The Stress Paradox

The entrenched belief that stress is always bad has remained unchallenged. High levels of pressure and the feeling of being overwhelmed are common catalysts of stress. The lack of control causes us to experience restlessness, the inability to concentrate and fatigue. This results in reduced productivity and decreased memory functioning which causes us to feel powerless, consequently inducing more stress and ultimately resulting in an endless stress cycle.

Let’s think back to the last time we experienced stress. Unsurprisingly, it will most likely not have been too long ago. Usually, we associate the psychological and physical effects of stress, such as increased heart rate and faster breathing, with the inability to cope under pressure or as a result of feeling overwhelmed. These effects cause us to feel out of control and therefore we may experience restlessness and a lack of motivation. However, Psychologist Dr Kelly McGonical argues “what if we believed that these signs of stress are simply signs of our bodies preparing us for the challenges ahead.”

In 2011, Harvard University conducted research where they invited participants to go through a “social stress test.” Before the test the participants were told that the body’s stress response which would occur due to induced stress, was to be regarded as “helpful.” That the increased heart rate was the result of “your body preparing you for action” and that the faster breathing was to “increase the oxygen supply to the brain.”

During periods of intensified stress our blood vessels undergo vasoconstriction and our hearts beat faster. However, throughout the study the participants experienced the complete opposite. After the participants were told to regard their body’s stress response as helpful, their blood vessels remained relaxed, exhibiting the same response as during periods of joy. The participants remained more focused, attentive and confident, causing them to perform at higher levels.

Acknowledging that feeling stressed is an inevitable and natural response, may encourage you to view the stress response as a way of preparing for the upcoming challenge. According to research conducted by psychologist Dr Alia Crum ‘our stress mindset determines our biological response to stress.’ If we believe that we are incapable of coping with the situation are stress levels will continue to elevate as we will experienced increased worry, reducing our productivity. If we believe that stress can be good for us, our bodies ‘will release hormones that will encourage and motivate us to face the challenges.’

Perhaps a way to manage stress is to not regard the physiological responses as a sign of feeling overwhelmed and out of control, but instead to regard the body’s stress response as a method of preparing to withstand the upcoming challenge.

Wiktoria – 6.1

No Stress For Me

When coming back from a long period of break, like the Easter Holidays, it can sometimes be hard to get yourself fully motivated and to encourage yourself to work hard, especially in such strange times in the world. It’s probably normal for you to feel like this, but surely it can’t be good for you? After all, these exams are important for many of us, and we are keen to do well. This lack of motivation is bound to lead to an excess in stress, which can’t be healthy for you either! Now it’s even worse than it was before. Overthinking rather than working, slowly turns into mounting pressure on your back and soon enough you won’t be able to handle it.

I have been feeling this way for quite some time now; sometimes I find it hard to focus and dedicate the time needed for revision. This soon spirals out of control and turns into me doing more thinking than working. Ah, procrastination, it’s become a full-on hobby! Then I start working late at night and end up even more exhausted. It becomes a vicious circle, of not enough sleep, growing pressure, too much thinking, not enough sleep; you know the drill.

Knowing I needed some help from someone, I reached out to my sister. As she has been at university for over a year now, I thought she might have some tricks up her sleeve to help me. Luckily, she did. My sister taught me how to become less stressed and how to stay on top of work.

Firstly, you will need to sleep. This is the first and most important step. Sleep is a time where your body can heal and clear your head and it is therefore vital if you want to start living a manageable life.

Secondly, write up a schedule. There are two ways to do this:

1) This will appeal to the more creative people. When scheduling your week to become more manageable you will need a blank piece of paper and you will need to draw the calendar of a week. Depending on your workload, I would try to do at least 15 minutes of sport every day; dedicate 30 minutes per subject on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, with around 1 hour on weekends. This is a simple step to start scheduling your week. Feel free to add your own ideas.

2) If you are more of a techy person, I would recommend downloading either the ‘Microsoft To Do’ application or the ‘Calendly’ application. This way your schedule is always accessible to you and much easier to make. Repeat the schedule from above.

Thirdly, stick to it! At first, the schedule may seem unusual and make you think it’s hard to adjust to, but within a week or so, you will get into the habit. My best advice would be to turn on notifications if you are using any applications and use them as reminders. I’d also advise you to download a sleep tracking application such as ‘Sleep Cycle’, which allows for in-depths details of sleep pattern, as well as a microphone which records you sleep talk – this one isn’t necessary for becoming less stressed, but it’s very amusing to hear yourself sleep talk.

These few steps which you can take will allow you to stay positive during such trying times. Best of luck to you all with exams, I hope they will go well for you.

Vincent – 6.1