Stress is the pressure and tension we feel when faced with a real or perceived threat including situations that are new, unpleasant, or overwhelming.
The vast majority of college students (80 percent) report being stressed and overwhelmed by all they have to do. It is also reported as the top factor impacting academic achievement.
Positive stress (eustress) can get you going and help you focus to meet life’s challenges. However, distress occurs if you have too much stress or if you don’t deal with it properly, causing all kinds of health complications and troubles in your relationships.
Assess Your Stress
Enhance your awareness about stress by evaluating current stress sources, distress symptoms and lifestyle behaviors. Based on your personalized assessment, you can learn healthy and effective strategies to balance the stress in your life.
Many things can trigger stress including:
- Minor things like oversleeping, running late, car problems, or traffic.
- Major events such as trauma, moving, getting married, having a baby or failing an exam.
- Ongoing problems with things like money, health, or school.
Whether the trigger is a real threat or perceived, our bodies respond the same.
The stress response is the body/mind’s automatic reaction to a threat or stimulus that requires a response or alteration in behavior. Our bodies are well conditioned to respond to real and physical threats from our environment by releasing hormones and glucose into our bloodstream to provide extra energy and alertness to respond with a “fight or flight” reaction. This coping mechanism is well adapted for acute, or short-term, reactions to imminent stress.
However, our bodies react essentially the same way when stressing out about a big test or public speaking presentation. In those instances, our body’s reaction is less desirable. Stress is likely to change our emotions, how we feel and our mood; change our behaviors, what we do or how we act; and cause physical changes in how our body functions or feels.
The first step in managing stress is to notice how it affects you. Once you recognize stress, you can catch it early and work on managing it. Stress affects us all differently, but most people experience the same effects over time.
Stress symptoms/conditions can be physical, emotional and behavioral. Some of these symptoms may be interfering with your health and quality of life. You may also notice some stress signals in your life that are not on this list as stress manifests itself differently for different people. Some of these symptoms can also result from a medical condition, so talk to your doctor about these problems if they persist.
Headaches, clammy hands, dry mouth, heartburn, increased heart rate, muscle aches and tension, skin rashes, menstrual irregularity, sleep problems, high blood pressure and being more ill than usual.
Anger, confusion, sadness, fear, irritability, feeling guilty, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness and a loss of interest in things.
Alcohol or drug abuse, neglecting appearance, more aggressive behaviors like yelling and arguing, decreased or increased eating, decreased activity level, impatience and avoidance of loved ones.
- Accept what you cannot change and exercise control over what you can.
- Remember to laugh!
- Write down your thoughts and feelings. Writing allows you to express yourself and may help you find a new way of looking at things.
- Whether you’re conscious of it or not, you probably talk to yourself silently every day. Work to make this self-talk positive by identifying, challenging, and changing negative messages.
- Sleep, physical activity, and good nutrition are powerful stress relievers!
- Time management is key! Waiting until the last minute to complete a task increases stress.
- Take time out for yourself every day. Enjoy a long, hot bath, go for a walk, or enjoy your favorite hobby.
- Talk out your problems with a counselor or a trusted friend. Even if you don’t come up with any solutions, talking may make you feel better.
- Plan ahead. Buy stamps or groceries before you run out. Fill the gas tank when you still have a quarter tank.
- Remember that some tasks need to be done perfectly, and others just need to be done.
- Be on time. When you are late, you add extra stress to an already hectic schedule.
When you are relaxed, your body slows down and your mind becomes calm. You often feel, think and work better. There are many ways to relax. Different techniques work more effectively for some people. It depends on the type of stress you have and the type of person you are. Try one of the relaxation methods below or come up with your own.
Deep Breathing is a great way to relax your body and mind. It’s also an important part of many other relaxation methods.
- Choose a quiet spot. Sit or stand in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand on your stomach, just below your rib cage.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose. Your stomach should feel like it’s rising.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely and letting your stomach fall.
