Walking a Tightrope

With Reading Week arriving in just a few short weeks, what often comes to my mind are the many students around the world who, after struggling to balance school, work, kids, and home life, take their own lives to free themselves of stress. It’s a sad but true reality of student life.

A typical student in today’s society has a lot to worry about, including ever-rising tuition thanks to a wonderful (did you read the sarcasm?) government that doesn’t seem to get that education should be a huge priority, and the extremely high cost of textbooks you’ll only use once–although we distance Ed students pay indirectly for that, it’s still a major factor in our high tuition costs (fortunately we do get to claim book fees against our income taxes whereas traditional students do not).

Exam anxiety is also high on the list of worries. With the increasing demand in the workplace for smarter, harder working employees, the pressure to excel is intense. The thought that you may not get that great job with a B+ under your belt is a factor in everyday student stress. The list of common student stressors is endless: roommate/dorm problems, dieting, time management, burnout, homesickness, loneliness, lack of sex, sex-deprived instructors, the list could go on and on.

What I have noticed as a student of distance education is that our type of student has a few more items to juggle in our everyday struggle to attend school. Sure, a few of us are part-timers that take one or two courses at a time, and the full-time student numbers aren’t high, but that does not limit our stress. I’ve found that a student’s decision to attend Athabasca University is often one of sheer desperation. That’s not to say that AU should only be used as a last resort, but it can be the only option for many people. A distance ed student often has a full-time job to pay for their studies, plus a family to support, a mortgage, and bills, which traditional university students often don’t have. Does that make us more susceptible to stress? I think so.

Whether it be a single mom looking to better the lives of her kids, or a father with a family to support who works nights as a security guard so he has time to study, or a childless couple just needing a better career to pay the mortgage, we all have our stress factors while we attend school. It is how we attempt to overcome, or handle, this stress that helps us win the everyday battle. Long-term stress can have disastrous affects on the body. It has been reported that stress can actually cause the body to break down over time (1). For students to manage our stress and limit our chances of becoming susceptible to drastic action like suicide, we must take an active role in managing our stressors. Of course there are a select few that handle stress as if it were something to be easily tamed, but the rest of us haven’t any clue how to handle the pressure of everyday life without snapping. Stress management takes a conscious decision to fully get a grasp what plagues us.

To deal with stress you have to identify the cause. Is it that instructor that seems to pick on you? Or maybe that morning commute? Assessing exactly what causes the stress is the first step to getting a handle on it. After all, it won’t help you to exercise and eat right when your dorm buddy is still keeping you awake at night. The second step involves how you react to that stress. When that son-of-a … er, guy, cuts you off in traffic, instead of screaming at him and producing gestures you’d be embarrassed to use in front of your Grandma, think about what you can do to change your reaction.

Living in Calgary I find that traffic stress is enormous, so to bring my stress down a notch when I see someone weaving in and out of traffic I imagine that they must be in a bigger hurry than I am. Who’s to say that they don’t have an emergency on their hands? Changing the way you react to stressors can make a big difference in how little the stressors affect you. Nevertheless, there are times when stressors cannot be avoided. You can’t avoid classes if your instructor is an ass, so what do you do? Do you punch the gal out because it would feel the best? I think not, considering that would add the future stressor of learning not to bend over in the shower at the local penitentiary.

There are a few other options: You could consume an insane amount of alcohol right before class, use writing or journaling to help you relieve the stress, or you could wrangle one of your friends one night to treat you as the instructor does in order to inoculate you to the barrage of stress. It sounds insane but if there’s anything you can do to relieve the stress of its clutches on your health, so be it. Be creative. It could be fun in the end.

I think the most revitalizing way to relieve stress is to indulge in some humour. I’m within an hours drive of Yuk Yuks comedy club if I really want a good laugh, but even picking up a comedy at the local library, or a joke book while I’m there, can release a power pack of endorphins.

Another common way to relieve stress is through proper eating and exercise. I know you’ve heard it before, but exercise can help to release more of those endorphins that elevate your mood, which helps to reduce mental stress. Think about it this way, when that instructor gives you that C-, you can take it to the gym and beat the hell out of a punching bag instead of keeping it internal which beats the hell out of you.

Through these steps, and many more that can be found free online, distance Ed students prepare themselves to cope in our world of endless stress. With diligence, and conscious effort, we can beat the odds of capitulating to the stress demon. In the end if you know that you have made a difference for your body, you can feel good in the knowledge that you have made that one step toward avoiding the dreadful statistic of student suicide.

A guide to Stress Management
Helpguide: Stress Management and Stress Release
http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm

[1] Donatelle, Rebecca J. Access to Health. 7th ed. California: Pearson Education, Inc.

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