National Stress Awareness Day is on November 2nd and has been recognised since 1998. It was a key date for increasing public awareness of the impact of stress and sharing resources to reduce or manage elevated stress symptoms.
20 years later, with the pressure and worries of 21st century living, there has been a sharp increase in mental health challenges, and heightened stress levels are on the rise.
In 2018, International Stress Awareness Week was created between 7th and 11th November, in recognition that stress has an impact on mental health, physical health and pre-existing conditions. The focus of the week is to get people to talk openly about stress and how it affects them, and to raise awareness of stress prevention and useful resources.
About the Disabled Students Group Committee
The Disabled Students Group (DSG) is run by, and for students with disabilities or other long-term physical or mental health problems, which can and do impact their lives and studies.
The DSG Committee are elected and co-opted students from the DSG community, and we focus on supporting other students, building community, and articulating the needs of students with health issues or disabilities that impact their studies.
The DSG Committee wanted to recognise Stress Awareness Week by sharing tips and information to raise awareness about stress management and prevention.
This article has been put together so that every OU student understands that stress is normal, and there are resources available for dealing with the symptoms of stress.
If you would like to hear more about the Disabled Students Group, you can find us on our DSG Website.
So how do you identify stress?
Stress can affect our minds, our emotions and ourbodies,and each individual mayhave a similaror different combination of symptoms (some are mentioned below):
- Anger, irritability, impatience, tension
- Overwhelmed,anxious, worried, nervous, afraid
- Racing thoughts, depression,
- Lethargy, fatigue, difficulty with focus
- Loneliness, low self-esteem,
- Impact on existing mental health problems
- Impact on existing physical issues (exacerbated symptoms)
- Physical stress (new symptoms)
Studying and Stress
Studying at a university level can be a stressful experience for both ‘mainstream’ physical universities and through distance learning.
OU students can feel isolated due to distance learning, and have the additional pressure from extra deadlines due to course material to complete, assignments to write, exams to sit while fitting it around already complicated lives (e.g., work, relationship, children) and/or health issues, meaning stress can become extreme high level at times.
The impact of stress
Short periods of stress are normal. A refocus of priorities, cutting down workloads or taking time to look after ‘ourselves’ (both physically and mentally) can help alleviate symptoms of stress.
However, at some point in our lives, we all find ourselves in a position when levels of stress are increased, which impacts physical or mental health, our studies, and other areas of lives. It’s at those times that we may need that extra support or resources to deal with elevated stress levels.
Ways to manage stress
Fitting the criteria of stress awareness and stress prevention, I am sharing some resources below on learning how to manage and cope with stress and supporting mental health and wellbeing.
Mental Health Foundation – What is Stress and things you can try to feel less tense and overwhelmed.
Mind – Tips and guides to help you cope with everyday things like money, work, university and more.
NHS – Stress Busters– What you can do to address stress.
NHS – Student Stress – University study and stress
NHS – The Self-Care Toolkit – This is for people who live with persistent health conditions that could provide handy tips and skills to support you along the way to manage your health and your condition.
OU Student Stories ~ How to cope with study stress – advice to students from students.
Peer Support- Peer Supporters are your fellow students, trained to help you achieve a better study experience with confidential*, non-judgemental study support.
Shout 85258 - Shout is there to offer help if you’re struggling to cope, feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed and need to talk with someone, whether that's during the day or at night.
Skills for OU Study PDF - This booklet contains advice and tips to help your study become an enjoyable and worthwhile experience, and to help you stay mentally healthy.
Talk Campus - It offers a safe place to talk anonymously to students around the world about anything that is on your mind.
The Samaritans – if you need someone to talk to, they listen.
Acknowledging Stress from the DSG Committee
During Stress Awareness Week, the DSG committee wanted to acknowledge that stress is something we can all face. We decided to answer 2 questions relating to stress that we could share with other students.
How have you experienced stress as a disabled student at the OU, and how have you managed this?
I have experienced stress as a disabled student at the OU when it came to sitting a remote exam. I managed this by communicating my exam needs in plenty of time for them to be considered, and sitting a practice exam under the exam conditions.
There are many stresses I have experienced as a student who is a single parent and living with Endometriosis, Fibromyalgia, and PTSD. Flare-ups can be debilitating and stressful, making it difficult to concentrate, keep on top of workloads and meet deadlines. Chronic pain and anxiety can also make me feel vulnerable and overwhelmed. It is essential for me to have good relationships with my tutors and peers because relationships can trigger and exacerbate my mental health difficulties and therefore the pain. Exercise and meditation are a big part of my routine, helping both my physical and mental health.
I've often been stressed as a disabled student and when I find tasks complicated, I get really frustrated. To avoid this, I've learned to keep track of my reactions when I become stressed as I feel this helps stop the stress from escalating. To avoid stress in the first place I find preplanning wherever possible really helps so knowing my schedule for the week really helps so I know when I am busy and can take advantage of the times when I'm not as busy and if I'm with someone I try to calmly explain the issue, so we don't have an argument.
I have felt stress in many ways as a disabled student. One of the many ways is delays with alternative formats taking longer than it should to arrive usually weeks after the start of the module. Because of my complex health and disabilities, I am already at a disadvantage in my studies without being further disadvantaged and stress brings on flares of all my conditions. Being advised that I can have extensions or put in special circumstances creates more stress to an already stressful time and is not a solution as would put be further behind.
I experience a significant amount of stress when it comes to submitting TMA’s. My neurodivergent brain often won’t let me work on an assignment until the day before, even if it’s a 2000-word essay! I had a study skills mentor who advised me to ignore my instincts and force myself to work in small chunks in good time before the deadline. This only caused more stress as I was unable to formulate my thoughts properly when writing over a long period of time. Short bursts of studying are very helpful for other disabled students but for me, I have learnt that the best way to cope with studying is to work with my brain, not against it.
As a student with complex health conditions, limited mobility (wheelchair user) and Bipolar Disorder, I find studying helps keep my hyperactive brain busy, and volunteering makes me feel useful. I manage my stress levels as and when I can, but there will always be times when these symptoms are elevated, which is normally around assignments, or when I get behind with my studies due to exacerbated physical or mental health symptoms. I sometimes have to stop everything I am doing and take a day out to ground myself, to re-prioritise what I am doing and to plan next steps going forward. I chop my weekly work or assignment work into smaller chunks and ensure I have dedicated study time to get my assignment work done or catch up with my studies. I talk about how I am feeling to my study mentor, and my study buddy. Talking about stressful times can make everything feel less overwhelming and is a great way to break down what causes the stressful situation, and helps me focus on how to make positive changes going forward.
What short tip can you share with other students on your favourite way to prevent or manage stress?
I listen to music and curl up in a blanket.
Housework, cleaning, and dog-walks help me clear my mind.
My favourite way to manage or prevent stress is to watch some people I follow on YouTube as I really enjoy them, or I just watch television or a film to unwind.
I sing dance and play musical instruments to cope with stressful events in my life.
My favourite way to prevent stress is to go for regular walks while listening to music
I relieve stress by doing something creative (e.g. painting, drawing, beadwork, writing) or pamper myself by having time to relax and unwind.
“You are not alone, stress happens to us all, you do not have to deal with it by yourself. Talk to someone and use the resources available.”
I hope this information is helpful and thank-you for reading.
Stephanie Stubbins and the DSG Committee Team