A Student’s Guide to a Happier and Healthier Lifestyle

By Aashna Mehta

thumbnailA group project, two papers, a quiz and a midterm. The clock is ticking. There aren’t enough hours in a student’s day to complete schoolwork while gaining a full understanding of all concepts taught in class, participating in extracurricular activities, sleeping for a reasonable amount of time, maintaining personal hygiene, and eating. As students, undergraduates often face a multitude of stressful situations that tend to interfere with their ability to remain happy. In fact, according to a survey conducted in 2008 by the American Institute of Stress, eight in 10 college students claim that they experience stress frequently in their daily lives (“College Students”). According to a 2014 survey conducted in the UC system itself, 30.6 percent of students claim to be feeling stressed out frequently. This alarming statistic is a cause for concern because rates of students facing stress have steadily increased throughout the years and has shown to result in dangerous consequences ranging from anxiety and depression to suicide. In order to tackle this issue students must first understand the implications it has on our bodies.

Whether one is facing financial, academic, time, or health related stressors, research shows that the hormone cortisol is released during stress. According to the Hormone Health Network, cortisol is essential to remaining healthy because it plays integral roles in controlling blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism, and forming memories. However, high cortisol levels in the bloodstream shuts down the immune system and “interferes with T-cell production and function, making us more susceptible to pathogens” (Bennigton). Additionally, it causes reduced blood flow and makes it difficult to fuel muscles. Thus, secreting a high level of this stress hormone for long periods of can cause many hazardous effects in the human body that can be easily prevented if one is taught how to deal with the cause of this problem: stress.

thumbnailResearch shows that one can counteract these bodily responses through a variety of recently popularized methods. According to Mental Health America, there are a multitude of basic ways to deal with stress: focusing on one task at a time and not commit to more than you can handle, which is a problem Berkeley students often face. Additionally, meditating for ten minutes every day and scheduling time to do something enjoyable allows for a much needed self-reflection that can help set priorities straight and focus on the bigger picture. One should also limit the consumption of caffeine and alcohol, schedule in more sleep time, and exercise for at least 30 minutes every day (“Coping with Stress Checklist”).

Theoretically, these solutions would be the ideal methods for counteracting the effects of stress on your body. However, as undergraduates at one of the most rigorous schools in this nation, many students often do not have time in their daily lives to follow this schedule. As a result, they also forget to monitor what they put into their stomachs. The good news is that research shows that altering one’s diet can often help you cope with stress.

According to the Environment, Safety and Health Division at Stanford, a variety of foods with numerous vitamins exist that battle the effects of stress. Complex carbohydrates such as beans, vegetables, and fruits can increase serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin can help retain a calm and optimistic mood throughout the day. Oats and walnuts add magnesium and vitamin B6 to one’s diet, which encourages protein synthesis and metabolizes energy that can help one get through the day without feeling exhausted. Omega-3 oils which are present in salmon also helps regulate blood pressure and thus counteracts the negative effects that cortisol has on the body. Salmon also contains vitamin B6, potassium, which benefits nerve and muscle functioning, and tryptophan, which is a building block for serotonin (“Eat Well to Feel Well”). Essentially, taking time to tweak your diet can result in a large positive difference in your mental health.

thumbnailResources in technology created by some of our own fellow Berkeley students are identifying this problem and figuring out possible solutions. In fact, some students developed an app called SafeSpace that allows Berkeley students to talk to one another about mental health issues. Although it is a relatively new app, it seems like a great way to help one cope with stress. You can find out more about this app at their crowdfund page.

However, the simplest method of fighting stress is just to laugh more, which can often make a difference between a terrible and a successful day. Essentially, remember to take care of yourself using any of the methods mentioned above and you can be on your way to leading a stress-free life and making the most of your experience here at UC Berkeley.

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