What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s response to a threat, real or perceived. In small amounts it can help us be more alert and focused, for example, in a performance situation–sports, presentation, a date.
Stress can be especially useful when we are really threatened because the body prepares to flee or fight. That is an important response if a tiger is chasing you because your heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, metabolism, and blood pressure all increase. Blood is directed away from your hands, feet, and digestive system and into the large muscles that help your run or fight. Of course, this isn’t so great if the “tiger” is just an exam. We don’t need so much arousal in that situation.
Worse still is when the tiger is in our heads and may not reflect reality at all. “I’m going to fail that test.” That seems like a tiger and our body prepares for the flight or fight, but we don’t need all those stress reactions even if it is important to pass the exam. Fortunately, when the threat diminishes, our body corrects itself. However, if our stress level stays high over time and we don’t find ways to lower our stress, it can lead to a host of physical and emotional problems.
You probably already know a bit about stress because a) you are human, b) you’re probably a college student, and c) you are looking at this webpage. So take a look around this page and website. There are range of ideas and tools to help you lower your stress. Many you can do on your own, but if you want to talk about your stress with someone, come in and see one of our counselors at the Counseling Center. Check out this link if you want more information about stress and how to manage.
I know, you are breathing right now. Good. Keep doing it. Effective breathing will lower your stress level. Sometimes when stressed, people find they are actually holding their breath or breathing shallowly. That’s actually counterproductive, often increasing anxiety and muscle tension. So try something different. Breathe through your nose and feel the air move all the way down to your belly. Pause. Then gently let the air flow back out. With each breath out, let your shoulders drop a little. Do it again. Even a few seconds of this can help. Check and see if that helped a bit.
If you want more help at learning to breathe effectively, try using some of our breathing exercises. See if one works for you. You can practice these so you develop a habit of deeper breathing that will lower stress, improve concentration, and stimulate alertness. Generally, it’ll just make you feel better.
Once you get used to breathing more deeply, you may want to try activities that will increase your lung capacity or you may want to skip the exercises above and just move right to such activities. Such activities take more effort but will pay off in a lot of ways. Among them are yoga, stretching, Tai Chi, and aerobic activity (walking, running, swimming, biking, etc). Once you really get into this breathing habit, you won’t want to give it up.
Quick Tips to Tackle Stress
- Identify your sources of stress—the good, the bad & the ugly.
- Try to understand how your behavior changes in response to stress.
- Brainstorm ways to change unproductive reactions.
- Commit to trying 1 or 2 new ways of tackling stress.
Stress Reduction Audio Downloads
All files are in MP3 format. To download, right- or Ctrl-click and select Save As.
- Breathing Relaxation Exercise (male voice) (female voice )
- Alternative Nostril Breathing (male voice) (female voice)
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (male voice) (female voice) Note: If you have a history of serious muscle problems (spasms, injuries, or neck or back problems) you should consult with a physician before attempting this exercise because PMR could exacerbate these problems.
- Guided Imagery
- Grounded/Shift to the Present (male voice)