Students are introduced to the world of stress pretty early in life. Soon it becomes an unchallenged and integrated part of everyday life. After graduation, it permeates into the working world. And before we know it, it has engulfed not only our professional but personal lives as well.
However, you'd hardly come across a subject in school or college focussing on stress management tips for students. Teachers and bosses (who are stressed as well) assume you'll find a way to manage it on your own. But not knowing much about the hidden enemy is the first big hurdle that stops us from trying to find ways to capture it.
Dr Ashley Weinberg, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Salford (UK), is the author of ‘Stress in Turbulent Times’. Sharmila Chand reached out to Dr Weinberg to understand more about how stress originates and what students & professionals can do to manage and reduce stress.
Here's an essay, written by Dr Weinberg exclusively for MBA Crystal Ball, that touches upon both aspects - understanding stress and taking steps to manage it. He introduces the 5-a-day stress management technique that you can try out.
Surviving stress in the modern world of work and study
By Dr Ashley Weinberg
Time never varies, but demands change constantly. Expectations placed upon us by work and study produce weekly, daily and sometimes hourly goals. New mobile communications – designed to make life easier – instead make life faster. Yet the time we have remains the same.
This presents us with an interesting puzzle: if success is judged on how quickly we get things done, by responding to demands from every aspect of our lives, then the same pressure to succeed means working at a pace for which we were not designed.
If one takes time to watch a kite or buzzard soaring in the sky, it is clear they have evolved to live well at a relaxed speed. The challenge faced by many who work, study or manage a family is how to manage the dilemma of living ‘faster’ and surviving.
Of course how quickly we respond to a demand is not necessarily a guarantee of the quality of our response and sometimes a gentle reminder to those who are ‘waiting’ that something is worth having patience for’, is a useful strategy. This is just one way in which we can try and exercise some control over the amount we are trying to do.
Perhaps it is no surprise that taking control over what we can - and in a reasonable way – is an important part of maintaining our psychological well-being and feeling positive about dealing with the challenges of life.
It is not always easy to be the one who can take control when there is so much incoming information – including demands – which compete to occupy our attention and time. So here is a question: when a text or email arrives, or the phone rings, do you instantly stop what you are doing and attend to the new message instead?
If you do, then perhaps you have developed an automatic reaction to the sound or vibration of the phone which can be a hard habit to change, as the more accustomed you become to behaving in this way you are becoming conditioned or programmed to respond this way.
This is often the case among a generation who have grown up with mobile phones – including many students - who may be wondering, ‘Why should I change this behaviour? – I’m curious to know who’s getting in touch and what they have to say’.
This is a reasonable answer, but if it stops someone from watching where they are walking, or following an important idea about which they are required to write, or meeting an important deadline, there are obvious drawbacks.
So the challenge is how to maintain a conscious, rather than an automatic choice to check one’s phone when other ‘more important’ things are going on. Using strategies like actively deciding when – rather than immediately – to check a mobile phone can take practice, but in a real way this can help us more regularly exercise more control.
Having periods when the phone is switched off can also help us concentrate better and sleep, both of which are clearly important personal resources.
Ensuring that others for whom we have responsibility at work also have opportunities for control can have considerable benefits for employees and organisations. The term ‘engagement’ seems to encapsulate a business desire to align the approach taken by all staff in the workplace, however workers are more likely to engage where there are opportunities to have a voice about the way they work.
The same can be said of learning environments where an element of choice in the work undertaken not only encourages learning, but also a sense of ownership which fosters positive outcomes. It can benefit organisations, in business and education, to provide training and constructive encouragement so that employees and students alike can feel confident and secure in sharing their thoughts and ideas.
Taking time to make sure we are occupied in ways which positively influence our moods is also hard in a busy, pressurised lifestyle. This begs the question of what kind of activities might help boost how we feel.
The 5-a-Day Stress Management Technique
A few years ago, the UK government launched a programme to encourage people to harness their mental capital – a way of using our minds and psychological skills for positive benefit. This led to campaigns to raise awareness about how we can help ourselves and others to improve our sense of well-being. In a way which is similar to how we might protect our physical health, and just as important.
The ‘5-a-day’ approach is based on a review of available research by the New Economics Forum. This recommends we try and do the following each day:
By making sure we speak to – rather than text/email others – we get a better sense of others’ emotions and energy which can be uplifting and rewarding
2. Be active
Exercise in some way, such as walking, using the stairs instead of the lift, doing a hobby which involves movement such as playing a game or dancing which are beneficial for mental as well as physical health
3. Take notice
Savour the good things that are around or have happened to you, however small or large. Reflecting on these can help to boost our mood.
4. Keep learning
Students may feel there is already plenty of this going on, but studying is an occupation, so whether you are in the education system or not, it is important to try out new skills, which have been shown to increase our mental capacity.
From the act of smiling at someone to helping others, giving can help us feel more engaged with our surroundings and again open up the possibilities of rewarding experiences.
These types of activities are recommended by the field of ‘Positive Psychology’ which encourages us to be kind to ourselves as well as to others.
This resonates with a range of spiritual themes and perhaps this is no coincidence. Over millennia and in different ways, people have learned what makes us happy, as well as sad.
It is natural to think about such things, so a modern urbanised lifestyle, characterised by access to new technology, is something relatively new for humans.
Being raised in such a world requires extra effort to help us discover answers about feeling good and reducing the stresses of life. For this, making time – however brief - to do some of these can be beneficial.
If we can meet the challenge of creating mental space to do this, then we are better placed to deal with stress. This need not be away from work and college, but wherever we are.
It is not necessary to take to the skies like the soaring kites and buzzards, but instead give ourselves enough control to feel we can use our mental resources to feel just as good as they do.