Exercise, study breaks may keep stress at bay

By on February 28, 2007

We have all experienced it: The night before a huge exam and you haven’t even begun studying. As you quickly try to memorize information, you get anxious, imagining yourself doing poorly on the exam. Not surprisingly, because of stress levels, many students often find themselves unable to efficiently process and recall quickly-studied information.

So what really causes stress? Stress does not necessarily need to be related to homework or exams but can also be caused by emotional issues involving friends or family members. It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of stress so that it can be controlled before it gets worse.

Stress can affect individuals in many different ways and the symtoms may vary for each person. Stress may appear in the form of physical, emotional or even mental pain.

Some common physical ailments related to stress include headaches, lack of energy or fatigue, back pain and changes in appetite such as feeling more or less hungry. Other symptoms include stomach cramping or bloating, skin problems such as acne, hives or eczema and even a possible increase in heart rate.

Emotional stress can produce feelings of depression or worthlessness, anger, irritability and, of course, higher levels of anxiety. Many individuals find it hard to sleep when they are under stress because they have so much on their mind. Stress can also cause the brain to have difficulty in focusing or make it hard to maintain concentration for long periods of time.

So, should students assume that they are doomed if they have tons of work? Not necessarily.

There are many things you can do to help eliminate stress. Before reaching for that high-calorie comfort food, try going outside and getting some exercise. When individuals exercise, their brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters that help to mediate moods and emotions, which help us feel better and less stressed.

“Going to the gym regularly has really helped me de-stress. Sometimes if I want to workout but have a lot of work, I will bring my studying materials to the gym,” sophomore Jacquie Hill said. “It’s a great way to memorize information without feeling like I am stuck at the library.” Exercise doesn’t necessarily always need to be a high intensity activity. Even a walk to get some fresh air can be beneficial.

Even the very act of stepping outdoors can prevent stress. Sunlight produces Vitamin D which can help to affect you mood. If you want to move their body, but are not in the mood for a heavy workout, yoga might be the ticket. Yoga and other types of meditation relax the brain, which helps you remain more alert afterwards. Not the yoga type? Don’t worry, just turn on your iPod.

Listening to music can help focus the mind on something else besides huge workloads. Try lying down in a quiet, dimly-lit room and with eyes closed, listen to a favorite artist or band.

“Music really helps me take my mind off any stress I may be feeling,” sophomore Nicole Rybak said. “When I listen to my favorite band, I am really able to regain my composure and also control where my energy is focused.”

Even taking a half hour to read from a favorite book or magazine is a great way to distract yourself and is a helpful relaxation tool. If you’re feeling really tired, taking a power nap can be energizing. Make sure, however, that the nap is limited to an hour, otherwise it may be harder to fall asleep at night.

Believe the best stress reliever is inside that bag of peanut M&M’s? Such sweets may actually be causing your exhaustion. Fueling up with fruits, vegetables and protein is the way to go to gain energy for doing work. Eating good sources of protein such as peanut butter, chicken or tuna salad can help with energy that will last longer than the jolt one gets from sugar or caffeine.

Keeping a journal nearby to write down stressful thoughts helps you learn what triggers your stress.


About Rachael Lewiton