New research from the Lebanese University suggests that a large number of university students in the Arab world experience spikes of stress during end-of-term, notably before exams.
The study shows that students were poor judges of their own stress levels—often underestimating how tense they are—which highlights the need for students in the region to be more proactive in managing their stress. (See a related article, “Lebanese University Researchers Zero in On Students’ Stress and Depression.”)
Stress is linked to a whole host of long and short-term health problems, but fortunately there are a number of ways to manage and mitigate that pressure.
The first stage in stress management is to recognize the symptoms. Stress is the body’s chemical reaction to high-pressure situations—this is sometimes known as the “fight-or-flight” response. The body releases stress hormones, mainly adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, which help it to cope with what it perceives as a threat or a danger. Essentially, this puts the body on a war footing: It increases the heart and breathing rates to get more oxygen distributed around the body, and it also tenses muscles and raises the blood pressure.
This can be helpful in the moment, making us hyperaware, but it also causes unwanted symptoms. These can include headaches, muscle aches, heartburn, heart palpitations and sleep problems, and women can miss their periods. In the long run stress is also linked to a higher risk of depression, fertility issues, erectile dysfunction, heart attacks and a weakened immune system.
Stress can also lead to changes in appetite, a rise in alcohol and caffeine consumption, and an increase in pessimistic thoughts.
Sleep Is Important
Research has suggested that a large percentage of the population in the Arab world isn’t getting enough sleep. (See a related article, “Sleepless in Beirut: A Health Risk.”)
That’s a shame because sleep is one of the best ways to cope with stress—it allows the body time to reset to normal. During exam preparation time it can be tempting to pull all-nighters, but any benefit gained from the extra study will likely be offset by the loss of sleep. Research has consistently shown that academic performance in exams is correlated with sleep quality.