Stressed Out

So you impressed a potential employer with your resume and landed an interview. Congratulations! You’re one step closer to getting the job that you want. Now comes a new challenge: acing the interview. For many, undergoing an interview can be both intimidating and nerve-wracking. It’s not hard to see why; giving a good impression and convincing someone that you’re the best candidate for the job in 30 minutes or less is a huge task. Knowing what to wear, how to act, what to say – all of these factors can be stressful even for the seasoned interviewer.

Thankfully, there are ways to reduce stress before an interview and ensure that you do the best job possible. The key to giving a successful interview is preparation; preparation; preparation. Whether your interview is tomorrow or in two weeks, make sure you prepare for it. Being prepared doesn’t simply mean memorizing the answers to a bunch of questions. In order to give a good impression, you will need to build rapport with the interviewer. You can do this by smiling, making eye contact, speaking clearly and succintly, giving the other person’s name before answers (“Well Anthony, I believe that I will be great at handling a 10-person staff because…”), and validation (Using a phrase from their question in your answer: “My greatest weakness would have to be my desire to be a perfectionist…”).

The following are some tips on how to prepare for an interview:

1) Find out as much information about the company as you can prior to the interview.

What qualifications or skills do they look for in potential employees? How big is the company? What is a typical day like? What’s the average salary? Some good places to look for this information are the company’s website, brochure, or best of all, from someone who actually works there. If you have the opportunity, get in touch with a current employee and ask them a couple of questions – or if you’re feeling especially ambitious, ask them for some tips on getting past the interview. You never know how handy these little tidbits of information might be.

The bottom line is, a company wants to know that you took the time to do some research prior to interviewing with them. During the actual interview, make sure you don’t ask any questions that could have easily been answered had you glanced at their website or brochure. This will undoubtedly leave a bad impression and decrease your chances of landing the job.

2) Brainstorm possible questions that might come up during the actual interview.

Some frequently asked questions are:

Why do you think you’re the best candidate for the job?

Here is where your previous research will definitely come in handy. You should have a fairly good idea of the kind of qualifications/skills the company wants in their employees. The key is to show how your own experiences fits this model; give specific examples to get the point across that you would be an asset to your employer.

Example: The position you’re interviewing for is a managerial one and you’ve worked as a bank manager for the past five years. What qualities did you possses that made it possible for you to do this job well? How did these qualities develop during your time there? Address these in your answer.

What is your biggest weakness? Never, under any circumstances, say that you have no weaknesses. Everyone has weaknesses; it’s part of being human. If you claim otherwise you will come off as cocky or ingenuine. Here, you want to give a specific weakness, followed by an example of how you overcame it. The best examples should be work-related.

Example: I tend to be overenthusiastic and take on too many responsibilities at once and often feel myself getting overwhelmed. However, over time I’ve managed to better delegate tasks and work with others to ensure that the work is completed quickly and successfully.

Tell me about yourself. This might be one of the most challenging questions to answer during an interview, in part because it is so broad and you may have no idea what the interviewer wants to hear. This is where your previous brainstorming will help you. In a minute or less, briefly give an introduction of yourself and address: your best qualifications/skills and why you think they make you suitable for this job.

3) Practice, practice, practice.

The best way to practice for an interview is to have someone else interview you. Set up a mock interview with a friend or career counselor and have them play the part of the interviewer. Have the settings be as close to your actual interview settings as possible – time it and have your friend make up the questions himself so that the interview remains spontaneous. You need to be able to think on your feet and answer questions thoroughly and succintly. Have your friend give your feedback afterwards and pay special attention to the things you need to improve.

It’s important to remember that communication is not just about what you say, but your body language, intonation of voice, and how you say certain things.

Some things to take note of are:

  • Do you have any nervous ticks that you’re unaware of? (I.e., twitching, fumbling with papers, saying “um” a lot, stammering, etc.)
  • Do you maintain constant eye contact with the interviewer?
  • Do you ramble on or give (often cliche) answers that are too brief and don’t address the specific question?
  • What do you do with your hands? Are they constantly moving and distracting the interviewer from what you’re saying?
  • Do you talk too softly or too loudly?

The Day of the Interview

Remember, it’s okay to feel a little nervous and stressed during the actual interview. This simply means that you’re taking the opportunity seriously, which will show during the interview. However, don’t let your nerves get the best of you and ruin your chances. Unless you flat-out lied on your resume, chances are that the employer saw something about you that they liked and would like to explore further. They wouldn’t have called you in for an interview otherwise.

What to Wear:

Ladies: Wear a pencil skirt with a nice blouse and a blazer or a dark suit. If you decide to wear make-up, apply it lightly and in neutral colors. When in doubt, always err on the side of conservative. The most important thing should be to look professional at all times. Hint: If you decide to wear heels, keep them in your purse until you reach your destination to save your feet unnecessary pain. Bring a brush with you and pop into the bathroom for a quick brush-up before your interview begins.

