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Photo by Harrison DiCocco

By Matthew Scheidel

Stress. It’s something that we’ve all dealt with at some point in our lives. Some of us deal with it everyday. Sometimes balancing school, work, your social life, and sleep can seem impossible. Most times you end up trading one for the other.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sometimes taking a break is the best option.

I get stressed out about pretty much anything. I typically take 10 credit hours per semester and I work on the weekends, which usually totals 24 hours a week. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but believe me, it is. Last winter, I would work Mondays and Wednesdays as well, sometimes totaling 35 hours a week. I was barely getting all of my school work done on time. I was hanging on by the thinnest of threads.

I have never been the greatest at time management. I play video games in my free time. I used to play way more than I should have. Then I would complain that I had no time for homework and studying. Thankfully, I grew up and cut down on my gaming time considerably. I now usually have plenty of time for homework. However, that hasn’t necessarily lowered my stress levels.  

The whole point of me playing video games in the first place was that it was relaxing for me. When I get home from school, I don’t go straight to homework. No, I go straight for my controller. Playing video games allows me to clear my head. Even if it’s for 10 minutes, it does wonders for me. When I start my homework, I have a fresh mind. Other ways I relieve stress include listening to music and watching videos on YouTube.

One of the best ways to cope with stress is yoga, according to Grand Rapids Community College Exercise Science Associate Professor Jodi Gee.

“I think every student should take at least one yoga class,” Gee said. “This will enhance the student’s overall college experience in many ways.”

Gee says that according to the Mayo Clinic, yoga is great not only for stress reduction, but also for improving your fitness and managing chronic conditions.

“A number of studies have shown that yoga may help reduce stress and anxiety. It can also enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being,” Gee said. “Practicing yoga may lead to improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. Yoga can also help reduce risk factors for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Yoga might also help alleviate chronic conditions, such as depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia”.

Gee said that she too, turns to yoga for stress relief.

“Yoga is not only a physical practice on a mat, but also a way of life,” Gee said.

Gee says that it’s important to not just relax every once and awhile, but daily.

“Even if it’s just for five minutes (per) day, it is important,” Gee said. “The ability to relax is important in effectively managing stress and anxiety. When we feel stressed, our bodies react with what is called the “fight or flight” response. Our muscles become tense, our heart and respiration rates increase, and other physiological systems become taxed.  This is why it is so important to practice mindfulness daily, so that we avoid the domino effect of stress.”

GRCC LPC Professor and Professional Counselor Stacey Heisler also has some advice for college students who are feeling stressed out.

“You start by paying attention to your body, your own physical self,” said Heisler. “If you find your shoulders are raised up toward your ears, and your neck is feeling tight, you are defending against something in your environment and likely, you’re thinking about an event that isn’t even occurring in the moment, like a test or project, or a decision you have to make. Your body will know before your ‘head’ knows what is really going on. If you detect your heart is beating faster than it should be while standing still – and you don’t have a heart condition, of course – then you are probably thinking about a future event, or you are taking in information in your immediate environment, that is telling you to get ready to ‘run’ or otherwise respond.”

Heisler said that life is naturally almost always stressful.

“It’s unavoidable,” Heisler said. “And from a lifespan perspective, it may feel easier depending upon where you are at in your life.  But college students, no matter if it’s their first time in college or not, cannot avoid stress. ‘It is what it is.’ So if you can begin to cope by accepting that there is no such thing as a ‘stress free’ life,  you can begin to make choices about how you will manage the stress. Otherwise, you are fighting against it, wondering ‘why me?’ and all your energy goes into resisting versus coping.”

Heisler says “to be kind to each other when feeling stressed against a backdrop of bad news.”

“Don’t assume anything about anyone’s life outside the classroom,” Heisler said. “We are bombarded constantly with information that we have to select and make meaning of and no one is immune from some degree of suffering. Life and work balance is always a challenge – speaking personally, as a college student and as a working professional today, the ‘work/life balance’ has never been easy. Some things are going to slide, stuff is going to happen and people, including yourself, will be disappointed. It’s how you manage the emotional fall-out when things fall apart that matters. And when you mess up, which you will if you are actually trying to accomplish something, own it, try to make it better, and try again. And again, And again.”

Heisler believes that it is essential to relax every once in a awhile.

“This is how you save yourself,” Heisler said. “I believe in intentional ‘nothingness’ every now and then, even if it’s just 15 minutes. Let others know you are taking a break and find a way to let go. And if you have a whole afternoon, or a weekend, or better yet, a vacation, wow. But allow for ‘chunks’ of relaxation. And be choosy and intentional about how you relax. Plugging in to social media and reading about the latest tragedy, may not be the best way to calm a busy mind.”

GRCC students have many ways of coping with stress. Jordan Henning, 20, of Grandville, for example, will work on his car, among other things.

“I’ll walk around a lot, maybe go see a movie,” Henning said.

Adam Coipel, 20, of Hudsonville, and Kain Hazelton, 19, of Coopersville, both said that they sleep to cope with stress.

“You wake up feeling like a new person,”  Hazelton said.

Harrison Friar, 18, of Hudsonville, will find someone to help him when he is stressed out about school.

“I’ll find a tutor, a guidance counselor, anybody that can help me out,” Friar said.

Friar also said he also finds time to do things that he enjoys.

“I try to find time to hang out with friends, go see a movie, or anything that I like to do,” Friar said.

Mackenzie Schoonmaker, 18, of Kent City, said that she will simply relax when she gets stressed.

“I’ll just stop what I’m doing and take a break,”  Schoonmaker said.

Giselle Sanchez, 18, of Wyoming, and Aracely Quinones, 18, of Grand Rapids, both said that they do their schoolwork on time to avoid feeling stressed out.

“I’ll also make sure that my schedule doesn’t overlap,” Sanchez said.

The next time you feel stressed, just remember: you are not alone. There are so many ways to cope with stress. These are just a few. Find a method that works for you. You’ll be glad you did.


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