Stress. A word we’re all familiar with and a feeling many of us face, particularly those who are in higher education. In fact, according to a UniHealth study, 80% of those studying in higher education reported symptoms of stress (2017).
It’s a topic that is important to Lynda Beri, who is studying her BA (Hons) Health and Social Care Degree at University Centre Leeds. She has decided to focus her dissertation on academic related stress, with a focus on whether aromatherapy has a positive impact on students. We caught up with Lynda ahead of Stress Awareness Month.
While stress is a word we all know, the science behind it may not be as well known. So, what is stress?
“Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. Stress can motivate us by helping us achieve things in our daily lives such as meeting the demands of home, work, academic and family life.
“However, an extreme amount of stress, especially when it’s out of control, can make us feel irritable, anxious and have a negative impact on our general health and wellbeing” Lynda explains.
While stress is something that can impact anyone, at any stage of life, it’s something students are battling in higher droves. Lynda explains that students, especially those who may be living away from home for the first time, face a number of challenges and often deal with several at the same time.
“Some struggle to save money, they have worries about student loans. They may be unable to balance work and school life, they’re dealing with assignment deadlines among other things and it can increase their stress levels,” she advises.
Mind, the mental health charity, states that students are at a higher risk of developing mental health problems, showing how important it is to tackle stress and develop coping mechanisms, as it may contribute to additional issues.
Studying the big issue
Given how clear it is that students are susceptible to stress, you may think studying the topic would be the last thing Lynda wanted to study further. Yet she was struck by reports outlining the number of students in higher education experiencing mental health issues as a result of academic stress.
Concerning as the numbers are, Lynda is also worried that there’s not enough support for university students.
“Recent reports in the news suggest that a considerable number of students are committing suicide. At the end of July 2017, 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students were attributed to suicides in the UK, with one of the reasons being academic and deadline related stress (Office for National Statistics).
“This shows that not enough is being done to support students experiencing stress which can often lead to mental health issues,” she explains.
Her dissertation is looking into whether aromatherapy can have an impact on academic related stress. While the dissertation is still in the early stages, Lynda’s research has found that using essential oils, such as lavender oils in complementary therapy, can help ease symptoms of stress.
Other techniques that Lynda herself incorporates to tackle stress are exercise, expressing concerns with her tutors and practising mindfulness.
Time for change
Despite mental health being a subject that is being discussed more openly, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Organisations are trying to highlight these issues more openly, such as the Stress Management Society running Stress Awareness Month in April. The question is, are these effective?
According to Lynda, they can be effective but only if it’s highly publicised, with campus events to provide awareness about counselling services available to students. The availability of counselling is something she has praised University Centre Leeds for.
“Students are also able to talk to their tutors and wherever possible, reasonable adjustments such as deadline extensions can be put in place,” she adds.
There’s always room for improvement, with Lynda encouraging universities to keep in constant communication with those students who are struggling either through emails, face-to-face meetings and phone calls. This is to make sure those students in need know they have the support they require.
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