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About this book

This practical book will inspire and encourage students to shape new habits and make stress-management a natural part of their everyday routine. Each of the fifty 'Ways' in this book is a starting point, offering suggestions of things to do and think about, alongside opportunities to reflect on, choose and commit to new ideas and actions. It shows students how to recognise helpful and unhelpful stress, identify their stress triggers and develop coping mechanisms to ease and manage stress. Throughout, it encourages students to take charge of their wellbeing and strike a healthy study-life balance.

Packed with supportive guidance, this book will help students to stay on top of stress during their time at university.

Table of Contents

1. Appreciate helpful stress

Abstract
Short spells of stress are useful. Those who excel at exams, sports, performance or in business make use of the sharpened focus and increased energy that accompany stress. Stress can help students to achieve better.
Stella Cottrell

2. Harness the benefits of stress

Abstract
Short spells of stress are useful. Those who excel at exams, sports, performance or in business make use of the sharpened focus and increased energy that accompany stress. Stress can help students to achieve better.
Stella Cottrell

3. Know the signs of excess stress

Abstract
If we deal with high pressure often, we learn that we can cope reasonably well even with highly stressful times and events. Whilst that is good, it can mean that we don’t notice when stress levels remain high or when we are starting to cope less effectively. Continued high levels of stress can be damaging. Catching the signs early helps you manage stress before it becomes too uncomfortable.
Stella Cottrell

4. Recognise your own stress triggers

Abstract
Because everyone is different, there isn’t one set of triggers associated with excessive levels of stress.3,15 This makes it important to be self-aware, so we know the kinds of circumstances in which we are personally most sensitive to becoming over-stressed. We can then take better care of ourselves at such times and take steps to manage our stress level better.
Stella Cottrell

5. Take signs of stress seriously

Abstract
Don’t just dismiss physical signs of stress such as frequent headaches, migraines, tense muscles and jaw, or grinding teeth at night. Look at the pressures that could be giving rise to these. Not dealing with excess stress can make the symptoms worse, leading to further problems.
Stella Cottrell

6. Take charge!

Abstract
Taking charge is important because, when we are stressed, it can feel as if everything is getting out of our control. It isn’t. There is always something that can reduce the problems or the way we are experiencing them. Doing nothing just adds further to our stress. The moment you decide to take action to sort things out, you start to take power into your own hands.
Stella Cottrell

7. Get physical!

Abstract
When we feel stressed, we are less likely to exercise.33 Research shows students who exercise 20 minutes three times a week are less likely to report mental health concerns. Physical activity that increases the heartrate triggers release of BDNF; this acts as a ‘re-set’ mechanism so that we feel clearer, refreshed and happier after exercise.
Stella Cottrell

8. Talk it through!

Abstract
Managing stress often involves some consideration of areas that are painful for us, whether that is a bereavement, the end of a relationship, or doubting our ability to cope. Speaking about such things can be painful too, but many people find that they do feel much better after talking about their concerns. This is why so many therapies are based on talk. It helps you feel less alone with whatever is troubling you.
Stella Cottrell

9. Get enough (good) sleep

Abstract
Student lifestyles, with many late nights, disrupt natural sleep rhythms. Around 70% of students don’t get enough sleep, with half reporting daytime tiredness or low energy. More than 4 out of 5 say sleep affects their performance.35 Good sleep improves memory, performance, mood, and grades. Missed sleep, on the other hand, is associated with poor attention, recall and reasoning, as well as lower grades, stress, depression, paranoia, and even an increased risk of accidents. Stress affects sleep, and lack of sleep adds to stress.
Stella Cottrell

10. Combat homesickness

Abstract
The student helpline, Nightline, found that around a third of students experience homesickness at some time (2013).36 It can be tiring, disorientating and unsettling to adapt to new places and people, especially when you miss home, friends and all that is familiar to you. It is important to allow yourself time to build new social networks and to let your new surroundings feel like a second home.
Stella Cottrell

