Coping with the Stress of a New Semester

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For new and returning students, the start of a new semester often promises to be stressful. Students are coping with academic stress and financial stress at the same time, and new students are coping with stress of learning how to study. These sources of stress are very different, but the end results are often the same: lower grades, failed classes, or dropping out entirely.

In fact, 70% of college students report being stressed about their finances, which makes sense, as financial issues are the primary reason students drop out. According to Education Data, “academic disqualification” and the school being a “poor social fit” are the two next greatest reasons for student dropout. For the students that have buckled down and committed to college this upcoming spring semester, dealing with academic and financial stress can feel like a circus level balancing act.

Stress management can be done in a multitude of ways, but effective stress management is often a two-part process.

First, the stressors need to be dealt with individually. If a student is overwhelmed with failing grades or financial issues, a self-care day will only work as a temporary solution before the stress of an unsolved problem comes back to haunt them.

In many cases it’s only once someone has changed what they can about a stressful situation that they can begin the second step, which does involve self-care to reduce stress about what someone can’t change.

One of the harder forms of stress to manage is financial stress because it involves something that’s often out of an individual’s control. According to Inceptia, “First year students were found to be significantly more stressed than the average student when it came to the Cost of Education,” most likely because first year students have even less experience than the average student managing their own money–especially their loans.

The most repeated financial advice is also, unfortunately, the best. “Learn how to budget.” Many college students feel hopeless when it comes to finances because they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing wih their money. A budget will outline what needs to be done every month, and when.

The basics aren’t hard, just boring. The first step is calculating how much money there is to work with, whether that’s monthly income or savings, divided by however long the money needs to last.

The next step is calculating how much is spent each month and when; this information should be tracked in a spreadsheet, notebook, or anything else that’s easily accessible. Truthfully, the hardest part of budgeting is adapting to a habit that is both boring and intimidating. On the flipside, for many students, knowing what’s happening and when with their  money can provide a sense of control.

Furthermore, even though the average student doesn’t have access to a financial advisor, ABAC students do have access to financial aid counselors. These counselors do more than just help with student loans. They can also help students with financial direction. Students don’t even have to go in person, as both email addresses and phone numbers for all financial aid counselors are available in the employee directory on the ABAC website.

The second kind of stress that students face is academic stress. This can be generalized into two types: worrying about getting bad grades and dealing with actually getting them. Students of either type may actually be helped by the same methods.

Here is where ‘self-care’ does come into play, only it’s not the fun spa-day self-care that a lot of people think of.

Dr. Kushida, a sleep neurologist at Stanford University Medical Center, tells the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “In the student-age population, studies have found that factors such as self-reported shortened sleep time, erratic sleep/wake schedules, late bed and rise times, and poor sleep quality have been found to be negatively associated with school performance for adolescents from middle school through college.”

Presumably, many students spend less time sleeping so they can spend more time studying, but their efforts have the opposite effect because being sleep deprived affects memory. To combat this, it’s important to have a regular sleep schedule (even on weekends!) consisting of at least 7-9 hours of sleep.

During the waking hours, when it comes to anxiety, many people have received the advice “take up journaling.” While the advice is cliche, there’s actually science behind its effectiveness, especially when it comes to test anxiety.

According to Sian Beilock with the American Psychological Association, “In the laboratory, we have shown that writing about one’s worries about an upcoming test for ten minutes before taking the test eliminates poor performance under pressure. We have also shown that it is not merely any writing (e.g., writing about one’s day), but specifically writing about one’s worries that is needed to produce such inoculation effects.’’

Writing down worried feelings before a test even worked for students with high test anxiety. Furthermore, when school is overwhelming, it can help to break it down into baby steps.

“If you have an essay to write that’s making you feel anxious, list the individual steps that lead to the destination of the essay being finished (finding sources, creating an outline, writing an intro), and the task will begin to feel less daunting,” says the Huffington Post.

Overall, students should once again remember that they don’t have to do it alone. No one knows better about how to pass a class than the professor that teaches it, yet many students hesitate to go to professors for studying tips tailored to the course.

Additionally, many students hesitate to use the free tutoring resources at the Academic Achievement Center, available from 9am-8pm (Monday-Thursday) or 9am-1pm (Fridays).

While there are many reasons students hesitate to go to the tutoring center, one thing ABAC students forget is the tutors in the AAC have been in a similar situation and know what it takes to pass these courses.

Once students have done all they can to alter situations that stress them out, how can students deal with the remaining stress about the things they can’t change?

The first piece of advice many stressed out people receive is to just “take deep breaths”. When students are anxious, just breathing in and out doesn’t take their mind off their anxieties and, while still thinking about what upsets them, they may quickly forget the breathing or not do it slow enough.

Instead, using a technique called 4-7-8 breathing can be more soothing. To use this breathing technique, “breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds, exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds, repeat the cycle up to 4 times,” advises Medical News Today.

This breathing technique calms the body while the mind becomes distracted with keeping proper count. Aside from deep breaths, students are also told that eating right and exercising reduces stress.

But what should students do when they don’t have enough time to exercise? When they don’t get to pick what they eat? Even little changes can help a lot. If consistent exercise isn’t an option, taking a few moments to stretch can relieve anxiety. If a balanced diet isn’t an option, green tea, which contains L-Theanine, reduces anxiety and a small amount of dark chocolate can reduce levels of cortisol in the brain, which is linked to anxiety.

Finally, the most important thing for ABAC students to remember is that they really, really don’t have to do this alone. Everyone handles stress differently, and the things that work for some students may not work at all for other students.

That’s why guidance, from one of ABAC’s therapy counselors, that can be tailored to each individual student should be utilized if needed. Even just talking to a sympathetic ear can reduce anxiety.

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