The final countdown

The end of the semester is quickly approaching. If youâÄôre experiencing anything like a normal student, youâÄôre at your whitâÄôs end trying to keep 8 trillion things in your mind while simultaneously figuring out what youâÄôre going to eat for dinner. At the end of October, Boynton Health Services released a study linking high stress with low grades. Among the participants were some 24,000 students from 14 universities across Minnesota. Unsurprisingly, students who claimed to lead stressful lives typically had lower GPAs. The study linked these activities, either alone or combined, to higher stress levels in students: drug and tobacco use, insufficient sleep, binge drinking and having no health insurance. The study noted that students who donâÄôt watch TV during the day typically have higher grades (average GPAs of 3.37) than those who watch an average of two hours each day (average GPA 3.21). I might argue, however, the TV bit is more indicative of poor time management skills than a causal detriment to your GPA. Sometimes, watching the boob tube for an hour or two is the only way to shut your brain off from that 8 trillion-car traffic jam in your mind. According to the University of Minnesota Department of Student Mental Health, typical stressors include: physical illness, the death of someone close, the termination of a long personal relationship, excess credit card debt and failing a class. Symptoms of these stressors can be irritability and restlessness, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, loss or gain of appetite, anxiety, fatigue, touchiness and so on. But stress isnâÄôt always bad. The department went on to state that âÄúmoderate levels of stress motivate us to take action, develop new skills, fulfill potential and heighten our optimal performance.âÄù Only when stress is left unmanaged can it lead to more than poor grades. If left to fester on the shoulder of the freeway, stress can incite emotional, psychological and interpersonal problems. Remember, too, that men and women deal with stress in drastically different ways. According to researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles, men often react to stress with a âÄúfight-or-flightâÄù response, but women are more likely to manage their stress with a âÄútend-and-befriendâÄù response. According to the UCLA Psychology professor and lead researcher Shelley E. Taylor , âÄúMen are more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of stress.âÄù Fight-or-flight means that when confronted by stress, individuals either react with aggressive behavior, such as verbal conflict and more drastic actions, or flee from the stressful situation. Taylor also notes that âÄúmen are more likely than women to develop certain stress-related disorders, including hypertension, aggressive behavior or abuse of alcohol or hard drugs.âÄù The United States Department of Health and Human Services reports chemical reactions in our bodies actually make us more inclined to respond the way we do. The chemical involved is oxytocin , a hormone that promotes a calming effect during times of stress. ItâÄôs the same chemical released during childbirth, and the fact that womenâÄôs bodies also produce estrogen amplifies the effects of the hormone. Thus, women âÄútendâÄù by caring for children, spouses or other intimate relationships and âÄúbefriendâÄù by seeking and receiving emotional support from social networks and circles of friends. In contrast, the testosterone in men blocks the effects of oxytocin, attributing them with a natural tendency toward aggressive or retreating behaviors to cope with stress. Men also tend to be more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of stress, including hypertension or abuse of alcohol and drugs. Be aware of the way you are coping with your stress next week. Here are a few suggestions for handling these final few days: Eat well Grade schools donâÄôt post food pyramids for nothing. A study published by the Journal of School Health in April reported that âÄúthe better a studentâÄôs eating habits based on several measures of diet quality, including adequacy and variety, the less likely he or she was to have failed the test, the researchers found, even after they adjusted the data for the effects of parental income and education, school and sex.âÄù So lay off the booze for a week and keep your mind more clear than cloudy. Exercise A moderate-intensity exercise program has been reported to have a beneficial effect on the immune system, and, of course, our immune systems are down and out when weâÄôre under large levels of stress. Exercise releases our natural stimulants and endorphins. Practices like yoga promote psychological stress reduction and a sense of well-being. Take a little alone time Depriving yourself of solitude âÄúis the cause of many manifestations of psychological and physiological distress,âÄù states psychiatrist T. Byram Karasu, M.D., in The Art of Serenity. Maybe Thoreau had the right idea when he wrote Walden. DonâÄôt be afraid to say no ItâÄôs just like our D.A.R.E. education in grade school. According to Dr. Edward T. Cregan at the Mayo Clinic , we should have the courage to say no. If weâÄôre already spread too thinly, we often say yes because we are afraid of letting someone down or coming up short the next time we need a favor. But the reality is that if youâÄôre honest and say youâÄôre overextended, people typically understand because theyâÄôve experienced the same kind of stress at one point or another. Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected]