Stress is part of life and can even be helpful for getting things done. Consider the analogy of a rubber band: some stress is necessary for it to do its job, but too much stress will cause it to snap under the pressure. Stress can come from good experiences as well as bad. All of us can easily name sources of bad stress: exams, relationship problems, financial troubles. But even good things can be stressful at times: getting married, moving to a new town, starting college, being elected to a leadership position, adding more activities to your plate (even if they are fun).

The problem is that many of us carry so much stress that it affects our ability to function in a healthy way. Did you know that prolonged, excessive stress may be a key element in half of all physical illnesses? It affects immune and nervous systems, heart function, metabolism, hormone levels and contributes to rapid aging. So it's important to understand stress and learn how to keep it in moderation and working for us, not against us.

Common Causes of Stress:

  • Academic pressures
  • Balancing school and social demands
  • Taking on too many projects
  • Money problems
  • Relationship problems
  • Family problems
  • Personal loss
  • Moving
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Illness/Injury
  • Impossible expectations for self and others
  • Workplace stress
  • Traffic

Common Signs You May Be Under Too Much Stress:

  • Feeling easily agitated, irritable or angered, defensive, overly argumentative, being inflexible
  • Trembling, nervous tics, restlessness
  • Exhaustion even after sleeping, insomnia
  • Always feeling preoccupied, racing thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoiding problems, people and/or situations
  • Impulsive or compulsive spending, gambling, sexual activity, or substance abuse
  • Poor self-hygiene
  • Dryness of the mouth and throat
  • Sweating, diarrhea, migraines
  • Missed menstrual cycles
  • Body pain (neck tension, backaches most common)
  • Stomach/intestinal pain
  • Appetite changes
  • Eating habit changes
  • Hair falling out
  • Picking at skin
  • Nightmares

What You Can Do To Reduce Stress:

  • Become more self-aware of your body, mind, and spirit: monitor yourself daily to know when you are feeling stressed
  • Identify the major stressors in your life and write them down - get them out of your head and take a look at them
  • Break stressful tasks into smaller components by prioritizing: make lists and begin task one. Don't wait for motivation, it will come later
  • If you procrastinate, try to determine what you are avoiding. Avoidance usually increases stress rather than reducing it
  • Don't work where you like to relax
  • Keep perspective - try to see the bigger picture
  • Talk about your stress with others, develop and utilizes support system of people close to you
  • Realize that you are not a machine with an unlimited supply of energy: you can't do it all
  • Focus on what you can control and let the rest be
  • Relax your standards: the world will not end and your academic career will not be over if something does not get done today or does not get done "perfectly." Perfectionism mistakenly associates performance with self-worth. Be kind to yourself
  • Exercise at least 20 minutes per day, three days a week
  • Eat well
  • Slow down and take deep breaths for a few minutes, gather yourself, and try again
  • Sleep the optimal amount for you. Try to go to bed, and wake up, at the same time every day. If you need an alarm to wake up, you're probably not getting a full nights rest
  • Play every day and laugh as much as you can (e.g., watch funny movies, read funny books, act silly, hang out with people you can laugh with)
  • Get away for a while: changing surroundings can allow you to see things from a different perspective. Even one day of vacation can rejuvenate
  • Fix things that are broken that cause additional stress (e.g., alarm clock, windshield wipers, shoelaces)
  • Simplify and organize
  • Consider limiting your viewing of media (e.g., nightly news, CSI) that cause distress
  • Limit or eliminate the use of substances (alcohol, caffeine, illegal drugs, tobacco/nicotine)
  • Speak with a therapist about stress reduction techniques

The information on stress above was obtained from Counseling and Psychiatric Services at the University of Georgia.