Protect yourself from stress season

and December 3, 2014 Features

Feeling stressed lately? Maybe even a little sick? With exam season in our midst, these symptoms are not surprising, but they may be controllable.

Although most people associate stress with tests and deadlines, stressors can appear at any time. According to a 2013 study published in The College Student Journal, freshmen and seniors are the mostly likely to experience high levels of stress during the academic year. Typically, these feelings are related to academic and social expectations.

In fact, the stress experienced by first-year students has reportedly doubled, and a one-third increase has been seen in the use of counseling services on some college campuses.

So, how does this study apply to students attending Rollins? According to Judy Galloway, a counselor for CAPS (Counseling and After Hours Crisis) at Rollins College, the largest increase in appointments appears around fall break in the first semester. This, she says, may be the result of social anxiety regarding returning home, midterm exams, and projects.

Interestingly, the Wellness Center also sees an increase in sick appointments around this time. Last year, 1,031 patients visited the Wellness Center in the fall. In my interview with Denise Snyder, Rollins’ Clinic Coordinator and Nurse Practitioner, she explained that the season’s peak occurs mid-semester during October. The most common symptoms include cough, cold and upper respiratory infection as well as a spike in cases of mononucleosis.

This rise in both counseling and sick appointments indicates a correlation between mental stress and physical illness in students.

One explanation for this relationship is that stress affects immune health. When the body undergoes stress, the adrenal glands release stress hormones, like cortisol. These hormones suppress the B-cells, T-cells and natural killer cells that make up the immune system. If these cells are weakened, then the body will be unable to fight off viruses and cancers, making you sick and unable to perform your best in class.

Thankfully, if you want to avoid stress and associated illnesses, then you can utilize different coping methods:

Predictability

As it turns out, the least stressful events in our lives are the ones that we can predict, such as tests and projects. In order to deal with predictable stressors, make a schedule. This way, even though the work remains, you will feel confident in your ability to complete it before the due date and reduce your anxiety about time management.

Social Support

Finding a reliable friend or family member can be extremely useful in lowering stress. Having a support system means that you can ask for help, which allows you to feel secure even when you are faced with an unpredictable stressor.

For this reason, individuals with strong social support have lower-levels of stress hormones and tend to be less likely to develop a cold.

Venting and Positive Thinking

Whether you seek emotional support from a counselor or a friend, it is important to express your feelings in some form. Suppressing anger, for example, can result in long-term damage to your autonomic nervous system as a result of increased stress. One good way to release negative feelings includes noticing the positives of a situation.

For instance, instead of thinking about the consequences of failing your exam, think about the benefits of doing well.  You may just find yourself feeling a little more motivated.

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