The Balancing Act

Dealing with Stress in the Middle of College Chaos

By Caroline Young |
Photo by Ashley Muller

Sophomore Pj Mistry strives to relieve stress in the midst of her busy lifestyle.

She is a double major in business administration and accounting, as well as a project coordinator in Flagler College Students in Free Enterprise.

Mistry calls her priorities a “four tier balance” system, which includes her family, friends, school and herself.

“There has to be time for all of these in our lives, because what is one without the other?” said Mistry. “I recently learned that sometimes you can’t have it all at once, but you can strive for it.”

She believes that the four tiers need to co-exist for the ultimate balanced lifestyle.

“It is all intertwined and my refusal to ever let one suffer for the other must be a part of how I keep it all together,” she said.

According to the American Psychological Association, 43 percent of US adults suffer adverse effects from stress.

The Anxiety Disorder Association of America (ADAA) reports that anxiety disorders, which are the product of extreme stress, affect 40 million people in the US who are 18 and older, making it the most common mental illness in the country.

Balancing Grades and Jobs

One source of stress for college kids is establishing and maintaining a high GPA.

According to a study from, over half are constantly worried about grades and almost three-fourths of the students say their high stress levels are directly related to them.

Junior communication major Ashley Muller struggles sometimes to find that necessary balance between hitting the books and paying the bills.

“It’s tough because I get torn between the two sometimes, and I’ll either be rushing to get school work done, or be low on money,” Muller said.

Between classes all day long, an unpaid internship and a part-time job where she puts in up to 35 hours a week, she finds herself squeezing in time for her friends and homework.

Financial stress is also put on college students, especially with the US economy floundering and unemployment rates hitting record highs.

Expectations from students’ family members can increase their stress levels significantly.

Muller said in high school she found herself constantly trying to live up to her older brother because she felt it would make her family, friends and teachers happy.

“I would call it pressure, rather than stress, but I think it’s what led to the stress,” Muller said. “So I think trying to please everyone started the juggling act of working hard and doing all kinds of favors and activities, and not giving myself any time to relax.”

Another stress source for college kids is relationships, whether it is dating or finding the right friends.

“I realized that some relationships in my life were taking extra time, energy and emotion and I’ve been trying to avoid it,” she said.

Taking Care of the Mind and Body

While Mistry says she stays healthy on a vegetarian diet and tries to work out as much as she can, the most necessary factor of her balanced life is sleep.

“My goal is nine to 10 hours a night and I am pretty successful at keeping up with that,” Mistry said. “I find that the thing people usually sacrifice first when they have a busy schedule is sleep, but I find that is the last thing I will give up because I am more efficient and energetic after a restful night’s sleep and breakfast every morning.”

According to a 2008 Better Sleep Council (BSC) survey, lack of sleep led to a startling decrease in the quality of participants’ quality of work, information retainment and judgement. The report reveals that nearly half of the people reported to be in unpleasant moods at work, negatively affecting their employees, employers and customers.

“Some believe you can accomplish more if you spend less time sleeping, but limited sleep can affect every aspect of your life, including job performance,” said Dr. Bert Jacobson, a spokesperson for the BSC. “In fact, sleep deprivation impacts your level of alertness, your productivity and your ability to socially interact with colleagues.”

In an article on, Elizabeth Scott, M.S., a wellness coach and health educator says exercising decreases “stress hormones,” such as cortisol, while it increases endorphins, which are our “feel-good chemicals,” naturally boosting our moods.

“Foggy thinking” occurs when students are thinking harder, such as during a test or when studying and the neurons of their brains work harder than usual. Exercise speeds up the flow of blood through the brain and gets rid of the haziness, according to

Steven Shomo and Christy Castelli are two professionals who devote the majority of their lives to helping people reduce anxiety in healthy ways.

Shomo, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, an Acupuncture physician, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified yoga instructor and teacher trainer, says most college students and people in general do not know how to handle stress well.

“Unless they have been taught or researched methods on their own, they are not exposed to it,” Shomo said. “The world and society are typically high stress developers.”

He said the best way to deal with stress is to learn how to breathe correctly in order to calm the central nervous system, which can be developed during consistent practices of activities like yoga and qigong.

“[Qigong] is the practice of breathing exercises, both stationary and moving to cultivate and regulate the Qi [‘energy flow’] and other substances of the body, connecting us to the universal energy,” Shomo said. “There are so many benefits to practicing [it] that improve the quality life, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”

Castelli is a certified personal trainer and is coaching her fifth year of the Lady Saint’s cross-country team.

“I would like to think that most students know how to relieve stress in a safe, effective way, but I’m afraid that many of them don’t,” Castelli said. “Alcohol, illegal substances, depression and withdrawal from family and friends unfortunately are ways that many choose to deal with their stress.”

Castelli explains that watching her mother turn to alcohol for stress-relief pushed her to take another path. She started by journaling her feelings and eventually found running and working out as her favorite way to handle stress.

“Something as simple as taking a walk can help,” she said.

Among several other weekly fitness classes, Castelli teaches a cycling class at the St. Augustine Family YMCA where there is an abundance of group classes to choose from. Currently, the student-member rate is under 30 dollars.

“Having a positive support system can also be very helpful… join a club or a group class…get a few friends together,” she said.

According to ADAA, only about one-third of people suffering from anxiety problems receive treatment, yet they are highly treatable.

“There are many positive avenues such as exercise, counselors and support groups that are available and that is the direction that should be taken,” Castelli said.

Finding Time to Chill Out

Muller thinks denying some responsibilities could reduce some stress.

“I usually get stressed out because I’m juggling all the things in my life,” Muller said. “But I’m constantly filling up my schedule. If I didn’t take on so many activities, I’d have a little more time to relax.”

She often finds herself picking up other people’s shifts at work but know that she is losing time for herself to take it easy.

“I think the main source of stress for most college students, regardless of whether they are athletes or not, is lack of time,” Castelli said.

Although Mistry succeeds in keeping her life in balance, she too feels the weight of the to-do list.

“I won’t lie, I get very overwhelmed sometimes and there seems to be a million things to do that will never get done,” she said. “But whenever I feel like I have too much floating around in my head…I write it down.”

Laughter can be a simple solution to decreasing stress levels.

“Talking and joking with my friends clears my mind of all the busy work,” Muller said.

New research reveals that laughter has the ability to balance all the parts of the immune system, according to an article by freelance health writer Lara Alspaugh on

“Laughter reduces levels of certain stress hormones,” Alspaugh said. “It provides a safety valve that shuts off the flow of stress hormones and the fight-or-flight compounds that swing into action in our bodies when we experience stress, anger or hostility.”

She said researchers estimate that laughing 100 times is equivalent to 15 minutes on a bike or 10 minutes working out on a rowing machine.

“During laughter, blood pressure is lowered, and there is an increase in vascular blood flow and in oxygenation of the blood, which further assists healing,” she said. “Laughter also gives your diaphragm and abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles a workout.”

Mistry and Muller try to deal their hectic lives in different ways, yet they both agree that their loved ones help to keep them in balance.

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