11. Laugh more!

Abstract
A good laugh, or even anticipating one, creates positive physical responses.37 Laughter charges and cools your stress response so you feel good and more relaxed. It can increase oxygen intake, endorphins, blood circulation and muscle relaxation, all of which reduce symptoms of stress. It reduces levels of the potentially harmful stress hormone, cortisol. Studies have associated laughter with other benefits. Just 10– 15 minutes of laughter a day can burn off 40 calories.
Stella Cottrell

12. Get well organised

Abstract
Studies suggest that our brains are constantly scanning their surroundings and looking for signals that suggest we need to expend energy. It registers mess and disorganisation as an energy demand, which can feel stressful. In addition, being untidy or disorganised usually results in wasted time, unfinished tasks, missed appointments and a sense of things being out of control.
Stella Cottrell

13. Practise mindfulness

Abstract
Research by the University of Washington found that training in mindfulness along with 8 weeks of daily practice were more effective in reducing stress than relaxation techniques or using no technique at all. It also improved attention and memory.41 Neuroscience has identified that the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for stress and anxiety responses, is less active during meditation and in people who meditate.
Stella Cottrell

14. Get outdoors into nature

Abstract
Being in nature makes us feel better. Hundreds of studies have found that being outside in nature, or just viewing it, is good for us physically, socially and mentally. It stimulates a great array of positive effects on our bodies, brains, nervous systems, emotions, feelings, thinking, creativity, health, generosity and our interactions with others.
Stella Cottrell

15. Watch nature on screen

Abstract
The Real Happiness study (2017) by BBC Earth and Dacher Keltner from the University of California, Berkeley, reviewed 150 scientific studies and surveyed over 7000 people worldwide.44 It found that watching nature documentaries, even in short clips, has an uplifting effect, improves health and mood, and reduces stress, anxiety and tiredness.
Stella Cottrell

16. Know your limits

Abstract
There is a delicate balance between high ambition and unrealistic goals. If you drive yourself hard to achieve success, or if you juggle many demands, it is all the more important to build your core strength. That includes building study stamina, health and general resilience – and being able to recognise when you are under too much strain.
Stella Cottrell

17. Start the day right!

Abstract
Short spells of stress are useful. Those who excel at exams, sports, performance or in business make use of the sharpened focus and increased energy that accompany stress. Stress can help students to achieve better.
Stella Cottrell

18. Make time work for you

Abstract
Students report that time pressures are a major source of stress. It is not surprising, then, that good timemanagement behaviours were found to be one of the most effective ways of reducing stress.6,47 Effective time management is also associated with better academic performance, so good all round!48
Stella Cottrell

19. Get social!

Abstract
The 2017 UPP report found 2 out of 5 students struggled with loneliness or isolation, especially early in the first year.9 Such feelings can make students become withdrawn just when they need to be building social networks for friendship, study and contacts. Doing things with others helps combat excess stress. Even if it seems hard, it is important to get out and make opportunities to meet others.
Stella Cottrell

20. Take stress out of meeting new people

Abstract
If you find social events taxing, take comfort in knowing you are not alone in this. Many people are nervous about what to say and find it hard to relax. Welcome events and parties can be especially demanding, especially if you are not fond of crowds and noise. If meeting people is stressful, take it in stages and don’t expect too much from them. Aim to learn, at least, a few names and faces and to let others become familiar with seeing you around.
Stella Cottrell

21. Music to your ears!

Abstract
Music and sound have been found to reduce stress – even stress associated with painful diseases and medical procedures.49 Its soothing effects can be gained from just listening to it, or from singing, playing an instrument or writing a song. Self-selected music can have a significant calming effect – though rock music less so!50 Other sounds work too: rippling water can be even more soothing than music.51
Stella Cottrell

22. Park your troubles!

Abstract
When we are anxious, it can seem as though time spent worrying is useful, even when our thoughts are unproductive and prevent us from finding solutions or falling asleep. It is easy to imagine that if we take our mind off the problem, even for a moment, we will never find a solution. Our brain puts survival first, so if we seem worried, it will happily join in and keep us on the alert for potential threat. It can be more useful to set times to give the brain a break and times to focus on issues of concern.
Stella Cottrell

