If you have
been experiencing an increased sense of stress lately, congratulate
yourself. It probably shows that you are in touch with your feelings.
However, if you feel bad or somehow inadequate because you feel stressed,
think again. No one escapes stress.
A major difference
between those who feel overwhelmed by stress and those who do not is
not the presence or absence of stress, but the ability to recognize
stress when it occurs and to manage it.
Stress management involves
four overall tasks:
· Recognize and understand
the signs of stress
· Identify and understand the sources of stress
· Learn to manage controllable sources of stress
· Learn to support yourself and cope with stress reactions to
situations beyond your control
Signs of Stress
Over-stress reactions include
a wide range of symptoms, including physical, emotional, behavioral,
and cognitive (thought process) signs.
· Stomach ache, headache,
dizziness, eye strain
· Sleep problems (too little or too much)
· Problems concentrating
· Moodiness (Feeling
low or depressed)
· Anxiety (Tense, nervous, jumpy, unable to relax)
· Irritable or hostile (Getting angry over minor things)
· Fearfulness (Afraid to make decisions)
· Exaggerating normal
behavior (hard workers turn into workaholics; quiet people become isolated)
· Withdrawing (from friends, family, and coworkers)
· Working harder (but getting less done)
· Blaming others (finding fault, being critical or hard to please)
· Having fewer stress-free conversations with family and friends
· Having fights (about everything and nothing)
· Sharing fewer satisfactions with family and friends
· Having other family members with stress problems (Stress is
· Pretending that nothing is wrong (denial)
· This is horrible/unbearable.
I'm not good enough.
· I'm going to go crazy.
It's important to recognize
that these are all signs of stress overload, probably not of more a
more serious condition.
Sources of Stress
It goes almost goes without
saying that attending college is in itself inherently stressful: There
are so many activities, decisions, expenses, expectations and new roles
involved. Many people do not realize how great an impact this stress
can have on their happiness, sense of well-being and their. Perhaps
the most difficult aspect of attending college can be the disparity
between its stressfulness, on one hand, and, on the other, expectations
that it will be a time of happiness and fulfillment.
Remember that other sources
of stress (not related to college) don't go away because you are attending
college. In fact, these additional stressors compound college stress.
Keep in mind that all change in stressful, including good change. Common
sources of high stress can include:
· Work, especially
overwork and changes at work--including good changes like a promotion
· Loss of a family member, friend, pet
· Birth of a child, demands of child-rearing
· Over-commitment, taking on too many tasks and obligations (Sound
Some of these stressors are
controllable. For example, some activities and commitments are optional.
You control whether to accept many social invitations, how many classes
to take at a time, etc. Other stressors are beyond your control. No
one can prevent all personal losses and illnesses.
To deal with over-stress,
you must first recognize and manage of those sources of stress that
are within your control.
Taking Control of Stressors
If you are experiencing symptoms
of serious stress overload, you must consider doing what you can to
reduce your stress load. Sometimes this means dropping a class or working
fewer hours at your job, for example, even if it means taking longer
to finish your degree or doing with a bit less money than you had planned
for a limited time.
You may need to reexamine
your assumptions about how much you expect yourself to handle. It can
be painful to realize that we can't necessarily do and accomplish everything
that we would like during the time we have in mind or have available.
Some choices are difficult. Use time management strategies to prioritize
and set limits.
Many social obligations can
be deferred. Sometimes it seems that everyone wants to get together.
This can be fun, but sometimes it's too much. There are only so many
hours in the day. People will understand when you tell them that you
are overtaxed by the demands of college.
Even after you've done what
you can to control sources of stress, there will probably be plenty
of "uncontrollable" stressors remaining. Never fear, there
are many strategies to help support yourself and cope with stress reactions.
Support Yourself During Stress
There are many additional
things you can do to support your ability to handle and recover from
· Get adequate sleep.
Seven or eight hours minimum on a schedule regular. More than an hour
or so of difference in bedtime or waking can disrupt your body's daily
cycle. Your energy level may take several days to recover. You may be
used to operating on less sleep and an irregular schedule, but you can't
handle stress as well in this mode.
