Uni. Is. Hard. And as exams and deadlines loom, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Your most studious flatmate is traipsing home from the library close to midnight and just opening up a word doc is almost enough to make you scream. You’ve got a lot to stress out about right now – but don’t add stress itself to that list.
That’s right, we’re telling you to stop stressing about stress. While it’s true that stress can have some negative effects on your mood, mind and body, your biology isn’t betraying you. Surprisingly, stress can be a real asset to a student’s arsenal.
Can stress really be good for you?
In short, yes. Of course stress in a high dose can have a negative impact on you and your body but getting worked up at exam time isn’t always a bad thing. Stress is your body’s fight or flight response kicking in. This response is supposed to be a protective measure, not something that harms you.
How to make sure your stress is beneficial
According to Daniela Kaufer, a Berkeley professor in the biology of stress, we all have the power to make stress work in our favour.
‘If you tend to have a positive attitude - a self-confident sense that you can get through a rough period - you’re more likely to have a healthy response than if you perceive stress as catastrophic.’
Now we know this is easier said than done but Kaufer also adds that having friends and family to turn to in an especially stressful period can also help. Reaching out to others can act as a buffer, reducing the negative effects of stress. Oxytocin is the hormone that shrinks your stress-response and this is enhanced by social contact. So when you’re feeling especially stressed out, get a family member to read you this list of the benefits of stress:
It gives your brain a boost
This might be exactly what you need to hear if your stress is the result of too much university work. Low-level stressors stimulate brain chemicals called neurotrophins, which strengthen the connections between neurons and the brain – in non-science jargon this means that your brain boosts in productivity and concentration. Ever wondered how you miraculously manage to remember enough from your pre-exam cramming to help you scrape a pass? some animal studies have even shown that the body’s response to stress can temporarily boost memory and learning scores.
It can ward off the flu
Ever noticed that you only get sick when you finally allow yourself to relax and not when you’re super busy? It’s because your body knows that the last thing you need between juggling work, partying and your essay deadline is a cold or flu. Speaking to Healthline, Richard Shelton, MD, vice chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama said
When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection… one way it does this is by producing extra interleukins - chemicals that help regulate the immune system - providing at least a temporary defensive boost.
Again, those poor lab rats have backed this science up too. In 2012, a Stanford study found that subjecting those little rats to mild-stress (let's hope they just set them a mildly stressful maths assignment) produced a huge movement of immune cells - the cells that help fight sickness - into their bloodstream.
It helps you get in the zone
If you didn’t get stressed you would never get your butt into gear and actually start that assignment. Sometimes good stress is exactly what you need to make sure the job gets done. It’s all down to how you look at that stress. Rather than seeing it as something that is stopping you from doing things, try and view stress as your body’s way of helping you overcome challenges. If Mo Farah didn’t feel stress or pressure to succeed, would he even bother lacing up those trainers?
You’re more likely to see your life as meaningful
Wow, we’re getting deep now. But this is exactly what a study at Florida State University found. Researchers asked participants to agree or disagree with the sentence ‘In general, I consider my life to be meaningful’. And surprise, surprise - those that had experienced more stressful events throughout their life thought of their life as having more meaning. Which proves that if you can learn to reframe the way you look at stress, you can encourage its positive effects.
Now we’re not saying that stress isn’t hard to deal with – it is. But a little bit of stress managed in the right way can be the motivating factor you need to get through university. And if you feel like you’re really not coping well with exam stress, don’t sweat it, we’ve got you covered. Follow this link for the tips to help you calm down this exam season.