Don’t freak out: coping with stress in college

url-2By Margaret Wallis |

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What do you do when you’re stressing about school?

Do you chug obscene amounts of caffeine and stay up all night trying to finish everything at once? Do you order a pizza and eat it cold and chewy piece-by-piece for breakfast, lunch and dinner because you have no time to go to the grocery store? Do you passive-aggressively hide your roommate’s laptop because you just know she’ll be Skyping at 2 a.m. with that annoying guy who can almost play the guitar while you’re trying to study?

If any of these rhetorical questions describe you, it’s high time you start coping better. Your mental and physical health demand it. Flagler College Intern Mental Health Counselor, Kathy O’Keefe, identified these behaviors as counterproductive, but frequently displayed.

So what if you have three mid-terms, 817 pages to read and group project members who provide you absolutely no relief? You’re an adult now. The 16 credit hours you’re taking this semester have nothing on how many hours you’ll have to work to sustain yourself once you graduate.

Your professors design that mountain of work to prepare you for the real world, where you will be forced to juggle responsibilities beyond your wildest nightmares. And guess what? Those unhealthy college habits might work while you’re young and can hack a few sleepless nights a week, but youth is all too temporary. Here is some advice from O’Keefe to help you counteract stress and the bad habits that come with it:

1) Minimize your caffeine intake, and maximize your nightly rest.
This seems to be the exact opposite approach college students take when confronted with a heavy work load, but insufficient sleep combined with excessive caffeine effectively decreases attention span and boosts anxiety.

Give up the practice of pulling all-nighters. The quality of your schoolwork will improve, and you won’t sleep through the next 14 hours of your life after your work is done.

2) Manage your time. (No, really, you can do it!)
If you haven’t learned time management skills yet, do yourself a huge favor and find some practices that work for you. When you manage time effectively, you can tackle your responsibilities and actually have time left over for the things you want to do.

O’Keefe suggests buying a planner and really putting it to use. Write down every single thing you have to do, and write it in pencil. That way, when a friend calls to invite you to dinner at your favorite restaurant on the evening you’ve scheduled a two hour study session, you can pencil in that study obligation elsewhere so you know you won’t forget about it.

If you know you won’t look at a planner, set reminders in your phone or computer. Write post-it note lists of your obligations and put them on your bathroom mirror, refrigerator, car steering wheel, or anywhere else you’re sure to see them. Just be sure you’re constantly crossing things off that to-do list instead of allowing it to grow so long it rivals Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

3) Eat real food.
What have you had to eat today? Did you cook any of it yourself? Was it green and leafy or brown and crunchy? O’Keefe says one of the simplest ways to reduce stress is to change your diet if it needs improvement.

It’s easy to turn to “comfort food” during times of high stress, but your body will function so much better if you give it food with nutritional value and maintain normal blood-sugar.

So if you aren’t already a Paleo-vegan who sleeps eight hours a night and never misses an assignment even though you’re volunteering for your favorite charity and training for an Iron Man, consider employing some of O’Keefe’s advice. You don’t have to be super human, but functioning like a well-adjusted human will only make your life easier.

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