Blog of the Peer Advising Leadership Program, College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

September 22, 2010 1:11 AM

De-stress for Success!

Stress got you down? So… It’s your first year at Cal and you’ve found that it’s a little more overwhelming than expected. You've had all of less than half a week to move in and get acclimated to campus. Before you could even blink, you were sitting in your first lecture with a sea of hundreds of students just like you. The professor lectured about a subject that either put you to sleep or left you completely befuddled. As steam blows fumes out of your ears from a terrible day, you reminisce of getting lost on campus, shelling out hundreds of dollars on textbooks, and fighting with your new roommate over how much clutter you haven’t unpacked in the room. What do you do now? Mom and dad are long gone, and you’re all alone... right? NO! Relax… you have a PAL!

Freshman year is always the roughest one bye far. Everything ranging from building new relationships, to studying hard for exams can leave you in disarray. Many students fail to realize that stressing out is the worst way to deal with these types of situations.

Did you know that it has been estimated that two-thirds of all visits to physicians are for stress-related problems. Recent evidence indicates that the physical changes associated with stress may contribute to the leading causes of death - heart disease and cancer.

The effects of stress include the following:
• Stress can cause chronic fatigue, digestive upsets, headaches, and back pain.
• Stress can affect the blood cells that help you fight off infection, so you are more likely to get colds and other diseases.
• Constant stress can increase blood pressure and can increase the risk for stroke.
• Stress can increase the danger of heart attacks, particularly if you are often angry and mistrustful.
• Stress can make an asthma attack worse.
• Stress triggers behaviors that contribute to death and disability, such as smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, and overeating.
• Stress can lead to diminished sexual desire and an inability to achieve orgasm.
• Stress makes it harder to take other steps to improve health, such as giving up smoking or making changes in diet.

(Courtesy of

So the next time you think about stressing out, remember that it is not always the best option for your health. Try these tips on:

1. Most Importantly: Don't Stress About Being Stressed
This may seem ridiculous at first, but it is listed first for a reason: when you're feeling stressed, you feel like you're on edge and everything is barely being held together. Don't beat yourself up too badly about it! It's all normal, and the best way to handle stress is to not get more stressed about . . . being stressed. If you're stressed out, admit it and figure out how to handle it. Focusing on it will only make things seem worse.

2. Get Some Sleep
Being in college means your sleep schedule is, most likely, far from ideal. Getting more sleep can help your mind refocus, recharge, and rebalance. This can mean a quick nap, a night when you go to bed early, or a promise to yourself to stick with a regular sleep schedule. Sometimes, one good night's sleep can be all you need to hit the ground running amidst a stressful time.

3. Get Some Food
Similar to your sleep habits, your eating habits may have gone by the wayside when you started school. Think about what -- and when -- you've eaten over the past few days. You may think your stress is psychological, but you could also be feeling physical stress (and the "Freshman 15") if you're not fueling your body appropriately. Go eat something balanced and healthy: fruits and veggies, whole grains, protein. Make your mama proud with what you choose for dinner tonight! Lastly, if your meal plan itself is one more thing making you stressed, learn how to pick a plan that's right for you.

4. Get Some Exercise
You may think that if you don't have the time to sleep and eat properly, you definitely don't have the time to exercise. Fair enough, but if you're feeling stressed, it may be that you need to squeeze it in somehow. Exercise doesn't necessarily have to involve a 2-hour, exhausting workout at the campus gym. It can mean a relaxing, 30-minute walk while listening to your favorite music. In fact, in a little over an hour, you can 1) walk 15 minutes to your favorite off-campus restaurant, 2) eat a quick and healthy meal, 3) walk back, and 4) take a power nap. Imagine how much better you'll feel!
5. Get Some Quiet Time
Take one moment and think: when was the last time you had some quality, quiet time alone? Personal space for students in college rarely exists. You may share your room, your bathroom, your classrooms, your dining hall, the gym, the bookstore, the library, and anywhere else you go during an average day. Finding a few moments of peace and quiet - with no cell phone, roommates, or crowds - might be just what you need. Stepping out from the crazy college environment for a few minutes can do wonders for reducing your stress.

6. Get Some Social Time
Have you been working on that English paper for 3 days straight? Can you even see what you're writing anymore for your Chemistry lab? You could be stressed because you're being too focused on getting things done. Don't forget that your brain is like a muscle, and even it needs a break every once in a while! Take a break and see a movie. Grab some friends and go out dancing. Hop a bus and hang out downtown for a few hours. Having a social life is an important part of your college experience, so don't be afraid to keep it in the picture when you're stressed. It could be when you need it most!

7. Get Some Fun
You may be stressed about one particular thing: a final paper due Monday, a class presentation due Thursday. You basically just need to sit down and plow through it. If this is the case, try to figure out how to make it a little more fun and enjoyable. Is everyone writing final papers? Agree to work together in your room for 2 hours and then order pizza together for dinner. Do a lot of your classmates have huge presentations to put together? See if you can reserve a classroom or room in the library where you can all work together and share supplies. You may just lower everyone's stress level.

8. Get Some Distance
You may be handling your own problems and trying to help others around you. While this can be nice for them, check in and be honest with yourself about how your helpful demeanor may be causing more stress in your life. It's okay to take a step back and focus on yourself for a little while, especially if you are stressed and your academics are at risk. After all, how can you keep helping others if you're not even in a state to help yourself? Figure out which things are causing you the most stress and how you can take a step back from each. And then, most importantly, take that step.

9. Get a Little Help
It can be hard to ask for help, and unless your friends are psychic, they may not know how stressed out you are. Most college students are going through the same things at the same thing, so don't feel silly if you need to just vent for 30 minutes over coffee with a friend. It may help you process out what you need to do, and help you realize that the things you are so stressed about are actually pretty manageable. If you're afraid of dumping too much on a friend, most colleges have counseling centers specifically for their students. Don't be afraid to make an appointment if you think it will help.

10. Get Some Perspective
College life can be overwhelming. You want to hang out with your friends, join clubs, explore off campus, join a fraternity or sorority, and be involved in the campus newspaper. It can sometimes feel like there aren't enough hours in the day . . . because there aren't. There's only so much any person can handle, but you need to remember the reason why you're in school: academics. No matter how exciting your co-curricular life can be, you won't be able to enjoy any of it if you don't pass your classes. Make sure to keep your eye on the prize and then head out and change the world!

(Courtesy of

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