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Learn How to Combat a Stressful Semester

Student flipping tire at RecFest

By: Will Craig
Assistant director, fitness
NC State Wellness and Recreation

As the 2018 school year begins, there is an unmistakable buzz and energy working its way through campus. Students are embracing all the freedoms and luxuries that come along with the college experience. However, as the worry-free nature of welcome week begins to give way, the rigors and stress of classes and college life can often feel insurmountable. Difficulty sleeping, headaches, inconsistent appetite, self-doubt, irritability and self-medicating can all rear its ugly head to someone suffering from even moderate levels of stress.

One way to combat stress is to get ahead of it and not let it fester. Many people have found having hobbies, increasing their connection with nature, having spiritual beliefs, taking regular and deliberate breaks to recharge or simply changing their current outlook helps them control and manage their stress. However, maybe the best tactic is regular physical activity.

The hormones released during exercise provide a “high” that lasts hours after you have completed the workout. These hormones are referred to as endorphins and interact with the brain to reduce the perception of pain. In addition to reducing pain, endorphins trigger positive feelings throughout the body that result in increased self-esteem, lower levels of stress and a more energized outlook on life.

While the physical benefits of exercise are widely known, the impact of a healthy body on stress is often overlooked. A healthy body reduces fatigue, improves alertness and concentration and enhances overall cognitive function. A healthier body results in a healthier mind, which is better equipped to combat the stressors that negatively affect your life. Research also shows that those who engage in regular physical activity experience higher GPAs, and we all know the impact grades may have on stress levels.

So, at this point, you may be asking yourself, “How much exercise do I need to ward off stress?” The good news is a lot less then you might think. Even the smallest amount of aerobic activity can have huge benefits for your mental health. As little as 5 minutes of continuous movement can stimulate the release of endorphins to the brain which can help change your current outlook and lower levels of stress. While a total of 30 minutes of movement per day can keep the body and mind ready to combat the stress and rigors that come along with being a student.

As the fall semester begins to get underway, do not forget to take care of the most important thing, yourself. Whether it’s playing basketball, lifting weights, going for walks, taking group fitness classes or hitting the tennis court, find what moves you. Create a plan so you are ready when things begin to get overwhelming and above all, grab a friend and get moving.

Will Craig is the assistant director of fitness for Wellness and Recreation. He holds an undergraduate degree in human nutrition, foods and exercise and a masters degree in instructional technology from Virginia Tech.