AS PSYCHOTHERAPIST Richard Carlson once said, “Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.” Stress is so prevalent in modern everyday life that it is often ignored and let untreated. While university students may be enjoying their golden years, they also experience stress. At an age and time when students are young, energetic, and free to do as they please, there are still sources of stress that pull most students away from fully enjoying their privileges. In regards to this issue, *The Yonsei Annals* asked 102 Yonseians on how much they are currently bothered by stress, and how they try to cope with it.
The most distressing problem during the past month
University life is one of the major hurdles in life to get over, as it is a preparatory step before entering the adult life in society. Hence, it is an undeniable fact that campus life can be stressful. So, what makes Yonseians so stressed out? To the question what problem brought them the most stress during the past month, a total of 39% of Yonseians answered that deciding on their major and career was the most stressful. It is not easy to have a clear view which major or career is ideal, since multiple factors have to be weighed against each other, the most important being one’s aptitude and knowledge. It is also possible that many university students do not precisely know what they really want and are good at because they have not had many opportunities to fully understand themselves. What is more distressing is that they need to make this difficult decision in only a few years, before graduating from university.
Stress as a high school senior vs. stress as a university student
High school years would have been the time when many students first experienced heavy stress, especially in their senior year. In high school in an environment that forced students to study without any free time, students were pressured to pass the university entrance exam. Yet as a reward for all stress, they expected to be compensated when they entered university. No more curfews, dress codes, and staying up late to study.
This is true to some extent, yet to the majority of the Yonseians, the carefree and joyful campus life did not last long. About half of the Yonseians (51%) replied that the stress they are under now is more than that during high school. In addition, 22% of the respondents replied that the degree of the strain is pretty much the same. In other words, a total of 73% of the students feel that the current pressure is no less than that during high school. In high school, getting good results in the university entrance exam was a top priority, but in university, achieving good grades is not the only thing that matters. More crucial issues need to be handled with a better sense of responsibility for oneself, especially decisions on how to map out their future, which many Yonseians replied as a main source of stress.
Physical and mental side effects from stress
When a person is under stress, stress hormones are released to stimulate the body, enabling it to effectively cope with the strain. Unfortunately, most people nowadays are exposed to constant stress, causing the continuous secretion of stress hormones. Consequently, the body is constantly in a tense state, entailing all kinds of physical problems. In the case of Yonseians, 41% of total responses were headaches, 36% were sleeplessness as a common symptom, and 30% were muscle aches (multiple answers).
Accompanying these physical symptoms are mental ones. Tension brings both physical and psychological fatigue, and overall, impedes concentration on other matters. Still, whether a person is able to effectively carry out multiple tasks at the same time appears to depend on the person’s ability to manage stress. In this aspect, 42% of Yonseians answered that other routine work is generally influenced by stress, while 41% replied that their performance is not much affected.
Meanwhile, 83% of Yonseians have experienced anxiety from uncertainty about the future. This also corresponds with the fact that nearly half of the Yonseians have trouble with choosing a major and career, which are indeed important factors that could influence a person’s future. Since nobody can really predict the future, planning ahead without guidance is indeed a challenging issue.
Foods to make you feel better
There are certain foods that people suddenly crave for when stress reaches a certain point. A total of 43% of Yonseians said that they find sweet foods like cake and chocolate the most tempting when they feel stressed. When a person is under strain, the body would suddenly increase the consumption of sugar content, and therefore it demands more intakes of sugary foods. Eating sweets may help lessen the stress, but this effect is only temporary; a sudden increase of sugar content in the body by the sweets results in an abrupt decline of sugar content, causing more depression and anxiety. Weight gain due to excessive intake of sweet food would be another inevitable source of stress. If you feel blue and want to feel better by eating something, healthier alternatives include warm milk and walnuts; the protein and lactium in milk and omega-3 in walnuts are known to be effective in alleviating stress.
How to overcome stress
Stress is a common but a potentially dangerous burden that everybody undergoes. Hence, it is important to consistently relieve stress before things become unmanageable. The top rated response to how Yonseians deal with stress was sleeping (58%), followed by eating (36%) (multiple answers). Sleeping and eating are certainly the most basic ways to tackle stress, as the fundamental purpose of these is to recharge the exhausted body. In the long run, sufficient sleep and good eating habits are the most obvious and essential ways to maintain a healthy life with moderate stress.
Maintaining an open relationship with other people is also significant in terms of keeping stress at bay. Nearly half of the Yonseians do not seem to want to distract other people, or they feel it is unnecessary to share their feelings with other people who are undergoing the same stress. When asked how they relate to other people while they are stressed, 46% of Yonseians replied that they just keep the stress to themselves. Only 28% of respondents replied that they let other people know of their stressful situation and share their feelings. However, sometimes people may feel much better by taking a load off their chest and get an unexpected solution to their problem from someone with a different perspective.
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Stress problems are a form of a vicious circle. Stress causes physical and mental fatigue, which leads to a lack of concentration and focus and results in greater stress due to less productive results. An effective way to break this vicious circle is to have a positive mind that puts problems in perspective, eat and sleep well, and know when to ask for help. When managed at a certain level, stress could be a source of motivation, rather than a source of physical and mental breakdown.
Graph 1. What problem gave you the most stress during the past month?
Deciding on major/career 39%
Human relationship issues 11%
Seeking employment 10%
Love issues 10%
Tight schedule 8%
Family problems 7%
Nothing in particular 6%
Financial difficulties 5%
Graph 2. Which of the two periods is more stressful: the senior year in high school or now as a university student?
Now as a university student 51%
Both are similarly stressful 21%
The senior year in high school 18%
Not sure 8%
Both are not stressful 2%
Graph 3. Which food do you find the most tempting when under stress?
Sweet food (ex: cake, chocolate) 43%
Nothing (loss of appetite) 14%
Spicy food 10%