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Volunteer Writer: Brett Talbot
When I was stuck at home and constantly fighting the Wi-Fi during two whole semesters of remote learning, it made sense to feel a bit stressed out. But even after my classes transitioned back into a face-to-face setting, the stress didn’t magically go away.
Whether it stems from personal matters, feeling overloaded with work, or even when things don’t go according to plan, stress can hit us in many different ways.
Stress is simply an unwelcomed guest that tries to jeopardize your experience. But it shouldn’t be the one in control. There are several helpful ways for a student to overcome their stress. And the sooner they defeat it, the better their college experience will be.
Dr. Rachel Lively, a psychologist of the UMASS Dartmouth Counseling Center, has written for the Torch on many aspects of student life, including stress management.
According to Lively, students can identify their self-messages and change them into something constructive. If you cut back on your negative internal thoughts and replace them with positive self-motivation, you will have an optimistic attitude that will better prepare you for the challenges ahead.
“In addition to changing thought patterns,” Lively writes, “if you’re finding yourself very stressed and overwhelmed you can interrupt your stress response by doing things like: taking a walk, taking a few long, slow, deep breaths, taking a mental break … reframing your situation … or using some kind of relaxation exercise like guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxation.”
Lively also points out that it is beneficial to have some downtime, exercise, eat well, have some fun distractions, and seek out professional help if you need it. And fortunately for students, UMASS Dartmouth has two convenient options to turn to.
If a student is frequently in the LARTS building and needs to speak with someone about their troubles, the STAR Center is always open for appointments.
Monica Godinho, an academic advisor who works in the center, has seen many students who have experienced college stress, and she has helped to alleviate such worries with her colleagues.
“In terms of dealing with academic stress, the best thing that we do at the STAR Center or at any of the advising centers on campus is empower the students with knowledge and kind of deflate some of the stress that they have inflated in their lives,” she said.
Godinho and other faculty members of the STAR Center work with students by having helpful discussions and providing them with the information they need, which can range from coaching them to turn things around if they’re failing a class to explaining how withdrawals could impact them. They also offer helpful workshops for students like understanding COIN, time management, and study skills.
What the Center offers isn’t meditation or a fun event, but the information they provide can really help to alleviate student stress.
There is also the Counseling Center on campus where students can speak with friendly staff members to find a way to deal with the stressors in their lives.
“We aren’t here to tell you how to or how not to manage your stress,” said Catherine Perry, the director of the Counseling and Student Development Center. “We’re here to help people learn healthy coping skills.”
Perry and the Counseling Center staff work hard to help students feel more in control of their stress by teaching them many relaxation techniques such as calm breathing exercises, positive self-messages, and progressive relaxation. They also emphasize the importance of sleep hygiene and for students to never set themselves up for perfection.
In Perry’s eyes, if you can manage your stress, you’ll feel more in control and have more agency. And that will make for a great college experience.
There are some who might argue that getting rid of stress might be a bad decision. In fact, some might say that learning to use it as a tool may be beneficial.
Sandra Knispel, a Communications Officer and author for the news center at the University of Rochester, wrote about a study conducted by Rochester psychologists where college students were trained to reinterpret their stress response and use it as a tool instead of an obstacle.
“The team found that in addition to reducing their anxiety,” Knispel writes, “that “good stress” mindset reset helped the students score higher on tests, procrastinate less, stay enrolled in classes, and respond to academic challenges in a healthier way.”
So, stress can be repurposed to boost productivity and even help students find success. In short, college stress doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.
Even when it felt like I was overwhelmed by my classes, I always took a step back, breathed, and reassured myself. If I needed to take a breather, a fun distraction was always helpful. And once I was well-rested and ready to start again, I was able to overcome the challenges that came my way one step at a time.