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6 Science-Backed Strategies to Help Students Cope With Stress

6 Science-Backed Strategies to Help Students Cope With Stress
A human’s stress response is an ancient mechanism. In many contexts, it is a good thing. Indeed, a little stress can be a great motivator. But, in our busy modern lives, if not properly managed, this response can easily become a negative distracting force. During their time as students, not only are children likely to [...]

A human’s stress response is an ancient mechanism. In many contexts, it is a good thing. Indeed, a little stress can be a great motivator. But, in our busy modern lives, if not properly managed, this response can easily become a negative distracting force.

During their time as students, not only are children likely to encounter some of these stressors, but for many of them, it will be their first time of doing so. Therefore, any coping strategies learnt will serve the twin functions of dealing with the issue at hand and providing them with a platform for coping with life’s many pressures later on.

So, what exactly is stress; how does it affect us and what are the best methods of dealing with it? Let’s take a look…

Stress: An Ancient Response for a Modern World

The stress response originates in what is known as the fight/flight mechanism. In evolutionary terms, it enables us to perceive and react to potential dangers. When it is activated, your body releases substances like cortisol and adrenaline in order to increase energy levels and decrease reaction time, both of which are obviously pretty helpful in potentially dangerous situations.

Sometimes, though, this response can be triggered when it isn’t really needed. Just like any system, it is far easier for a species to adapt a pre-existing mechanism to emerging situations than it is to create a new one. In this way, the human species has adapted this fight/flight process to fit the newer stressors of our lives – and the adaptation isn’t always perfect.

Before we take a look at some of the scientifically-proven methods of stress management, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the types of stress our children commonly encounter; if any of these seem recognisable to your child’s lived environment, there is a good chance that stress-coping strategies will help.

The Causes

While it is true that every student is an individual – and therefore will likely react to different pressures differently – there are a number of unifying factors that we should be aware of, which include:

  • financial worries
  • exam and revision pressures/li>
  • loneliness or relationship problems/li>
  • mental health issues
  • struggles with work/life balance
  • doubts about post-school life and career choices
  • drug or alcohol use, or withdrawa<

The Cure

Now that we know what stress is and have seen some of the ways in which the children of today commonly encounter it, we can think about what we can do to prevent it from becoming a serious problem.

Here are a few of our favourite, scientifically-proven methods of coping with stress…

1. Exercise

The cognitive benefits of exercise are widely acknowledged – and for good reason. Exercise affects a neurochemical change which is good for reducing stress in 2 ways: it lowers the levels of the body’s stress hormones – like cortisol and adrenaline – whilst stimulating the production of endorphins, chemicals which serve as both a natural painkiller and a mood elevator.

Aerobic exercise also helps create a routine to your energy levels, consolidating your body’s natural circadian rhythm. If you find that you struggle to find energy during the day, or are full of it when you should be sleeping, the chances are that a simple exercise regime will help.

2. Music

The fact that music can change our moods probably isn’t news to a lot of us, but, according to research led by Queen’s University Belfast; it isn’t always a question of taste. A study has found that while certain music does indeed evoke different responses in different listeners – responses that are largely subjective and dependent on how an individual perceives a particular tune – there are types of symphonic music that lower cortisol levels irrespective of musical taste.

3. Talking

Our brains can be our own worst enemies sometimes. Humans can have a tendency to internalise their feelings – an inclination that seldom helps. This reluctance to share our feelings can be particularly marked in those who lack confidence or experience, so getting our children to express and vocalise their stresses from an early age will go a long way to lessen the load of the process.

Studies have found that labelling our feelings can lower the activity of the amygdala in the brain, our internal alarm system responsible for triggering the fight/flight response. This awareness enables us to circumvent this alarm system by enforcing the notion that our daily stresses aren’t imminent dangers.

Talking with our friends and loved ones is always a good place to start – and indeed is vital in creating a solid support network – but there are things that some people find difficult to express with those nearest to them. In this case, psychotherapeutic methods are worth considering.

4. Sleep

Around a third of us suffer from symptoms of insomnia – and cases are on the rise. It has long been assumed that one of the major causes of sleep cycle issues was mental health. New research, however, suggests that this causal relationship works both ways.

The study, published by Sleep Medicine Review and led by Dr Alex Scott, revealed that while it is true that good mental health promotes a better sleep routine, the reverse might also be true: poor sleeping habits can also encourage poorer mental health.

5. Nature

The healing power of nature is truly remarkable and something we shouldn’t take for granted. For hospital patients who suffer from mental health issues, for example, just a view of some trees from their window is enough to make a noticeable difference.

In our urbanised, busy lives, finding nature may be tough, but as little as 20 minutes in a green space – or your nearest equivalent – is proven to reduce cortisol levels significantly.

6. Breathing

It is something of a cliché, but breathing in the correct way really does do what it says on the tin: it lowers your blood pressure and heart rate and reduces the levels of stress hormones in the blood.

There are many templates out there that you can follow to regulate your breathing. The 4×4 technique is used by military personnel and consists of breaking the breathing cycle into 4 lots of 4 seconds: breath in; stop; breathe out; stop. The 4-7-8 pattern is another. Developed by Dr Andrew Weil and based on an ancient yogic technique, it is commonly used to help people fall asleep in a shorter period of time.

Back on Track…

Stress is a sad and inevitable fact of life. But, with the right tools under your belt, it needn’t be an emergency.

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