Developing and Maintaining Healthy Routines: Stress Management

Family Modules

Module 5 Part 3

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Introduction

Objective: The student will describe an experience where he or she used a new stress management technique and explain the impact of that strategy on his or her feelings of anxiety.

This lesson is designed to help you learn about some activities that can help decrease stress and give you the opportunity to implement a few in your own life.

Estimated time 20—30 minutes

Materials included:

Curriculum Link:

This section corresponds with Module 5 Activity 2 in the College Bound Transition curriculum resources.

Learn About It: Stress

What is it?

Illustration of girl stressed out.
  • Stress is physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension (source: dictionary.com).
  • Stress is the body’s reaction to some kind of event or stimulus.
  • Stress is pressure, anxiety, worry, tension, or apprehension.
  • How would you define stress?

What causes it?

  • Stress can be caused by anything that a person perceives as a threat to his or her well‐being. What constitutes a “threat” is very broad, ranging from an angry rhinoceros charging toward you to an oral presentation assignment in public speaking class. It could stem from a relationship with another person or a traffic jam. Anything that causes a person distress can be a stressor.
  • Name some of the things that cause you stress.

What can you do about it?

  • You can stress‐bust! See the following slides for ideas on possible stress‐busters.

Now, take a moment to think of some possible ways to deal with stress before reading further.

Socialize

Spend time with people you care about. Even if you don’t talk about what’s bothering you, socializing can reduce stress. Hang out with friends, go out to eat together, or participate in a group activity or outing.

Play

Take advantage of events and activities on campus and locally.

  • Spend time on a hobby, interest, or activity you enjoy. Some of the activities our students mentioned as helping them to de‐stress include cooking, driving, dancing, hunting, watching TV, dirt‐biking, bowling, mudding, watching movies, four‐wheeling, and video gaming.
  • Let your “inner child” out to have fun. One of the great things about college is that you can build recess into your schedule again! Take a break to do something fun; most campuses have great options for recreation activities. Some students recommend playing video games or board games as a great stress‐buster.

How to Deal with Student Burnout from Thomas Frank, the College Info Geek. [Transcript]

Why Do We Need Stress Busters?

  • We must achieve a balance between too much stress and not enough stress. Stress is not all bad. Some stress is necessary to survive and to be motivated. For example, if a teacher assigns a test, you’re not very likely to study if you’re not at least a little stressed about it. But if you’re too stressed, you won’t be able to learn as effectively, which will hurt your performance even though you did study.
  • Too much stress interferes with memory, concentration, and learning. It makes your body think that it needs to be in “survival mode” instead of “everyday mode.” In survival mode, hormones and other bodily processes shut down nonessential functions and cause you to focus on only the basics needed to survive. This makes it very difficult to learn, concentrate, and remember new things that aren’t directly related to your survival.
  • Excessive stress can cause short-term physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, and sleeplessness, in addition to more serious, long-term health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
A illustration of a woman struggling through the year.

How Can You Deal with Stress?

Some tips on how to deal with stress.

  • Learn to recognize stress and the triggers that cause it in your life. Stress is inevitable for college students. College is designed to stretch us. Even the most experienced students can find college quite stressful and challenging, especially at key points in the semester such as midterms and finals. The students who fare best at those times are usually the ones who have planned ahead, manage their time well, and use positive stress management and coping strategies. You can’t completely eliminate negative stress, but you can decrease the physical and mental effects it has on you by learning to deal with it in more positive ways.
  • Reduce stress by using positive stress-management techniques. It is important for students to deal with stress by using positive stress‐busting techniques. There are many ways to deal with stress, but not all of them are positive or productive. For example, some students deal with stress by using alcohol or other drugs, by eating, by shutting down, or through reckless behavior, just to name a few possibilities. These types of stress management should be avoided. They may appear to make you feel better in the short term, but they actually add to stress in the long term.
  • Try different techniques until you find several that work well for you. We will offer several techniques for managing stress, but not every technique will work for every person. You need to try out several different options until you find a few that work well for you. In addition, some techniques might work better for you in certain situations, so it’s great to have multiple strategies in reserve to adapt to different stressors.

Meditate or Pray

Practicing your faith or spirituality can help put stress in perspective.

Seek out religious or spiritual guidance or support. Participating in a religious organization on campus, attending services at a local house of worship, and seeking out a spiritual mentor are all available options for college students.

Express Your Creativity

Use your creative talents to express yourself. You can unleash your creative side by writing, drawing, singing, dancing, or any other creative talents. You may even find it cathartic to write down what’s bothering you, crumple up the paper, and throw it away.