Guys: A suit is always a good idea; nothing too flashy or unconventional. If you’re worried that you might be overdressed, wearing a pair of black slacks, a dress shirt and tie, and nice black shoes will also work. Make sure to shave and keep your appearance neat and tidy. Take out/cover up any noticeable tattoos/piercings.

Last-Minute Tips

1) It’s a good idea to show up early to an interview, but be careful not to be too early. Give yourself about 10-15 minutes of leeway and make sure that you have the address and phone number of the place you’re interviewing at in case of any last-minute emergencies.

2) Bring extra copies of your resume and any relevant work samples, just in case. It might be worth it to invest in a small portfolio or briefcase to hold these important documents.

3) When you meet your interviewer for the first time, don’t hesitate to walk over, introduce yourself, and give them a firm handshake. (Practice your handshake with a friend beforehand.) This is a sign of confidence and shows that you’re prepared. Don’t forget to smile.

4) At the end of many interviews, the interviewer may ask if you have any questions for him or the company. Prior to the interview, jot down some potential questions to ask during this time (keep them relevant, of course). Asking good questions is a sign that you’ve done your homework and researched both the company and the job.

5) At the end of the interview, thank your interviewer (or interviewers, if there are more than one of them) and shake their hand before leaving. Within the next 24 hours, send them a thank-you e-mail or write a quick thank-you card that you can drop in the mail on the same day. This is your last chance to make a good impression. In the e-mail or card, thank them for their time, and close with one last statement on why you are the best candidate for the job.

Example: “Dear: ___. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Your company sounds like it is heading in a formidable direction in developing innovative computer software and I believe that my previous experience as an aerospace engineer will make me a good fit for this company. I look forward to hearing back from you. Sincerely…”

6) Keep your nerves under control! Don’t fidget, talk too fast, talk too much, or forget your interviewer’s name. The most important thing is to try your best and be yourself.

Good luck and have a great interview!

 

Are you a passive, aggressive, or assertive communicator?

Assertive communication is key to stress management. No matter what kind of person you are or what your daily life consists of, chances are that you will have to interact with other people on a regular basis. Those who cannot communicate assertively with others may end up saying “no” in subconscious, counter-productive, and often harmful ways. They add unnecessary stress to their lives and face physical and emotional repercussions.

For example, suppose your boss calls you into his office and asks you to do a couple of extra assignments for him, on top of your regular workload. Unable to assert yourself and say how you truly feel about this request, you smile and begrudgingly shuffle out of his office, muttering complaints under your breath. Later, while you’re still in the office after hours struggling to complete the assignments, you feel both angry and miserable, which in turn affects the effort you put into the work. When you turn in the assignments later on, your boss criticizes you for your lackluster efforts, thus fueling your anger and resentment even more.

Failing to assertively communicate can result in vicious cycles that include:

  • Procrastination
  • Suffering in silence
  • Halfheartedness
  • Sloppiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Chronic anger/frustration with yourself and others
  • Being physically or mentally uptight

What does a lot of this lead to? STRESS!

There are many differences among passive, aggressive, and assertive communication. Which one are you?

Passive communicators:

  • Let other people walk all over them
  • Don’t speak up about their rights/needs
  • Always do what they’re told, even if it might not be in their best interest
  • Always want to please others
  • Want to avoid conflict/rejection whenever possible

Passive communication can lead to:

  • Helplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Resentment
  • Disappointment

Aggressive communicators:

  • Often blame others
  • Threaten others
  • Constantly pick a fight
  • Like to dominate in an argument
  • Force other people to agree with them or admit that they’re wrong
  • Belittle others to make themselves feel better about themselves

Aggressive communication can lead to:

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Self-righteousness
  • Bitterness
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness

Assertive communicators:

  • Are able to express their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs without undermining those of other people
  • Have self-confidence
  • Are able to say what they want but still compromise
  • Listen closely to other people
  • Convert win-lose situations to win-win ones

Assertive communication can lead to:

  • Self-confidence
  • More control over your life
  • Improved relationships with others
  • Less physical and mental distress
  • Self-awareness
  • Increased inner strength

What do passive and aggressive communication have in common? They often lead to stress. By learning to communicate more assertively, you not only improve your relationships with others and yourself, but you reduce the impact that stress has your life.

How do you become a more assertive communicator?

  • Learn to say no outright. Instead of hemming and hawing your way through an unwanted request, learn to say “no” clearly and succinctly. Avoid giving long, detailed explanations  or excuses for your refusal.
  • Use “I” statements. “I” statements are powerful communication tools. They acknowledge your presence in the conversation and allow you to take responsibility for your actions and decisions.
  • The broken record technique. If someone keeps questioning your motives and decisions, repeat your request several times until the other person understands where you’re coming from.

References:

Charlesworth, E.A. and Nathan, R.G. (2004). Stress management: A comprehensive guide to wellness. New York: Random House.

