Finals bring stress, HRC suggests relief

Stress-—the word is frequently used this time of year. But there’s more to it than its existence between now and break.

Stress can have a major impact on the body and mind, according to health experts at the Health and Recreation Complex.

Mindy Wallpe, HRC staff psychologist, said stress-management techniques are key to a student’s well-being.

“When students are stressed, it can affect all areas of their life,” Wallpe said.  “They might see some academic challenges in terms of having difficulty concentrating or being motivated.”

In order to help with this stress, Peers Advocating Wellness for Students is putting on its annual Stress Less Week, which offers various activities for students to decompress the week before finals.

Sarah Barnes Diaz, health education and outreach programs coordinator, said PAWS has planned a variety of events.

“The purpose of Stress Less Week is to provide students with a chance to try out some different stress management techniques that other folks have found helpful in managing their stress,” Diaz said.

Students who experience stress may not feel like themselves, have trouble with time management or even have less patience for personal relationships, Wallpe said.

“The immediate effects of stress could include not performing as well as you would like or not getting things done in a timely manner,” Wallpe said.  “You’re not able to enjoy any fun things that way.”

Not only can stress have effects on the student’s psychological well-being, but stress can also harm students’ physical well-being.

“When stress is good, that’s to save your life,” Maria Fletcher, HRC physician, said. “When you don’t have a chance to recover, that’s when it’s not so good.  It’s detrimental if you don’t have recovery from the stress and it’s on a constant basis.”

Fletcher said our bodies’ response to stress is often described as a fight-or-flight response.

She compared the response to a primal situation in which someone is being chased by a bear.

When one is experiencing stress, heart rate and blood pressure will increase, the mouth will become dry, hearing will improve and eyes will widen in order to see better.

This increase in blood flow goes to one’s muscles and gives off a “ready to fight” feeling.

“Those are all life-protecting mechanisms that are very natural for the body to do,” Fletcher said.

However, other physical responses are harder on the body, Fletcher said.

For example, when one is under stress, the brain might send a message to prepare the body for tough times ahead.

As a primitive response, the body will then hold on to fat and store it for later, Fletcher said.

“Your body won’t metabolize fat as fast,” Fletcher said.  “This is why people who have chronic stress experience problems losing weight.”

Fletcher also said chronic stress could worsen body responses for those with other medical issues such as asthma or diabetes.

This, Fletcher said, leads to a higher inflammatory process, increased cholesterol and plaque in the body, which contribute to strokes and heart attacks later in life.

Those effects can be avoided.

Both Wallpe and Fletcher said organizing, planning and scheduling are important for success during finals week.

They also said any type of meditation or breathing exercise is helpful.

“Take each day as it comes and have a plan,” Wallpe said.

Fletcher and Wallpe also said taking breaks and finding outlets are important in order to give your brain a break.

They advised finding things you like to do, such as visiting friends, watching television or simply taking a walk.

Fletcher said physical activity is great for stress release.

When working out, all the extra blood flow goes to the brain, which makes it more alert.

Because of this, Fletcher said reviewing material is a great activity to do while you’re working out instead of just watching television or listening to music.

As for the amount of sleep one should get during finals, Fletcher said all-nighters are not very beneficial.

“When you study and don’t sleep, your body doesn’t have a chance to form the association fibers in your brain,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said if an all-nighter is inevitable, do it in two- or three-hour shifts.

She said sleeping for at least two hours will help the brain retain information better than it would after a 20-minute nap.

Both Fletcher and Wallpe said stress is unavoidable in life, so learning good coping mechanisms that work is important.

“Your life is going to be full of stress; that’s just the way life is, and it’s the nature of the beast,” Fletcher said.  “Be prepared for it.”

Wallpe echoed Fletcher’s statement.

“I think you learn a lot about yourself and how you cope with things,” Wallpe said.

If a student needs help coping with stress, support is out there.

“We’re happy to support students who are struggling with stress, anxiety and other things like that,” Wallpe said. “Come over to the counseling center at the HRC, and we’ll get you in.”

Diaz said all of the HRC departments send out wellness messages through the HRC Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The HRC also has several Pinterest boards with wellness topics that students can follow.

If students need more guidance with planning, studying or test-taking skills, the Learning Resource Center offers guidance and workshops to help students stay on track.

No matter the problem, Fletcher told students not to be down on themselves during finals.

“There’s a very good reason why you’re at Butler,” Fletcher said.  “It’s because Butler feels that you can do it.  You cannot get that out of your mind during  finals.  You have promise, and that’s why you’re here.”

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