Health and Wellbeing, Mental health

Managing chronic stress

Natalie, our Student Wellbeing Champion, gives some tips on managing stress…

Stress can sometimes be a positive thing. When we are experiencing acute (or “on the spot”) stress which usually results from a new, unpredictable situation that could potentially be a threat to us or our ego, our body releases adrenaline. This not only enhances our performance but also helps us to accomplish goals, such as getting assignments in on time.

However, chronic stress is when we are constantly and repeatedly being exposed to situations that lead to the release of stress hormones. The effects of this can be overwhelming and debilitating.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by a period of constant stress? Are you feeling constantly under pressure? Perhaps you may be experiencing chronic stress…

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Symptoms of Chronic stress

  • Anxiety, depression, mood swings
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Food cravings or lack of appetite
  • Frequent crying
  • Insomnia and nightmares
  • Muscle pain, chest pains and dizziness
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Feeling tired and difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty breathing and frequent sighing
  • Feeling overloaded and overwhelmed
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Increased smoking, alcohol or drug use
  • There are a wide range of effects on our emotion, mood and behavior – click here to see how our key body systems react to stress 

 

Tips on dealing with chronic stress

Avoid or reduce caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that will increase your level of stress rather than reduce it. In large quantities, alcohol is a depressant but in smaller quantities, it is a stimulant, therefore not a good way to relieve stress.

Do physical exercises. In stressful situations where we are under immediate harm or threat, our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode. This occurs as the body releases stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. However, the same hormones are also released when we are feeling stressed or anxious, even without any stressors being physically present. Physical exercise reduces the level of stress hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins (chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevator), making you feel calmer and more relaxed.

Try relaxation and mindfulness techniques When there are so many things to get done, sometimes you may forget to take care of yourself. Have more quality ‘me’ time away from work for socializing, relaxation, exercise or doing anything that you love may help reduce stress. There are relaxation techniques you could try, including body scans, breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation. Click here for step-by-step instruction on those exercises. Moreover, mindfulness techniques are also great for calming the mind and reducing stress.

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Learn to say ‘no.’ Usually when we are feeling stressed, it is because we have so much to do and so little time to do it. When asked to take on a responsibility, know your limits and how much you can do. Saying “no” could help reduce your stress level. It does not have to be harsh or mean, and there are phrases that could be used to let people down more gently. Click here for more information on assertiveness.

Try to recognise the stress triggers. By knowing what is making your stress, you can work towards eliminating it and feeling more in control of your life. Stressors could be external factors, such as major life changes, university work, relationship difficulties or financial problems. However, it could also be internal, including worrying too much about something out of your control, setting unrealistic goals, and having irrational and unhelpful thinking styles.

Improve your time management. At times we may feel stressed and overwhelmed by the amount of work there is to do. A way to deal with it is by managing our time wisely. This means understanding and accepting that we cannot do everything at once, and to prioritise some tasks over others. A tip for this is to make a list of things to do and putting them in an order of priority, depending on the amount of time needed, the deadline and the level of difficulty. Develop a good balance between work, rest and leisure.

Talk to someone. If you are feeling overwhelmed, hopeless or are having difficulty getting through your daily routine, there is always someone for you to talk you. The Student Support Centre’s Counselling, Health & Wellbeing Service offers one-to-one support as well as drop in sessions (Mon-Fri at 3pm). There is also peer support out there for you, as sometimes talking to others who are going through the same as you can help you feel less alone. If you are interested in supportive online communities where you can talk about stress and mental health, there are also websites like Elefriends and Big White Wall.

Alternatively, if you would like to be part of a group in person, the Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service also offer workshops and courses to help you cope with stress better. The Stronger Day by Day course runs once a week for 7 weeks. This course is about helping you to focus on developing self-awareness and teaching you strategies and skills to boost your emotional resilience. You will also explore your current coping mechanisms and learn how to develop a healthier way of handling challenges. If you are feeling stressed and anxious, and you would like to sign up for Stronger Day by Day, or find out more about our courses and workshops click here.

 

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Contacting Counselling Health and Wellbeing

If you are struggling to improve your wellbeing, please know Cardiff University Support Services are here for you – there is no problem too big or too small and we would be happy to provide you with some support. We offer a range of flexible support options including:

Bookable appointments are available via our online referral questionnaire. We also offer a Wellbeing Walk-In Service, Monday to Friday, 3pm to 3.45pm and Wednesday mornings, 9.30am to 10.15am, at the Student Support Centre at 50 Park Place.  We also hold a walk-in service at our Student Support Centre in Cardigan House at the Heath, on Wednesday afternoons 3pm to 3.45pm.

 Watch our video and see for yourself that we have friendly and approachable staff. Staff who are able to listen to you non-judgmentally, in a safe and confidential space.

If talking to a member of staff is something you are not sure about, why not chat to one of our Student Wellbeing Champions. They are trained student volunteers who can signpost you to support, offer you a peer ear and give you basic health and wellbeing advice. If you would like to see our Champions in action, check out their video.

If you are worried that you are experiencing physical symptoms that may be affecting your health, we strongly advise you to make a GP appointment to discuss this. If you do not already have a GP, please contact NHS Wales on 0845 46 47 or check out their website to view all of your GP options. The University also has its own GP Practice – Park Place Surgery for those in their catchment area.

 

Your feedback and help please

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Best wishes,

Natalie, Student Wellbeing Champion.

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Your Student Life, Supported.

The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including: Advice & Money, Careers & Employability, Counselling, Health & Wellbeing, Disability & Dyslexia and International Student Support.

The Student Support Centres are located at 50 Park Place, Cathays Campus and Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus.

For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.

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