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Ten Commandments for Managing Stress

Many people don't realize it, but stress is a very natural and important part of life. Without stress there would be no life at all! We need stress (eustress), but not too much stress for too long (distress). Our body is designed to react to both types of stress. Eustress helps keep us alert, motivates us to face challenges, and drives us to solve problems. These low levels of stress are manageable and can be thought of as necessary and normal stimulation.

Distress, on the other hand, results when our bodies over-react to events. It leads to what has been called a "fight or flight" reaction. Such reactions may have been useful in times long ago when our ancestors were frequently faced with life or death matters. Nowadays, such occurrences are not usual. Yet, we react to many daily situations as if they were life or death issues. Our bodies really don't know the difference between a saber-toothed tiger and a teacher correcting our work. It is how we perceive and interpret the events of life that dictates how our bodies react. If we think something is very scary or worrisome, our bodies react accordingly.

When we view something as manageable, though, our body doesn't go haywire; it remains alert, but not alarmed. The activation of our sympathetic nervous system (a very important part of our general nervous system) mobilizes us for quick action. The more we sense danger (social or physical), the more our body reacts. Have you ever been called upon to give an extemporaneous talk and found that your heart pounded so loudly and your mouth was so dry that you thought you just couldn't do it? That's over-reaction.

Problems can occur when over-activation of the sympathetic system is unnecessary. If we react too strongly or let the small over-reactions (the daily hassles) pile up, we may run into physical, as well as psychological problems. Gastrointestinal problems (e.g., diarrhea or nausea), depression, or severe headaches can come about from acute distress. Insomnia, heart disease, and distress habits (e.g., drinking, overeating, smoking and using drugs) can result from the accumulation of small distress.

What we all need is to learn how to approach matters in more realistic and reasonable ways. Strong reactions are better reserved for serious situations. Manageable reactions are better for the everyday issues that we all have to face.

The following hints provide you with a program for managing stress:

1. Thou Shalt Organize Thyself.
Take better control of the way you're spending your time and energy so you can handle stress more effectively.

2. Thou Shalt Control Thy Environment...
..by controlling who and what is surrounding you. In this way, you can either get rid of stress or get support for yourself.

3. Thou Shalt Love Thyself...
...by giving yourself positive feedback. Remember, you are a unique individual who is doing the best you can.

4. Thou Shalt Reward Thyself...
... by planning leisure activities into your life. It really helps to have something to look forward to.

5. Thou Shalt Exercise Thy Body...
...since your health and productivity depend upon your body's ability to bring oxygen and food to its cells. Therefore, exercise your heart and lungs regularly, a minimum of three days per week for 15-30 minutes. This includes such activities as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, aerobics, etc.

6. Thou Shalt Relax Thyself...
...by taking your mind off your stress and concentrating on breathing and positive thoughts. Dreaming counts, along with meditation, progressive relaxation, exercise, listening to relaxing music, communicating with friends and loved ones, etc.

7. Thou Shalt Rest Thyself ...
...as regularly as possible. Sleep 7-8 hours a night. Take study breaks. There is only so much your mind can absorb at one time. It needs time to process and integrate information. A general rule of thumb: take a ten-minute break every hour. Rest your eyes as well as your mind.

8. Thou Shalt be Aware of Thyself…
…be aware of distress signals such as insomnia, headaches, anxiety, upset stomach, lack of concentration, colds/flu, excessive tiredness, etc. Remember, these can be signs of potentially more serious disorders (i.e., ulcers, hypertension, heart disease).

9. Thou Shalt Feed Thyself / Thou Shalt Not Poison Thy Body…
…eat a balanced diet. Avoid high calorie foods that are high in fats and sugar. Don't use drugs and/or alcohol. Caffeine will keep you awake, but it also makes it harder for some to concentrate. Remember, a twenty minute walk has been proven to be a good relaxer.

10. Enjoy Thyself…
…it has been shown that happier people tend to live longer, have less physical problems, and are more productive. Look for the humor in life when things don't make sense. Remember, you are very special and deserve only the best treatment from yourself.

If stress continues to be a problem, talk it over with your parents, your school counselor, or another professional for advice and guidance.

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