Education And Stress

Written by Ash
As a current University student, I am familiar with the late night library sessions, frequent bouts of insanity and endless procrastination — this entire article has been written four days from a final — that comes hand in hand with reading for a degree. Stress is an evolutionary response that plays out when we leave a state of homeostasis, be it from internal or external factors. Whilst not originally a negative reaction, the modern world lacks the physical troubles of the old and so stress serves as a method to predominantly combat social factors. This, in turn, entails longer active periods of stress. In the case of most students, stress is at its worst during exam season when people are placed in a perceivably uncontrollable situation, sometimes leading to a fully fledged burnout.


Stress is officially defined by Selye (1979) as being a “nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it”. Long term, or damaging stress works through the HPA axis and parasympathetic nervous system, releasing cortosol into the blood stream and activating various reactions that have long term damaging consequences. Exam flu, a classical education-related byproduct of stress, happens because of the way stress affects the immune system, (Sagerstrom & Miller, 2004) and stress has even been shown to affect physical recovery to cuts and bruises, with students taking, on average, three days longer than non-stressed controls to recover to a punch biopsy (Marucha, Kiecolt & Favagehi, 1998).

As fees increase for education, courses become harder and the world becomes more and more competitive, it is impossible to deny that damaging stress responses will become much more prevalent in society. Especially at university; it seems that completing a degree course almost implies undergoing a large amount of negative stressors. But, that’s not to say that there is nothing one can do to combat it.

Getting some proper sleep, eating healthily (even if only for a couple of weeks) and just generally setting time aside for oneself works wonders. Exercise, too, is a great natural relief — and it makes sense when you consider that stress was something that prepared us for physical action. It’s good to, generally, bare in mind the rule of threes:

Alter: In the case of exams, restructure your time table to give yourself extra time to work things through is a big bonus. Sometimes other things have to take a back burner: You can’t spent every night at a bar, watching movies or working extra hours at a part time job.
Adapt: If you’re worried about not being prepared, then do some preparation. It’s much better to try and correct something than spending time worrying about it.
Accept: We all fall short sometimes. There’s always a resit, and there’s always another day. If something goes head over heels, it doesn’t make you a failure. Things will be better next time.

With all that said, and feeling significantly more like a hippy, I had better get back to revision. My mind won’t prepare itself.

About the author


Ash is a PhD student in psychology at Northumbria University whose research focuses towards the general cognitive mechanisms of memory and attention. Most of the time he can be found writing about rubbish, or being rubbish at writing. Personal interests include philosophy, statistics and better understanding how we can convey our knowledge of science to others.

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