Surf your Stress

Learn to balance and ride the waves. Everyone experiences stress once in a while and that’s alright, because stress is part of life and encourages you to perform better. It's about finding your balance and riding the waves. Learning to ride the waves of stress is inextricably linked to losing your balance every so often, falling and being pulled under, only to surface again and continue surfing.

What is stress?

Stress is a form of tension. To perform optimally, we need a certain level of tension and therefore short-term stress. For example, when taking an exam. After a while this tension disappears and the body returns to a state of rest. When it is subjected to long-term stress, the body loses the balance between bearing capacity and load and stress complaints appear. These complaints can express themselves physically, psychologically or behaviourally. If nothing is done to combat this over a prolonged period, the signals can lead to chronic complaints: overstrain, burn-out or bore-out, chronic tiredness, anxiety disorders and depression. Stress has a lot of negative associations, however a bodies stress mechanism is very functional.

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Symptoms of stress

Sometimes it is difficult to recognise if you are stressed. Stress complaints differ a lot per person. Some symptoms of stress are:

Physical complaints

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heath rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomach complaints
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Backache
  • Shoulder pain
  • Neck pain
  • Sleeping problems

Emotional complaints

  • Irritable
  • Emotional
  • Listless
  • Tense
  • Nervous
  • Anxious
  • Indifferent

Behavioral complaints

  • Adopt an unhealthy lifestyle (smoking, drinking, fast food)
  • Avoid social contacts
  • Become less creative
  • Show risk behavior
  • (more) overtime
  • Less relaxing
  • More complaining, cynical attitude
  • Being sick regularly

Cognitive complaints

  • Poorer memory
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty planning
  • Difficulty to set priorities
  • Indicisive
  • Being less efficient

Causes of student stress

1. Performance pressure

Performance pressure is a common feeling among students. So it’s not surprising if you suffer from it. Sometimes it’s because you try to compare yourself with others or because you feel that you have to distinguish yourself from others. In addition to performance pressure during your studies, there is also pressure to maintain social contacts, spend a year on the board of a student or study association, work, do volunteer work, plan beautiful holidays or trips and study abroad. Everything can be bigger or better, but when is it enough?

2. Social media

Social media is linked to performance pressure. This is because on social media everyone looks successful and happy. So it’s not surprising if you have the feeling you don’t meet the desired standard, nobody can! The image built up on social media is not a real identity. In addition, social media apps have been developed in such a way that you want to be constantly informed - making it difficult to put the phone down. Are you able to put your phone down? Putting your phone down may help you live longer.

3. Shame about stress

You aren’t the only one who is ashamed about stress complaints. Most students only seek help once the symptoms have already become serious. And you aren’t the only one who wants to tell everyone, after stress has been signalled (in the past), how well you’re doing now. Even though the stories sometimes show that you are still suffering from stress complaints.

4. Parental pressure

Several students indicate that they feel under pressure to make their parents proud. Parents put pressure on their children because they want to protect them from failure. These parents are also known as curling parents. So it’s possible that your parents are doing this and thus leaving you with little room to make wrong choices and mistakes for yourself. Did you learn to fail?

5. Scholarships and cultural differences

As an international student, and sometimes also as a Dutch student, you have to cope with the change of place of residence and/or country, getting used to a new culture, making new social contacts and a completely different educational system - all these are major changes. The pressure from your parents and other family members can play a role because in some cases they have contributed financially to your studies. After obtaining a scholarship, the pressure to complete your studies is enormous, because any delay in your studies is not always paid for by the scholarship provider. In addition, there is the pressure that if you don’t obtain enough credits, your residence permit may be withdrawn. Not all international students need help with stress and mental complaints. Do you dare to ask for help if you need it? Read more about stress for internationals.

6. Loan system

In many cases, the introduction of the loan system is the cause of stress for students as they try to complete their studies as quickly as possible. Every extra year you need to complete your study, increases your study debt. In addition, students don’t want to borrow -or want to borrow as little as possible - because they are afraid of the consequences of study debt, for example when they want to buy a house later. Do you know the consequences?

7. Binding study advice

Although the BSA standard at WUR is relatively low, you may experience stress from having to comply with the BSA. This is in addition to all the other stress factors in the first college year, such as getting used to living on your own, making new contacts or getting used to a new city, etc. Do you know the requirements?

