Stress is an inevitable part of a college student’s life, and learning how to control it can be an issue for some. A recent survey discovered that intense exercise and spending time with friends can be equally beneficial when it comes to reducing stress.
College students that completed 20 minutes of intense exercise three times a week were less likely to report poor mental health, but the study also found that students who spent more than two hours with five or more friends a day experienced the same benefits.
These findings have come to light thanks to a survey published in the American Journal of Health Promotion by researchers at the University of Minnesota. The study surveyed more than 14,800 students from 94 universities across the country about their exercise habits and moods.
According to the National College Health Assessment survey, stress is decreasing at the University.
In 2011, 33.7 percent of students reported that stress was affecting their academic performance, and in the spring of 2013, only 30.1 percent of students reported having this issue.
According to Director of University Recreation Laurie Braden, exercising with friends and participating in group physical activities like intramural sports and exercise classes is a good way to take advantage of the stress-relieving benefits of both activities.
The study found that socializing is an important aspect of exercising when students are trying to reduce stress.
Exercise helps reduce stress by releasing endorphins into the body that makes us feel good, Braden said.
On a social front, Health Promotions Coordinator Kathy Saichuk said that spending time with friends can also reduce stress, but only if you have healthy relationships with them.
The survey showed that students who suffered from depression or anxiety benefited more from social interactions than exercise.
It’s harder for students to reduce stress if the people they are spending time with are negative, Saichuk said.
She added that academics, finances, relationships and poor time management can all contribute to stress in students’ lives.
Freshman who are new to college life often get stressed being away from home for the first time, having more freedom and learning how to balance school with other activities they are involved in, Saichuk said.
Upperclassmen still have to deal with and often face the same issues as freshman but typically have more experience handling stress. According to Saichuk, deciding what to do after graduation and if they will find a job are the new stress factors in upperclassmen’s lives that they must learn to handle.
Abnormal amounts of stress can lead to poor sleeping habits, eating changes, irritability, anxiety and self-medication. It can also cause students to have tension headaches, high blood pressure and digestive problems.
Students who experience a combination of these symptoms for a prolonged period of time might need to seek assistance, Saichuk said.
The Student Health Center provides free physical and mental evaluations to students by professional physicians and mental health specialists. Students can also meet with a health promoter or take advantage of the other departments on campus, like The Center for Academic Success, to learn time and stress management skills.
Students who don’t know how to manage stress and seek help often turn to large amounts of caffeine and study drugs that can also lead to health risk, Saichuk said.
However, she said that not all stress is bad, and it can actually help keep students motivated and prevent procrastination.
According to Saichuk, students can handle stress by first recognizing the source of their stress. Then they can address the problem and make the necessary changes, whether it’s adjusting their schedule, learning how to better manage their time or limiting their commitments.