Knowing the difference between stress, distress during midterms

The start of a new academic year brings the excitement of new beginnings: reconnecting with friends, enjoying relationships, and, for some, the promise of graduation. Now the time has come for many students to face the first round of exams and midterms. We know that Tech students are among the best and brightest students in this country and this year’s first-year class is exceptional in their academic achievements. However, we also know that Tech students have a difficult time recognizing stress from distress.

In a focus group study of students conducted by the Counseling Center in 2007, one finding indicated that Tech students, when faced with stress, tend to push through or work through their stress to achieve their academic goals. What happens as a result is that, if left unmanaged, stress levels may increase and lead to distress. In the end, unmanaged stress can be detrimental to students in their academic success and can also affect other areas such as relationships, work and family life. Unmanaged stress can take its toll on a student’s physical, emotional and psychological well-being, manifesting itself in such things as hypertension, depression, anxiety and low self confidence.

The first step to managing stress is to recognize some of its signs. For many Tech students, signs of stress can appear in physical, academic and social areas. Physical signs of stress can include feeling frequently tired or exhausted, frequent headaches, hypertension or significant changes in eating or sleeping. Academic warning signs of stress can include an unusual drop in grades, skipping classes and a loss of interest in class work. Socially, some of the warning signs of stress include withdrawing from others, feeling irritable towards friends and family or difficulty in relationships.

One way to think about managing stress effectively is to develop effective ways to cope with stress. Learning effective relaxation techniques and engaging in healthy exercise and diet are a few ways to effectively cope with stress. Perhaps even more important than developing effective coping strategies to manage stress is to have a plan in place to manage stress before it happens. By building a healthy diet and exercise into your lifestyle, maintaining healthy relationships and balancing an academic and personal life, it becomes possible to effectively manage stress before it becomes too overwhelming.

Stress that goes unaddressed can lead to distress which may result in unhealthy coping styles such as excessive video gaming, isolating oneself from friends and family or substance use. Still others may experience levels of distress that are so overwhelming that it can lead to feelings of depression, helplessness and overwhelming anxiety. There are some students who are able to recognize these signs and to find ways to address their distress. In other instances, there are some students who are unable to recognize these signs and may need others to help them recognize their distress and to guide them to services on campus that can provide help. All students, staff and faculty should be aware of instances where a student is experiencing significant distress and be able to assist them in obtaining helpful services.

The Counseling Center offers a number of services that can help students manage their stress and services to help students develop an effective plan to cope with stresses when they occur. The Stress Management Series of workshops offered throughout each semester provide information and education on various ways of managing stress. Individual or group counseling can also be helpful for helping students establish effective coping strategies for stress.

Success at Tech means not only academic success, but also success in creating a balanced and healthy personal lifestyle. By being able to manage and cope with stress effectively, students increase their ability to succeed academically and personally to experience an enriching and rewarding quality of life at Tech.


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