Level 1: The Basics
Stress is the body’s involuntary response to changes in the environment. The “stress response” is a cascade of neurochemical and physiological events that happen in the presences of a stressor (i.e. a lion chasing you, an upcoming exam, or relationship troubles). This biochemical reaction is meant to trigger a behavioral change so that you do something about that stressor. Stress is exhausting because staying in this chemically charged state takes a TON of energy! If stress accumulates, it can make you tired, sick, and depressed.
Stress is a cycle: it starts with an environmental trigger (the stressor), and ends when you give your body what it is asking for, leading to the relaxation response (i.e., the happy-making neurochemicals like oxytocin and dopamine).
Stress management is the body’s capacity to respond to all kinds of stressors in an effective and efficient manner. This capacity is gained through practicing the learned skill of letting go of tension. Stress management is essentially paying attention to your biochemistry and physiology and doing things that complete the stress response. We practice stress management so that stress does not accumulate and become chronic stress, which is bad news bears.
Level 2: The Prezi
Level 3. What to do?
Here are 10 alterations to your daily routine to reduce your stress level.
- Beat procrastination! Buy a calendar or planner to keep track of important events and deadlines. Keep a to-do list to prioritize your tasks.
- Choose your own goals. Accept that you have limits and keep expectations for yourself realistic. Sometimes it’s ok to say no to a commitment or taking on another project.
- Be willing to compromise and learn to forgive other people and yourself.
- Sleep on it. Clearing your mind and coming back to a problem will help put things in perspective.
- Eat healthy and make time for exercise. Incorporate daily vitamins into your diet. Feeling good physically will help you feel good mentally.
- Look at everyday activities as breaks from a stressful situation. Taking a shower or bath, sitting down at meals, and walking from place to place are all activities to be enjoyed.
- Be positive! You have handled stressful situations before. Become proactive and handle your stressful situation without letting it control you.
- Sometimes life’s problems really are out of your control. Accept that you may not be able to change the situation.
- Make time for yourself! You are the most important person in your life. Relax.
- Make a list of what is bothering you. Come up with reasonable solutions to each problem. If you can’t come up with solutions to every problem, ask for help. Smith peer groups, administration, friends, and family are all here to talk.
- Laughter is the best medicine– read jokes, call a friend, watch funny videos, whatever makes you smile.
- Make a list of reasons to be happy or what you are grateful for in that moment.
- Count to ten! Just like counting sheep before bed…
- Stand up and DANCE!
- Stand up and STRETCH!
- Stand up and BELT OUT A SONG!
- Take a walk outside or around the building you’re in.
- Get a drink of water or tea/coffee (in moderation).
- Take a thought break! Works best if you look away from your computer for a few minutes.
- Take a power nap for 20 minutes.
- Blast your favorite song.
- Go for a run or use the Smith gym!
- Take a bubble bath.
- Procrasti-clean or get organized.
- Snack on some fruit or healthy carbs.
- Watch your favorite show.
- Practice mindful breathing.
- Squeeze a stress ball.
- Scribble, craft, knit, paint, etc…
- A quiet environment. Choose a secluded place such as your room, a garden, a place of worship, or in the great outdoors where you can relax without distractions or interruptions.
- A comfortable position. Get comfortable, but avoid lying down as this may lead to you falling asleep. Sit up with your spine straight, either in a chair or on the floor. You can also try a cross-legged or lotus position.
- A point of focus. Pick a meaningful word or phrase and repeat it throughout your session. You may also choose to focus on an object in your surroundings to enhance your concentration, or alternately, you can close your eyes.
- An observant, non-critical attitude. Don’t worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind or about how well you’re doing. If thoughts intrude during your relaxation session, don’t fight them. Instead, gently turn your attention back to your point of focus.
It may sound silly that simply breathing is a way to manage stress, but the physiology of stress is such that by changing the way you breathe, you actually change your body chemistry. Shallow breaths high in your chest can trigger your physiological stress response, while breathing low in your abdomen triggers your relaxation response.
The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel. So the next time you feel stressed, take a minute to slow down and breathe deeply:
- Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
- Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
- Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.
If you have a hard time breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying on the floor. Put a small book on your stomach, and try to breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Most progressive muscle relaxation practitioners start at the feet and work their way up to the face.
- Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
- Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
- When you’re relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
- Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
- Relax your right foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
- Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
- When you’re ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
- Move slowly up through your body — legs, abdomen, back, neck, face — contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.
Acupressure stimulates the same points as acupuncture, but with fingers instead of needles. Michael Reed Gach, Ph.D., director of the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley, CA, recommends pressing on the following three points:
- The Third Eye, located between the eyebrows, in the indentation where the bridge of the nose meets the forehead.
- The Heavenly Pillar, on the back of the neck slightly below the base of the skull, about half an inch to the left or right of the spine.
- The Heavenly Rejuvenation, half an inch below the top of each shoulder, midway between the base of the neck and the outside of the shoulder blade.
Breathe deeply and apply firm, steady pressure on each point for two to three minutes. The pressure should cause a mild aching sensation, but not pain.
Place your thumbs behind your ears while spreading your fingers on top of your head. Move your scalp back and forth slightly by making circles with your fingertips for 15-20 seconds.
Easy on the Eyes
Close your eyes and place your ring fingers directly under your eyebrows, near the bridge of your nose. Slowly increase the pressure for 5-10 seconds, then gently release. Repeat 2-3 times.
Sinus Pressure Relief
Place your fingertips at the bridge of your nose. Slowly slide your fingers down your nose and across the top of your cheekbones to the outside of your eyes.
Shoulder Tension Relief
Reach one arm across the front of your body to your opposite shoulder. Using a circular motion, press firmly on the muscle above your shoulder blade. Repeat on the other side.
Additional tips for managing school-related stress: www.stressmanagementtips.com/school.htm
Yoga Stretches for Stress Relief: www.lhj.com/health/fitness/10-yoga-stretches-for-stress-relief/?page=1
Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_relief_meditation_yoga_relaxation.htm
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