What is stress? What symptoms might you notice?

Image of a stressed out woman

Stress is the body’s response to any demand placed upon it. This response has both physical and psychological components. You may notice some of the following symptoms or signs of stress:

Psychological Physical Behavioral
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling irritable
  • Being forgetful, difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Impulsiveness or Instability
  • Boredom
  • Fatigue
  • Panic Attacks
  • Low self esteem
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Grinding of Teeth
  • Gastrointestinal Problems
  • Dry Mouth
  • Perspiration/sweaty hands
  • Neck or Back aches
  • Fatigue
  • Nervous tics
  • Increased use of Alcohol, Tobacco or Other Drugs
  • Excessive TV Watching
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Over or Under Eating
  • Sexual Problems
  • Crying
  • Yelling, arguments
  • Job or School Burnout
  • Withdrawing from others

How does stress differ from a stressor?

The sources of stress, are called stressors, and can be:

  • Environmental (weather, indoor environment, noise, pollution, etc)
  • Physiological (illness, injury, sleep disturbances, hangover, poor nutrition, etc.)
  • Interpersonal (roommate conflicts, family demands, work responsibilities)
  • Psychological (thoughts, beliefs, worries, changes in moods, etc.)
  • Organizational (rules, bureaucracy, role expectations, etc)
  • Financial (bills, unplanned expenses, tuition, etc.)
  • Life Events (death of a loved one, moving, marriage, divorce of parents, etc.)
  • Lifestyle choices (lack of sleep, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, poor time management, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use)

Why is college so stressssssssssssssssssful?

College is inherently stressful with its multiple transitions (new living arrangements, new relationships, new job, loss of previous friendships, etc) and often new challenges (academic demands, career choices, time management, financial responsibilities, lifestyle choices, etc.).

Can stress be good?

While stress is often talked about in negative terms, a healthy or moderate level of stress motivates one to take action, develop new skills, and achieve optimal performance and fulfill one’s potential. Stress is not just part of college it is part of life; learning how to anticipate, recognize, and successfully manage stress is an important life skill—while unmanaged stress can lead to emotional, physical, and interpersonal problems.

How can you find what strategies work for you and your situation?

Because stress is uniquely experienced by an individual there is no one magical strategy or single method to prescribe. What might be effective for one person may be different for his or her roommate, friends or even identical twin!

  • The first step to better stress management to be aware of at how and when you are experiencing stress (what are your symptoms of stress?). 
  • Step two is to identify sources of stress (what are the stressors in your life?). For example, some people may notice the symptom; why am I grinding my teeth or why is my stomach so upset? Then identify the stressor – Oh, there is a big exam coming, I am really nervous about an interview or date. 
  • Step three is to develop a healthy strategy to manage the stressor or your stress response or both. For example, if you are anxious about academics or big test, going to yoga classes and also practicing deep breathing can be helpful for relaxing, but these methods are not a replacement for developing time management or good study skills if they are they are real stressors. Or perhaps your anxiety requires looking at your expectations (do you have unrealistic expectations or perfectionism). Regular exercise has been determined to be beneficial for managing stress and anxiety.
  • Step four is to evaluate if what you did worked! The best results are when you match the strategy with real stressor or cause. Sometimes you need to practice a strategy before you see the benefits.

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