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Navigating Stress

Studying in the health professions is an often exciting, yet sometimes challenging and stressful experience.  Navigating stress is not about completely eliminating your stressors; it is about changing how you relate to stressful situations and gaining a sense of control over your thoughts, emotions and your experience of life's challenges.

Quick Hits

We sometimes experience physical and emotional responses to the everyday challenges and demands that accumulate and leave us feeling off balance. While stress has a negative reputation, like most things in life, there is an “up” side. Healthy levels of tension can bring excitement, exhilaration, and action to our lives in the form of falling in love, acing an exam, or competing in a sports event.

On the other hand, stress which goes unchecked can cause a number of symptoms including (but not limited to) irritability, depression, anger, hopelessness, poor concentration, muscle tension, head and stomachaches, frequent illness, and higher blood pressure.

Dig Deeper

While there’s no way to completely eliminate stressful situations from our lives, there are  changes that we can make throughout the day to help manage. See below for eight evidence supported tips to calm your mind and relax your body.

Sleep more: Big exam coming up? Nix the all-nighters and make sure to get a full seven to nine hours of sleep a few nights before the exam. Not only will it help you focus and increase energy levels but it is also scientifically proven to reduce overall feelings of anxiety.

Eat better: When your body and mind are out of whack, feeding them the right nutrients help balance things out. Research suggests eating foods that contain Vitamin B and omega-3s; although it’s tempting during study time, try to limit sugar and processed foods.

Express gratitude: Grab a journal and start jotting down three things you’re grateful for each day. This mindset of appreciation is proven to reduce anxiety. Go a step further and let the people in your life know you’re thankful for them.

Get moving: Yoga, running, hiking, or elliptical—it doesn’t matter how you break a sweat, adding physical activity into each day helps clear our heads. Throw on some sneakers and head outside for a walk.

Find your Zen: Take the time each day to focus on your breath or relax both your body and mind with meditation. Studies suggest meditation physically changes the brain to help deal with stress, increase concentration, and improve memory. It doesn’t take much to see the benefits, so start with just five minutes a day.

Unplug: Plan for small increments of time where you can turn off your phone, TV, and laptop and disconnect from email and social media. Evidence shows  a little downtime goes a long way to easing our minds.

Be creative: Break out a coloring book and crayons, start that DIY project, or spend some time writing (or reading) for fun. Research suggests bouts of creative energy ease tension and create a positive calming effect.

Grab your pals: Spend time with people that make you smile. A quick phone call, a walk in the fresh air, or a night out with friends and family all give you a chance to give your brain a break and calm your thoughts.

Remember, stress is an individual thing. We all react differently to various stressors, at varying levels of intensity and with different resulting symptoms. In the same way, we all manage it differently. Try some of the above techniques to figure out what works best for you!

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