What is stress?

Simply put, stress is a response to a demand that is placed on you. In other words, we all experience stress multiple times every day. Understanding the types of stress is an important part of stress management.

Not all stress is bad. Positive stress motivates you to get things done, like a deadline for a class project. Negative stress is the result of having too much to handle or cope with at any given time. This is the type of stress that we refer to when we are ‘stressed out.’ 

Check out Kelly McGonogal TED Talk on how to make stress your friend:



Signs and Symptoms

Stressful events trigger the fight or flight response, causing hormones like adrenaline to surge through our body. Usually it is experienced as a short term tension, leading to added mental alertness that subsides when the challenge has been met (e.g., having to get up in the morning for class entails stress). Once the challenge has been met you can relax and carry on. Some level of stress is necessary - this is what helps us get our tasks done. However, we should return to that relaxed state once the challenge has been met. Stress that lingers for weeks or months can weaken the immune system and increase anxiety or depression.

Other signs that you may be experiencing too much stress include:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mental or emotional paralysis


You can’t always control the stressors in your life, but you can control how you interact with them.

Positive Thinking
Positive thinking not only increases your coping skills to deal with stress but also lowers levels of negative stress. Positive thinking begins with practicing self compassion through positive self talk. Self talk is the stream of internal dialogue that runs through our minds. This conversation is often overly critical, harsh, and irrational. To reduce stress talk to yourself like you would a dear friend.

Self compassion example:

  • Situation: I have a final exam tomorrow.
  • Irrational self talk: I’m going to fail. I shouldn’t have taken that class.
  • Rational self-talk: I passed my final exams last semester. I can do it again this semester.

Manage your thoughts. Don’t let your thoughts manage you.

For positive inspiration visit The Positivity Blog.

Life Balance

Find support

Share your hardships with a friend, family member, counselor, or doctor. Simply talking through your stressors can lighten the load, plus your listener may have some ideas for how you can better manage stress.

Time management

Plan it Out

Coming up with a planning system that works for you is important to prepare for the busy life of a college student.  Consider utilizing a day planner, full calendar, or electronic planner on your phone, tablet, or computer.  Copy your assignments from your syllabi into your planning system and continue to add any commitments that pop up. Check in with your planner at least once a week to see what’s in store for you.

Break it Down

Is a final project or the thought of graduating in 4 years overwhelming you? Taking the time to break these larger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks will help you breathe easy.

Steps to break tasks down:
  • Step back and envision the end result. Understanding where you are headed provides clarity on how to get there.
  • Think through the process. What steps will you need to take to accomplish the task? Treat each step as an individual task.
  • Create a realistic timeline. What needs to be done first, second, third, etc? Remember that challenging tasks often take longer than we anticipate.
  • Cross it off.

Making “To Do” lists creates a visual for you to see the tasks that you need to get done.  Once you’ve created your list, consider separating it into two smaller lists: ‘Needs to be done today’ and ‘Save for another day’.  This prioritizes tasks that need to be done immediately and will help you remember those that can wait for later.

When you’ve finished a task, cross it off and savor the feeling of accomplishment before moving on to the next.

Start it early

Challenging tasks often take longer than we anticipate. Procrastination places us in a race against a deadline, contributing to mental and physical distress. Starting early allows you to work through obstacles that may arise and also gives you time to review your final product to make sure that you are submitting your best work.


Relaxation techniques provide relief from stress by slowing your heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and reducing muscle tension and chronic pain. They also improve concentration, reduce anger and frustration, and provide a confidence boost for better problem solving. Choose a technique that works for you and practice relaxing regularly.


Today, there is increasing pressure to be constantly connected and available through gadgets. Dedicate some time to be technology free. Read a book you enjoy, talk to a friend face-to-face, take a nap, or go for a hike. Enjoy a break from the demands of technology.


Being mindful just means that you are absorbed in the current moment. Practicing mindfulness can ward away the temptation to ruminate, or play negative events over and over in your head. It also keeps nagging thoughts of everything you have to do in the next hour, day, week or month at bay so you can focus on the task at hand. You can practice mindfulness in everyday activities, like brushing your teeth. Start by focusing on your senses. What does the toothpaste taste like? How do the bristles of the brush feel against your teeth and gums? What does the water sound like as you rinse your toothbrush? When you notice your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the senses without judgment.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple process that involves tensing and relaxing specific muscles in the body, leading to overall relaxation. Start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head. Tense your muscles for at least five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.


Form mental images to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming place or situation. In your vision, try to use as many senses as you can, including smell, sight, sound and touch. If you imagine relaxing at the ocean, for instance, think about the smell of salt water, the sound of crashing waves and the warmth of the sun on your body. You may want to close your eyes, sit in a quiet spot and loosen any tight clothing.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing can be performed anywhere or anytime you need a quick calm down, like before an exam. Simply place you hand below your belly and inhale slowly, feeling your belly rise. Hold the breath for 3 seconds. Breathe out slowly. Repeat as long as you like.


Resilience is the ability to positively adapt in the face of adverse situations. Resilient people understand that stress is a part of life and tend to take difficult situations in stride. If you are not naturally a resilient person, don’t worry - traits of resilience can be learned!

Find a sense of purpose

Engage in activities that you are passionate about. Try new things until you find a good fit for you. Contact the Activities and Engagement Office for ways to get involved.


Resilient people easily overcome obstacles to finish what they begin. To build your perseverance work on setting realistic, easily attainable goals.


Equanimity means calmness of mind. For some people, it is easy to catastrophize small things or dwell on negative events or regrets. Resilient people treat failures as learning opportunities. Challenge yourself to find the silver lining in all experiences.

Rely on Yourself

Self-reliance involves understanding and being confident in your abilities and limitations.  Think back to past successes and failures and explore how you can apply those experiences to your present day life.

Find Comfort in Yourself

Resilient people do not feel pressure to conform. Get to know yourself, appreciate your uniqueness, and recognize the worth in what you have to contribute to the world.

For further information about resiliency, read Discovering Your Resilience Core.