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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.