Managing student stress (contributed by Dr. Owen Ward)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In response to the invitations for contributions for our departmental newsletter, a colleague passed on concerns that many of our students may be struggling due to stress and might benefit from some direction in this area. A quick Google search suggests that stress may be quite a general phenomenon among today’s graduate students (while we have focused on grad students, clearly many of the issues also apply to undergraduates and indeed to other groups). The following articles provide useful insights into the topic of stress and ways to manage it and if you are interested in the topic or affected by stress I recommend some of these to you.

Stress and depression

“Common stress myths”

Stress management: reduce student stress and excel in school

20 tips to reduce stress

From these papers it is clear that graduate student stress is a significant problem.

The student environment, including time pressures and workload, financial pressures and amount of faculty contact, may be a factor which impacts on stress over which students have little control. Nevertheless the big picture implication of severe student stress is very negative as it will clearly reduce research creativity, overall quality and productivity, which in turn will likely impact negatively on career prospects, personal life fulfillment and general health. It is incumbent on us all to continually re-evaluate and adjust ‘environmental’ factors contributing to stress. It is incumbent on the individual to develop techniques for managing this stress (see above articles for details) and to seek professional guidance if necessary.

Students of the life sciences may especially appreciate that a general preventative or treatment strategy for stress is the personal implementation of a regular programme of quality aerobic energy metabolism (in lay persons' terms - promote a healthy lifestyle with respect to diet, exercise and sleep). In contrast, experience indicates (at least in my unplanned experiments) that promotion of an anaerobic metabolic regimen by long period sitting and staring at a computer screen or wall and 'mulling over' and 'fermenting' the stressful situation inside is quite destructive both physiologically and mentally!

My over-riding observation is that we all need to have a well-defined life and career personal development plan with objectives and priorities which build on our strengths and personal traits. That plan will then provide us with good direction on the actions to take to deal with and move beyond stressful barriers.

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