Listen to Music

Use music as a tool to focus and de-stress. Lots of students carry an iPod everywhere they go.

Choose music that makes you feel good, whether it’s upbeat or soothing. Find out what types of music relieve your stress best; for example, some people prefer to be soothed by classical tunes, while others like to work out aggression with heavy metal.

Create a “stress buster” playlist so you don’t have to hunt down the songs that help you when you need them most.

Laugh

Laughter is often the best medicine! Find something humorous and take the time to enjoy it. Since laughter is a great cure for stress, find something that makes you laugh out loud and cut loose. This could be anything from a funny movie or stand‐up comedy to something that “tickles your funny bone” for no apparent reason. As long as you’re laughing, you’re de‐stressing.

Talk it Out

Reach out to a friend, family member, mentor, or teacher. Talking about what’s stressing you out can almost always help you feel better, and may even lead to a new perspective or solution to your stressful situation.

Confide in someone you trust.

Ask for advice or support. Sometimes just having human contact with a friendly face can help, either in person, over the phone, by text, via Skype or Facetime, or even through a social networking site like Facebook.

Stress-Busting Activity

A young man wearing headphones.
  1. Notice which situations and events trigger stress for you.
  2. Try out at least three different stress busters over the next few weeks when you feel yourself becoming stressed. Try the stress-busting techniques separately, not all in response to the same stressor. Otherwise, you won’t really know which one helped you the most. However, you can combine some of them to create an even more effective stress-buster (for example, listening to music while doing yoga or deep breathing while taking a break).
  3. You may want to try other techniques not mentioned here or ones that you come up with on your own. Just make sure they are positive techniques and adhere to the ideas from this module. Avoid techniques with negative long‐term effects (i.e., no driving fast, yelling at people, destroying property, drinking or using drugs, etc.).
  4. Pay attention to which techniques work best for you.

Take a Break

  • Give yourself a few minutes of “alone time” to recharge. When those overwhelming moments hit, sometimes students just need a breather. Some recommend taking a walk around campus for some fresh air, taking a snack break, taking a hot shower, or just spending a few minutes of alone time. Returning to the task at hand will be easier after a short break.
  • Try taking a brief power-nap to renew your energy. As long as you’re not sleeping too much or missing out on daily activities, a brief power nap can be a useful way to recharge and approach a stressful day with renewed energy.

Think Positively

  • Find a new perspective, look at a situation from a different angle, or find the cloud’s “silver lining.”
  • Repeat positive affirmations. They can remind you to believe in yourself. Some of the self-talk that works for our students: “I’m here to learn and just do my best,” and “I know I can do it.”

Visualize

  • Visualize something you find relaxing and calming. Practice picturing that scene until you can easily bring it to mind and “see” all of its details. Bring this mental imagery to mind when you feel stressed.
  • Recall positive memories. They also have a strong effect and can help to improve your mood and stress level when you’re tense.

Exercise

  • Participate in any physical activity you enjoy. Many students listed exercise as a top stress‐buster. Some students even multitask by listening to an audio‐textbook while working out.
  • Walk, run, bike, lift weights, play sports, etc.
  • Practice Yoga or Tai Chi. These practices can be particularly helpful in restoring calm and centeredness.
Graphic with different excercise poses.

Deep Breathing

  • Take a few deep, calming breaths.
  • Deep-breathing exercises can clear your mind, calm you, and restore your focus. You can search for guided deep‐breathing exercises online. Or, just breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly about 10 times for a quick calming activity.

(Note: The stress‐busters listed in this activity are adapted from advice given by students at East Carolina University between 2008‐2012, and are mixed in with professional advice.)

Parents Chime In

After your child completes the Stress-Busting activity, discuss his or her experience using these questions to guide you. You may also choose to have your child reflect on these questions in the journal section of their Transition Notebook before discussing the questions with you.

  • What stressors have you experienced recently?
  • Which stress-busting techniques did you try?
  • How did you implement each technique, and what results did you achieve?
  • Which technique was your favorite? Why?

Be prepared to discuss the effective stress-busting techniques that you use. Sharing times that you’ve used less positive stress-busters and the consequences of those negative stress-busters can also be helpful.

Objective Check

Have you accomplished today's objective?

Objective: The student will describe an experience where he or she used a new stress management technique and explain the impact of that strategy on his or her feelings of anxiety.

If so, congratulations!

If not, review the stress busters listed in this lesson and try some different techniques. Talk with your friends and family about what techniques work for them.