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Stress: Is it good or bad and how do we deal with it?

by Jaclynn Fasken, business manager


Your hands are cold and clammy, muscles are tensed, blood pressure is up, and you have butterflies in your stomach. You are about to give a speech.

You are waiting at the bus stop early in the morning after staying up all night studying for your midterm. The bus is late, and your anxiety rises. The bus finally arrives but is already full, and it passes by without picking up a single person. You curse out loud, and tears are burning in your eyes. Are you having a nervous breakdown?

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Does this sound familiar? It’s called stress and is a natural body reaction – physically and emotionally - to new challenges or changes in everyday life. Most students face new challenges everyday, especially coming to a new college in a different city, state, or country. However, stress can be like change – it can be either positive or negative. Some people work harder under pressure, while some people experience anxiety that can be harmful to their health. Therefore, learning how to manage and control stress, to take advantage of it, is essential to a happy life.

Positive Stress
Stress occurs when the body automatically reacts to a challenging situation by increasing heart rate and blood pressure; muscle tense – that’s the gripping sensation in the stomach. This is a natural way for the body to prepare for a challenge. When the challenge has been met, or dealt with, the body automatically relaxes and returns to normal. This is called positive stress. The relaxation stage is the most important, because it lets the body rest while gathering physical and emotional energy in order to meet the next challenge. This series of arousal and relaxation, helps the body to deal with the changes and challenges of everyday life.

Negative Stress
The body’s reactions to stress are always the same whether it’s positive or negative. Negative stress occurs when the important relaxation stage is missing from one stressful situation to another – the body never rests. In other words, the body is stuck in a tense stage, which can lead to physical and emotional suffering. Physical suffering may involve insomnia and emotional suffering may include depression.
Some people think that smoking, using drugs, or drinking alcohol relieves stress. They do not! They only add to the problem. Negative stress left uncontrolled, may lead to high blood pressure, migraines, ulcers, and heart attacks. By getting control of the body and learning how to manage stress, one can stop the cycle of negative stress.

Stress Awareness
Anyone can learn how to deal with stress as well as keep it under control. First, you need to recognize and identify the situations in life that cause stress. These could be overreactions in a traffic jam, lost car keys, or missed busses. These might seem like minor irritations, but they may accumulate and lead to a negative stress pattern if not dealt with appropriately. Secondly, major changes in everyday life may also be a factor that causes stress, since these requires the body to adapt. Sometimes the body feels so overloaded facing situations beyond its control, as in a new environment, that the result is a feeling of helplessness that there is “no way out.” This is what most of us in the United States felt on Sept. 11.

Finding solutions
One way of dealing with stress is trying to avoid situations that cause it. If rush-hour traffic is a major stress factor for you, try to leave the house an hour earlier, or use public transportation.
If one aspect of every day life changes (positively or negatively), try to limit other changes; continue doing things that bring pleasure. In other words, don’t change your entire lifestyle just because one of the variables changes. Don’t try to diet and quit smoking and drinking all at the same time.
Don’t forget to take a break. Some distance from a problem is sometimes all that’s needed. Distance can help a person to figure out how to deal with crisis. It’s important to sit down and relax, sometimes, to sort out what should be dealt with immediately and what can wait. Take one step at a time, and most importantly, don’t forget to sit back to relax and enjoy your achievements!
Sometimes when the stress is too hard to deal with, it’s time to involve professional help. First, see a regular physician, just to rule out any medical reasons for a stressful condition. Then, if no physical problems exist, a professional counselor may be helpful. Remember, help is available. Here at HPU, any of the advisors can help, or the chaplain.

Relaxation exercises
There are several ways of dealing with stress that don’t require any professional help and are free of charge. Deep breathing is a simple technique that everybody can do anywhere and as many times as they want. By inhaling as much oxygen as possible through the nose to the lungs, and exhaling through the mouth, the body begins to relieve tension that can lead to negative stress. Make sure that the diaphragm inflates when inhaling and deflates when exhaling. Repeat the inhale-exhale cycle three to four times each time. Try this right before giving a speech.

Positive thinking
Relaxation and stress awareness are key elements of stress management, but even more significant is a positive attitude. A positive approach to life in general allows you to see stress as challenging and something to enjoy and learn from. Here are some examples of techniques that might be helpful.
· Persuade yourself. Key word here is “I can.” Convince yourself that you can do it and set your mind to meet the challenge.
· Rehearse. Prepare ahead of time for a potentially stressful situation (a speech) before it occurs. Think over the situation, including the details, and convince yourself that it will end successfully.
· Develop an action plan. This might help you to turn a stressful situation into a new opportunity, but always have a plan B, so you’re ready if plan A doesn’t work out.

Positive lifestyle
The best way to self-treat stress is probably to live a healthy life, including physical exercise. A healthy lifestyle, physical activity, proper nutrition, and adequate rest can make anyone feel better and can reduce the chances of developing negative stress. As far as physical activity, some sort of aerobic activity is considered the best because it helps your body to use oxygen more efficiently, and strengthens the heart and lungs. Aerobic activities include running, walking, swimming, and bicycling. It’s best to do swimming and any one of the others. Stretching the muscles afterwards is important, because relieving tense muscles improves overall flexibility and reduces stress.
Food also counts. “You are what you eat,” is an old saying that’s true. Junk food is low in nutrition and high in calories and should be avoided. Healthy food is low in saturated fats and cholesterol. Healthy food includes grain products, fruits, and vegetables. Eating healthy includes limiting, fat, sugar, salt, caffeine, and alcohol.

Don’t forget the importance of getting rest. Relaxation is the key to balancing stress, but in addition to a positive lifestyle and relaxing techniques, try slowing down as well as enjoying leisure time. It’s important! Sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all.


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