What is Stress?
Stress is the way we react or respond physically, mentally, and/or emotionally to various conditions, changes, and demands of life.
Stress is rooted in the “fight or flight” response which produces changes in the body that prepare us to respond to exciting or dangerous situations. Once the situation has passed or is under control, our stress response subsides, allowing us to relax.
Stress is not all bad. The stress response prepares our bodies and minds for action, and can help us perform at our optimal levels to manage the situations that we are facing. However, the constant demands of academic and personal life can build up stress levels without allowing us to unwind and become fully relaxed. This can lead to stress overload or distress.
Top Stressors for ASU Students
Stressors are internal (self) or external (environment) demands that have the potential to produce stress. Factors or events, either real or imagined, can create a state of stress.
Stressors can generally be divided into two classes:
- Ongoing everyday chronic stressors
- Isolated or major events
Ongoing everyday chronic stressors commonly faced by college students can be grouped into the following categories:
- Time commitments
- Financial concerns
Isolated or major events commonly faced by college students can be grouped into the following categories:
- Leaving home
- Balancing changing roles: student, employee, child, significant other
The Good and Bad of Stress
Stress can be motivating and energizing. Stress about school can motivate you to study to achieve the grades you want to earn. Having a busy schedule can motivate you to prioritize and clear your calendar for important activities. Being strapped for money can motivate you to work harder to get a promotion or a better paying job. Relationship conflicts can motivate you to build communication skills. When stressors come at a rate and intensity we can handle, it can be a benefit to well-being.
However, unmanaged stress or hard to handle stressors can compromise well-being.
Symptoms of Stress May Include
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Increased anxiety
- Moodiness or change in temperament
- General irritability
- Feeling out of control or overwhelmed
- Restlessness or fatigue
- A change in behavior or routines
Most ASU students have experienced symptoms that indicate that their stressors are becoming hard to manage. Feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do, feeling exhausted (not from physical activity), feeling very sad, and/or feeling overwhelming anxiety are common among college students. It is important to learn to manage stress to reduce these stress symptoms.
Some students struggle more with stress. These students experience feelings of distress, such as feeling so depressed it is difficult to function, seriously considering and/or attempting suicide. These feelings are not common and are an indication that the student is in need of assistance from family, friends, and professional staff.
Resilience is the ability to withstand, or adapt, to stress and life’s challenges. It is a quality that can be developed throughout life as we experience disappointment, change, adversity and loss. Resilience is strengthened by:
- Supportive relationships
- A positive view of yourself
- Confidence in your strengths and abilities
- Ability to manage strong feelings and impulses
- Good problem-solving and communication skills
- Feeling in control
- Seeking help and resources
- Seeing yourself as resilient, rather than as a victim
- Coping with stress in healthy ways and avoiding harmful coping strategies
- Helping others
- Finding positive meaning in your life despite difficult or traumatic events
Source: Public Broadcasting Station. (2015). This emotional life: what is resilience?
The following stress management tips are designed to help ASU students find their stress management groove:
- Prioritize, take charge, and be flexible when confronted with challenges.
- Develop your skills: communication skills, study and writing skills, test taking skills can all assist in lowering stress levels.
- Manage your time: Use a planner to schedule class work and keep track of upcoming deadlines.
- Regulate your emotions: Recognize that feeling strong emotions is not bad but normal. Find ways to lower anger and frustration such as counting to 100, saying the ABC’s and positive self-talk.
- Use healthy coping strategies: Be physically active, read an enjoyable book, get a massage, etc. Avoid coping strategies that put your safety in jeopardy such as driving dangerously, consuming alcohol or using other substances that can impede judgment and health.
- Strengthen your resilience: Develop supportive, trusting relationships with people you can share your feelings, hopes and dreams with. Hone your communication and problem solving skills. Believe in yourself and your abilities and strengths. Set realistic goals and take action to achieve them. Find positive meaning in your life, no matter what your circumstances are.
- Implement a relaxation practice: deep breathing, yoga, meditation, anything that helps your mind and body relax.