Coping With Stress

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By Ntokozo Mayekiso

Maintaining good mental health while at University may seem manageable, but this task is not as easy of a feat as it seems – especially in the protest climate in which we find ourselves.

Historically, students have had quite a difficult time trying to mitigate and manage their mental health, which lead to the University of Cape Town Student Mental Health Policy.  The policy states that it is there to “promote student well-being and de-stigmatisation by providing a supportive environment for students with mental health difficulties.”  But, whilst UCT as an institution provides students with psychological help through platforms such as Student Wellness, regulatory systems like waiting lists have been problematic among students who suffer from mental health problems. In fact, such systems further aggravate the mental state of students who are in need of Student Wellness services. Add to this stress, semester exams, etc. The exam period is a time in which students find themselves in a state of anxiety on campus, due to the pressure which is exerted on them to excel. Most students even go through extremes, which entail sleeping in the library and “burning the midnight oil” in order to complete examinable material. Such activities are strenuous and can cause adverse effects on one’s mental health.

The question here is: what steps can one take to try and alleviate this stress in an effort to achieve a healthy state of mind? Well, a good place to start is simply to breathe. Studies have shown that deep breaths in moments of extreme anxiety help blood flow circulation travel to the brain, enabling one to think clearly as well as leaving one in a state of relaxation. According to the AIS (American Institute of Stress), this deep breathing exercise is called the “Relaxation Response”- a relaxation technique that is meant to decrease metabolic activity, slow down the heart rate, relax muscles, as well as decrease blood pressure.

Another technique is which students can utilize in alleviating exam stress is to change their study location. Whilst the library is a great source of knowledge, resources and well, Wi-Fi, sometimes such spaces can become congested, filled with students who find themselves in the same predicament in which you’re in: stressed. Such an environment breeds an increased amount of anxiety resulting in counter-productivity (I mean the main reason you would’ve gone to the library is to focus, right?). In other words, such spaces are a no-no in times of hyperactivity and stress in campus. Consider spaces that allow for some freedom, the Graça lawns, for example. If nature isn’t your thing, opt for an empty lecture theatre/ tut room.

A third and final recommendation would be to form study groups. Yes, the idea of forming yet another Whatsapp group chat is an aggravating task for most us (to say the least), however, forming study groups with those you trust is an effective way of covering course material while lifting some stress and pressure off of your shoulders. Also, don’t forget to let your hair down every now and again – all work and no play is a recipe for disaster.

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