 

The simplest way to relieve stress is to relax. Learn to take a day off every now and then. Do something you’ve been wanting to do, or been meaning to do, but never found the time for. The most important thing is to make time for yourself.

Here are some quick and easy ways to relax:

  • Do something with your hands. There are many options here that include gardening, arts and crafts, or baking. “Creative therapy” can be drawing, painting, writing, sculpting, or playing music. Research shows that doing things with your hands helps induce a relaxing state.
  • Find a quiet place and read. Go pick up the latest John Grisham novel and find a quiet spot to indulge in some lighthearted reading. This can be a great opportunity to explore a new place as well – maybe a room in the house that you rarely use or a bench at a nearby park.
  • Exercise. Go for a light jog around the block or walk your dog. Play frisbee with the kids or swim a lap at the pool. Exercise doesn’t have to be part of a strict regiment in order to be fun, and it is always beneficial to your health. Mild exercise during the day can relieve problems with insomnia.
  • Take a nap. It doesn’t have to be too long; anything less than an hour will probably do the trick. Simply close your eyes and allow yourself to drift off. You’ll be surprised at how refreshed you feel upon waking up.
  • Spend time with loved ones. Research shows that people without social networks and friends often feel lonely, but often won’t admit it. Being lonely can be a form of stress, as well as not having anyone to vent to. Feeling overwhelmed? Call up an old friend for a chat. You don’t have to talk about your problems if you don’t want to, but even knowing that there is an outlet makes a huge difference.
  • Laugh. Rent a comedy, grab some popcorn, and relax on the couch. Laughing has and always will be a great source of therapy. Laughter can trigger healthy physical changes in the body and help you bond with other people.
  • Do yoga/meditation. Nothing like a few stretches and mindfulness to induce your body into a relaxed state. For tips on how yoga can reduce stress and make you a happier and healthier person, visit here.
  • Get a massage. Release the tension from your body – your mind will thank you too.
  • Listen to music. The next time you have chores or errands to do, put on some music. Soothing music can trigger the relaxation response, which is the counter-part to the fight-or-flight response mentioned in a previous post. During the relaxation response, your blood pressure, heart rate, digestive functioning, and hormonal levels go back to normal.
  • Treat yourself to something. Go shopping, have an ice cream cone, or buy something you’ve been eying for a long time.
 

Yoga is a great way to practice meditation and relieve stress.

Stress is often a matter of the mind. One of the best stress management tools for the mind and spirit is yoga. There has been public interest over the past couple of years surrounding stress reduction and other benefits of yoga. A National Institutes of Health survey found that 25 million people said they intended to try yoga within the next year.  According to a New York Times article, the number of Americans practicing yoga and Tai Chi doubled from 7.4 million in 2000 to 14.7 million in 2005. When it comes to stress management techniques that reinforce both the mind and body, yoga seems to have an impact.

What is yoga?

Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years in India and may be the oldest of all meditation traditions. Most people in the West practice hatha yoga, a type of yoga that places an emphasis on physical postures. Yoga’s main purpose is to bring together mind, body and soul to attain a state of spiritual enlightenment and inner peace. It involves several types of physical postures, controlled breathing exercises, and various forms of meditation. Yoga is often used in combination with other treatment for depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders.

What are the benefits of yoga?

Some common physical benefits of yoga are:

  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased lubrication of the joints, ligaments, and tendons
  • Stimulation and massage of all organs in the body
  • Detoxification
  • Toning of muscles

Some common mental benefits of yoga are:

  • Contentment
  • Practicing self-discipline
  • Self-awareness
  • Devotion to something healthy
  • Increased concentration
  • Learning to step back from the world and view your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions with an unbiased eye
  • Feeling more connected to the universe around you

For a more comprehensive list of yoga’s many benefits, visit here.

How do you practice yoga?

Before practicing yoga, find a quiet, comfortable area without distractions. Wear something comfortable and take off any jewelry. There are various yoga styles and poses that revolve around meditation, mental imagery, controlled breathing, stretching, and other exercises. Here are a couple of simple ones to start off with:

  • The lotus position. This is probably the most familiar yoga pose. Sit in a cross-legged position with your right foot placed on your left thigh and your left foot on your fight thigh. The soles of the feet should be turned up and your spine should be completely straight, like an arrow. This position can be held for long periods of time and is said to be best for promoting proper breathing and physical stability. If you find that you can’t do the full lotus position right away, try a half-lotus, with just one foot placed on the opposite thigh.
  • Shavasana. This is also known as the “corpse pose.” Simply lie flat on your back with your legs spread about two feet apart and your arms flat and away from body. Let your feet fall to the side and have your palms face up. Then, breathe in and out of your nose. Concentrate on relaxing every joint and muscle in your body. Do this for about five minute to start, and eventually work up to fifteen or twenty minutes.
  • Konasana. Stand with your legs spaced two or three feet apart, a little more widely spaced than the shoulders. Let your hands hang loosely to the side and stare straight ahead of you. While inhaling, raise your hands in a straight line, with your palms facing downward, so that your hands are parallel with the ground. Keep your arms and legs straight.
    While you exhale, simultaneously touch your left foot with your right hand while the left hand and arm are stretched and pointed upwards. Inhale and go back to your standing position. Then touch your right foot with your left hand while keeping your right arm and hand stretched and pointed upwards. Repeat this several times.