8. Other causes

Sometimes, being unable to find the right kind of help causes stress. In addition, difficult subjects are taught in the same period which means that you suddenly have to work a lot harder for your studies than in other periods. The short periods 3 and 4 are experienced as intensive because there is a lot of group work which students find stressful. Students often indicate that the thesis is also a source of stress. What gives you stress?

What can I do myself?

Tip 1: Having an off-day is normal

Everyone has days when everything seems to go wrong. It may look like your fellow students don’t have bad days like this, but they do! (though they generally don’t talk about them on social media). These off-days are normal. Accept that you occasionally have a bad day and you will see that you can reduce your stress this way. Don’t ask yourself “Why is this happening to me again?”. Don’t be so hard on yourself, lower the bar that day and make the best of it.

Tip 2: Pay attention to the warning signs

Your body and behaviour can tell how you are doing. Your body sends signals when you are stressed. And signals are also present in your behaviour that are signs of stress. If you don’t recognise these signals in time, it can lead to bigger problems. So it’s important to pause a few times a day and check how you are doing. For more information about signals and symptoms of stress, see the heading “Causes of student stress”.

Tip 3: Eat healthy

By eating too little, a low blood sugar level can make you lack confidence and feel irritable, while overeating can make you sleepy. Eating healthy can help you get through stressful days. By eating small but frequent meals, you can help your body maintain a healthy blood sugar level. In this way you can prevent mood swings, increase your energy level and stay focused. Choose fresh foods that are rich in vitamin B, vitamin, C, magnesium, zinc and omega-3 fats or take supplements.

Tip 4: Get enough sleep

Sleep deprivation, either temporarily or chronical, is unhealthy. If we are stressed the quality of our sleep reduces. This is because our body is in a constant state of alertness. Try to avoid napping during daytime, but go to bed at night when you are feeling tired. Use the blue light filter on your phone, laptop or tv in the evening and avoid screens when you are in bed.

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Tip 5: Start moving

Research has shown that regular exercise is a good way to reduce stress. This can be a sport, but may also be gentler exercise such as walking. Even when you don’t feel like it, it’s good to move. Afterwards you will have more energy and less stress. Wageningen has a lot of student sport associations and sportcentre De Bongerd has a variety of lessons.

Tip 6: Go for a walk in nature

It is scientifically proven that a walk in nature helps reduce stress. There are lots of greenery and walking paths on campus. You can also go for some great walks in nature in and around Wageningen. So why not take a walk during your break or after a day of hard study?

Tip 7: Breathe in, breathe out…

One of the quickest ways to reduce stress is by focusing on calm breathing. Simply by “checking in” when breathing has a relaxing effect. By breathing calmly you also stimulate the part of your nervous system that provides relaxation and recovery. Breathe in gently through your nose and breathe out, for a few seconds longer, through your mouth. Do you want to try a breathing exercise? Mindfulness can be helpful too, there are multiple apps available that can help. In De Bongerd you can sign up for mindfulness courses as well. The WUR library offers meditation every first Thursday of the month from 12:30 till 13:15 hour.

Tip 8: Plan evenings off

Plan evenings off when you can do something fun for yourself or arrange to do something with someone else. Also free up time during the day, such as an hour or half hour. Schedule this time and, if necessary, make sure that those around you know that you have free time. Even better: take a break with your friends. Social activities are stress reducing. Laughing has the same effect.

Tip 9: Undertake fun and relaxing activities

If stress is influencing your personal life and has an impact on your health, then it’s time to take action. Start by paying attention to yourself and begin with little things that can improve your mood. Think back to what you used to enjoy doing. Don’t wait until you automatically feel like doing these things, but plan them in advance.

Tip 10: Find a listening ear

Even though another person can’t solve your problems, talking with someone can help you reduce stress. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with a friend, fellow student, teacher or family member can reduce stress, even if you can’t change the situation.

Other tips

Bad timemanagement or studying the wrong way can cause stress. In this video you can find some scientific based study tips. Would you like to improve your study skills? Consider the EPO-training of WUR.

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Help from Wageningen University & Research

If you feel you can’t solve your problem yourself, then you should make an appointment with a student mentor at the university. Your first point of contact is your student advisor. If necessary, the student advisor can refer you to the student dean or student psychologist. You can also make an appointment directly with the student dean and student psychologist. Not sure who to contact? In that case always make an appointment with the student advisor first. Click on the links below to find out what they can help you with.