Stress PamphletBy: Kim Stanley, M.A.
What is Stress?
Stress is a part of daily life. Whenever our bodies respond to any external or internal demand, we experience stress. While stress often carries a negative connotation, such responses are often positive. In some instances, it actually increases your ability to survive. For instance, your body recognizing and reacting to an oncoming car helps you stay alive. Your body's response to stress can be hormonal, such as an adrenaline rush. It can also be a rise in blood pressure, blood sugar, or body temperature. These physical reactions can often make you more alert, give you more acute eyesight or greater strength. That's how your body gives you what you need to act.
Ideally, your body automatically relaxes after you have handled the situation. Your physical responses normalize and you are able to return to a state of rest. This process allows you to gather physical and emotional energy which helps you deal with changes and challenges in your daily life. Your physical reaction to stress is the same for positive and negative stress, the difference is that with negative stress your body never returns to the "pre-stress" relaxed state. You remain tense or anxious which drains you of emotional and physical energy.
It is when we remain in this heightened adaptive state that our bodies can experience adverse physical, mental, and emotional effects. Thus, it is essential to realize when your body is telling you that your life is too stressful.
Symptoms of Stress
The following are some common signals that your body is currently experiencing a heightened stress level:
- Physiological signs - increased heart rate and blood pressure, slowed digestion, headaches, fatigue, nausea, sore neck/shoulders/lower back
- Cognitive signs – distractibility, difficulty concentrating, excessive worrying, negativity, perfectionism, catastrophizing
- Behavioral signs – increased interpersonal conflicts, irritability, sarcasm or hostility, emotional sensitivity or volatility in response to inconsequential things, losing patience, rushing, being careless or forgetful, change in eating or sleeping habits, the use of substances
Stress can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. The use of alcohol and drugs is an avoidant type of coping with stress that provides short-term relief, but does not address the underlying cause of stress and may create more stress.
How to Manage Stress
Stress management is the act of coping with the stressful events and situations with which our lives present us. College students are subject to many demands in their daily lives. These potential stressors include academic performance, relationships, social acceptability, family expectations, and self-expectations.
Each one of us has a unique way of perceiving these demands and, thus, the way in which we deal with this experience is also unique. Being able to avoid stressful situations, and effectively cope with those situations we cannot avoid, is the mark of capable stress management.
Some coping skills include:
- Positive and rational thinking (i.e., countering your negative, self-defeating, and self-critical thoughts)
- Being able to talk out problems
- Good nutrition and physical fitness
- Taking time to relax and “recharge”
- Effective time management
- Realize your limits and plan around them: don’t bite off more than you can chew
- Create space between you and the stressor
- Proactively dealing with the problem rather than avoiding it
- Study for exams effectively:
- Take short rests when studying
- Get help from professor
- Allow enough time/ make a study schedule
- Don't obsess about previous exams, focus on current work
- Realize some stress is appropriate and may be beneficial
- Don’t compare yourself to other students in the class
Since we are all individuals it is up to us to find the combination of techniques that works best in reducing our particular unnecessary stress.
You are unique and managing stress in your life is about finding what works for you. True, stress is inevitable, but you do have options. You can choose how you are going to react to the situation in a way that will serve you in a positive manner. This is your decision and no one else gets the advantage of making this decision for you. One method that can help remind you of this is the SBRC or Stop-Breathe-Reflect-Choose. It only takes about 2 minutes, you can do it anywhere, and it can help you to reduce your negative (and harmful) reactions to stress. The next time you encounter a stressful situation, try these four easy steps:
- Stop - Just for a few seconds stop what you are doing and the continuous flow of negative thoughts about the situation.
- Breathe - Take in a deep breath, feeling your abdomen rise and fall, releasing any tension in your body as you exhale.
- Reflect - Consider what is really going on. Is the situation a crisis? If so, will worrying and becoming tense help to solve it? Will this situation matter to you in two weeks? Six weeks? What action will really serve you in this particular situation? Is there anything productive that you can do to make the situation better? Make sure to ask yourself rational questions and listen to your rational answers (i.e.. It might seem that getting upset with someone when they have upset you is a rational response. But, really look at the response and consider whether or not that will make the situation better or simply add to your stress level. In general, it will only cause situations to become more stressful when you are not considering all aspects of the situation and their consequences).
- Choose - You can make a choice about how you are going to react in a positive manner. A choice that serves you. This choice may be different depending on the situation, but through this process you can begin to realize that you have the power to choose your actions in the face of stress. You don't have to immediately become tense, irritable, or upset. You will also recognize that not only does holding onto tension or negative thoughts often make situations worse, but it can also have harmful effects on you. With practice, you can take control of your reactions.