References

Adamson, E. (2002). The everything stress management book. Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation.

Anonymous. Health and Stress. Yonkers: Dec 2006. p. 1 (11 pages)

 

How is sleep related to stress?

Just as eating right has an effect on your physical and mental well-being, so does sleeping right. Think about the last time you didn’t get enough sleep.  How did it make you feel? Happy? Stress-free? Probably not.

Instead, you may have experienced some degree of the following:

  • Daytime tiredness/fatigue
  • Concentration problems
  • Impaired memory retention
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Lowered immunity
  • Increased appetite
  • Risk of injury

Each of these factors alone may not be enough to stress you out, but given several of them over a period of time, your stress levels are going to rocket sky-high. Another way that stress and sleep are related is that stress can actually prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep and/or sleeping enough. If you’re laying in bed worried about all the things you’ll have to do tomorrow, chances are you won’t be sleeping very much or very well. As a result, you wake up tired and even more stressed out than before – and the vicious cycle continues.

How does sleep reduce stress?

Many people are under the false impression that when you sleep, your mind and body are both doing nothing. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While you sleep, your body is doing all sorts of things that your mind isn’t aware of, including healing, consolidating memory, recharging, growing and regenerating cells and discharging emotions (even stressful ones) through dreams. Needless to say, sleeping is definitely not a waste of time. If anything, it can be the most productive thing you do all day.

In addition, when you get a good night’s sleep, you tend to be more productive and alert the next day. Sleeping less in order to accomplish more while you’re awake may actually hurt you in the long run. Most adults need an average of 7-8 hours of sleep a night to be healthy; growing teenagers need even more. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to train yourself to function normally with 1-2 fewer hours of sleep per night than you actually need, so when you don’t sleep enough, your body knows it. It’ll start to accumulate sleep debt. This means that if you go a couple nights with very little sleep and sleep an average number of hours the following night, your body will still be tired. Why is this a bad thing? When you lack sleep, your immune system suffers; your mind starts drawing blanks at the most inopportune moments and you’re back to square one: stressed out.

When Sleep (or lack thereof) and Stress Collide

When I was in college, I worked a night job that required me to stay up from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. several nights of the week. Often I would have class in the mornings, so instead of sleeping in-between work and class I decided to stay up all night instead. Bad idea. Not only did I have a hard time concentrating in class, but hours later, I didn’t remember half the things the professor talked about.

Not sleeping enough affects memory; during sleep, your brain consolidates everything you’ve experienced during the day so that you can better retain it in the long-term. I wasn’t sleeping enough, and my mind knew it. Not only was I cranky and miserable in class, but I zoned through the rest of the day – through meals, meetings, and often another night of work – like a regular zombie. I found trouble enjoying the things I used to enjoy, such as watching a movie or hanging out with a friend, simply because I was so sleep-deprived. I started missing deadlines and forgetting simple tasks. Did this stress me out? You bet. I’m pretty sure my blood pressure went way up during those horrendous months of sleep-deprivation, and I got sick a lot easier too.

The lesson from all this? Get sleep. Your mind and body will love you for it. So will your stress radar.

Develop Better Sleeping Habits

What if you can’t sleep because you’re stressed? Here are some tips for getting healthier sleep and reducing stress:

  • Identify and challenge stress-producing thoughts around sleep. Are you having trouble sleeping because you’re worried about all the work you’ll have to do the next day? Don’t. Instead, take a deep breath and relax. Rewrite that thought in your head. Instead of thinking “I have to sleep now; otherwise I’ll be a train wreck tomorrow!” tell yourself, “Even if I lose some sleep tonight, I’ll still be okay. I can get through tomorrow.” If thinking about certain things is preventing you from falling asleep, try writing it down. Make a to-do list for the following day so you stop worrying that you’ll forget.
  • Make your bed a tranquil place. Your bed should be associated with relaxation and sleep, not a place where you constantly feel stressed out or worried. Avoid doing work on your bed. Instead, do stress-relieving activities such as reading a book or listening to some tranquil music.
  • Establish a sleep routine. Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day, including weekends. This helps your body better adjust to your circadian rhythm. It also makes it easier to get the correct amount of sleep that you need.
  • Do light exercise during the day. Doing exercise right before bedtime isn’t a good idea; exercise pumps up your endorphins (adrenaline) and makes you stay awake. But studies have shown that mild exercise during the day – such as a light jog or some yoga – will help with insomnia.
  • If you still can’t sleep, don’t stress. If you find yourself laying in bed wide-awake after fifteen minutes, don’t push yourself. Avoid tossing and turning in frustration or mindlessly counting sheep (unless this actually relaxes you). Instead, sip some warm milk or herbal tea and think about pleasant things. Don’t freak yourself out about not being able to sleep; this will hardly relax you. If you really can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing. Give yourself at least fifteen minutes of downtime before going back to bed.

