Every college student has to deal with increased workload and competition as well as the pressure of living away from home, but each year has its own specific pressures. First-year students are faced with leaving home and the security of family and friends and then expected to make new friends and adjust to a new environment. Sophomores hit the notorious sophomore slump. The excitement of freshman year has worn off and you can see no light at the end of the tunnel. As Juniors, Williams students on campus have to deal with friends studying abroad and/or the responsibilities of being a J.A. while also coping with the core classes for your major. Seniors have the pressures of job interviews and applications for grad, law, or medical school, not to mention the fear of having to enter the "real" world.
On top of all these pressures, there is the omnipresent emphasis on perfection. The typical Eph seems to be able to do everything and to do it all well. Everyone is good-looking, intelligent, athletic, and artistically talented - or so it seems. But if we buy into this, we're deluding ourselves. Although all students at Williams are talented, nobody is perfect and everybody has problems.
Stress is your body's response to any stimulus. Any type of stress triggers physiological responses: your adrenaline output increases, your heart pumps faster, and your breathing rate goes up. These bodily responses are positive if you channel them over a short period of time, but if there is no release, however small, then stress becomes a negative force. The strain of negative stress manifests such symptoms as: chronic fatigue, headaches, a change in eating habits, inability to concentrate, general irritability, as well as other physical problems.
A certain amount of stress, however, is beneficial. An experiment conducted in 1908 by Yerkes and Dodson studied the effects of stress on learning in lab animals. Those subjected in laboratory animals. Those subjected to extreme stress or no stress learned less than those subjected to moderate levels of stress. In 1983 a similar study was performed by Bossing and Rouff using children in a classroom environment. The 1983 study confirmed the results of the earlier experiment by Yerkes and Dodson. The graph below illustrates their results.
One way to measure the amount of stress in your life is to examine the demanding events which have occurred to you recently. On the following scale, you can determine your "stress score" by adding up the number of points corresponding to the events which you have experiences in the past 6 months or expect to experience in the coming 6 months.
Add up your total stress score. The higher your stress score, the higher your present stress level. If you score over 150, then you may need help managing the stress in your life.
The most effective tools in waging your battle against short-term or exam stress are knowing and accepting your limits, and trying to keep everything in the proper perspective - your life will not be worthless if you don't get every question right on the exam.
When you are studying or writing a paper, don’t be afraid to take a break. Go see a movie at Images or the local cinema, listen to your favorite music, go for a walk, call up an old friend, make a trip to the snack bar, write a letter venting all your frustrations and then rip it up, let out a primal scream, or talk to a trained professional. Take a break and give your brain a rest. Even if the break is only five minutes of daydreaming, do it. Studying with no breaks for long periods of time is not as productive as studying with small breaks every hour or two.
On the exam day, plan to get to the exam with at least five minutes to spare, find a comfortable seat, and take a minute to relax. Don’t try to cram during the last minutes before the exam; put away those notes, because whether or not you studied enough for the exam, those extra two minutes of studying are not going to make any difference. Your time is much better spent taking a few deep breaths and getting into the proper mindset. You might try to use the one-minute relaxation technique described here.
Taking Care of Your Body
It is especially important to take care of yourself during periods of high stress. Here are some tips for keeping yourself healthy: eat balanced, regular meals; try to get at least six hours of sleep a night, and try to make time for exercise. Eating balanced meals gives your body the stored energy it needs to draw upon in a stressful situation. Try to stay away from using foods high in sugar and caffeine as study aids for prolonged periods of time. Foods high in sugar and caffeine may provide a temporary lift, but will bring you down lower in the end. Exercise is a good way to work out your frustrations and gain a new perspective.