Stress Management

Stress is a normal, unavoidable part of life for everyone. We experience stress from the environment, such as having to cope with varying weather conditions and traffic. We also experience social stressors including disagreements with others, financial difficulties, having to give presentations, or coping with a busy schedule. Our physiology can represent another source of stress when we are ill, are involved in an accident, didn't get enough sleep, or have poor nutrition. Our thoughts determine whether we will translate these environmental changes as a threat, or view the change as a manageable challenge. When we react well to these stressors, the stress is actually healthy and beneficial. Stress can help to keep us alert, motivate us to face challenges, and enhance our performance academically, athletically, or artistically.

When we don't manage our stress well and we interpret environmental changes as threatening, stress can be harmful physically and emotionally. Everyone gets warning signs that they are stressed, but we often tend to ignore these. Some physical signs of stress include increased heart rate, sweaty palms, cold hands, a feeling of tightness in chest, neck, jaw and back muscles, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, sleep disturbances, being easily startled, and even increased susceptibility to illness. Emotional symptoms of stress include irritability, depression, anxiousness, increased tendency to cry, being critical of yourself and/or others, reduced self-esteem, lack of motivation, and decreased personal involvement with other people. People that are under a lot of stress may find that they have difficulty with attention and concentration. They may not be as productive as they usually are and they can be more forgetful than usual. Poorly-managed stress may lead to increased smoking, alcohol consumption, or drug use. It may also cause poor eating habits (either under-eating or over-eating), compulsive behavior, listlessness, or aggression. When we are aware of the warning signs of stress, we can choose to make changes in our lifestyle or change our thinking to counteract the effects of poorly managed stress. Here are some things that you can do to help manage your stress:

Exercise is a great strategy for both stress prevention and intervention. Thirty minutes a day will increase your energy, optimism, and stamina. It can also make you feel great, look great, and live longer. Try to find a physical activity that you really enjoy. Think about going for a walk or a run, playing basketball, or going to a gym.

Improve Your Time Management.
Learn to manage your time more effectively. Think about what your priorities are and then look at whether your activities reflect what is most important to you. Plan ahead and keep a realistic schedule for yourself. Remember to schedule time for recreation and relaxation.

Take A Relaxing Bath Or Shower.

Talk About Your Feelings.
Find people you trust, then talk with them about how you feel. Share your concerns, your fears, and your goals. Develop a good support system with others so that you can lean on one another when things get stressful. Don't keep all of your feelings inside.

Develop Healthy Eating Habits.
Eating smaller amounts more often throughout the day is healthier than eating only a couple of larger meals each day. Make a point of eating breakfast. Try to eat a well-balanced diet, getting all of the vitamins and nutrients you need while cutting down on excess fats and sugars.

Cut Down On Unhealthy Habits.
Consume less alcohol and caffeine. Cut down on smoking - or, better yet, quit!

Get Enough Sleep.

Learn to Relax.
Take deep, even, cleansing breaths; breathing from your abdomen rather than from your chest. As you exhale, think something positive such as... "I am r-e-l-a-x-e-d."

Make Lists.
Trying to remember everything you don't want to forget can be stressful!

Meditate and/or Keep a Daily Journal.
Write down your thoughts and feelings about the negative and positive things that happen during your day.

Laugh More.
Surround yourself with fun people that make you feel good. Call a friend who always makes you laugh. Watch a funny movie.

Or do something nice for someone else to take your mind off your own challenges for a while.

It's Okay To Cry.
Sometimes a good cry can relieve some of your tension. Allow yourself 15 minutes to cry - and then distract yourself with a walk, a shower, or something from your To-Do-List.

Practice Self-Massage.

Ask Yourself Whether The Situation Is Really Worth Getting Upset Over
Will this make a difference tomorrow, next week, or next year?

If Something Is Out Of Your Control, Stop Worrying About It.

Practice Being Assertive.
Be realistic about what you can do. Learn to set limits and say "no" when you want to. Take the initiative to get what you want.

If you find that you are feeling irritable, frequently tired, unable to concentrate, or experiencing restlessness and sleep disturbances, you may want to seek professional help for stress management. Relaxation techniques like the ones listed above are often helpful, and a professional can assist you in exploring more adaptive stress management techniques. Contact Counseling Services at 256-782-5475, or call a local mental health center for an appointment.

Courtesy of Mississippi State University