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Dealing with stress

Stress - a small amount of it can be a good thing

We all grow and move forward when we are in situations which challenge and ask more of us.

But often the demands of these situations - work, study, relationships, home life, expectations - can get so big that they overwhelm us.

As stresses in our life build up, we become less and less able to deal with any of them effectively.

This web page looks at the causes and warning signs of too much stress and what you can do about it.

Causes of stress

There are many situations which cause stress. Some are obvious, such as an excessive work-load, coping with a death or the break-up of a relationship. Others you may feel are just part of life and should be taken in your stride. However, ALL of the following (and in no particular order) are classic stress-inducing situations and it is important to recognize them as such - especially if you are dealing with more than one at a time:

  • An excessive workload
  • An uncomfortable physical environment, eg, prolonged extremes of temperature or noise
  • Not enough sleep
  • Ill health
  • Prolonged physical activity
  • Financial difficulties
  • Renovations
  • A change in your living/working patterns: leaving home, new flatmates, a new job
  • Moving house
  • Pregnancy
  • Bad self-image: 'I'm too fat', '... too dumb', '... too ugly'
  • Living/working/studying in an environment that is not of your culture
  • Living/working/studying using a second language
  • Hostile, or uncomfortable emotional environments, eg, restructuring, redundancy
  • A break-up of a relationship
  • The death or loss of a friend or relation

Signs of stress

Just as stress can be caused by different things, the signs of stress vary from person to person. Recognising your signs is the key to managing stress. The most common signs of stress are:

  • Difficulties with sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability, hostility
  • Feeling of helplessness
  • Stomach aches
  • Exhaustion
  • Loss of concentration
  • Chest pains
  • Poor job/academic performance
  • Headaches
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Sadness/depression

What to do about it

To reduce stress in your life try to develop a lifestyle which sees to all your needs: physical, mental and emotional:

  • Make sure you get enough exercise, sleep and nutrition.
  • Take time out each day for rest and recreation and for your social activities.
  • Establish supportive relationships/friends.

If you're already experiencing stress in your life, the worst thing to do is to plough on and ignore it. STOP, ASSESS your situation - work out exactly what is making you feel this way. Then take ACTION to improve it.

If you find yourself starting to get stressed out:

  • Take control by consciously relaxing - through physical exercise, breathing exercises and/or doing activities you enjoy.
  • Be creative in your approach to tasks. For example, if you feel stressed at the prospect of writing assignments, ask the advice of your tutor, or perhaps you could take an  HELPS academic writing course.
  • Talk with others about your anxieties and/or concerns.
  • Never be afraid of asking for help - everyone experiences stress at some time.
  • Accept your failures and move on. See value in your mistakes: no mistake, no progress.
  • Be encouraging and supportive of yourself. Always appreciate who you are and the unique qualities you have.
  • Try to keep things in perspective. If a situation is getting on top of you, step back adjust your goals and take action:
  • "I may not have had time to research all I need but I'll do what I can and get this assignment finished on time, and without penalty."
  • Most of us are very good at giving advice. Try looking at your situation as if it were someone else's - a friend, perhaps. Think about the advice you would give them, and follow it yourself.

How to find out more

More advice in dealing with stress is found in other links in this series:

  • Time Management
  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism

Need help - see a counsellor by calling 9514 1177. For more information go to http://www.ssu.uts.edu.au/counselling/appointment/index.html.

This self help information was reproduced by UTS Student Services Unit with permission of Victoria University of Wellington