· Get some exercise
every day (at minimum, 3 times/week, 20-30 minutes). Choose an activity
that you enjoy, not one that seems like a chore. Exercise releases endorphins,
natural chemicals promote calm and contentment. Start slow if you haven't
been exercising--walking is a good starter. Exercise discharges stress
tension from the body.
· Eat three or more
small to medium meals on a regular schedule with good nutrition, including
fruits and veggies, to maintain a balanced energy and coping level.
Keep your eating moderate and avoid any drastic diets, etc. Take a standard
multiple vitamin supplement to fill-in any nutritional gaps. Drink a
lot of water. Water assists the body in eliminating biochemical waste.
· Take care of your
body by avoiding excess sugar, caffeine (coffee, cola, tea), nicotine,
alcohol, drugs, etc. All of these cause your system to 'crash'. Even
though some provide a temporary simulating or relaxing effect, ultimately
your energy level suffers. These substances take more of a toll than
you realize, until you have to handle stress. Cut down gradually over
a period of a week or so to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms.
· Learn relaxation
exercises or meditation (slow, deep breathing; imagine pleasant scenes;
tense & relax muscles) Listen to relaxing music; read for pleasure.
These activities decreases tension and help to process stress reactions.
· Maintain your perspective.
Sometimes how you look at things can greatly increase or reduce their
stressfulness. Keep an eye out for your unhelpful and untrue thoughts.
("I just can't do this.") Think through why these thoughts
are incorrect and unhelpful. Then substitute more correct/helpful thoughts.
("If I just take one thing at a time, I'll accomplish my most important
goals. But if I try to think about or do everything at once, I'll get
overwhelmed.") If you don't substitute positive thoughts, the negative
ones will prevail.
· Use time management
techniques to avoid becoming swamped. Make lists, get a sense of accomplishment
checking off tasks as you get things done. If you can't stand to face
a task, shift temporarily to another priority, then tackle the unpleasant
item when you feel stronger.
· Be sure to have
an emotional outlet. Talk to others about the stress. (Everyone has
or has had stress!) In the press of activity we tend to put our emotional
needs on hold. Expectations for an upbeat mood can be difficult when
we have other feelings. Set aside time for yourself. Take special care
to express your "negative" feelings. Stress is not a sign
of weakness. On the contrary, dealing with stress appropriately is a
sign of maturity and health.
· Make time for fun
and other pleasurable activities.
Don't pressure yourself to
make too many changes all at once. We all change at our own pace.
If, after trying these suggestions,
you still feel excessively over-stressed or run down, you might want
to seek some professional advice.
How Vulnerable Are You To Stress?
Mark from 1 (almost always)
to 5 (never), according to how much of the time each statement applies
___ 1. I eat at least one
hot, balanced meal a day.
___ 2. I get 7 to 8 hours
of sleep at least 4 nights a week.
___ 3. I give and receive
___ 4. I have at least one
relative within 50 miles on whom I can rely.
___ 5. I exercise to the
point of perspiration at least twice a week.
___ 6. I smoke less than
half a pack of cigarettes a day.
___ 7. I take fewer than
five alcoholic drinks a week.
___ 8. I am the appropriate
weight for my height.
___ 9. I have an income adequate
to meet my basic expenses.
___10. I get strength from
my religious beliefs.
___11. I regularly attend
club or social activities.
___12. I have a network of
friends and acquaintances.
___13. I have one or more
friends to confide in about personal matters.
___14. I am in good health
(including eyesight, hearing, teeth).
___15. I am able to speak
openly about my feelings when angry or worried.
___16. I have regular conversations
with the people I live with about domestic problems, e.g., chores, money,
and daily living issues.
___17. I do something for
fun at least once a week.
___18. I am able to organize
my time effectively.
___19. I drink fewer than
three cups of coffee (or tea or cola) a day.
___20. I take quiet time
for myself during the day.
___ SUBTOTAL - 20 = ___ TOTAL
To get your score, add up
the figures. Then, subtract 20. Any number over 5 indicates a vulnerability
to stress. You are seriously vulnerable if your score is between 25
and 55, and extremely vulnerable if your score is over 55.
Adapted from a test developed by Lyle H. Miller and Alma Dell Smith
at Boston University Medical Center
or someone you care about would like more information, come in and speak
with a professional counselor in 0203 James Hall.
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