Stress is a natural part of the human experience. In fact, stress can provide motivation and increase our performance.
However, too much stress results in DIS-stress. Psychological DIS-stress occurs when the demands in our life are greater than our internal resources. This amount of stress actually impairs our performance and interferes with our ability to think clearly.
Excessive levels of stress, left unchecked, can also result in symptoms of physical and mental illness. Psychological stress is known to suppress the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness. Stress is also associated with hypertension, heart disease, headaches, and cancer. Prolonged stress can also trigger depression, anxiety, and other psychological symptoms.
Online presentations of Managing Stress Before it Manages You! can be found below:
- PowerPoint — Stress/time management skills and information about CAPS services, ~ 45-60 minutes (information and discussion)
- Online Presentation — includes voice-over
Steps to Managing Your Stress
Step 1: Identify Your Values and Priorities
There are more things to do than there are hours in the day. That is often a fact of life. You only have certain amounts of physical and mental energy. It only makes sense to use that energy on the things you value the most — your priorities.
To identify your priorities, consider the following exercise. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
Now, imagine having led a long and fulfilling life. You are taking time to look back on that life. What would you remember? What stands out to you? What would you value?
Write those things down.
Again, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. This time, imagine being told you have 6 months left on this planet. Think about: How would you spend your time? What would you want to do or experience?
Write those things down.
The things you have written down reflect your values and priorities. There may be some differences between the long and short term responses — that's ok — they are all important.
Step 2: Clarify You Goals
You have probably thought about career or family goals before. To manage stress, take the time to think of goals in terms of a balanced and healthy life. Researchers have identified several life areas that are essential to overall health. For each area listed below, identify your life goal and write it down. Make sure your life goal is consistent with the values/priorities you identified in Step 1...if it isn't, you may need to reconsider your goal...
- Occupational — vocational, career
- Intellectual — academics, skills, creativity
- Spiritual — values, ethics, morals, religion, guiding principles
- Social — family, community, environment
- Physical — fitness, nutrition, self-care, safety
- Emotional — mental health, sexual and emotional intimacy
Now, write down one thing you can do today to move toward your life goal in each area.
Step 3: Time Management
Make a list of your responsibilities, jobs, or chores.
Traditional time management often involves filling up every space in a calendar or daily planner with items from this list. This time, start putting only the things that fit with your goals, values, and priorities. Make sure you include something from each life area in your schedule.
If something doesn't fit with your values, goals, priorities, ask yourself why it is on your list.
One of the most important aspects of time management is learning to say NO!
Step 4: Physical Self-Care
The body and mind are better equipped to handle stress when we are engaging in physical self-care. The body needs rest, nutrition, and exercise in order to respond effectively to emotional, psychological, and physical stress. In addition to your physical goals listed above, makes sure you are:
- Eating at regular intervals, ingesting a balanced diet, drinking plenty of fluids, and limiting intake of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar
- Sleeping at least 6-8 hours per night. The body does not "catch up" from all nighters by excessive sleeping on the weekend.
- Engaging in regular exercise. It can be as little as a 10 minute walk — but exercise helps reduce stress and energize the body and mind.
Step 5: Social and Emotional Support
Individuals with social support are less likely to experience symptoms of DIS-stress than those with limited support. Reaching out to others is an important element of stress management. Consider the following:
- Who can you talk to about the different parts of your life?
- Who will listen without judgment or trying to "fix it"?
- Who will understand your stress in each life area?
- Who do you trust to keep your information private?
- Would it be helpful to talk to a professional?
Step 6: Healthy Thinking
How we think about our life situation can significantly impact how we feel and how we act. If we look for the worst in a situation, we will find it, and feel bad. If we ignore the positives and focus on the negatives, we will feel overwhelmed. If we believe everyone it thinking negatively about us, we will feel anxious and suspicious. Often times our thoughts are "irrational" or "dysfunctional." By challenging our thoughts, we can often see things more realistically and make better choices about how to act.
For more information on challenging your thoughts, see:
- Learning about Automatic Thoughts and Cognitive Distortions
- You Are What You Think
- 10 Common Irrational Thoughts
- Handling Irrational Beliefs
Step 7: Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques capitalize on the connection between DIS-stress and physical responses. Consciously controlling your breath, muscle tension, and mental focus can significantly reduce both the physical and psychological symptoms of stress. See the following sites for more information, including training videos.
- Relaxation Exercises – SUNY College of Oneonta — Guided relaxation exercises including deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, and visualization options.
- Relaxation Audio Sessions – UNC Chapel Hill — Information about anxiety, stress, and coping skills. Four relaxation audio sessions including breath work, muscle relaxation, body scan, and mindfulness.
- Stress Management and Reduction – University of Texas — Information and coping skills related to stress management. You may follow the guided program or explore the site on your own. Includes videos on deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and yoga.