Manage Stress




Achieve a balance between positive and negative stressors.  Discover how stress affects your body and incorporate strategies to manage your stress and time more effectively.  Learn how sleep affects your health and behaviors to help improve your sleep.


How does stress affect my health?

How can I manage stress?

How does sleep affect my health?

How can I improve my sleep?






What is stress?

Stress is a situation that causes emotional or physical responses.

Is all stress bad?

No.  Some stress is good for you.  This is called positive stress or eustress.  Positive stress, such as school and work, can help keep you stimulated and help you find fulfillment and meaning in life. 

How can some stress be good for me?

Stress can help you gain patience, perseverance, and self-confidence as you learn new tasks.  For example, you were probably stressed the first time you tried to ride a bike in fear that you would fall.  After you mastered the skill however, you learned something new and gained confidence in yourself.

When is stress bad?

Some stress can be negative.  This is called distress.  A stressor turns negative when it exceeds your emotional, mental, and physical limitations.

How does my body respond to stress?

When you perceive a stressor, your body prepares for danger.  It sets off a series of reactions called the Fight or Flight response.  These reactions include increased heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, sweating, and muscle tension.

How does stress affect my health?

Dealing with a negative stressor over a long period of time or many negative stressors back to back can cause adverse effects to your health.  These effects include high blood pressure, decreased immunity, reproductive complications, poor diet, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, weight gain, substance abuse, depression, and suicide.

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How Can I Manage Stress?

 

Find your stressors

Is your job, school, relationship, or financial worry causing you stress?  Once you know what the problem is, you can do something about it.

Think of solutions

What can you do to reduce the stressors in your life?  Can you look for a less stressful job?  Can you get help with your schoolwork?  Can you get help with your relationship?  Can you make a budget or see a financial expert?  Brainstorm possible solutions and consequences. 

Open up

You may find it helpful to talk with a friend or family member about your stressor.  This may help you vent and think about other solutions.  Consider talking with a mental health counselor.

Think rationally

Many times we perceive a stressor to be more severe than it really is.  Try to think realistically about the stressor.  Talking with a friend may help you see the stressor in a new way.

Think positively

Write down some of the major stressors in your life.  For each stressor, think of one positive outcome that the stressor has on your life.  For example, a challenging job may teach you patience and perseverance. 

Accept that there are things you cannot change

The tendency to control situations can create unnecessary stress in your life.  Learn to change what you can and accept what you cannot.

Exercise!

Physical activity can reduce the influence of stress on your body.  As little as 10 minutes of physical activity has been shown to reduce the stress response, anxiety, and depression.  Some research has suggested that exercise is just as effective as medication for treating mild depression.  Try a short walk around the block to clear your head.

Relax!

Try deep breathing, stretching, massage, progressive relaxation, meditation, or praying.  You may enjoy a yoga or Tai Chi class.  Take a bubble bath with scented candles and soft music.  Relaxation techniques can help reduce the stress response.

Try to prevent unnecessary stress

Make decisions.  Indecisiveness may cause worry and stress.

Don’t procrastinate.  Make a to-do list and complete the most important projects first.  Look for ways to make the task easier or more fun.  Consider doing your least favorite tasks first.  Consolidate tasks when possible. 

Don’t overcommit.  Be realistic about your capabilities and learn how to say no if demands do not seem reasonable.

Delegate.  Ask others for help if you are feeling overwhelmed. 

Anticipate.  Try to plan ahead and anticipate any major events or changes.  By being prepared, you can help prevent future stress.

Divide and conquer.  Divide your tasks into three groups:  essential, important, and trivial.  Focus on the first two, ignore the third. 

Schedule tasks for peak efficiency.  Identify when you are the most efficient—morning, noon, or night. Schedule your tasks accordingly. 

Watch out for time traps.  Activities such as watching television and surfing the internet crowd out more important activities.  Be mindful of these time traps to avoid future stress.

Give yourself a break.  Save time for play.  This should be unstructured time when you ignore the clock.  Slow down to stop and smell the roses and enjoy each wonderful day that you have been given.

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How Does Sleep Affect My Health?

 

Your body needs a certain amount of sleep to function properly.  When you get less sleep than your body needs, you accumulate sleep debt.  This may have many adverse effects on your health, including:

Performance.  Lack of sleep leads to poor performance at work, poor concentration and memory, and difficulty getting along with others. 

Learning ability.  Sleep loss can impair memory, learning, and logical reasoning.  This can be extremely detrimental to a growing child.

Stress.  Lack of sleep can lead to irritability, irrational thinking, and impair the ability to cope with stress.

Absenteeism.  Sleeplessness is a significant predictor of absenteeism from work or school.

Energy.  Lack of sleep can decrease energy and physical activity throughout the day.

Metabolism.  Research suggests that sleep deprivation stimulates appetite, lowers metabolism, and affects insulin resistance and blood glucose levels. 

Accidents.  Sleep deprivation leads to difficulty concentrating and decision making which can increase the risk of injury.  There are approximately 100,000 sleep-related vehicle crashes that result in 1,500 deaths each year.

Psychiatric disorders.  Studies suggest that people with chronic insomnia are more likely to develop several kinds of psychiatric disorders.

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How Can I Improve My Sleep?

 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 74% of American adults are experiencing a sleeping problem a few nights a week or more.  Here are some guidelines to help you improve your sleep:

Follow a regular schedule.  Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day.

Wind down.  Read a book, listen to relaxing music, or take a warm bath before bed.

Exercise.  Regular exercise can improve your sleep.  Try not to exercise too close to bedtime.

See the light.  Try to get some natural light each afternoon.  It will help your body to recognize day from night and set your circadian rhythms. 

Watch stimulants.  Limit or avoid caffeine or alcohol late in the day.  Avoid smoking because it is a stimulant and may be very dangerous if you fall asleep with a lit cigarette.

Eat smart.  Try not to eat a large meal right before bedtime.  If you are hungry, a small snack such as a few crackers or a glass of milk may help you sleep better.

Set the scene.  Your bedroom should be safe, comfortable, and used only for sleeping.  Keep the room dark, well ventilated, and as quiet as possible. 

Note:  If you are so tired during the day that you cannot function normally and if this lasts for more than 2-3 weeks, you should see your family doctor or a sleep disorders specialist.

By:  Kelly Frazier, M.A., ACSM, Furman University. 

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