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Don't panic: Stress

The Psyc/Soc Student's Guide to Fourth Year by Hope Christie and Karl Johnson

Tips on how to cope with stress

Let's be clear. At some point in fourth year whether it's your dissertation/essay/whatever – you will hit some kind of a wall. It happens to everyone in some form, no matter what they say in public, and it's important that you are aware of this and can try to plan ahead. We honestly cannot stress that last point enough, it will happen to everyone. And while you are reading this, you can roll your eyes or read this out loud to your friends and make a comment like “what do they know, that’s not going to be me” or “why would you be so pessimistic? As if we’re not stressed enough already?” Well, surely you would rather be aware of what is coming your way as opposed to us sugar-coating it for you? As we have said in previous sections, it will be hard, but then it just wouldn’t be worth doing if it wasn’t.

It is important to remember that people cope with stress in different ways, and stress also manifests itself differently in different people. If your once outgoing, bubbly friend is now all ‘doom and gloom’, the stress of fourth year is getting to them. So instead of pointing out what a real downer they are, ask them how they are doing or offer to take them for a coffee for five minutes, just to get them away from their computer and/or books. Believe us; it will help them out a great deal.  On the note of everyone coping differently, we thought we would share our experiences with you:

I just lived in uni, every day I was in from about 9/9.30am until about midnight, it was the only way I felt like I was doing enough. I began to feel so guilty when I ate or slept, so refused to leave my computer ever. And my 'rock bottom' moment was sitting in the library at 2am crying over my SPSS database, because I couldn't work out why my analysis wasn't working.
I'm not telling you this to freak you out, because after my 'rock bottom' moment I picked myself up and kept going.
And you can do that too.

I shut myself away for months in my flat to write my dissertation, thinking it was a safe place, but by February I couldn’t remember my own name.  Or my friends’ names.
When I shut down, I took most of a week off* and relaxed; caught up on tv/films I’d missed, went for a pint with my mates, spent an afternoon with my primary-school-age cousin, etc.

*Don’t go to Spain or anything though – be sensible about how much free time you really have for this. Your recovery period is measured in days, but not weeks.

After that rather depressing look at what your year is going to look like, we asked around to see what previous years did to make their fourth year less stressful. 

  1. Maintain some kind of support network throughout fourth year. If possible, find part of that support be from outside your class, as it will be helpful to get an outside opinion.

  2. Make sure that when you can't bear it any longer, that you walk away from books etc. for a wee while. Although, if you’ve been paying attention and have planned to have breaks, then you shouldn’t have to get to this point…

  3. Read the newspaper/watch the news. It'll give you some sense of perspective, and might actually inspire you.

  4. Use the campus to its full potential; go to the gym and work out for an hour or so, taking your mind off work might actually help fix an issue you’ve been struggling with. Or, if you feel you don’t have an hour to spare (don’t worry, Hope totally knows that feeling), then just go for a walk round the campus. The fresh air will do you good.

  5. Call someone, someone who isn’t at uni; your parent, sibling, other family member, friend, partner, whoever! Speak to someone; don’t sit there stressing on your own.

  6. Try as best you can to eat lunch and any other meal away from your computer. Again, Hope knows the feeling of not wanting to leave your computer and if you eat while you’re typing then you’re still doing work right? Wrong. You need a break, even if you just take 20 minutes away from your keyboard to eat, it will do you the world of good.

  7. Treat yo’ self! At least once a week do something for you. Whether that is going to the cinema, going out for something to eat or having a night in with some take-out food and binge watching a TV show on Netflix. Do it. Stop thinking about all the work you have to do for one night and try and chill out. All your work will still be there waiting for you tomorrow.

If you feel like a walk in the fresh air isn’t gonna be enough, or you don’t really wanna talk to your granny about things, then there are so many options open to you, just for example:

  • QMU has a  Counselling Service, which you can find at the Student Services Reception, or email counselling@qmu.ac.uk.
  • There’s a Contemplation Room on level 1, where anyone can go for personal prayer or quiet thought – it doesn’t matter what faith you are, or if you aren’t any in particular.
  • Student Minds is a neat site (and charity) dedicated to student metal health
  • Breathing Space is a free, confidential phone-line (that doesn’t show up on phone bills) for anyone experiencing a low mood, anxiety or depression.

But these are barely scratching the surface of the amount of support and understanding that’s available to you. There is honestly no harm in asking to talk, as Karl knows himself.