, including individual counseling, group counseling, theme-centered workshops and more, head to the BCPCP’s office, located at 0203 James Hall.