References

Adamson, E. (2002). The everything stress management book. Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation.

Active Minds at UCLA. (2009). Campaign for sleep! Los Angeles, CA.

 

We’ve all heard the quote “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it” more times than we can count, but how many of us actually live our lives that way?

If you’re on this blog and reading this post, you’re probably stressed out about something. Maybe even several things.  If it’s something that’s been bothering you for a long time and doesn’t seem to have any desirable outcomes in sight, leading to dead ends and defeatist attitudes, then it’s probably not a good source of stress. (And believe it or not, good stress does exist, as mentioned in this post.)

Now imagine that today is your last day on this earth and you get to spend it however you want to. How do you feel now? Does whatever that was bothering you seem bigger or smaller? More or less intimidating/manageable?

Most problems appear a lot smaller when we put them into perspective. When it comes to dealing with stress and other difficult situations, appraisal plays a huge role.

What is Appraisal?

Appraisal is the act of estimating or judging the nature or value of something or someone.

In terms of stress management, appraisal refers to how you approach a stressful problem or situation. Obviously everyone deals with their problems and stress in different ways, but what you might not know is that how you appraise a problem – that is, before you even begin to brainstorm solutions or put plans into effect – has an enormous effect on the outcome, often a bigger effect than the plan or solution themselves.

The reality is that we will all come across stressful situations in life. This is part of being human, and probably will always be a part of being human. Try as we might, we can’t get rid of everything that stresses us out, nor would we necessarily want to.  However, we can find ways to change our appraisal of stressful situations.

Appraising Stressful Situations – Threat or Challenge?

When you come across a stressful situation, do you view it as a threat or a challenge?

If you view it as a threat, your appraisal of the given situation will probably be linked to some pretty negative feelings. You might feel uneasy, fearful, overwhelmed, or apprehensive.

However, if you view it as a challenge, things start looking a little different. It may be the same problem, but your perspective alters the nature of the problem in your mind. Instead of focusing on the negative (“How am I going to deal with this?” or “Why is this happening to me?”), you start focusing on the positive (“I can deal with this” and “I will deal with this to the best of my ability”). As a result, you might feel more confident, calm, prepared, and resourceful – all qualities that better equip you in dealing with stress.

When a situation arises that initially seems unmanageable or scary, consider taking the following steps to alter your appraisal:

  1. Stay calm. It may be your natural reaction to panic upon coming across adversity, but remember that panicking rarely makes the situation better and almost always makes things look worse than they really are. When we panic, we aren’t likely to think straight or clearly. Upon coming across a stressful situation, first take a couple of deep breaths, nice and slowly. Tell yourself the truth: it’s not the end of the world. If you’re unable to sit still and avoid panicking, take a quick breather outside or drink a cup of water.
  2. Put things in perspective. Remind yourself that this isn’t the first time you’ve dealt with a stressful situation and it won’t be the last. You’ve come out of a pickle before, and there’s no reason why you can’t make it through this hurdle as well. No matter how unmanageable or scary the situation may seem right now, it’s still just one problem and it may look even smaller over time.
  3. Brainstorm. Break the problem down. Situations are often stressful in part because they are overwhelming. Don’t try to tackle the problem — or problems — all at once. After you’ve calmed down and put things into perspective, pick the most pressing problem and brainstorm methods/possible solutions  from there. Take things one step at a time, at your own pace  and don’t worry if it’s not solved in a day. Remember, no matter what happens, you’re in control about how you choose to appraise the situation. It can be the worse curve ball life’s ever thrown at you, but if you make it through, you’ll be stronger for it.
  4. Stay positive. Perhaps the key element to this entire process is starting positive and remaining positive. Try to think about things long-term rather than short-term. John Powell once said, “Happiness is an inside job.”  Like many things, happiness comes as a result of our mindset rather than the things that happen around (or to) us. Likewise, when it comes to difficult situations, willpower (something we can control) is often just as important, if not more, than capability (something we can’t always control). If you believe you can do it, you’re much more likely to be successful in your endeavors. The same with stress – if you believe you can handle whatever life throws at you, then you can.
  5. If needed, ask for help. Sometimes, no matter what we do, we still feel stressed or unable to solve the problem. Only you know how much you are capable of handling, so don’t be afraid to reach out to friends; family; even strangers if you need to. Asking for help when you really need it is a sign of strength, not weakness. You might even be surprised to learn that someone you know has gone through the same thing at one point.
 