23. Create a realistic study schedule

Abstract
Many students find it hard to get down to study tasks, especially if they have to manage a lot of independent study time. It is easy to plan too much or too little study – and to delay or interrupt tasks continually, stop them early or get distracted during study. All this can affect grades and lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety. Drawing up a realistic study schedule clarifies what needs to be done and when. Sticking to the schedule provides a sense of accomplishment and reduces worry about whether you can get everything done.
Stella Cottrell

24. Change scene and break routine

Abstract
A strong routine can be both useful and comforting (Way 23); changing our routine can also be helpful at times. Studies show that stress makes us more likely to stick to familiar habits even when we are aware they aren’t really helping.52 Sticking too closely to a routine can become dull and impair learning. If we keep seeing or doing the same things, it can seem as if there are few options.
Stella Cottrell

25. Relax with breathing exercises

Abstract
Breathing exercises can be used sitting, standing or lying down. They don’t need to take long – a few minutes can make a difference and they don’t cost anything! If you practise for a few minutes every day, you will have a useful tool to use when you need it – and also be more likely to remember to use it if need arises. That can add to your confidence to deal with stressful situations that arise.
Stella Cottrell

26. Develop good study skills and habits

Abstract
As might be expected, academic-related issues are usually the leading cause of student stress, especially anxieties about workload, grades and fear of failure.9,53 High levels of stress are associated with weak academic performance.54,55,56 As study challenges increase at every level, it is worth adapting and improving your study strategies to help you cope with these. Even students who do well academically can usually hone their skills and improve study habits further, for greater efficiency, effectiveness, calm and enjoyment.
Stella Cottrell

27. Write it out

Abstract
Expressive writing can be therapeutic for many conditions such as negative moods, stress, anxiety and illness.57,58,59 Writing things down serves a number of purposes, from knowing difficult things won’t be forgotten, to allowing ideas to emerge about what would help. It can release the charge of pent-up emotion and can even boost exam results.60 The most useful aspect is using writing to make sense of your experience.61 Just writing basic thoughts and feelings about being at college/uni helps student health and stress.62,63
Stella Cottrell

28. Sort your finances

Abstract
Money matters are a major source of student stress. For many, managing finances is a new experience. It’s easy to over-spend and it can be hard to find money for daily expenses. In the UK, over a third of students said financial worries affected their mental health; 69% female students and 55% males worried frequently about money.64 There are similar findings from US studies.65 Credit cards and ‘payday loans’ added to problems. Good money management might not resolve all financial concerns, but it can ease the difficulties and reduce the stress.39
Stella Cottrell

29. Take a walk!

Abstract
A brisk daily walk of 20–30 minutes can boost self-esteem, calm the nerves and leave you feeling better for hours. When we walk, run or jog, soothing neurons are activated in the brain which, over time, can build our resistance to stress.66 Walking is great because it is so easy, you can ask others to join you for a walk and it is a perfect way of getting out of your room for a change of scene.
Stella Cottrell

30. Eat good mood food

Abstract
Short spells of stress are useful. Those who excel at exams, sports, performance or in business make use of the sharpened focus and increased energy that accompany stress. Stress can help students to achieve better.
Stella Cottrell

31. Devise a good exam strategy

Abstract
for students. Lack of exercise around exam time and perceptions of having too much to learn contribute to high stress levels – for over 90% of students in some studies.72 Fear of failure, poor time management and weak test-taking strategies are strongly associated with high exam stress.53 To make matters worse, many students also neglect sleep, nutrition and socialising around exam time, too. A good exam strategy combined with sensible self-care help manage examrelated stress.73
Stella Cottrell

32. Manage your mind exposure

Abstract
Whatever we see, hear and experience is food for the mind. Feeding our mind positive thoughts, humour and sensible interpretations of sensationalist stories, helps shape our responses to new situations. We can build resilience through exposure to stressful material. However, when we are stressed, we can be more sensitive to stories and images that feed our anxiety, depress us, scare us or raise our heartrate. That can affect our mood at the time and affect sleep later, reinforcing tiredness, anxiety and stress.
Stella Cottrell

