By Gabrielle Lamontagne
As we jump into the swing of the semester, there are plenty of stressors running around campus, kind of like a scene from “Gremlins” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” From anxiety about grades to the excitement of meeting new people and joining clubs, everyone has something to make their heart’s race.
That’s not always a bad thing.
Studies from the University of Chicago and the Anxiety & Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland, amongst others, show that the release of adrenaline and epinephrine can improve performance, whether on the field, in the classroom, or on a date. Perspiration (sweat) is part of the body’s stress response. So when a coach or trainer says that you’re not really exercising unless you sweat, they’re right in the sense that “real” exercising could be considered raising your heart rate enough to burn fat or improve your cardiovascular system.
There can be negative effects of stress too, though. Chronic stress, or stress that is continuous or reoccurring over time, can damage the brain’s response system to stress. The physical and mental overload can make it difficult for the brain to return to an unstimulated (or homeostatic) state.
Emotionally it can cause depression, anxiety disorders, and several physical disorders including ulcers, heart-attacks, and migraines. Also, worrying over missed classes or the length of an illness, from a cold to pneumonia to depression, can worsen your state of health.
Personally, I’ve noticed that thinking about a bug bite tends to make it itch more intensely and often than when I ignore it. I imagine it would be the same with a sport injury, particularly those than involve a cast. This is similar to the theory that a twisted ankle should be walked on in order to help it heal or feel better more quickly.
Illnesses caused by stress, both physical and psychological, can be disruptive to your entire life. Learning how to manage stress comes natural to some, but takes a lifetime for others. Regardless, it is an extremely important life skill. Some popular techniques include yoga, meditation, Zumba, walking regularly, art and writing.
Improving your time management skills can also relieve stress. If you focus on doing homework during the times of day when you are most productive, then you will spend less time stressed about approaching due dates and more time enjoying social events. That doesn’t mean you should power through your assignments. It does mean that you should schedule times to study and stick to them. Finding a place to work with the fewest possible distractions is also beneficial.
The first step to all of these, however, is the same: Breathing. With a throbbing headache, I’ve noticed that just breathing deeply for a while can ease the pain.
Did you know that yawning is the body’s way of saying you need more oxygen? We tend to think of it as a sign that we are tired. That’s because when we sleep, unless we’re sick or in a bad position, we breathe naturally and more completely.
Rather than suppressing that next yawn, make it as big (and quiet) as possible. You are likely to feel more awake, energized, active and/or productive. This can also be achieved by eating healthier foods and drinking more water. Stress levels affect, and are affected by, dietary habits as well as proper respiration.
So if you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed or nervous: Take one, long, deep breath. Take several more. And don’t sweat it!
Gabrielle Lamontagne is a sophomore double-majoring in French and business administration.