Food is such an important part of our lives that eating right can have a huge effect on our physical and mental well-being. Good eating habits, such as drinking lots of water and maintaing a balanced diet, can help alleviate symptoms of stress and help our bodies be better at combating its negative effects. Bad eating habits may contribute to or exacerbate stressful situations and lower our immune systems so that it’s harder for us to fight stress.

Unfortunately, when many of us are feeling stressed, we tend to eat worse rather than better. We grab fast food on the run rather than take the time to cook a healthy, balanced meal. Some people like to relieve their stress by consuming large amounts of junk food, such as chocolate or cookies.

Though pigging out or eating unhealthily may temporarily relieve stress, foods that are high in salt or sugar can make stress harder to deal with later on. Food that is high in sodium can actually raise blood pressure, and too much sugar-filled foods may cause mood swings. When we don’t have a balanced diet and skip meals, hunger and a lack of energy make it harder to think clearly and work effectively, which may increase stress.

The following are ways to eat better to help reduce the effects of stress on the body:

  • Eat a balanced diet. Instead of going out for a hamburger or putting something in the microwave, try to cook full meals at home as much as possible. Processed foods such as fast food and microwave dinners may be easier to make, but they have very little nutrition and if eaten too much over time, may have disastrous effects on your health. Instead, find recipes that use a lot of fruits and vegetables, as well as grains and fiber. What you eat affects how you feel. If your body feels good, there’s more of a chance that you will too.
  • Get enough antioxidants. Antioxidants are thought to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and cataracts, as well as slow down the aging process. You can get antioxidants from citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, leafy greens, and vegetables that are dark orange, yellow, and red.
  • Eat breakfast. Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day, as it affects your energy levels throughout the day and reduces the likelihood that you’ll eat too much at lunch or dinner. Overeating can lead to bloating and inactivity. Eating the right amount of food during mealtimes keeps your sugar levels balanced so that you feel healthy and alert.
  • Avoid too much caffeine. We’ve all had that extra cup of coffee to help us cope with stressful situations, whether it be writing a paper last minute or hyping ourselves up before a presentation. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it has the ability to speed up the brain and make you more alert. However, too much caffeine can cause you to have trouble sleeping at night or get shakes and jitters, which in turn can increase stress.
  • Eat a lot of fiber and carbohydrates. Fiber and carbohydrates fill us up more quickly so that we don’t eat too much at mealtime, reducing sluggishness and keeping sugar levels balanced. Carbohydrates are also thought to produce serotonin, a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being.
  • Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is important whether you’re stressed or relaxed. But even the slightest bit of dehydration can upset your body and drain it of energy and motivation.  Know much water you need to drink a day in order to stay healthy. Most adults need at least 8 or 9 cups.
 

 

Students de-stressing at a National Stress Out Day event on the UCLA campus in 2009.

What is National Stress Out Day?

National Stress Out Day is an event designed by Active Minds, an organization  devoted to spreading awareness about mental health and reducing stigma towards mental illness on college campuses.

National Stress Out Day usually occurs during the spring quarter/semester around April, right before finals. Last year, more than 100 Active Minds chapters across universities in the U.S. brought National Stress Out Day to their campuses. If you’re interesting in helping run or want to participate in National Stress Out Day, find out if your school has an Active Minds chapter and if not, whether or not you can start one.

What is Active Minds?

College is not only a time where people are more prone to stress and other mental health related issues, but can also be a place where not a lot of people know or talk about them. Active Minds was started in order to increase students’ awareness of mental health issues, provide information and resources regarding mental health and mental illness, encourage students to seek help as soon as it is needed, and serve as liaison between students and the mental health community.

Through campus-wide events and national programs, Active Minds aims to remove the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, and create a comfortable environment for an open conversation about mental health issues on campuses throughout North America.

Look for a chapter at your school:

http://www.activeminds.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=27&Itemid=56

Find out how you can start one:

http://www.activeminds.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=357&Itemid=299

What’s Involved

Participating Active Minds chapters receive event, planning and infrastructure support from the Active Minds National Office, a list of suggested events, flyers, a sample Op-Ed, a sample donation request letter, Active Minds, Inc. giveaways and more.   Participating chapters table on campus with materials from Active Minds, their college or university Counseling Center, and resources from OCD Chicago, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the National Institute of Mental Health. Other supported events include:

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    • Screamfest, in which students around the nation scream at the same time to release stress for upcoming finals;
    • Oasis in the Library, in which the Active Minds chapter organizes food and drinks, games and puzzles, massages, aromatherapy, and/or any other stress relieving activities in the campus library during the campus study period;
    • Recess when Active Minds chapters organize kickball, dodgeball, 4-square, jump rope and hula hoop games on the campus quad.

Stay stress-free and encourage others to do the same – look for National Stress Out Day sometime in April.

