Stress — The one thing everyone has and no-one wants…It is known to cause suicide, murder, tumours, AIDS, and cancer. So don’t get stressed out, ’cause stress SUCKS! Usually caused by something unfortunate, like death, job loss, woman loss, school, etc..” (Urban Dictionary).
While there is no scientific correlation between stress and tumours, AIDS or cancer, the author of that definition did get two things right: stress sucks, and it’s something we all have to deal with.
There are many different ways to manage it. Dr. Rod Le Blanc, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncturist, takes a drug-free approach. “Deep breathing and stretching has been the most important way to relieve stress for 4,000 years. Five, maybe. You could even say six.”
In addition to deep breathing and stretching, Dr. Le Blanc says that acupressure or massage can help.
“If you can team up with a friend who wants a massage and you want a massage, you can start working along the back of the spine. And do this gently, because some people are more sensitive than others and some people need more pressure than others, so you always have to be aware of who you’re dealing with…You start up at the top, at the C7 vertebrae and go along the spine.”
If you don’t have a friend who can help you, there are many devices that can do the same thing — even the corner of a doorway can be used to apply pressure along the spine, Dr. Le Blanc says.
Deep breathing and a simple mantra
Like Le Blanc, Jas Maan, a pharmacist at Shoppers Drug Mart on Nordel Way in Surrey, recommends deep breathing to relieve stress. “With breathing exercises, there’s also mantras you can use…I know one really popular one by this Vietnamese Buddhist monk; he put out a few books. One of the ones he said, it was a really simple one was “When I breathe in, I’m happy. When I breathe out, I’m relaxed.” And…[it's] as if someone was reassuring you.”
Maan says that moderate to heavy physical activity — activities such as running and hockey — is a great way to calm down. And as always, exercise and diet go hand-in-hand. “A lot of people find during exam season that they’re really blah…and one of the biggest reasons is that people don’t really pay attention to their nutrition. They’re eating X-Y-Z that’s probably more harmful than good. Things like just getting in their fruits and veggies can go a long way.”
There are also a variety of over-the-counter stress-relief aids.
“There’s Vitamin B-100. It’s a complex of vitamin B. It does help many processes of the body to help reduce stress levels,” Maan says. “There’s another herb as well called valerian root, you can take it at about 100-200mg at bedtime as needed.”
If stress is causing you to lose sleep, Maan recommends taking 25 to 50mg of Benadryl, an allergy medication, which contains the same active ingredient as over-the-counter sleep aids, but is much cheaper. Melatonin, a natural sleep hormone, will also help.
‘We’re never going to be stress-free’
Dawn Schell, a counsellor at Kwantlen’s Surrey campus, knows that “we’re never going to be stress-free. We need stress to hold us together as human beings.” She helps students figure out “the point at which it’s too much, it’s over the top and you can’t cope. We don’t want people to get to the point where they’re not coping at all and everything falls through the cracks.”
Schell advises students to make use of the resources available to them. Kwantlen offers seminars in time management, study skills and avoiding procrastination, all of which Schell identifies as causes of student stress. Students can also come in for individual appointments.
“We’re more than happy to help people sit down and figure out what’s going to work for them, what’s going to work in the immediate short-term, but also to help them look ahead to what are some things that they can learn so they can be more proactive in the future as well. Sometimes people just need to come in and let off some steam; they just need to unload somewhere and they can do that here.”
Schell says the first thing anyone has to do to relieve their stress “is learning about stress — how [I] personally respond to it, what’s stressful for [me]…and how does it affect me physically, and also how does it affect me mentally and how does it affect me emotionally. Because if I am the type of person who, for example, where I carry my stresses all physically, so then the body starts to tense up…then I need to learn how to use physical relaxation techniques.
“For some people it’s the brain that’s going. So how do you stop and calm your brain down enough so then you can refocus on whatever it is you need to do? For some people, it’s a combination. Sometimes they have to start with the mind and then go through the body.”
Building a relaxation toolbox
Once you’ve figured out your stress style, Schell advises assembling a personalized toolbox of relaxation techniques. For some people, that may involve setting deadlines or timelines, self-coaching or taking breaks.
“Sometimes it’s just about the mental break when you’re in school. Just let the brain go on neutral for a short period of time,” she says. There are a variety of online resources that students can use to help with deep relaxation.
If you’re already in the midst of a stressful situation, Schell says to “take five minutes and really sit down and figure out what’s the most important thing I need to do?… Maybe I need to back out of something that I’ve agreed to already. Some of it is, ‘How do I pull back a little bit, in a reasonable way?’ And some of that is really having a serious look at, ‘What is my top priority right now, and how can I do that?’”
Schell also advocates taking breaks.”You need to plan some fun or some relaxation or some time just for yourself in the midst of [stressful situations], because nobody can go through 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week without a break. That’s why we have eight-hour work days, that’s why people have lunch breaks…they need to build those kinds of opportunities in as well when they’re students. To just take a break and walk away, but know that there’s a time limit.”
Something as simple as getting up and moving around while studying can change the blood flow and wake you up, she says. And “if you really need a good break, find a movie that you find to be funny, or a show or something, because laughter sure helps a lot.”
Some online stress-relief resources
- McMaster University’s Centre for Student Development.
- Helpguide.org – an American non-profit organization.
- Kwantlen counselling’s tip sheets.