Stress Management

Stress can be defined as any influence that is disruptive to a person's functioning. Stressors can be either physical (such as injury, illness, temperature extremes) or psychological (such as anger, tension, or grief). In other words, stress is anything that speeds up, keys up, or tenses our bodies.

College students experience their own brand of stress. However, first-year college students are particularly vulnerable to the five following stressors:

  • Separation from Family/Friends
    Separation is a very positive experience for most students. It's a chance to get together in a relatively safe setting. At the same time, it is a jolt for other students. For many, college is the first extended time away from home, so you have to get your bearings and establish a new support system -- and this doesn't happen overnight.
  • Freedom/Independence
    At most colleges, the days of strict residence hall rules, dress codes, and even mandatory class attendance are long gone. While that freedom can be fun, it can create some adjustment problems, because nobody is telling you what to do. Probably, one of the most critical issues is learning how to manage time in such a way that there is balance between study and leisure.
  • Competition
    The ever increasing competition for grades, graduate school admission, and jobs is another adjustment to reality that must be faced. Thus, learning to set priorities becomes very important.
  • Peer Pressure
    Especially in a new environment, most of us eagerly seek acceptance. That may make students vulnerable to conforming -- whether it's to friends' attitudes toward alcohol, partying, values, studying, etc.
  • Choosing a Major/Career
    This stressor is a veritable tightrope. You'd like to find a major that interests you, but may face an uncertain job market dependent upon your choice. Career counseling/exploration through the Counseling Center can help you sort out the issues and alleviate some of the stress associated with decision-making.

The Counseling Center can assist you in keeping your stress level in check by providing counseling in a relaxed, confidential, and nonthreatening atmosphere. Some of the most appropriate interventions to cope with stress include developing relaxation techniques, taking time for oneself, and managing time effectively.

All of us are under stress every day. Without it we wouldn't move, think, get out of bed, or care. We need it.....but we don't need an excess of it.

We must learn to recognize and cope with stress, as well as know when high levels of stress become more than we can handle alone.

The following questionnaire can help you to determine your stress level and perhaps help you decide whether you should seek assistance to manage your stress in a more positive way.

(Adapted from Managing Stress, Anxiety, and Frustration, IBIS Media)

DIRECTIONS: In response to statements 1-7, use the following guidelines: 
        A. This occurs very often (Give yourself 2 points) 
        B. This sometimes occurs (Give yourself 1 point) 
        C. This rarely or never occurs (give yourself 0 points)

1. I experience tension, anxiety, or have nervous indigestion. 
    Often; Sometimes; Never
2. People at home, work, or school make me feel anxious. 
    Often; Sometimes; Never
3. I eat, drink, or smoke in response to anxiety producing situations. 
    Often; Sometimes; Never
4. I feel tense, experience pain in the neck or shoulders, suffer from migraine headaches, or have difficulty sleeping. 
    Often; Sometimes; Never
5. I can't stop thinking about my concerns at night or on weekends long enough to feel relaxed and refreshed the next day. 
    Often; Sometimes; Never
6. I have trouble concentrating on what I'm doing, because I'm worrying about other things. 
    Often; Sometimes; Never
7. I take over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs to relax. 
    Often; Sometimes; Never

For statements 8 and 9, give yourself 1 point for YES and 0 points for NO.
8. Even when I have the time, it is still hard to relax. 
    Yes; No
9. My school or work day includes many deadlines. 
    Yes; No

To determine you stress level, add up your points; and refer to the following interpretation information: 
        14-16=Very Stressful 
        0-2=Very Relaxed

If your score is 9 or below, continue to employ the coping skills you are currently using. Your coping skills probably include eating a well-balanced diet; exercising regularly; having a good support system; discovering new hobbies and interests; thinking positively; and knowing how to laugh.

Typically, individuals that earn a score of 10 or above need to change their behaviors in a more positive direction. You might want to start by developing more realistic goals; managing time in a more efficient way; or learning relaxation skills such as progressive muscle relaxation, autogenics, or visual imagery. If your stress level is elevated, you may want to consider using the Counseling Center to assist you in developing these skills.

In summary, everyone is under some form of stress every day. We need a certain amount of it to motivate us, but too much stress in too short a time can be harmful. If we can understand and recognize stress, we are better equipped to cope with it. In some situations, too much stress can build up, and then we must consider the need for outside help.

Relaxation Links:

Audio samples from the MindBody Lab at the University of Texas

Online Links:

Secret Garden - guided meditation for calmness and peace of mind

April Sun - de-stress with 60 minutes of blissful music

Calming Words - instant relaxation tool

Flute Meditation Music - soothing flute relaxation music