- Repeat several times until you feel calm and relaxed. Practice daily.
The Calming Response takes the deep breathing method a step further. Use this technique to calm yourself before or during a stressful event.
- Breathe in deeply. Hold your breath for five seconds.
- Blow out slowly and focus on relaxing all the muscles in your body.
- Repeat the following words to yourself: “I am relaxed.”
- Continue for a few minutes until you feel calm.
Imagery is a good method to use when you need a mini-break from the stresses of the day.
- Close your eyes and picture a peaceful, restful, beautiful, happy scene.
- Allow your imagination to run free. For example, imagine yourself on the beach. “See” the palm trees. “Hear” the breaking waves. “Smell” the ocean air. “Feel” the sun on your body.
- If stressful thoughts enter your mind, gently push them aside by focusing on the details of your scene.
- Think about the scene until you feel rested and relaxed.
Progressive Muscular Relaxation involves tightening and then relaxing the major muscle groups in your body. If you would like to feel the release of tension, this may be a good relaxation method for you.
- Sit or lie down and close your eyes.
- Tighten the muscles you want to relax, feel the tension and then release the tension as your muscles become loose and limp. For example flex your right hand and form a tight fist, hold it for a couple seconds and then slowly release the tension.
- Repeat this process with your right arm, your left hand, your left arm, your right leg, your left leg and so on until all the muscles in your body feel relaxed.
- You can work down from the head to your toes.
Stretching is amazing! Stress can make your muscles tight and sore. When you stretch, you not only relax, soothe and oxygenate your muscles, you calm your mind, as well.
Physical Activity is key a factor to optimal health and also helps reduce stress symptoms.
Rehearsal allows you to get ready for stressful events. Act out an event before it occurs and imagine it ending well.
Guided Meditation Podcasts
If you’re ready for the next step in de-stressing, try taking a few minutes for guided meditation. The recordings below, from the Mindfulness Meditations series created by Diana Winston for the UCLA MARC Center, will help you relax and reduce anxiety.
Visit the Guided Meditation podcast page from UCLA Health
- Start with the short 5 minute Breathing Meditation.
- Try the 19 minute Complete Meditation Instructions. it includes mindfulness of breath, body, sound, emotions and thoughts, followed by a short loving-kindness meditation.
- Experience 12 minutes of breath, body and sound awareness practices.
- Consider the 9 minute Loving Kindness Meditation.
Recordings Copyright 2012 The Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.
There are stress management groups available through the CSU Health Network, Health Education and Prevention Services and also Counseling Services.
These groups help students address a variety of issues, including but not limited to: stress, interpersonal issues, test anxiety, generalized anxiety, sleep disturbances and how to strengthen wellbeing and resilience. Students will have the opportunity to practice relaxation techniques and cognitive skills to manage their concerns, as well as provide and receive support from others in similar situations. For more information about groups (click to the group description page) or to speak to someone contact (970) 491-6053
Campus Recreation – Exercise is a powerful stress reliever! Explore what they have to offer. Mind/body classes like yoga can be especially powerful stress relievers.
Counseling Services has a group of caring professionals ready to assist you in managing stress and/or stressful situations in your life. For an appointment with a counselor, call (970) 491-7121.
Massage Program Looking for a great and affordable way to relieve stress? Schedule a massage at The Student Recreation Center.
Eating nutritious, healthy foods is key to combating stress. Nutrition Consultation is available at Colorado State University to educate and assist students with making positive dietary changes.
The Institute for Learning and Teaching offers tutoring, study groups, and skill workshops (time management, writing, test taking, etc.) to assist you in achieving academic success.
Go Ask Alice Q & A database houses numerous health-related questions and answers. Alice is produced by Columbia University’s Health Education Program.
Half of Us has relevant resources for young people struggling with real life stresses.
ULifeline has resources about stress in college students and links to assessment tools.
The Mindfulness Meditation Series, created by Diana Winston for the UCLA MARC Center, will help you relax and reduce anxiety.