The workshop provides college staff and students useful techniques to overcome stress. Photo credit: Sevval Kokten

A lot of us feel stress, but don’t actually know much about what it is. Assignments due, not enough time to complete tasks, challenging work and family demands can all negatively impact how you feel. With the COVID-19 pandemic adding extra tension, individuals may need help in coping with stress.

Health Services and Counselling Services, in partnership with 1/5 Initiative – University of Ottawa, recently hosted a virtual workshop entitled “How to Make the Best of Stress” for college students and employees, to help them gain control over their stress management. “This is the first time Algonquin College Health Services and Counselling Services have cooperated with the 1 in 5 initiative. We aim to continue the partnership and provide upcoming events when possible,” said Rawan Dallasheh, part-time health promotion and education coordinator.

The workshop identified the signs of stress and techniques to overcome them through a research-based method for stress management that includes relaxation and mindfulness, physical activity, time management, prioritizing, meeting your basic needs and discovering the value of daily activities.

Events like this “contribute to the efforts at reducing the stigma associated with mental illness,” said Lori Cohen, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Ottawa. These workshops teach students about stress and inform them of resources available on and off-campus. They also enable individuals to support people they know who are having trouble facing their stress. “One in five Canadians will suffer from a mental illness in his or her lifetime, but many will face challenges getting it identified and finding the appropriate resources,” Cohen said. “It’s important to keep in mind that this is more widespread than people realize.”

The workshop identified the “red flags,” including changes in our body, behaviour, feelings and thoughts, which all indicate to us when we’re feeling stressed. “In moments where you feel like you’re so stressed that you can’t focus on what you would like to do, it is really important to identify the red flags and coping strategies,” said Meggan Porteou, a first-year student in the Clinical Psychology program at the University of Ottawa.

One of the mindfulness exercises that Porteous mentions is belly breathing. It “involves inhaling for five seconds, holding for two, and then exhaling for four seconds,” Porteous said. “It really helps to reduce the activity of the fight-or-flight system, and it’s more relaxing for the parasympathetic system, which is responsible for slowing down your heart rate and relaxing all of those crazy hormones like cortisol.”

To avoid the adverse effects of stress, it’s crucial to have a healthy diet, physical activity, and regular self-care, like keeping a journal or reaching out to friends. Additionally, individuals should ask themselves what they would like to achieve and set goals. They should validate their plan as SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) and make some basic checklists to stay on track.

Any way you choose to cope with stress in your life, know that you are not alone in this journey. There are so many opportunities, places, resources and workshops you can reach out to when you feel overwhelmed.