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Making the Grade in Handling Stress

         Just three months ago, you were standing on stage, receiving your high school diploma.  The thrill of completing your high school education seems like a distant memory, now that you are completing your first month at college.  While you were excited about starting classes, you never anticipated the amount of stress you would encounter.  At times, you might feel as if you will be buried alive by stress.

         You should know that the feeling of being stressed out is nothing unusual for a college student.  To begin with, it might be your first time away from home.  You miss your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends.  You miss the comfort of the family dwelling, the commemoration of birthdays and other special events.  You might even miss the extra-curricular activities you enjoyed at your high school.

         There is the stress of trying to do well in academically challenging college classes.  You might feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading you have to do.  You might not have developed strong study skills in high school, leading to greater stress at college.  You may even find it difficult finding a place to study—especially if you’re not used to spending long periods of time in the library.

         You might also be dealing with the stress of having to live with roommates for the first time.  Your roommates might not share your values, your interests, or even your sleeping patterns.  If you have more than one roommate, you might feel outnumbered.  If you were an only child, you might not be used to the stress involved in sharing a bathroom or a common study area.

          Also, you might be dealing with the stress of your first serious relationship.  You might not know how to handle conflict effectively.  And you might be wondering whether you have become too serious too soon with your boyfriend or girlfriend.  Also, finding the time to spend together can be a real challenge, given all the other demands on your time.

           You might also be stressed out by the part-time job you have to work in order to support your studies.  Your duties might be demanding, and the hours you have to put in may be interfering with your sleep.  You might also be dealing with the stress of having to get along with difficult co-workers.

           There is no way to eliminate all the stress involved in attending college.  This time of your life will be inherently stressful, no matter how you try to streamline your schedule.  However, there are some effective techniques you can use to reduce your stress level so that the pressures do not seem so overwhelming.

            To begin with, you need to develop effective time management techniques.  This means creating a schedule and sticking with it.  Be sure to build some relaxation time into your schedule.  That way, you can ensure that you are getting an appropriate amount of rest and exercise.

           One thing that can add to your stress level is weight gain.  College is famous for the “Freshman 15,” or adding 15 pounds to one’s frame during the first year of classes.  In order to combat this, try to eliminate unhealthy snacks such as potato chips and cookies.  Try to limit your diet to lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Try whenever possible to avoid eating at parties.  And don’t overindulge in alcohol, which can add an appreciable amount of weight.  In this way, you can try to protect yourself against excessive weight gain.

            College is one of the most memorable periods in anyone’s life.  The knowledge you gain can be incredible.  You can forge friendships which will last a lifetime.  You might find your mate, or develop a life-long hobby.  And yet, college is a time fraught with tension.  You have to please your professors, your roommates, your friends, and employers.  You have to take on adult responsibilities for the first time, such as paying your bills.  Each day is filled with a myriad of stresses.  However, by building in appropriate coping techniques into your daily schedule, you can develop the skills you need to handle stress effectively.  In the end, you might earn a grade of A for your stress management ability.       

          Are you one of those people who wishes you had a 30-hour day?  Do you long for having enough time to homeschool your children, cook gourmet meals, tend a garden, care for a large, five-bedroom house, play the piano, and sit by the fire reading a good book?  The fact of the matter is many Americans today are operating under a time crunch.  We simply don’t have enough hours in the day to accomplish all that we want to.

          The situation creates an enormous amount of stress.  We may feel as if we are constantly operating under a deadline.  We may feel fatigued and frustrated, and we may wonder if we are missing out on much of life because we spend so much time “doing” and not enough time “thinking.” We’re stressed at work, stressed at home, and stressed at our son’s soccer match.  

         The irony is, the more we do, the more behind we seem to get.  We are constantly on the run, yet we may feel as if we are accomplishing very little.  As a result, our pessimism grows.  We may become short-tempered, especially with those we love.  We may feel as if we are constantly running on empty.

         The good news is there is hope, even in the midst of what might seem a hopeless situation.  We can get control of our lives and control of our time.  It may take a little bit of effort and time, but it will be well worth it in the long run.  The first step we need to take is prioritization.

         Many people feel as if they lack time to do the important things in life simply because they do not take the time to prioritize.  Write down a list of your goals for the week, for the year, and for the next five years.  When you do your initial brainstorming, you can list the goals in any order you like.  Then go through the goals and rank them in order of importance.  After that task is completed, figure out just how much time you would need to accomplish each goal.  You may find that just five minutes here or there can make all the difference in the world in achieving the items on your priority list.

         Next, learn to multi-task effectively.  That time you spend waiting in the line at the drive-thru window could be spent balancing your checkbook.  Or the time you spend paused at the cash register could be used to read a book or a magazine.  In general, you should not think of lines as time-wasters.  Rather, consider them opportunities to accomplish some small, yet important, tasks.

           In order to be effective as a worker, spouse, and parent, you’ll need some alone time.  Get an appointment book and actually schedule a block of time just for yourself.  Your alone time could be spent praying, re-evaluating your priorities, charting your progress, or just fixing yourself a nice dessert.  Just be sure that you have some alone time each day.  Otherwise, you’ll be shortchanging yourself, and you’ll feel more stressed as a result.

           Don’t be afraid to say no.  You cannot be a cub scout leader, girl scout leader, fundraising chair, and prima ballerina all at one time.  You’ll need to pick and choose your assignments, both your professional assignments and your personal ones.  If you simplify your life, you might be surprised at how much time you’ll gain—and how much better you will feel.   Sometimes, it takes some backbone to say no.  You might disappoint someone.  But, in the end, you’ll be much better off, knowing that you have not overcommitted yourself.

           You should consider your time to be as precious as the President’s.  There are a number of duties which make demands on your time, those you love and those you don’t care for.  By employing some innovative scheduling techniques, you can set aside the time for those things that are truly important to you.   You’ll be less stressed, more relaxed, and better able to cope with the challenges you encounter on a daily basis.  As you become less stressed out, you might find that your children, spouse, and friends follow your lead.  And your world will become more harmonious as a result. 

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