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Mental health is especially important among students. Below, we list four stress management tips based on recent research studies.
The rise in mental health dialogue over recent years has erupted an improved understanding of the role of stress, anxiety, and depression on the overall health of society. In parallel to treatment regimes for physical health conditions, environmental and lifestyle changes have significantly positive impacts on mental illnesses as well.
Below, we list four stress management tips for students based on recent research studies.
1. Have access to green spaces
A recent paper published in the BMJ identified that proximity to green environments correlates to lower job-related stress in student populations. People tend to be drawn to urban areas due to easier access to resources, services, and opportunities. These urban areas often lack green spaces such as grassy areas which have been associated with improved social interaction, physical activity, and mental recovery. With the rise in job-related stressors, access to green spaces has become increasingly important for global mental health.
The study recorded information pertaining to the green spaces around each participant’s residence using satellite images. Stress factors including a lack of social recognition, social overload, stressful memories, and chronic worrying were categorized as stress outside of work. Job-related stress was recorded as well. Environmental factors such as the availability of sports facilities within proximity and access to tree coverage were considered as well.
The study indicated positive correlations between greater green spaces near the participants’ homes and reduced job-related stress among the student participants. Among the other environmental factors included, increased physical activity through sports and recreation further improved stress levels. Recovery from job-related stress was found to be much easier with access to green spaces. With further research, urban planning can be implemented in a way that takes into account the mental health of those residing in the respected areas.
2. Avoid high-sugar and high-fat foods
A study published by PLOS ONE suggests that high-fat and high-sugar diets hinder the body’s ability to respond to stress. Commonly referred to as “stress-eating”, individuals often indulge in foods that are high in fat and sugar when under stress. Eating these foods affects the body’s reception of insulin, which is a hormone involved in blood sugar regulation. Stress causes changes in the brain’s gene expression, resulting in changes of hormonal release.
The study was conducted in 120 male rats. The rats were divided into four dietary groups: a control group, a high-fat and high-sugar group, a control group with the addition of cinnamon, and a high-sugar and high-fat group with the addition of cinnamon. Each group was fed its respective diet for a 12-week period. Following the diet, the rats were randomly assigned to a stressful situation or a rest situation. The stress situation required the rat to be constrained in a net tube for 30 minutes and released into an open space.
The study concluded that rats fed with a high-sugar, high-fat, and cinnamon diets showcased greater insulin resistance. During stress, genes in the brain that facilitate sugar metabolism are expressed in response to the stress. By consuming high-fat, high-sugar, and cinnamon diets, the response to stress is lowered. This causes the body to not respond appropriately to stress, increasing its effects on the individual. The study suggests that individuals should avoid foods high in sugar, fat, and cinnamon when facing stress.
3. Spend time with animals like therapy dogs
Therapy dogs have been implemented as a stress management technique in several institutions for the elderly. A study published in the Journal of Mental Health discusses the use of therapy dogs for college students experiencing mental health concerns. Previous research has revealed high-stress levels among college student bodies, potentially due to drastic changes in living environment and school workload. Unaddressed mental health problems in students often lead to lower academic performance and burnout. As a result, academic institutions are beginning to emphasize mental health facilities and offer services for stress management.
The study recruited 1960 students over the course of three study terms. Data was collected from a program developed at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Students were required to complete a questionnaire asking for the year of study, gender, and time spent with the therapy dogs. Students were asked to visit the therapy dogs on a weekly basis with no regulation or requirements. Each session had 15 to 17 dogs available.
The canine therapy revealed positive results pertaining to the reduction of stress levels among the participating students. While there was no identified significance in the time spent with the therapy dogs, those who visited the sessions reported lower stress levels. The majority of the participants were female however gender had little impact on the time spent with the dogs. While the study requires controlled parameters to solidify their results, canine therapy proves to be a potential regulator of stress levels for university and college students.
4. Participate in yoga and mindfulness techniques
Several studies have reported the benefits of physical exercise on the body’s ability to respond to stress and anxiety. Since stress and burnout are largely targeted to the mind, exercises that incorporate mental relaxation are highly beneficial for improving these conditions. These exercises include, but are not limited to, yoga, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and tai chi. A study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine compared yoga and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in their ability to target burnout symptoms.
The Swedish study worked with 94 participants and divided them into the following treatment groups: yoga, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy which served as the control group. The yoga group was required to participate in a yoga regime for 20 weeks. The exercise included body awareness, poses, breathing exercises, and processing emotions. The mindfulness-based cognitive therapy group underwent a 20-week treatment period as well. This process included awareness of the body and feelings of distress while maintaining an external state of mind. It encouraged an objective analysis of one’s emotions.
Both methods revealed to have a positive impact on reducing symptoms of a burnout and alleviating stress or anxiety. Due to the complex nature of mental health, one treatment method may be more effective than the other depending on the nature of the condition and the individual receiving the treatment. Further research considering parameters such as ethnicity, gender, and age may provide more insight into suggesting appropriate, personalized treatment regimes for those facing mental health obstacles such as burnout.
Written by Shrishti Ahuja, HBSc
- Fernandez S. Can more green spaces lower chronic job stress? – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research [Internet]. Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. 2018 [cited 30 October 2018]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/green-spaces-chronic-job-stress/
- Hoover C. High-sugar and high-fat diets hinder energy restoration after stress – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research [Internet]. Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. 2018 [cited 30 October 2018]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/high-sugar-high-fat-diets-stress/
- Fernandez S. Therapy dogs can help reduce stress in university students – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research [Internet]. Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. 2018 [cited 30 October 2018]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/therapy-dogs-reduce-stress-university-students/
- Bernshtein M. Complementary and alternative treatments to alleviate work-related stress – Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research [Internet]. Medical News Bulletin | Health News and Medical Research. 2018 [cited 30 October 2018]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/complementary-and-alternative-treatments-to-alleviate-work-related-stress/