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What is stress? Stress is defined as your physiological and emotional response to a demand that is placed on you. Without some stress, people would not get much accomplished. That burst of adrenaline that helps you finish an artistic project, an academic paper (or getting across Huntington Avenue safely sometimes) is a good example of positive stress. It becomes problematic if your body does not return to a relaxed state after the challenge has been met. This can result in physical and emotional symptoms of negative stress (headaches, muscle tension, exhaustion, panic attacks). Stress reducing activities can help assist you in disrupting a cycle of ongoing stress.
Possible effects of stress:
- Feeling overloaded or overwhelmed
- Sudden attacks of panic or excessive worry
- Forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion, or stumbling over words
- Difficulty making decisions
- Weight gain or loss (with no intention to do so)
- Headaches, chronic pain, frequent colds
- Depression, irritability, frequent mood swings
Ways to manage stress effectively:
- Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based) goals that you are capable of achieving.
- Be aware of your support system, such as friends, family members, professors, counselors, etc. and be open to asking them for help.
- Figure out a system for managing your time that includes sleep and time for relaxation.
- Reinforce positive self-statements. Tell yourself statements that help you to cope, such as "I can do this;" "It is not the end of the world--this is not tragic," "I am enough."
The next time you encounter a stressful situation, try the following 4 easy steps:
- Stop: Just for a few seconds, stop what you are doing and the continuous flow of negative thoughts
- Breathe: Take 3-5 deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth
- Reflect: Ask yourself rational questions about the situation such as: Is this a crisis? Does worrying and becoming tense help to solve it? What action will really serve me in this particular situation? Will this matter to me in two weeks or six weeks? Consider all aspects of the situation.
- Choose: You can make a choice about how you are going to react in a positive manner. You have the power to choose actions and gfeelings in the face of stress. You don't have to immediately become tense, irritable, or upset. With practice, you can take control of your reactions.
Mindfulness is an important skill for everyone to develop, especially for those who struggle with emotional turmoil and disturbing memories. Mindfulness can be a helpful way of managing worry and anxiety. The simple practice of mindfulness involves focusing on attending to your immediate environment. Mindfulness is observing or seeing one thing in the moment. It involves watching what is in front of you, what is under you, what is around you. Paying attention to your senses in this deliberate manner can quiet your nervous system and allow you to enter into a more relaxed state of being. Taking a deep breath and slowly inhaling and exhaling will deepen your experience.
Mindfulness can result in deepening your enjoyment of walking outside, observing a painting in a new way and smelling the air. If you find yourself drifting into a place that causes you anxiety just refocus your breathing and slowly calm your body.
Mindfulness is a technique you can talk about further with a counselor. There is also a meditation group that meets at MassArt in which mindfulness is taught.
Simple ways to practice mindfulness:
- When you get up in the morning, bring your attention to your breathing. Instead of letting your mind spin off into yesterday or today, take mindful breaths. Focus on your breathing, and sense the effects of breathing throughout your body.
- In the shower, notice how the water feels on your body.
- Take the opportunity of brushing your teeth to pay attention to all the sensations and tastes involved.
- On your way to work or school, pay attention to how you walk, drive, or ride the T. Take some deep breaths, relaxing throughout your body.
- When sitting at your desk or keyboard, become aware of the subtle-signs of physical tension and take a break to stretch or walk around.
- Use the repetitive events of the day--the ringing telephone, a knock on the door, getting food-- as cues for mini-relaxation.
- As you go to sleep, let go of today and tomorrow, and take some slow, mindful breaths.
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