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wellbeing 3 min read

The basics of stress

By Asha 16 Dec 2019
Messy study materials over desk.

Before we get to the serious stuff, I’d like to share with you a collection of my favourite stress-related memes:

Image of Man that reads, When I get stressed, I stop being stressed and be awesome instead.

Image reading, Stress ... some people just can't handle it.

Image reading, ... and you think you have stress.

Image reading, when you're stressed, you eat ice-cream, cake, chocolate & sweets. Why? Because stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Mind = Blown.

Humorous? Yes. Helpful? Hmmm, perhaps not! Here’s why …

If you take a look at these memes again, you might notice that they perpetuate common myths about stress. For example, that only a lesser/weaker/non-awesome person would experience stress; that 'I don’t care how stressed you are, nobody has/knows stress like me!, or that 'The best way to handle stress is to get boozed up and/or eat cake!'

One of the other big myths about stress is that you have to get rid of it entirely. It’s important to point out that stress is a normal part of life. We all experience it, and there are helpful ways to manage our stress so we can perform at our best and decrease our likelihood of burn out even when things feel hectic.

What is helpful stress?

Helpful stress motivates us, drives us to action, and allows us to be goal-focused. If we have no stress, than we are unlikely to prioritise the time we need to complete that assignment or study for that exam, and are more likely to continue to watch cat videos and scroll Facebook.

You will know you are experiencing optimal stress levels when you feel energised to complete the task ahead without feeling overwhelmed.

What is unhelpful stress?

Unhelpful stress levels exceed the optimum amount of stress, and mean you’re more likely to become overwhelmed, anxious, panicked, and/or demotivated, leading to a decline in performance levels.

If these excessive levels of stress continue over a prolonged period of time (known as chronic stress), it is more likely that you will find yourself on the slippery slope to burnout.

How do I know if I am on the path of unmanageable stress? 

Tell-tale signs that stress is no longer acting as a positive source of motivation in your life and has tipped the scales into unhelpful territory include: feeling fatigued or exhausted much of the time; irritability and low tolerance for benign stressors; weakened immune response; changes in mood, sleep and eating patterns; increased physiological responses to stressors; decreased ability to think clearly and maintain concentration; as well as a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

What do I do if I notice that my stress levels have become unmanageable?

There are a number of helpful strategies you can sink your teeth into, instead of going for the second piece of cake, or third glass of wine.

  • Take a deep breath. Breathe slowly and steadily in through the nose, noticing how the air travels down your air ways to fill the lungs and how the chest cavity expands. Slowly and steadily breathe out, noticing how the lungs contract, your shoulders fall, and how the air travels back out your air ways.
  • Be aware of your own stress meter, know when to pause so you can determine the most helpful response or action.
  • Take some time out to do something you really enjoy, such as USQ’s free mindfulness colouring in designs, or a task that gives you a sense of mastery.

Understanding what stress is and how to tell the difference between helpful and unhelpful stress puts you one step closer to being able to manage your mindset in busy times. But you don’t have to tackle stress on your own.

These awesome apps are simple to use and can help you to wind down, or, if you feel like your stress is getting out of control, come and see the Student Health and Wellbeing team for support. 

Author profile of Asha