Too much stress can seriously affect your physical and mental well-being. Recurrent physical and psychological stress can diminish self-esteem, decrease interpersonal and academic effectiveness, and create a cycle of self-blame and self-doubt.
One of the most important things you can do is to recognize when your stress levels are building. The amount of stress that you can tolerate before you become distressed varies with your life situation and your age. A critical first step in coping with stress is taking stock of the stressors in your life. If you are unsure about your sources of stress, complete the Student Stress Checklist.
Student Stress Checklist
After you have identified the sources of your stress, review the Tips for Stress Management and identify the ones that may be most helpful to you.
Because each person is unique, some of these stress management strategies will be more helpful for you than others, and some will be new skills that require practice to be effective. Think about learning to ride a bicycle. There was a time when this was a new skill and felt very unnatural and awkward. You probably needed help at first. With some coaching and practice, stress management, like cycling or any other skill, becomes easier and more effective.
You can also access other guided imagery exercises by visiting CMHC's MindBody Lab. Mind and Body Lab
Monitor Your Physical Comfort
Be as physically comfortable as the situation will allow. Wear comfortable clothing. If it's too hot, go somewhere where it's not. If your chair is uncomfortable, change it. If your computer screen causes eye-strain or backaches, change that, too. Don't wait until your discomfort turns into a real problem. Taking five minutes to arrange back support can save you several days of back pain!
Physical activity plays a key role in both reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Academic life is often sedentary, and sitting around can mean letting stress accumulate in your body. When you feel nervous, angry or upset, exercise or physical activity can relieve tension, relax you, and often will actually energize you!
Try to find something you enjoy and make regular time for it. Running, walking or swimming are good options for some people, while others prefer dance or martial arts - all are available through Recreational Sports and UT's Informal Classes.
Take Care of Your Body
Healthy eating and adequate sleep fuel your mind as well as your body. Avoid consuming too much caffeine and sugar. In excess, the temporary burst they provide leads to fatigue or a crash later. Take time to eat breakfast in the morning. It really will help keep you going through the day!
Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress. Like a car running low on gas, if you are irritable and tense from lack of sleep or not eating right, you will be less able to go the distance in dealing with stressful situations.
LaughMaintain your sense of humor, including the ability to laugh at yourself. Give yourself a break by reading or watching something humorous. Laughter is good for you!
Know Your LimitsA major source of stress is people's efforts to control events or other people over which they have little or no power. When confronted with a stressful situation, ask yourself: is this my problem? If it isn't, leave it alone. If it is, identify what you can do to address it now. Once the problem is settled, leave it alone. Don't agonize over the decision, and try to accept situations you cannot change. There are many circumstances in life beyond your control (the weather and the behavior of others being just two examples).
Seek Out CompromiseDo other people upset you - particularly when they don't do things your way? Consider cooperation or compromise rather than confrontation. A little give and take on both sides may reduce the strain and help you both feel more comfortable.
Have a Good CryA good cry during periods of stress can be a healthy way to bring relief to your anxiety, and it might prevent a headache or other physical consequences of bottling things up. However, if you are crying daily, seek a consultation with a counselor or a physician, as this can be a sign of depression.
Avoid Self MedicatingWhile alcohol or other drugs may seem to offer temporary relief from stress, these substances only mask problems. In the long run, behavior while under the influence increases rather than decreases stress. Take prescription medications only on the advice of your doctor.
Look for the PositiveIt is easy to fall into a rut of seeing only the negative when you are stressed. Your thoughts can become like a pair of very dark glasses, allowing little light or joy into your life. What would happen if you committed yourself to actively noticing the positive moments throughout your day? These moments may seem like small events, but they can often raise your energy and spirits and help you begin to see things in a new, more balanced way.
Examples of positive moments:
UT's Counseling & Mental Health Center (CMHC)
Call 512-471-3515 for information on setting up an appointment with a counselor.
CMHC also offers the CMHC Crisis Line: 512-471-CALL for a telephone counselor.