HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

 Section IV - Mental Health Facts

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Stress

Stress is the body’s response to any increased demand. It does not matter whether the demand is caused by pleasant or unpleasant things. It does not matter whether it results in good or bad things.

Marriage or divorce, job loss or the threat of being fired, even the disappointment of doing poorly on an exam, all create stress. So do countless other situations.

Inside, your body reacts to stress by preparing to do something (e.g., fight, kick, scream, cry, run away). But in most situations, none of these options are acceptable.

Symptoms

Physical Symptoms

bullet Increased heart rate
bullet Rapid breathing
bullet Tense muscles
bullet Increased blood pressure

Emotional Reactions

bullet Irritability
bullet Anger
bullet Losing one’s temper
bullet Yelling
bullet Lack of concentration
bullet Being jumpy

When left unchecked, stress can lead to a variety of health problems including:

bullet Insomnia
bullet Back pain
bullet High blood pressure
bullet Heart disease
bullet A lowering of the body’s immune system. In fact, the American Academy of Family Physicians states that about two-thirds of all visits to the family doctor are for stress-related disorders.
Job demands are a common source of stress.

Questions to Ask

Do you have either of these problems?

  • You are so distressed that you have recurrent thoughts of suicide or death.
  • You have impulses or plans to commit violence.

Yes. Get Emergency Care.

No

 

Do you have any of these problems often?

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Crying spells
  • Confusion about how to handle your problems
Yes. See Physician.

No

 
Are you abusing alcohol and/or drugs (illegal or prescription) to deal with stress?
Yes. See Physician.

No

 

Have you been a part of a traumatic event in the past (e.g., armed combat, airplane crash, rape or assault) and do you now experience any of the following?

  • Flashbacks (reliving the stressful event), painful memories, nightmares
  • Feeling easily startled and/or irritable
  • Feeling “emotionally numb” and detached from others and the outside world
  • Having a hard time falling asleep and/or staying asleep
  • Anxiety and/or depression
 
Yes. See Counselor.

No

 
Do you withdraw from friends, relatives and co-workers and/or blow up at them at the slightest annoyance?
Yes. See Counselor.

No

 

Do you suffer from a medical illness that:

  • You are unable to cope with
  • Leads you to neglect proper treatment
Yes: See Physician or See Counselor

No

 

 

Self-Help

Being able to manage stress is important in living a healthy, happy and productive life. Here are some techniques and strategies to help you deal with stress:
bullet Maintain a regular program of healthy eating, good health habits and adequate sleep.
bullet Exercise regularly.
bullet Balance work and play. All work and no play can make you feel stressed. Plan some time for hobbies and recreation. These activities relax your mind and are a good respite from life’s worries.
bullet Help others. We concentrate on ourselves when we’re distressed. Sometimes helping others is the perfect remedy for whatever is troubling us.
bullet Take a shower or bath with warm water. This will soothe and calm your nerves and relax your muscles.
bullet Have a good cry. Tears of sadness, joy or grief can help cleanse the body of substances that accumulate under stress and also release a natural pain-relieving substance from the brain.
bullet Laugh a lot. When events seem too over-whelming, keep a sense of humor. Laughter makes our muscles go limp and releases tension. It’s difficult to feel stress in the middle of a belly laugh. Learn to laugh as a relaxation technique.
bullet Find ways to learn acceptance. Sometimes a difficult problem is out of your control. When this happens, accept it until changes can be made. This is better than worrying and getting nowhere.
bullet Talk out troubles. It sometimes helps to talk with a friend, relative or member of the clergy. Another person can help you see a problem from a different point of view.
bullet Escape for a little while. When you feel you are getting nowhere with a problem, a temporary diversion can help. Going to a movie, reading a book, visiting a museum or taking a drive can help you get out of a rut. Temporarily leaving a difficult situation can help you develop new attitudes.
bullet Reward yourself. Starting today, reward yourself with little things that make you feel good. Treat yourself to a bubble bath, buy the hardcover edition of a book, call an old friend long distance, add to your stamp or coin collection, buy a flower, picnic in the park during lunchtime, try a new perfume or cologne or give yourself some “me” time.
bullet Do relaxation exercises daily. Good ones include visualization (imagining a soothing, restful scene), deep muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscle fibers), meditation and deep breathing.
bullet Budget your time. Make a “to-do” list. Rank in priority your daily tasks. Avoid committing yourself to doing too much.
bullet Avoid procrastination so you are not left with a lot of work to do at one time.
bullet View changes as positive challenges, opportunities or blessings.
bullet Do a stress rehearsal by practicing for stressful events. Imagine yourself feeling calm and confident in an anticipated stressful situation. You will be able to relax more easily when the situation arises.
bullet Modify your environment to get rid of or manage your exposure to things that cause stress.
bullet Remember that nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Therefore, it is not an event that causes stress, but rather what you say to yourself about the event. The ABCDE Model can help you change your thoughts about an event and help manage stress.
bullet Use the Thought Zapper technique for stress producing thoughts. (See Steps 1 through 4 under “Use a Thought Zapper”.)
Exercise promotes physical fitness and emotional well-being.

Copyright 2004, 5th Edition, American Institute for Preventive Medicine. All rights reserved.

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March 16, 2007