33. Relax jaw and fists

Abstract
Stress can manifest as a tightening of the jaw, or of surrounding areas such as the temples, shoulders and neck. Many people hold tension in the jaw or hands, or clench their jaw or grind their teeth when under pressure. This can feed a cycle of pain, headaches, sleeplessness, stress and anxiety. You can relieve symptoms through massaging the area, exercises and general activity. A good laugh can help too (Way 11).
Stella Cottrell

34. Avoid taskswitching stress

Abstract
Although we often think we are great at multi-tasking, this is an illusion. The brain can only do one thing at a time (except for automated tasks such as breathing or walking). Every time we switch task, we work the brain harder and place it under more stress. Multi-tasking can trigger the flight or fight response, flooding us with stress chemicals that eventually leave us tired and stressed.75 Studies show that splitting attention between tasks is linked to negative emotional responses to study.76,77 Cutting down on task-switching or ‘multitasking’ eases a source of stress.
Stella Cottrell

35. Benefit from the power of touch

Abstract
Touch reduces stress hormones and boosts hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin that calm us and make us feel happier. Being in reassuring physical contact can have a calming effect. This can make a huge difference: in experiments, people were less anxious about receiving pain from electric shocks when holding their partner’s hand.79 We hold stress in our bodies and feel this in tight and painful muscles, stiff neck and shoulders, and general aches and pains. This can be soothed away by light touch or eased out through massage.
Stella Cottrell

36. Trigger the happy chemicals

Abstract
Short spells of stress are useful. Those who excel at exams, sports, performance or in business make use of the sharpened focus and increased energy that accompany stress. Stress can help students to achieve better.
Stella Cottrell

37. Reduce the pressure on assignment deadlines

Abstract
When assignment deadlines are drawing near, many students start to feel the pressure. Some leave assignments to the last minute in order to use the adrenaline rush to get them done. That can work, but not always. It can mean there isn’t time to think things through well, and it is problematic if several assignment deadlines fall at around the same time. Starting earlier means you don’t need to rush your work or worry so much about getting it done.81
Stella Cottrell

38. Make decisions

Abstract
The act of making decisions, setting goals, choosing – these all trigger the brain to release dopamine. Boosting your dopamine levels makes you feel better. Making decisions has a calming effect generally, and reduces the pull towards negative impulses.79,82 It removes some of the ‘unknowns’ so you know what to expect. That then puts you in a better place to plan how to put your decision into action and to get things done, establishing a virtuous circle.
Stella Cottrell

39. Accept your emotions

Abstract
Naming and accepting difficult feelings such as fear, anxiety and rage helps to prevent us from overreacting and reduces negative emotions.83 ‘Accepting’ means not judging emotions, pushing them away or pretending we don’t have them. Research shows that accepting emotions doesn’t block positive emotions nor make us feel worse. Over time, it increases wellbeing and helps us cope with stressful events such as sickness, bereavement and family crises.84,85
Stella Cottrell

40. Change your relationship with social media

Abstract
Social media adds to stress in many ways, from bullying or being shamed, to concerns about content or feelings of inadequacy about personal popularity.86 ‘Fear of missing out’ drives high levels of anxiety.87,88 For some people this involves checking social media every few minutes. Looking again at the way we use social media and changing our habits can ease stress and restore the enjoyment of using it.
Stella Cottrell

41. Express yourself creatively

Abstract
Research has associated happiness and greater feelings of satisfaction with being creative – just for the joy of it. By contrast, creating with a set goal such as a final product or meeting a deadline is associated more with stress. Creativity is associated with the totality of the experience of positive and negative emotions.89,90 Any kind of creative expression, even colouring or cooking can absorb your interest, taking your focus off your worries and easing stress.91
Stella Cottrell

