Education Matters

When the going gets tough – Tips for dealing with stress

There’s no shortage of stress when on placement at a hospital. Between learning new technical skills, finding your feet on the units and just finding your way around, it all adds up. Dr. Jenny Rogojanski and Dr. Valerie Vorstenbosch, postdoctoral fellows at Sunnybrook’s Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre, answer some questions I had about stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed, talk to your placement supervisor and check out your school’s health services for more help.

1. Is my stress level is normal?eEducation_130513_014

We all experience stress from time to time, but this stress does not necessarily impact on our day-to-day functioning. This is normal stress. When stress starts to get in the way of our lives (e.g., work, school, relationships, daily responsibilities, social life, etc) or it occurs at level that we find too distressing, that is when we begin to classify the stress as being “maladaptive”. When it comes to the way in which our stress or anxiety affects our performance on various tasks, research shows that having some anxiety can actually be beneficial.

Having some anxiety about how you will perform on a test will likely lead to you studying and taking the time you need to prepare for the test. But, having too little or too much anxiety may actually hinder performance.

2.       What can I do to reduce my stress level?

There are many things that we can do to help manage our stress levels. General self-care is very important when we are experiencing stress. Things like getting enough sleep, exercise, balanced and healthy eating, and social engagement can all help modulate our stress levels. It is also important to make sure that we get a good balance of engaging in activities that make us feel productive (e.g. doing work, paying our bills, chores, etc) and activities that we find pleasurable and fun (e.g. hobbies we like, being with family/friends, playing sports, etc). If you’ve tried these strategies and it feels as though your stress level may still be difficult to manage, it can be helpful to speak to a professional who may be able to provide you with additional strategies to help manage your stress.  We have proven effective psychological and medical treatments for those experiencing more clinically significant stress.

3.       My mom says I should do yoga or take some deep breaths – will that help me feel less stress?

Yoga and deep breathing can be quite helpful for stress. Deep breathing is one type of relaxation strategy that involves taking deep breathes through your diaphragm. Research shows this type of breathing can reduce feelings of anxiety. There are other relaxation strategies that can be helpful as well, such as progressive muscle relaxation. This exercise requires you to tense and relax various muscle groups throughout your body and train yourself to notice the difference between the tensed and relaxed states.

4.       Does exercise help?

Yes, there is research to suggest regular exercise of at least a moderate intensity is associated with improvements in anxiety and depression. To achieve health benefits, Canada’s physical activity guidelines recommend that adults aged 18-64 engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity (i.e. exercise that makes you sweat) per week.

5.       Are there any foods or drinks that might make me feel better or worse?

Eating a balanced and healthy diet can be helpful for managing stress. It is also important to limit use of alcohol and caffeine. Beverages that include alcohol and caffeine can affect our sleep and impact our body’s stress response.

About the author

Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.