Self compassion a key to dealing with fresher stress

student stress, kettle mag
Written by Nigel Simpkins

If you have changed your city of residence to attend the university of your dreams, then your newfound independence and freedom may be exactly what the doctor ordered. However, if you feel stressed out, take heart; you are certainly not alone. Stress is normal when your environment is totally different, when best friends and family are far away, and you are forced to manage on a tight budget. Depending on the course you are undertaking, exams can be very stressful – particularly when assessment is primarily based on a yearly or termly exam. Signs of stress include irritability, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, a racing heart rate, and shortness of breath. Recent research has found that if you have these symptoms, a surefire way to soothe them, is the exercise of self-compassion.

Self-Compassion vs Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is all about being content with what you achieve – its focus is external because it is built through success in the academic, sporting or personal fields. Self-compassion, on the contrary, is unconditional. Its focus is internal, its aim simple: to be accepting and non-judgmental with yourself; as kind as you would be to a friend or loved one, even when you fall short of your academic goals.

Recent Research on Self-Compassion in Students

A recent study carried out at the University of British Columbia found that the psychological stress students may experience during the transition between secondary school and university, can be mitigated by self-compassion, which “enhances the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which in turn enriches well-being.” Self-compassion interventions are successful at lowering self-criticism and negative ruminations, and can be employed to improve mood, battle depression and anxiety, and instil a more accepting, mindful state. If you notice you are sad, anxious, lonely or consistently stressed, seek professional help if you find you are unable to manage them on your own. Remember that stress is not simply an unpleasant state; when your ‘fight or flight’ response is consistently activated, you can experience stress-related diseases which can be costly and difficult to treat – including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity-related diseases.

Self-Compassion Activities for Students

There are many ways to be kinder to oneself – one involves writing self-compassionately about a negative experience. As we write, we should keep in mind that our hopes and failures are common to all humanity; despite feeling disappointed with our performance at times, we should aim to remain in a mindful state – to be calm and present, instead of allowing our thoughts to ruminate over the past or worry incessantly about the future. Self-compassion is, of course, more far-reaching than individual activities; it involves a lifestyle change which is well thought out and deeply reflective. Questions we should ask ourselves are: What is making us anxious and how can we reduce this pressure? How can our current food, drink and sleep choices be improved to reduce tiredness and stress? How can we cope better with the stress of exams? Relaxation can be enhanced by mindful activities such as controlled breathing and yoga, which can easily be practiced at home thanks to the plethora of free online resources available.

First year university stress can be ameliorated through self-compassion: which in essence amounts to unconditional acceptance of the self and an understanding of what we have in common with the rest of humanity. To boost this quality, holistic activities, self-affirmations and writing can help instill a more positive state, though important lifestyle changes may be necessary for long-term stress reduction.