Health Matters: How you handle stress can impact your future

By: Ryan Hunton

We will all become ‘stressed’ at various points throughout the next four months and beyond. We all should become stressed. Stress is a fundamental and necessary aspect of being human. In fact, on a molecular level, it is fundamental to all living things including animals, plants and bacteria. Why, then, should we try to escape it completely? Instead, according to WKU Health Services Health Educator Lauren Tuttle, we can control stress by recognizing how to reduce, prevent and cope with the things that cause it.

“Common causes of negative stress we typically see are when students procrastinate, get too involved or busy, or have financial issues or difficulties with a roommate, girlfriend, boyfriend or family,” Tuttle said. “Stress is one of the top academic impediments for college students at WKU, and if not dealt with properly, it can affect their school work, sleep, relationships and health by wearing down the body and weakening their immune system.”

Stress is a phenomenon not unique to students. However, college can be particularly challenging, and as we try to balance work, relationships, and finances with education, life can become complicated. Each of us copes with stress in a different manner, some better than others. How each of us handles stress each day can determine how much energy, mental focus and motivation we have to study and go beyond the basic expectations of a professor or boss. In effect, it can have a great impact on your future.

How you handle it depends largely on how you perceive it.

“How one perceives a stressor plays a very large role in how the body handles the stress and if it triggers our fight-or-flight response,” Tuttle said. “An optimistic view allows the body to bounce back to a normal level of alertness quicker than the pessimistic thinking style which will perceive more of a threat to the body… Stress is everywhere and has become a way of life, it’s how we view it and react to it that will determine if it makes or breaks us.  An optimistic approach to stress is key.”

Stress in itself is not bad for health. In fact, stress can be beneficial if controlled and temporary. Exercise is an example of beneficial stress, beneficial because it trains our bodies and minds not to be easily overwhelmed or worn down by the challenges that we must face each day. The heart pumps more efficiently as a result of regular exercise. More oxygen is inhaled with each breath, which means that more oxygen reaches major organs such as the brain. The cells are able to produce more energy, which means that more energy becomes available for you to complete your tasks each day.

Exercise and regular activity may be the most effective way to prepare your body and mind for the demands of this semester. Deep breathing may be the most fundamental. With deep roots in traditional Chinese medicine, deep breathing can instantly provide a relieving effect. By consciously controlling your breath rate, slowing it down, smoothing it out and taking in deeper breaths, you control one aspect of the stress response. This quickly causes the rest of the body to respond. The heart beats more slowly, the secretion of the stress hormones like adrenaline decreases and the blood vessels and other parts of the body relax.

Life can and will become complicated at times. When it does, simplify. Rid yourself from unnecessary belongings, such as items you’ve not used in a long time, and activities that may take too much of your time and energy, like browsing social media and watching TV. Organize your environment and your time. Tuttle emphasizes the importance of time management skills in reducing and preventing some unnecessary stress related to school. For example, once a week, write down a list of your assignments that need to be completed, and check them off as you complete them. Complete any reading and writing assignments early, study some each day and take a break when your mind seems unable to focus.

There are several services available on campus for those who need or want help with stress relief. The Health and Fitness Lab in the Preston Center offers massages at $25 for students, yoga, Zumba and other fitness classes. Individual counseling is available at the Counseling and Testing Center, and a nurse practitioner, Leta Whited, who specializes in mental health is available at WKU Health Services. Throughout the semester, there will be music and recreation activities at WKU and in Bowling Green. Check the WKU Events Calendar and the events calendar in SOKY Magazine for something to do. And check my column each Tuesday for more ways to improve your health.


Health and Fitness Lab in the Preston Center:

WKU Health Services Health Education:

WKU Events: