What is stress?
According to Crisis Centre BC, stress is “a reaction, either real or imagined, to situations, events or people.” It happens to all of us every day.
You may feel stressed as you start something new like the first day of a new job or school. You may find yourself pacing around your house and feeling excited/nervous as you pack your bags to visit your family for the first time in a while. When stress affects us in a positive way, it lets you get ready and keep going.
However, it becomes problematic when you feel so stressed that it affects your everyday life.
Am I stressed?
These are some of the notable symptoms of stress. As you read through them, ask yourself follow-up questions and see how many times you answer “yes” for the past few weeks. The more times you answered “yes” to these questions, the more likely stress is affecting you negatively.
- Tension: Do you feel stiffness in your neck or shoulders? Do you crack your bones more frequently? Do you have a headache and/or stomachache?
- Breaths: Are you running out of breath even when you are not exercising? Do you feel and/or hear your heart beat stronger? Do you find it difficult to take deep breaths?
- Change in appetite: Are you eating more than usual? Are you craving or eating unhealthy food like junk food and sweets?
Or are you eating too little? Have you skipped your meals because you were not hungry?
- Change in sleep: How long do you sleep daily? How well do you sleep every night? Is it hard for you to fall asleep at night? Do you feel tired even after you slept?
- More substance intake: Are you drinking coffee? Do you drink energy drinks to stay up late? Has your use of tobacco, alcohol or cannabis changed?
- More negative emotions/(over)reactions:
- Are you irritated or angry?
- Are you sad?
- Are you worried or nervous?
- Are you frustrated?
- Are you exhausted?
- Are you fidgeting?
- Change in behaviours: Are you talking faster or non-stop? Or are you avoiding people or events?
- Lack of concentration: Are you easily distracted? Are you confused? Do you find it difficult to concentrate on your studies? Have you made more mistakes than usual? Is it difficult to sit still? Do you find the sound around you annoying?
- Constant thoughts: Are you constantly thinking about something? Are you overthinking an important event from your past/future? Do you find it difficult not to think about it?
Why am I stressed?
Identifying what makes you feel stressed is the first step. If you know why you feel stressed or you have experienced some of the above symptoms, it will become easier for you to reduce your stress.
Here are some potential stressors:
- Major life changes, such as moving, new school/job, loss of loved ones, and giving birth
- Health concerns for yourself and your loved ones
- Uncertainty of your future, especially regarding your job and finances
- Relationships with your family, friends, partners, classmates or colleagues. Homesickness, long distance relationships, harassment or discrimination are also in this category.
- Visa applications for yourself and your family
- Presentations or interviews
- Places you live, including neighbourhood, noises, smell, roommates, landlords or neighbours
- Traumatic experiences and flashbacks, such as accidents and deaths
It’s important to note that more than one stressor can happen to you at the same time, and it is okay not being aware of all stressors.
Now what can I do?
Once you know your stressor(s), label them by considering whether it is under your control or not, and whether it is happening soon or has already happened.
a, If you know your stressors and they are happening now and/or in the near future:
You can prepare yourself for life events like tests, assignments, job interviews, new schools/jobs and visa applications. The more prepared you are, the more control you have of your life.
There are 4 ways you can gain control of your stressors:
- Note what you can do. Do your research thoroughly. Plan ahead. Start taking actions right away. Remind yourself that everything will be alright as long as you take it one step at a time.
- Talk about them. For example, if your workload is too heavy, talk to your supervisor and ask them to reduce your workload. If your supervisor is not available, talk to your colleagues to see if they can step in. If you have questions about your tests or assignments, talk to your instructor. If you are starting a new school, ask them your questions. If you are looking for jobs or applying for a visa, go online and/or ask specialists.
If you are not sure who to ask questions to during your studies at Hanson, contact Student Services and we will point you in the right direction.
- If you do have multiple stressors at the same time, make a list of them first. If you know the date you have tests, write them down. Write what you need to do in detail so that you know what to do and when to do it.
To-do lists are useful not only to keep track of what is happening, but also to reduce your stress level by ticking off one task at a time.
- If you have problems with your friends, classmates, roommates or colleagues, address what they are doing that is stressful for you. If you find it difficult to confront the people that are troubling you, ask someone else to be a mediator.
Personal relationships can affect your well-being the most. Make sure to surround yourself with people that care about you. Change your surroundings when you can and/or need to. When you do have the chance, move out and live with a new roommate, for example.
b. If you know your stressors and they happened in the past:
Major life events like losing your family members or close friends and moving to a new area can be very difficult to process. It can take months and years to adjust to those changes. You may feel lonely.
Find someone to talk to, whether they are your family, friends or others you know that understand your situation. When these life events are starting to affect your life, reach out to your support network right away.
If you need to take some time off or reduce your workload in order for you to take a proper break, talk to your supervisor and explain the situation. If you find it hard to concentrate on your studies, talk to the academic advisor and get accommodations. Reach out to a counsellor if you feel comfortable.
Did you know that Hanson offers counselling services for students?
Our counsellor, Raman, and our Student Wellness Coordinator, Lorraine, are available to talk to you and answer your questions. Check the links for more information.
c. If you don’t know your stressors but feel stressed:
Do you notice some of the stress symptoms in your life? Always remember to take care of yourself. Follow these 6 tips if you are not sure where to start.
Instead of ignoring stress and the symptoms discussed above, confront the feeling when you can. Take some time and write down what happened in the past few weeks as well as what is going to happen soon.
Relaxation exercises such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing are very helpful in calming yourself and bringing yourself back to the present moment. Check out our list of resource at the end of this article for more information.
Stress management can be a life-long journey. Even if you are not feeling stressed right now, something might trigger you without you knowing. How you handled stressful situations 2 years ago might not work today.
As you experience more in life, you will react to stressors differently. Pay attention to what your stressors are, and how you are reacting to them. If you start noticing some symptoms, make a plan right away to start working on reducing your stress.
Resources and further readings:
– Beyond Blue: this website has a lot of resources on mental health
– Relaxation Exercises https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/staying-well/relaxation-exercises
– Reducing stress: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/staying-well/reducing-stress
– Crisis Centre BC on Coping & Self-care: https://crisiscentre.bc.ca/coping-and-self-care/
– eMentalHealth.ca on Stress: click on a tab called “Find Help and Support” to find out what services you can get around you as well. https://www.ementalhealth.ca/Vancouver-Coastal/Stress/index.php?m=article&ID=8908
– Canadian Mental Health Association on Coping with Loneliness: as international students living away from their home country, loneliness can be something you experience frequently. Take a look at this website, and remember to reach out. https://cmha.ca/documents/coping-with-loneliness