You may not be aware that you are under stress if you do not notice the sometimes-subtle emotional and physical changes that result. Is stress playing a role in your life? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I find it hard to relax and have fun?
  • Am I easily irritated?
  • Do I find it hard to sleep at night?
  • Do I feel overburdened by responsibility?
  • Do I experience upset stomach or indigestion?
  • Am I anxious all the time?
  • Do I feel like crying for no reason at all?
  • Have I lost interest in relationships or sex?
  • Do I have an increased desire to smoke, drink, or use drugs?
  • Am I unable to concentrate in school or perform my job adequately?

If you answered yes to more than one question above, you may be suffering from stress. Find out what stress is, why, and how it is harmful, and what you can do to cope with it.

What is stress?

Stress is a natural experience and part of life. It is how the human body responds to a variety of external and internal signals. External triggers can include starting a new semester, an illness or death in the family, and even the start of a new relationship. Internal triggers of stress may include physical or mental discomfort, the need to attain perfection, or excessive desire to please others.

The demands of life have physical, emotional, and mental effects. This stress can produce positive or negative reactions. Positive stress can provide the extra motivation to get through a tough presentation or interview. Negative stress can be the barricade to getting through a tough period of time such as moving into the dormitory with a new roommate or the end of the semester crush. Other causes of negative stress can be relationship difficulties, death of a loved one, or failing a class.

Common Coping Strategies

  • Be Spiritual. Religion, meditation, or prayer can have a relaxing effect on the body.
  • Reach Out. Get help. Talk to friends and family. Think about accessing professional help through CAPS – counseling can help identify problems that trigger stress, breaks patterns of negative stimulation that produces stress, and may help you develop an effective stress management program. See the resource section.
  • Learn to Relax . Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or muscle tension/relaxation exercises can help ease stress and are easily done almost wherever you are.

Breathing and Stretching

Following are some easy exercises that can help you relax. Each takes only minutes, but can provide hours of relief and can be done almost any place you are.

Deep breathing

Stop what you are doing, if possible, sit with your feet flat on the floor and your hands relaxed in your lap. Take a really deep breath in through your nose. Hold it for a few seconds. Exhale slowly through your mouth, counting backwards from 10 to Do this at least 3 times or until you can get from 10 to 1 without running out of breath.
Finger Fan: Extend your arms straight in front of you with our palms up. Spread your fingers as far as possible. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat at least 3 times.
Upper Back Stretch: Sit up straight with your fingers laced behind your head. Keep your shoulders down, lift your chest and bring your elbows as far back as you can. Hold for 10 seconds.

Gradual Tense/Relax

Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your hands in your lap. Starting with your toes, tense and relax them. Move your calves, tense the muscles, hold for a few seconds, and then relax. Work your way gradually up your body including knees, thighs, buttocks, stomach, chest, arms, and fingers, all the way to your neck and head. Each time, tense the muscles, hold for a few seconds, and then relax. Concentrate on each muscle and how good it feels to relax.

But Wait... There's More!

Productively recognizing and responding to stress makes a difference in functioning well. Once stressors are recognized (those events and situations that are stressful), management is within your control. Though you can’t change the parking situation or the crowded buses, you can make changes in your life to deal with these stressors.

Get Moving!

  • Regular physical activity can help reduce muscle tension and prompt the body to produce endorphins-your body’s natural feel good chemicals.
  • Regular physical activities can include almost anything that you enjoy, such as walking, running, biking or rollerblading. Anything that gets you moving-at least three times a week for 20 minutes counts. Even a short walk or quick stretch while you are studying or working can relieve muscle tension.

say "Yes" to yourself

  • Set limits on your time at work or participation in extracurricular activities at school.
  • Say “no” to demands on your time from work and friends.
  • Place limits on your social commitments to give you free time and help lessen stress.

Get organized

  • Develop effective time management skills to reduce that sense of being overwhelmed.
  • Get things done “one at a time”.
  • Make a list of tasks and assignments in order of importance, and create a daily schedule of things “to do” that is manageable for you. Just writing things down to keep track can help.

Have Fun!

  • Plan time away from school or work responsibilities to play, and to allow your body to rest during peak stress periods.
  • Do something relaxing that you enjoy-walk in the woods, take a bubble bath, listen to music, dance, garden, go to the movies or read a good book.
  • Be creative. Cook, draw, write, work with your hands, get a massage.


  • Students underestimate the need for nourishing the body.
  • It’s harder to remember to eat healthfully when in a stress zone.
  • Fit in 3 meals a day. Snack on pieces of fruit, raw veggies, and low fat, high fiber foods like whole grain cereal.


  • Without enough sleep, you are more prone to injury and irritability.
  • Students find that motivation, memory, and concentration lessen, too. You can’t make up for lost sleep, so get a good 8 hours. Some students need even more. Taking long naps can actually cause more sleep problems, so a regular sleep pattern works best.

Finally, don’t sweat the small stuff. When we are stressed, we find ourselves getting worked up over everything – the bus is crowded, your cell phone battery is dead or someone cut in line at the dining hall. These small events do not make or break our successes. We do that to ourselves.