 

College is a fun and exciting time, filled with countless opportunities, but it can also be a stressful and overwhelming time. Besides the usual grind of going to classes, studying for exams, and writing papers, many college students are involved in extracurricular activities that take up additional energy and time. Whether it’s tutoring kids at a nearby neighborhood, working a part-time job, pledging for a sorority/fraternity, or being president of a club, students must find ways to balance studying and work with their social lives and other areas of interest.

We’ve all had days where nothing seems to go our way. Maybe you stayed up until 5 in the morning the previous night to finish a paper for sociology, only to realize while you’re turning it in that you forgot to send an important e-mail to fellow club members about a fundraiser that’s happening next week, which makes you feel so anxious while you’re in class that you neglect to pay attention to anything the professor is saying. You may come back to your dorm room that night, hoping to get a short nap in before starting more homework, only to see that your roommate’s boyfriend is visiting that weekend, which inevitably exiles you to the floor lounge. Cranky and stressed from having too many things to do at once, you snap at your roommate and cause tension between yourself, her, and her boyfriend.

Fatigue, lack of sleep, and having a busy schedule are leading causes of stress among college students. Other sources of stress include paying for tuition fees, textbook costs, or campus accommodation, dealing with being away from home for the first time, long-distance relationships, and a general feeling of loneliness and lack of belonging. Stress among college students not only makes it harder to deal with every day tasks and relationships with others, but it can have an effect on academic performance and general well-being.

If you’re feeling stressed in college, consider doing the following things:

  • Identify your main source of stress. Whether it’s your heavy course load, juggling work and school, or an inconsiderate roommate, you can’t deal with your problems until you know what they are. Once you have an idea of what’s been stressing you out, focus on one problem at a time.
  • Prioritize. Trying to tackle too many things at once may increase stress and make the problem worse. Instead, make a list of the things that are bothering you and rank them in terms of how much stress each of them is causing, with the most stressful thing at the top. Then, look for solutions that target that specific problem. If you’re taking too many classes, consider dropping a course or lessening other activities in your arsenal so that it frees up time to study. As college students we are often tempted to do as much as possible in four short years, but realize that it’s the quality, not the quantity, of your activities that matter.
  • Exercise. Exercising is a great way to release stress. One, it can take your mind off whatever might be bothering you. Two, it releases chemicals, such as beta endorphins, that specifically counteract the effects of stress hormones. Beta endorphins basically tell your body that it’s okay to relax. Three, it’s a great thing to do with other people, so you don’t have to suffer alone or in silence. Tuition fees often include membership at the school gym, so make good use of it while you’re in college. If you’re feeling stressed, take a walk around campus, go for a swim, take a yoga class, or lift some weights. You’d be amazed at how much better you can feel afterward.
  • Make sure you’re eating right and getting plenty of rest. College students are predominantly night owls. We may stay up late to get some last-minute studying in, polish off that final paper, or simply have a good time at a party. But too many late nights and a lack of nutritious meals will undoubtedly increase our stress levels, not to mention make it harder to concentrate in class or feel attentive and alert throughout the day. If you have a stressful day ahead of you, try to eat a well-balanced breakfast, such as a bowl of oatmeal with some orange juice and an apple. Avoid skipping meals. During meals, make sure you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables and drinking plenty of water. When we are stressed, underfed, and sleep-deprived, our immune systems don’t work as well, which increases the likelihood of illness.
  • Maintain a healthy support system. Talking to someone about what’s stressing you out can be a great source of therapy. Friends, family members and classmates are not only great listeners but they can be invaluable during difficult or stressful times. For example, if a particular class is growing increasingly difficult and you find yourself stressed out about an upcoming exam, consider starting a study group with other people in the class. Anxious about your writing? Ask a friend to look over a paper for you before turning it in. Most universities also offer free tutoring services for those looking for more professional academic help. Make an appointment, or consider going to a professor’s office hours to clarify any questions you may have. Remember, office hours are created solely for students. Even the most intimidating professors love it when students go into their office hours for a quick chat.
  • Learn to balance work and school. Many college students work part-time while they’re in school to help pay for tuition, textbook and living costs, or simply to earn some pocket money. While this is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, it’s easy to feel overworked or overwhelmed doing both things at once. If you qualify for financial aid, look for work-study jobs offered by your university – often these jobs are close to campus and take into consideration your class schedule so that you can work around your classes, as well as keep hours to a manageable amount so that they don’t interfere with your schoolwork. They often pay higher than other jobs, and many places with work-study contracts prefer to hire work-study students because the government pays part of their salaries. If working a job while in school ever becomes unbearable, consider taking out student loans to help offset tuition and cost of living. Many student loans have low interest rates that don’t start for years after you graduate. Make a visit to the financial aid office and see if these loans are right for you. There are also scholarships available for students in most universities – talk to someone at the career center for more information.
  • Take some time to breathe and relax. College students are often on the go, zipping from one activity to another without pause. Remember, no matter how much you have on your plate, it’s important to take time for yourself every now and then. Maybe you’ve been feeling homesick for awhile – try to arrange a visit home every now and then to rest and rejuvenate. Instead of staying cooped up inside studying all day, take a study break and read a book on the beach. Go out with friends. Sure you’re here to learn, but who says you can’t have some fun while doing it?
  • If you can’t do it alone, get help. Don’t ever feel embarrassed about asking for help if you truly need it. College can be a highly stressful time, and there’s no reason why we have to go through any of it alone. If something is stressing you out and you don’t feel comfortable discussing it with family or friends, consider making an appointment at your school’s counseling center. They may have some tips for learning how to better manage your time or cope with stressful situations, or they can simply lend a sympathetic ear for your troubles.
 

