More than a third of USC undergraduates report that stress hurt their academic performance within the last year — yet too many of them choose the wrong tools to deal with anxiety.
USC’s students aren’t alone. The same study — the 2012 National College Health Assessment Report — showed that nearly two-thirds of students at 39 colleges around the nation felt overwhelmed over the last year.
With final exams in full swing, the evidence of stress is obvious: Students are pounding Red Bulls and staring bleary-eyed at computers late into the night. But there are other options, according to Danielle Roman and Steve Hsu, two faculty members who teach the popular USC class “Stress Management for Healthy Living.”
Why so stressed?
Unemployment, recession, competition for acceptance into graduate programs and the growth of technology all feed into students’ stress, according to Hsu. These are some of his students’ typical concerns:
- Getting good grades
- High expectations from parents
- Finding a job
- Getting into a good graduate school
- Paying off loans
- Family issues
Pressure can lead to constant worrying and self-loathing, Hsu said. As a result, students often drink too much, sleep and eat too little, and withdraw from friends. Making the wrong choices can lead to a weakened immune system and poor physical and emotional health, and ultimately more academic difficulties.
Practice what you teach
USC’s “Stress Management for Healthy Living” class teaches another path.
“We talk about time management,” Roman said. “How can you make choices to make the most of your time?”
The instructors ask students to log how much time they spend on time-wasters such as Facebook or video games, for starters. That’s time that students could get back. Students also keep journals, and Hsu writes affirming, comforting comments on their pages.
Among the class’s stress-reduction tips:
- Eat healthful, unprocessed foods at least once a day. Plan ahead and pack lunch. “There are healthy foods on campus, too. Take the time to stop and eat,” Roman said.
- Exercise. Even 20 minutes is enough. Roman suggests a circuit workout. “That will help more than a caffeine fix,” she said.
- Sleep at least eight hours before a final exam
- Take a long, hot shower, massaging the back, shoulders, neck and temples
- Spend a few minutes in a sauna or steam room
- Practice a restorative yoga pose for 10 to 15 minutes a day
- Spend quality time with a family member or friend and avoid talk about deadlines or work
A season for stress
The class is so popular that six spring sections are full. But the topic goes beyond students. Roman and Hsu noted that anyone can benefit from stress-reduction techniques — even people who graduated long ago. Now is a particularly good time to practice them.
“People get too wrapped up with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season,” said Hsu, who recommends yoga this time of the year.
“They lose sight of the true meaning of the holidays and the simple pleasure of just slowing down and spending quality time with family and friends,” he added.