Stress is your body’s response to change

What is stress?

Stress can be a physical, mental or a behavioral reaction to a “stressor” or situation. In response to stressors, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated. This is known as the flight-or-fight response. The fight-or-flight response is essential for survival, but invoked too much and inappropriately, can have harmful effects on the body. When the SNS is activated, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are released.  This raises blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, causing an increase in blood flow to the working muscles. As a result, stress can lead to a host of diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, gastrointestinal problems (ulcers), insomnia (fatigue) and result in an impaired immune system (common cold).

Not all stress is bad

There are two kinds of stress, eustress and distress. Eustress is positive stress that allows individuals to perform their best. If the stress is perceived in a positive manner, it can be very helpful. So next time, try and turn a stressor into a good stressor and use it to your advantage.

Signs of Stress

Back pain Fatigue Headaches Stiff neck
Insomnia Muscle tension Ulcers Irritability
Problems with relationships Anger Forgetfulness Weight gain or loss
Feeling overwhelmed Colds/illnesses Shortness of breath Crying/being teary
Mood swings Less patience Poor Concentration Unwanted or repetitive thoughts
Sleep (enhanced / suppressed) Focusing on negatives Appetite (enhanced / suppressed)  

What can I do to manage my stress?

Try to identify the things in your life that cause you stress: relationship problems, conflict at work, school, or an illness.  Once you identify your stressors, you can begin to figure out ways to change your environment and manage them. 

Coping Strategies

Faith / Prayer Meditation Expressive writing / journaling
Develop a support system Personal time / space Find a hobby
Get sufficient sleep Healthy eating habits Engage in effective time management

Relaxation techniques

Deep breathing

In a comfortable position, close your eyes. Slowly inhale through the nose and slowly exhale through the mouth. You should notice the rise and the fall of your chest.


Visualization can be combined with the deep breathing technique. Visualize a place where you feel safe, happy, comfortable, and relaxed. It can be anywhere – on the beach, in the woods, in a favorite corner of your house, apartment, dorm room, in the bath. Now that you are in your favorite relaxing place, use all of your senses. What does it look like, feel like, smell like? What do you hear? This should help you relax.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Deep breathing and visualization is recommended throughout the progressive muscle relaxation series. Focus on each area at least twice if not three to four times depending on how tense each area feels.


Curl the toes and tighten the entire foot. Slowly inhale as you hold the contraction and slowly exhale as you release and relax. Feel the tension being released.

Ankles & Shins

Flex feet up towards your head and feel the muscles contracting in the ankles and shins. Slowly inhale as you hold the contraction and slowly exhale as you release and relax.


Press the feet and toes downward contracting the calf muscles. Slowly inhale as you hold the contraction and slowly exhale as you release and relax. Let the tension drain away. 

Buttocks & Thighs

Contract the muscles throughout the buttocks and thighs. Slowly inhale as you hold the contraction and slowly exhale as you release and relax.


Contact the shoulder blades together and feel the tension along the spine. Slowly inhale as you hold the contraction and slowly exhale as you release and relax. Feel the tension drain down your spine and out of your body


Tighten the abdominal muscles. Slowly inhale as you hold the contraction and slowly exhale as you release and relax.


Contract your chest muscles. Slowly inhale as you hold the contraction and slowly exhale as you release and relax.


Slowly inhale as you contract and hold your biceps; then release the muscle as you slowly exhale.


Slowly inhale as you contract and hold your triceps and slowly exhale as you relax.


As you slowly inhale, shrug and hold your shoulders. Then slowly exhale as you lower your shoulders.


Clench and hold your right fist as you slowly inhale. Slowly exhale as you release your fist. Feel your tensions ease out through the fingertips.


Tighten the muscles in your face and slowly relax.

Total Body Muscle Contraction

Slowly inhale as you hold the contraction and slowly exhale as you release and relax.
Take a moment and tighten any muscle group that still feels a little tight and then release the rest of the tension.


How can exercise & physical activity help?

It is recommended that individuals engage in physical activity for 30-60 minutes on at least 5 days/week. Exercise and physical activity have been found to aid in relieving muscle tension, reducing anxiety and depression and increasing mental wellbeing. Physical activity & exercise provides a break from reality (“time out” hypothesis).  Exercise & physical activity can help individuals withstand the rigors of tension without becoming susceptible to illness or other stress-related disorders.  The effects of exercise and physical activities include: the release of endorphins (a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter) and a reduction in cortisol within the body. All of these variables can help individuals to reduce stress. Physical activity can be easily brushed off. However, 15 minutes of exercise everyday can contribute to stress reductions.

Stress management tips that you can use in your life:

  • Notice your distress and determine what specific events distress you.  What are you telling yourself about the meaning of these events?
  • Consider expectations about responding to the stressors.  Are they realistic?  Are you taking on too much?  Whose expectations are you trying to meet?
  • Eliminate any unnecessary stressors
    • If you can’t eliminate or control a specific stressor, determine if you can reduce its intensity or shorten your exposure to a stress?
  • Work on perceiving the stressor in a positive way; something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you.
  • Try to temper your excess emotions.  Put the situation in perspective.  Do not dwell on the negative aspects and the “what if’s”.  Remember, this particular stressor will not determine the rest of your life, even if it feels like it might.
  • Slow down & take some deep breaths, this will bring your heart rate & respiration back to normal.  Practice this as well as other relaxation techniques to reduce muscle tension.
  • Consider complementary approaches (massage, yoga, pilates) and other forms of holistic healthcare to boost energy reserves and stimulate your immune system.
  • Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals.
  • Avoid self-medicating (with alcohol, tobacco, sugar, caffeine, another’s prescription medication)
  • Take breaks from your work when you can.  Ten minutes can refresh you.
  • Get enough sleep.  Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
  • Pursue realistic goals which are meaningful to you.
  • Expect frustrations, failures, and sorrows along the way.  Reframe these as learning opportunities.
  • Learn to say “no”.  Don’t promise too much.  Give yourself enough time to get things done.


Be kind and gentle with yourself.  Treat yourself the way you treat your best friend.