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Stress affects both the mind and the body. Stress may affect you positively or negatively depending upon your perception of a situation. You can avoid some stressors but not others. Avoid the stressors you can, and learn to cope with the others. In order to cope, learn and practice stress management skills and establish stress management habits. Effective stress management will balance your daily life.

What is Stress?

Stress is the wear and tear on your body as you adjust to a continually changing environment. There are both physical and emotional effects of stress that can create positive or negative feelings. Negative effects of stress can include feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which can lead to health problems like headache, upset stomach, rash, insomnia, ulcer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. However, not all stress is negative. Stress can help compel you to action. It can result in new awareness or exciting new perspectives. You may experience stress as you readjust the course of your life when major events, such as the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship occur. As you adapt to different circumstances, stress will help or hinder you depending on how you react to it.

Optimal Stress

Each individual’s optimal stress level is different. What distresses someone may energize someone else. The amount of stress you can tolerate before becoming distressed changes with age. Research shows that most illness relates to unrelieved stress. If you experience symptoms of stress, your level of stress is beyond optimal. You need to reduce the stress in your life and improve your ability to manage it.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress 

  • Pain or tension in neck, shoulders, or back. 
  • Chronic anger, hostility, or frustration
  • Irritability, anxiety, panic attacks
  • Fatigue (unless physical exertion causes the fatigue)
  • Nightmares or sleep disturbances, such as insomnia
  • Recurrent headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Heart racing, heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Low or lack of motivation
  • Depression, sadness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Change in eating habits/appetite
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Thinking troubled thoughts constantly
  • Isolation
  • Increasing addictive behaviors, such as alcohol use, cannabis use, nicotine use, other substance use, internet use, gaming, porn, masturbation, sex, gambling, shopping, etc., in order to escape problems.
  • Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, gas or constipation. Spoiled food or viral infection can cause digestive distress, but persistent trouble can indicate stress.
  • Tics, restlessness or itching.
  • Frequently getting sick due to a weak immune system. 
  • Any symptom that is unusual for you can indicate stress.

If you are confident you are stressed and would like more information about stress and/or stress management, contact NC State’s Wellness Coaching program or the Counseling Center. It may also be helpful to seek a medical evaluation from your health care provider to exclude other medical concerns. 

Stress Management

Eliminating Stress

Positive stress adds anticipation and excitement to life, and everyone thrives under a certain amount of stress. Deadlines, competitions, confrontations, frustrations and sorrows add depth and enrichment to our lives. Learn how to manage stress and how to use it to help you. Insufficient stress may lead to depression that makes you feel bored and dejected. On the other hand, excessive stress may leave you feeling tied up in knots. The key is finding your optimal stress level that will motivate but not overwhelm you.

Improving Stress Management

Even if you are aware you have unrelieved stress, you have not reduced its harmful effects. There are as many sources of stress as there are possibilities for coping with it. However, managing stress requires the willingness to change the source of your stress or your reaction to it. Below are suggestions for stress management techniques.

Become aware of your stressors and your reactions to them.

  • Don’t ignore your distress.
  • Determine events that distress you. What are you telling yourself about the meaning of these events?
  • Determine how your body responds to stress. For example, do you become nervous or physically upset?
  • Identify what you can change.
    • Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them?
    • Can you reduce their intensity?
    • Can you shorten your exposure to stress by taking a break?
    • Can you devote the time and energy necessary to making a change? Goal setting, time management techniques, and delayed gratification strategies may help.

Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress.

  • Do you view stressors in exaggerated terms?
  • Do you expect to please everyone?
  • Are you overreacting? Do you feel you must always prevail in every situation?
  • Work at adopting more moderate views. Try to see stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you.
  • Try to temper your emotions. Put the situation in perspective. Do not labor on the negative aspects and the “what if’s”.

Strategies for Stress Relief

  • Exercise when you feel your stress level increasing, even if it’s a short walk. 
  • At the end of the day, reflect on what you have accomplished, not what you did not get done. 
  • Set small goals for your day, week, and month. 
  • Take a short pause from time to time throughout your day. 
  • Try relaxation techniques, such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, yoga.
    • Programs are available online or through smartphone apps. 
    • Try some mindfulness exercises, which can be done seated, walking, standing, or moving. For an introduction to mindfulness. Check out some of our workshops
    • Check out University Wellness and Recreation’s Group Fitness Schedule for yoga. 

Ways to Prevent Stress

  • Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week (moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise is best, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or jogging). Get connected with NC State Wellness and Recreation
  • Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals. 
  • Avoid nicotine, excessive caffeine, and other stimulants. Excessive alcohol and other drugs can also negatively impact your ability to cope with stress. 
  • Mix leisure with work. Take breaks and get away when you can.
  • Get enough sleep. Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
  • NC State’s Wellness Coaching program may help you with some of these goals.
  • Develop some mutually supportive friendships/relationships. Get involved around campus through events hosted by the University Activities Board

Other Tips:

  • Pursue realistic meaningful goals, rather than goals others have for you.
  • Expect some frustrations, failures, and sorrows.
  • Always be kind and gentle with yourself. Be your own friend.