Relationships are often veritable sources of happiness and relief, but they also cause stress from time to time. One of the biggest causes of stress in relationships is conflict. The following factors usually result in some degree of conflict in a relationship:

  • Differing values. Perhaps you grew up in a caring household that emphasized the importance of family, but your partner grew up in the exact opposite environment. As a result, you may value family more, enjoy going to family gatherings, and put your family before anything else. Your partner, on the other hand, may not have the warm and fuzzy memories of familial relationships and consider them second to other things in life (work, friends, etc.). Conflict can result if the two of you have a disagreement where your values clash, such as where to spend vacation in the summer.
  • Differing expectations. We often expect others to be able to read our minds when it comes to how we’re feeling.  Susie comes home late one day, tired and frustrated from a hard day’s work. All she wants is a nice glass of wine and a hot shower. But when she steps into her house, she sees that John hasn’t fed or put the kids to bed, because he thought it would be nice to have a family dinner together. Susie feels angry at John for not knowing how tired she is, even though he has no way of knowing what her work day was like. She snaps at him and the kids at dinner, causing them to get into an argument. When we expect others to know how we’re feeling simply because they know us, we increase the risk for misunderstanding and conflict.
  • Making assumptions. Communication is key to any relationship, so when two people don’t talk to one another, they may make assumptions that are damaging to the relationship or cause tension between each other. If one person assumes that the other person will walk the dog without checking with them first, conflict will occur when he comes home to find that the other person didn’t do what they were “supposed” to do. Not voicing concerns leads to constant miscommunication; it is almost  always better to ask first than to assume first and ask later.
  • How two people deal with conflict. Everyone deals with conflict and disagreements in different ways, but we often fall into the trap of thinking that our way of dealing with conflict is the right  way. After having a disagreement, one partner may want to talk about the issue immediately, so that resentment and anger doesn’t grow over time. Meanwhile, the other partner would rather spend some time apart in order to cool down  and reassess the situation. Partner A feels hurt and confused because it seems as though the other person is refusing to deal with the conflict and purposely ignoring them. Partner B feels frustrated because Partner A won’t give them their space. As a result, they have an even bigger fight, leading to increasing conflict.

How to deal with conflict in relationships:

  • Don’t try to win the argument. When two people have a disagreement, it is important for each person to acknowledge that the other person’s opinion matters to them. The point of the disagreement is not to prove the other person wrong, it’s to reach a resolution and/or compromise that both people can agree with. If you’re bent on showing the other person how right you are, the conflict will escalate instead of being resolved.
  • Don’t get personal. Avoid calling your partner names during a fight, swearing at them, or making a lot of accusations at once. This is not only immature and counterproductive, but it will make the other person not take you or your argument as seriously. No one reacts well when they feel as though they’re being attacked. Even if you disagree with your partner, attack the argument and not them.
  • Know what you’re fighting for. All couples fight from time to time, but it’s important to keep in mind what you’re fighting for. If you realize that you’re fighting simply to win the argument and put your partner down, then immediately stop talking and take a couple minutes to cool down. It’s important to remember that you’re fighting not to make yourself feel better, but so that the two of you can better understand where each other is coming from and reach a compromise.
  • Be specific about your wants and needs. Don’t assume that the other person knows exactly what you want or where you’re coming from. Avoid vague, general statements – they only only increase the conflict and make it harder to reach a resolution. Be honest about your source of anger/confusion/sadness but also voice your concerns in a way that is easy to follow. Rather than blurting out everything that’s been bothering you the past couple months, keep the argument focused on what started the fight in the first place.
  • Set boundaries. Often, arguments will escalate to the point where a resolution or compromise does not seem possible at the present moment. After a certain point, if you can’t reach a conclusion or agree to disagree, ask the other person if the two of you can take a little bit of time to cool off and return to the issue later. This does not mean storming out in the middle of the fight and leaving the other person hanging. Instead, calmly inform the other person that you would prefer to talk about this when the both of you aren’t so angry. If possible, be specific about when that day will be. Say something such as, “Can we set aside some time to talk about this after I get home from work tomorrow? I want to discuss this further, but I don’t think we’ll be able to reach a resolution tonight. We’re both angry and I don’t want either of us to say something we might regret.”