Often, we think of individual events or issues as the cause of our stress. The stress of completing our coursework, paying a bill, or a problem at work is seen as unique. In reality, stress can be cumulative, crossing over from your job to your personal life and even to your classes. In this blog, we'll look closely at cumulative stress and explore several techniques you can use for managing stress.
What is Cumulative Stress?
Stress is the body's response to any demand made on it, and light stress—when you believe that you can cope with the demands you currently face—can actually be motivating and energizing.
However, as various causes of stress start adding up, the total cumulative stress you feel increases. Such causes might include:
- Deadlines and commitments (like assignment due dates)
- Financial problems
- Relationship troubles
- Health problems
- Work problems
So, what happens when cumulative stress is left unchecked and the stressors in your life remain? While we may hope to let stress roll off our backs, it's more likely you're piling on the stress and carrying it everywhere you go. Over time, cumulative stress can lead to health and psychological problems such as:
- Sleep problems
- Poor judgement and memory problems
- Muscle tension
- Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
Tips for Managing Stress
Now for the good news: stress can be managed. Beginning right now, here's what you can do to significantly reduce your cumulative stress.
- Be healthy: Start by looking at your daily life. Track how much physical activity you get, what you eat, and how much you drink alcohol or smoke. Most of us speed through the day so fast that we don’t realize what our day actually includes. After taking a good look at ourselves, we can see how to become healthier. It could be as simple as eating more vegetables or a bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Even a daily walk will help.
Have fun: Laughing is good for you, so find time to have fun and to laugh. It's also important to stay positive. Finding the good in the world, even when faced with significant challenges, will lead to reduced stress.
- Relax: To relax and reset, you need to take breaks, not just from work but also in your personal life and your school work. We don’t mean a 6-month vacation, just a few breaks during the day, where you leave behind life's problems for a time, possibly by doing one of the following:
- Read a book (other than your text). There is nothing like diving into a good mystery, fantasy, or romance novel—or even your favorite magazine—to separate you from daily stress.
- Play a game. (Remember, there is a difference between taking a break and procrastinating, so don’t use your breaks as a way to delay work.)
- Exercise. Take a short walk, stretch, or do light aerobic exercises to revitalize your body. During the exercise, let your mind think about things other than what is causing your stress.
Use your time wisely. Everyone talks about time management as if it's some complicated process that only high-priced consultants can figure out. That's simply not true. Start by keeping a journal for a few days on what you do throughout the day. You’ll be amazed how much time is spent on things like looking for clothes in the morning, finding the kids' library book, or playing your favorite video game.
From there, find ways to streamline or cut back on things that take too much time. An hourly schedule might not be needed, but a calendar of daily chores or appointments could likely help you organize your time at home and work. Within your schedule, prioritize your coursework by putting aside time, not just for the assignments, but also to study and complete your readings.
The More You Know...
Improving your ability to deal with stress and knowing that stress be carried from one environment to another (i.e. job to home) may have a long-term impact on improving your resilience and your health. If, before or after trying these tips, you'd like to talk with someone about your stress, contact your Academic Counselor or Student Affairs to ask about the resources available through the South University Counseling Center.
About the Author
Mark Fabbri Ph.D. is the Chair for Psychology Online at South University. Dr. Fabbri has been teaching for South University since 2006 and lives in Michigan.