Have you been extra tired lately? Is your digestive track out of whack? Maybe you’ve been getting headaches or feeling abnormally sad or irritable. Maybe you’re eating too much or feel unable to focus. These are just some of the signs that you may be suffering from stress. And 2020 has given us plenty of reasons to be stressed!
When you add in going to school while managing a job, family and life responsibilities, stress is pretty much a given for even the most organized and diligent student. But using some proven stress management techniques can help you maintain work-life balance and keep you physically and emotionally healthy throughout your educational journey.
Before we share some stress management tips, let’s explore some common stressors for students. Generally, they can be divided into three categories:
College can bring new forms of social stress rising from peer pressure, new friend and romantic relationships, adjusting to new ways of interacting virtually, being away from home, and navigating the nuances of work, school, family, friend, and community relationships.
Your education is your primary focus right now, and with it often comes stress related to homework, course deadlines, keeping up grades, exams, procrastination, challenging content, and a host of other factors that must be managed along with your other responsibilities.
- Everyday Life
Sometimes it’s the everyday stressors that send us over the top. These can include anything from financial worries to problems at work, the dryer going out, health issues, or a death in the family. Life happens while you’re in school, and depending on its intensity, you will need to employ the strategies outlined below, know when to ask for help, and assess if you need to take an educational break.
Stress Management Tips
Now that you know the kinds of stress you might face, let’s look at some stress management tips for online students that will ensure you have a positive college experience and don’t let the pressure get the best of you.
- Learn How to Relax
When every waking minute is filled with “to-dos” and all you can see is the next looming deadline, it can be difficult to get off the hamster wheel. But by intentionally following these tips for relaxation, you’ll be more productive when your return to your task.
Taking 10 minutes to write down your anxious thoughts, what you’re grateful for, what you can’t say out loud, or your hopes and dreams is a great way to free your mind so you can refocus. Hate writing? Try voice recording on your phone.
- Laugh, Sing or Dance It Up
Listen to a comedy routine or watch a funny movie; turn on soothing music or crank up your favorite tunes and sing along; have a dance-off with the family. Whatever tickles your funny bone or brings you joy – bring it on! These activities release endorphins which improve your mood.
- Get Some “Ahhhh!” Therapy
Sometimes it just takes a little pampering. Relax those muscles with a massage, a bubble bath, some essential oils or a trip to the hair salon. Even deep breathing can relax you in the stress of the moment.
When you’ve been glued to your computer for hours, it’s time for a change of scenery, some fresh air, a beautiful sunset, a walk with a friend – these can help your outlook and make it easier to get back at it.
A social media cleanse for a day or even a week can be an unexpected stress reliever. You may be surprised at how little you miss it – really!
- Practice Self-Health
Our bodies are usually the first loudspeaker to tell us we’re stressed, whether through illness, weight loss/gain, muscles tightness, sleep problems, or a myriad of other symptoms. Taking care of yourself on the front end is imperative for staying healthy and reducing stress while in school.
- Eat, Drink and be Healthy!
What you eat can either energize you or make you sluggish. Comfort food may be your favorite reward but eating healthy will serve you best for maintaining good gut health. Staying hydrated is also very important, so keep that water bottle handy.
Even if you’re not a “work-out” person, 15-20 minutes of movement a day can go a long way in keeping your mood up, your blood circulating and your muscles active. A round of golf, bowling, or throwing the football with your daughter count, too!
It may be tempting to consume excessive alcohol to take the edge off, excessive caffeine to keep you going, or even mild drugs to help you relax. The aftermath, however, will generally lead to greater stress or health issues, so practice moderation.
Knowing when to call it quits for the evening is a skill you will need to quickly master when pursuing an online degree. Burning the midnight oil might be necessary on occasion, but consistently depriving yourself of sleep will turn counterproductive very quickly.
If you are a “Yes” person, learning when to say “No” to limit your responsibilities will help manage your stress. Commit only to those things that are critical. Maybe even look at your current duties and cut out a few.
Things that stress you out may not bother someone else. Know the things that trigger your stress and anxiety and make a conscious effort to avoid or preemptively manage those things.
- Take Control of Your Time
A major component of school success is managing your time and staying organized. Using a planner or master calendar and setting goals to stay on track will help keep unnecessary stress at bay.
- Set Up a Support System
Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you can’t be an island. Mobilizing a support system that you can rely on during your educational pursuit will give you a foundation that keeps you from falling through the stress cracks when they form. The important thing is to let these people know you are in school, why you need their help, and what type of assistance they can provide. Your circle of support can come from a variety of places:
- Church group
- Community groups
- School resources, like professors, counselors and advisors
- Chaplain or other confidante
- Educational peers
- Find an Outlet
Stress can often be relieved by taking the focus off of your current circumstances and putting it on something else, or on someone else. You can build these outlets into your regular routine or use them anytime you are feeling overwhelmed.
Try volunteering with an organization whose cause you admire, organizing a toy drive at Christmas, baking cookies for a sick friend, or surprising your wife with dinner. You’ll almost certainly feel lighter after you do.
Find a hobby that you can turn your attention to on short notice for a short time. Crafts, reading, playing guitar, gardening, woodworking, baking, going to the shooting range, running, and sewing are just a few examples of hobbies that can help dissipate stress.
Whether your idea of fun is a game night, karaoke, putt-putt, a bike ride, a picnic, or dinner and a movie, make sure you find some time to periodically unwind with friends and family.
- Change Up Your Study Environment
Mild stress relief can be achieved by something as simple as mixing up your study spaces. Instead of your home office, go to the local coffee shop or library, sit in the park (many now have wi-fi), or visit a fellow-student to study together.
- Ask for Help
Keep in mind that these tips for relaxation and stress management are meant to help you cope with the common stressors for students earning a degree and trying to maintain work-life balance. However, if you feel your stress is becoming chronic or that it is escalating to regular anxiety or depression, it is extremely important that you consult your doctor right away.
Keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy throughout your online degree pursuit with Ottawa University will not only make your educational journey more enjoyable, it will also give you the confidence that achieving your goal is possible without sacrificing your well-being.