Stress deconstructed

Yes, it’s that time of year. Papers, presentations and exams.

Here’s the bad news — you’re going to be encounter stress. Good news — how you deal with stress is up to you. You have the power to change the game and finish the semester #NAUStrong.

Psychology professor Tom Filsinger shares five tips to help you create your own personalized strategies for coping with stress.

Sleep and Eating

You’ve heard a million times that getting eight hours sleep a night (a good average for most people) and eating healthy foods are important. Both factors have been proven to improve learning and memory. It is suggested to turn your cell phone off at night in order to get quality, continuous sleep. Sleeping well not only enhances cognitive skills, it also helps to maintain better moods. People are less likely to feel anxious, depressed, or angry when they get a good night sleep.

Maintaining a healthy diet is also important. It’s not enough to eat regularly, but “we are we eat.” Certain foods are healthier for us, enhancing memory and brain power, such as whole grains, oily fish (which contain Omega-3 acids), blueberries (a great snack which enhances short-term memory), pumpkin seeds (another great snack that enhances cognitive skills), and broccoli, to name just a few.


This is another crucial factor supported by much research. You don’t have to go overboard to be aided by good exercise habits. Brisk walks, basketball shoot arounds, bicycle riding — just about anything done regularly goes a long way.

Good health habits feed upon each other. For example, regular exercise has been found to decrease insomnia and increases the amount of time people spend in the delta stage of sleep, which is deep sleep. Deep sleep is the most restorative stage of sleep, which is very helpful the next day for feeling invigorated and energetic. This makes it easier to concentrate in class and focus on exams for maximum performance.

Cultivate quality work habits

Quality studying time is more important than quantity time. This means getting the most out of the time you’re putting in. Try to work under quiet conditions so you can concentrate on the task at hand. Go to the library or somewhere other than a dorm room if necessary. Avoid distractions, set aside time that will be uninterrupted. And pace yourself. Instead of cramming for exams or waiting until the last minute on an important paper or project, start early. Remember the famous fable of the tortoise and the hare. Pacing yourself slowly beats trying to rush at the end and is a lot less stressful.

Some students study with the television on, roommates talking, or listening to popular music, but here’s something else that may help — listening to classical music while you study. Some researchers have found that listening to classical music induces relaxation and concentration, leading to greater focus and retention.

If you’re trying to tune out the world while you work, put on the headphones and choose a relaxing piano concerto or string quartet that you find pleasant.

Laugh and enjoy life

If you cultivate quality time for your work you’ll find you have extra time for relaxation and pleasure. That’s the reward for doing things the right way. This leaves you opportunities to unwind, relax, and enjoy time with friends and other students. It’s healthy to strive for balance in life and this includes balancing work and pleasure.

Another helpful way to increase brain power and enhance moods is mindfulness training or meditation. NAU psychology professor Dr. Heidi Wayment has conducted research on mindfulness and the “quiet ego.” Studies find that the relaxation induced by mindfulness training reduces stress, depression, and anxiety and increases happiness. So learning to relax makes for happy times!

Talk to someone

Sometimes stressors can be overwhelming, they are experienced differently by everyone. Only you truly understand what causes stress in your life and how it affects you. Talking about a problem with a friend or family member, or even writing privately in a journal, may also be helpful. Sometimes we simply need to vent our emotions. In addition there are counselors and qualified people on campus who will be able to assist you. Make it a point to seek them out if you are overwhelmed. Sometimes speaking with an objective professional is more helpful than speaking with friends.

Northern Arizona University nurtures a very supportive environment. You are surrounded by people that care very deeply that you are successful and fulfilled.