MSU Student Wellness Center - Stress Management Tips
What is Stress?

Stress is simply the body's non-specific response to any demand made on it. Stress is not by definition synonymous with nervous tension or anxiety. Stress provides the means to express talents and energies and pursue happiness; it can also cause exhaustion and illness, either physical or psychological; heart attacks and accidents. The important thing to remember about stress is that certain forms are normal and essential.

As the body responds to various forms of physical or psychological stress, certain predictable changes occur. These include increased heart rate, blood pressure (systolic and diastolic), and secretions of stimulatory hormones. These responses to stress will occur whether the stress is positive or negative in nature. In lay terms, it is known as the 'fight or flight' mechanism. Continual exposure lowers the body's ability to cope with additional forms of psychological or physiological stress.

Recognizing Stress

The following are indicators of stress that you may be experiencing

  • General irritability
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased accident proneness
  • Floating anxiety-anxious feeling for no specific reason
  • Trembling
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Pain in neck and/or lower back
  • Changes in appetite or sleep pattern

Stress is a process that builds. It's more effective to intervene early in the process rather than later. Try to become aware of the signs that suggest the process has begun. 

Stress Management Strategies

The following are tips on how to maintain a healthier lifestyle and to prepare you to cope with the stress of everyday living.

Get Physical. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Life can often be sedentary, and sitting around can mean letting stress accumulate in your body. When you feel nervous, angry or upset, release the pressure through exercise or physical activity. Find something you enjoy and make regular time for it.

Healthy Eating. Eat well balanced meals, more whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables and substitute fruits for desserts. Take time to eat breakfast in the morning.  Avoid consuming too much caffeine as it may aggravate anxiety, insomnia, nervousness and trembling. Excess sugars cause frequent fluctuation in blood glucose levels, adding stress to the body's physiological functioning. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress.

Laugh. Maintain your sense of humor, including the ability to laugh at yourself. Sharing jokes with friends is not only enjoyable, but a great way to bond socially. Laughter is good for you!

Rest. Try and get at least 7 hours of sleep a night and take time in the day to relax and recuperate.

Take a Deep Breath. Stress often causes us to breathe shallowly, and this in turn almost always causes more stress. Shallow breathing puts less oxygen in the blood stream, producing an increase in muscle tension. You may experience headaches; you may feel more anxious and uptight. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls and exhale slowly

Manage Time. One of the greatest sources of stress is over commitment or poor time management. Make a reasonable schedule for yourself and include time for stress reduction as a regular part of your schedule. Make a list of what tasks you have to do, then do one at a time, checking them off as they're completed, giving priority to the most important ones. If a particularly unpleasant task faces you, tackle it early in the day and get it over with; the rest of your day will include much less anxiety.

Talk It Out. When you feel something, try to express it. Bottled up emotions increase frustration and stress. Talking with someone else can help clear your mind of confusion so that you can focus on problem solving. Even if it is slightly embarrassing, asking for help soon after a problem occurs may avoid much more serious problems later. Also consider writing down thoughts and feelings. Putting problems on paper can assist you in clarifying the situation and allow you a new perspective.

Know Your Limits. A major source of stress is people's efforts to control events or other people over whom they have little or no power. When confronted with a stressful situation, ask yourself: is this my problem? If it isn't, leave it alone. If it is, can you resolve it now? Once the problem is settled, leave it alone. Don't agonize over the decision, and try to accept situations you cannot change.

Have a Good Cry. Big boys and girls do cry. A good cry during periods of stress can be a healthy way to bring relief to your anxiety, and it might prevent a headache or other physical consequences of "bottling" things up. However, if you are crying daily, seek a consultation with a counselor or a physician as this could be a sign of depression.