Straight Talk about Stress

Students may not be aware that they are under stress if they do not notice the sometimes-subtle emotional and physical changes that result.
Is stress playing a role in your life?

  • Do you find it hard to relax and have fun?
  • Are you easily irritated?
  • Do you find it hard to sleep at night?
  • Do you feel overburdened by responsibility?
  • Do you experience upset stomach or indigestion?
  • Are you anxious all the time?
  • Do you feel the urge to cry for no reason at all?
  • Have you lost interest in relationships or sex?
  • Are you unable to concentrate in school or perform your job adequately?
  • Have you noticed an increased desire to smoke, drink, or use drugs?

If you checked more than one box above, you may be suffering from stress. Find out what stress is, why and how it is harmful and what you can do to cope with it.

What is Stress?

Stress is a natural experience and part of life. It is how the human body responds to a variety of external and internal signals. External triggers can include starting a new semester, an illness or death in the family, and even the start of a new relationship. Internal triggers of stress may include physical or mental discomfort, the need to attain perfection, or an excessive desire to please others.

The demands of life have physical, emotional, and mental effects. This stress can produce positive or negative reactions. Positive stress can provide the extra motivation to get through a tough presentation or interview. Negative stress can be the barricade to getting through a tough period of time such as moving into the dormitory with a new roommate or the end of the semester crush. Other causes of negative stress can be relationship difficulties, death of a loved one, or failing a class.

Common Coping Strategies

Productively recognizing and responding to stress makes a difference in functioning well. Once stressors are recognized (those events and situations that are stressful), management is within your control. Though you can’t change the parking situation or the crowded busses, you can make changes in your life to deal with those stressors.

Get Moving! Regular physical activity can help reduce muscle tension and prompt the body to produce endorphins-your body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Regular physical activities can include almost anything that you enjoy, such as walking, running, biking or rollerblading. Anything that gets you moving-at least three times a week for 20 minutes- counts. Even a short walk or quick stretch while you are studying or working can relieve muscle tension.

Say “Yes” to Yourself.  Set limits on your time at work or participation in extracurricular activities at school. Say “no” to demands on your time from work and friends.  Place limits on your social commitments to give you free time and help lessen stress.

Get Organized.  Develop effective time management skills to reduce that sense of being overwhelmed. Get things done “one at a time.” Make a list of tasks and assignments in order of importance, and create a daily schedule of things “to do” that is manageable for you. Just writing things down to keep track can help.

Reach Out.  Loving “support systems” such as family, friends, and involvement in social groups help when dealing with stressful events. Even taking time out from studying for a quick telephone call may be helpful. Volunteer-helping someone else often helps you feel better about yourself.

Have Fun!  Plan time away from school or work responsibilities to play, and to allow your body to rest during peak stress periods. Do something relaxing that you enjoy-walk in the woods, take a bubble bath, listen to music, dance, garden, go to the movies or read a chapter in a good book. Be creative-cook, draw, write, work with your hands. Get a massage.

Eat. Students underestimate the need for nourishing the body. It’s harder to remember to eat healthfully when in a stress zone. Fit in 3 meals a day. Snack on pieces of fruit, raw veggie’s, and low fat, high fiber foods like whole grain cereal.

Get Enough Rest.  Without enough sleep, you are more prone to injury and irritability. Students find that motivation, memory and concentration lessen, too. And you can’t make up for lost sleep, so get a good 8 hours. Some students need even more. Taking long naps can actually cause more sleep problems, so a regular sleep pattern works best.

Be Spiritual.  Religion, meditation, or prayer can have a relaxing effect on the body.

Get Help. Going to counseling helps identify problems that trigger stress, breaks patterns of negative stimulation that produce stress, and may help you develop an effective stress management program.  When you need extra help, obtain free, confidential assistance at any of the campus counseling centers or RU Health Services.

Relax.  Learn a few relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or muscle tensing/relaxation exercises. These are easily done almost wherever you are.

Medication.  Some people benefit from taking prescribed medication.  An RUHS clinician can help you decide if this is recommended for you.

Breathing & Stretching

Finally, don’t sweat the small stuff. When we are stressed, we find ourselves getting worked up over everything-the bus is crowded, your cell phone battery is dead or someone cut in line at the dining hall. These small events do not make or break our successes. We do that to ourselves.

Following are some easy exercises that can help you handle stress. Each takes only minutes but can provide hours of relief. Even better they can be done almost anyplace you are.

Deep Breathing: Stop what you are doing. If possible, sit with your feet flat on the floor and your hands relaxed in your lap. Take a really deep breath in through your nose. Hold it for a few seconds. Exhale slowly through your mouth, counting backwards from 10 to 1. Do this at least 3 times or until you can get from 10 to 1 without running out of breath.

Finger Fan: Extend your arms straight in front of you with your palms up. Spread your fingers as far as possible. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat at least 3 times.

Upper Back Stretch: Sit up straight with your fingers laced behind your head. Keep your shoulders down, lift your chest and bring your elbows as far back as you can. Hold for 10 seconds.

Overhead Reach: Either sitting or standing raise your arms over your head and lace your fingers together with your palms facing up. Keep your shoulders down and stretch upwards. Hold for 20 seconds.

Gradual Tense/Relax: Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your hands in your lap. Starting with your toes, tense and relax them. Move to your calves, tense the muscle, hold a few seconds, and then relax. Work your way gradually up your body including knees, thighs, buttocks, stomach, chest, arms, and fingers, all the way to your neck and head. Each time, tense the muscle, hold for a few seconds, and then relax. Concentrate on each muscle and how good it feels to relax.