Medical Biophysics Graduate Student Association


Updates, opinion pieces, and news related to the department

Stress: How To Deal?

Stress. We hear this word a lot in our modern fast paced world. Some of us are lucky and rarely experience it, while others know this feeling too well. Grad school, which lacks structure and organization, as well as numerous failed experiments lead to a constant stress in my life which I have never experienced before. Since stress not only affects people psychologically but also has a physical effect on human body (insomnia, stomach aches, heart disease, etc), I decided to take control over my life and learn to deal with it.

A good first step is to attend a stress management workshop. This way you will see that you are not alone and you will get motivated to start your conquest. A workshop that I recently attended was offered by UofT (CAPS: I attended a general Stress Management workshop, however, they have a specific workshop for graduate students. They also have an Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation for those who are looking for ways of reducing stress.  When you go to a workshop, you may think that you already know all the things they are telling you but remember: one thing is to know, and another thing is to practice what you know. So, a workshop serves as a good reminder of stress management and prevention techniques as well as a good push to start practicing them.

For those of you are interested in stress management but don’t have time to attend the workshop, I will summarize the most important points.

What is stress? It is said that stress is a condition or a feeling when a person perceives that demands exceed the recourses that the individual possesses. Thus, stress depends on a person’s perception of the situation.

What does stress do to us? We all heard about “Fight-or-Flight” response, which involves the release of hormones, increase in heart rate and blood pressure that allow the animal to survive. However, this survival response also has negative consequences. In this state we are anxious and irritable, which reduces our ability to work effectively. Interestingly, this response is triggered not only by life threatening events but also by any challenging situation. Thus, a constant release of unnecessary stress hormones, which are not used up by physical activity, raised heart rate and high blood pressure may lead to heart disease. Stress also has other effects, including damage to the immune system, anxiety and depression. So, it sounds that it is a good idea to learn to deal with stress as early as possible!

What can we do? Regular exercise, especially cardio, can reduce physiological reaction to stress. It strengthens the heart protecting us from the heart disease.

We are usually responsible for making our stress worse by thinking negative thoughts. Become an inspector for your mind and try to replace all the negative thoughts and criticism with the positive ones.

See the Big Picture, and I mean the real big picture not the one your supervisor refers too.  Think about those people who are currently dying of hunger and natural disasters. This is a real stress! A talk, a meeting, an exam, or an interview that you were so worried about will seem less stressful when you realize how fortunate you are to be living your life.

Can we prevent it? Yes, but for those of us who are prone to stress, it requires lots of work! Since we easily go from neutral state to being stressed, and it is really hard for us to go from stressed to neutral, we need to learn and practice to go from neutral to relaxed state. This way when the stress arrives we will have the tools to deal with it and then, we will be able to switch from stressed to neutral without big efforts.

One thing that helps people to relax is deep abdominal breathing. Just a few deep breaths can relieve the stress and give us energy to carry on with our day. The key is practicing daily.

Another good technique is relaxation meditation. If we practice regularly, then we become more patient and will react to stress more calmly. If you have no idea how to do it and never tried it before, go to youtube and search for guided relaxation meditation. For it to be effective, you also need to practice daily.

Other helpful things include nature walks, hot baths and hobbies.

Wishing you all a healthy, productive and stress-free life!