42. Help someone else

Abstract
When we are stressed, life can seem less meaningful. We can become over-focussed on our own needs, important though those are, at the expense of all else. It can help to think about others for a while and to do something we regard as worthwhile. A HEPI report on student mental health21 recommended that all university students complete at least one volunteer placement – to improve their perception of their lives as worthwhile. Alternatively, you could offer to help on campus or just help out a friend.
Stella Cottrell

43. Befriend your mistakes

Abstract
Being aware of mistakes and taking care to avoid errors are generally good behaviours – they help us to avoid all kinds of problems. If we worry too much about mistakes, they cease to be helpful. We are more likely to make mistakes when we are stressed so worrying about them can create a negative cycle.92 As making mistakes really does help us learn, then we need to make some or we lose out. Some experts even advocate making deliberate small errors to help overcome excessive fear of mistakes.93
Stella Cottrell

44. Cultivate a balanced perspective

Abstract
When we are stressed, it is easy to get locked into narrow thinking, noticing only what is wrong, or assuming that either a particular thing must be done or there is no other way. Manageable situations such as an unwanted change of room, tutor or study group can seem bigger problems than they are. Even poor grades or failed exams, though they might involve some rethinking or change, are not catastrophes and could create unforeseen opportunities.
Stella Cottrell

45. Have a good cry!

Abstract
Crying can have self-soothing effects, relieving pent-up emotions, easing sadness and grief, and improving mood.96,97 This is more likely if you cry where you don’t feel embarrassed, such as in private, watching a film or with someone you trust to comfort you. Crying releases toxins and the excess cortisol and manganese associated with stress; this lessens feelings of irritability, aggression, tiredness and distress. Tears contain other stress-related chemicals such as potassium and the hormone prolactin. Be aware: crying can make you feel worse at first, as the effects can take anything up to 90 minutes to kick in.
Stella Cottrell

46. Accept yourself

Abstract
Many students at uni were once amongst the best in their class at school and their identity can be defined and bound up as being the best academically. At university, it isn’t possible for everyone to be best in class anymore. This can feel stressful and anxietyprovoking. However, adjusting to more realistic expectations can be positive: it is possible to achieve well without having to be ‘best’. It can also encourage consideration and appreciation of a much wider range of qualities that characterise the individual and are of benefit beyond study.
Stella Cottrell

47. Use relaxation techniques

Abstract
You can use techniques to develop a relaxation response in answer to the stress response described on page xii. The full body relaxation (sometimes referred to as body scan) and visualisation described opposite are used in many complementary therapies and other settings. Alternatively, you can learn one of several ancient practices you get to meet people and gain a range of benefits for health and well being. Just resting helps: people who take several waking hours away from work score higher for overall wellbeing. 99,100
Stella Cottrell

48. Create a calming sanctuary

Abstract
Calm can seem elusive when we are stressed, and especially in the context of a buzzing, agitating student life. Whilst stimulus is good for learning, creativity and fun, it can also drain energy, tiring us and making us more vulnerable to stress. We need a few oases of calm in the week just to unwind, settle our minds and bodies, clear our thoughts and then recharge. Creating a calm sanctuary, whether at home or in a corner of a student room, makes it easier to settle the mind for study and for relaxing afterwards.
Stella Cottrell

49. Recharge your energies

Abstract
Stress is associated with fatigue or tiredness. This can wear you down, making it harder to find the energy to study or to think of answers to apparent difficulties. It can sap your enthusiasm for study. It is important to take time to relax in order to recoup your energy. This can be through many different routes, so it is good to use a varied menu to restore body and mind and raise your spirits.
Stella Cottrell

50. Enjoy a little distraction

Abstract
Distracting yourself won’t necessarily solve your problems, but it can give you a break from them. That can help you to reduce stress levels and ease feelings of anxiety. Giving the brain downtime to relax enables it to think more clearly and to come up with solutions. Many forms of relaxation have soothing effects or raise mood. In general, whatever the cause of your stress, it is good to have time for yourself and to enjoy life to the full.
Stella Cottrell
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