What is stress? When we talk about stress, we actually mean stress reactions. These can be viewed on four levels. On the one hand, we react on the motor level. Our muscles tense up as our bodies need to be prepared for flight or fight. On the physiological level, our nervous system is stimulated and as a result, many processes such as hormone release or the provision of energy are set in motion.
We also react on an emotional level. We feel fear, anger, and sometimes even joy as a result of a stressor. Another level is the cognitive one. We become more aware of our stressor and have thoughts that revolve around the stressor.
Where Does This Stress Come From?
But what exactly is a stressor? A stressor is a stimulus that triggers a stress response. Anything can become a stressor. These include physical stressors such as heat, noise, and hunger as well as social stressors such as conflict, isolation, or peer pressure. Phenomena such as traffic jams, friends who don’t reply to our messages, and red traffic lights can also be stressors.
The typical stressors that we experience especially during our studies are psychological and performance stressors. External demands that go beyond a certain framework, but also, among other things, fear of failure, excessive demands, and time pressure. Stressors can come from our environment, but they can also lie within us.
These interindividual differences exist because stress responses are not always triggered to the same extent by the same stressors. How we assess the stressor and our options for coping with stress is decisive for our stress experience. So, stress does not arise from the stressor, but from the assessment of the stressor, the situation, and the resources!
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Consequences Of Stress
It follows that positive stress can also be experienced! Positive stress is called eustress and means the reaction to stressors that have a positive effect on our organism. If we rate our stress management as good, the stress triggered can also be very beneficial.
Our attention is focused, and our body provides a lot of energy and is, therefore, more efficient. In short: We are motivated! Positive stress causes us to evolve. Every successful stress management strengthens our self-confidence and trains our coping skills!
But what if we have doubts about how to cope with stress? A stressor can just as easily be evaluated negatively. The typical stress reaction looks like this: The stressor puts us in an alarm phase. Our resistance level is decreasing. This means the typical moment of shock, i.e., the short-term exhaustion. However, if the stressor persists for an extended period of time, our resistance level rises again.
We actively combat the stressor through stress management. However, this costs a lot of strength, so the exhaustion phase sets in, and our resistance level drops again. If the stressor persists and our coping capacities are exhausted, we experience permanent unhealthy stress.
This permanent stress has negative consequences on our mental and physical health. There are a lot of stressors, especially at the beginning of your studies: the transition from school to university is fraught with many difficulties. You have to learn more in less time while getting used to the new environment. This can create pressure that you may not necessarily be able to handle immediately.
The same thing happens to us in the examination phase. Time pressure, high-performance requirements, self-doubt, and dissatisfaction with private life are just some of the stressors that are now increasingly occurring. Lots of stressors to deal with.
For this reason, it is important to learn stress management techniques. Stressors are difficult to avoid, but coping strategies are easy to develop!
What To Do About Stress?
A study asked college students about their feelings of stress and their strategies for coping with it. It was examined which coping strategies are used by the group that has a higher stress tolerance. These were the beneficial factors:
- A stable social environment: feeling supported, experiencing enough social interaction, and maintaining regular contact with family.
- Maintaining physical health: sleep at least eight hours, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and participate in college sports.
- Good living conditions: satisfaction with the environment and sufficient privacy.
- The feeling of control: If you think you can actively tackle your problems, then you do it!
- Relaxation, enough free time, and regeneration time.