Understanding & Coping with Stress

Good Stress versus Troublesome Stress

UNH students report stress as a top concern that negatively impacts their academic success.

Everyone experiences stress. It’s is your physical, emotional and mental response to life. Your body experiences hormonal changes and physiological responses when you are faced with a stressor. This is known as the stress response. This response occurs in your brain, which triggers your nervous system and then branches out to the rest of your body. This response is what gives you a burst of energy that helps deal with the perceived danger/stressor. This is why your heart beats faster, your skin gets flushed or your hands start sweating when you feel stress.

Good Stress

Not all stress is bad. In fact, performance and wellness are enhanced with moderate and manageable levels of stress. Stress can create motivation. Without some stress, people wouldn't get a lot done. Postitive stress is that extra burst of hormones that helps you to finish your final paper, win at sports, and meet everyday challenges.

The ability to learn from your stress is also built into your body’s stress response. For several hours after you experience a stressful event, your brain is busy rewiring itself to remember and learn from the experience. This brain activity is helps you be better prepared to handle similar stressors the next time around. 

When the danger/stressor has passed, your rest-and-digest response kicks in to help you calm down and return to a natural state.

Learn more about the upside of stress.

Troublesome Stress

Stress can turn troublesome if you are continually in an aroused state and can't return to a relaxed state. This happens when you avoid what is causing you stress, anticipate a stressor in the future or replay something stressful that happened over and over again in your head. This constant stress can be known as chronic stress and can take a toll on your health and wellness, often leading to mental and physical exhaustion and illness.

Possible Causes of Stress

  • Relationships (family, friends, partner)
  • Loss and grief – of any kind
  • Academic pressure
  • Dissatisfaction with field of study
  • Roommates and living arrangements
  • Transitions to college or home
  • New environments
  • Time management
  • Balancing social life with academic life
  • Unrealistic expectations, including perfection
  • Physical health, acute and chronic health conditions
  • Gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Communication
  • Social media comparisons

Symptoms of Stress

Your body is very smart and has ways of sending you messages that you need to slow down and take care of yourself. Watch for these symptoms:

  • Lack of concentration
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Inability to problem-solve
  • Depression and sadness
  • Irritability, frustration, annoyance, anger
  • Nervous, worried, fearful
  • Feeling out of control
  • Racing heart
  • Rapid breathing
  • Upset stomach, constipation or diarrhea
  • Stomach "butterflies"
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Back, shoulder or neck pain
  • Tension or migraine headaches
  • Skin problems (i.e., acne, hives)
  • Hair loss
  • Sweaty palms or hands
  • Fatigue or trouble sleeping
  • Substance abuse

Avoiding your stress will make these symptoms intensify and become more challenging. If you turn towards your stress and find ways to cope, you will find these symptoms will lessen in intensity or go away.

Coping with Stress

Resiliency & Stress Mindset

The way you view stress has an impact on your wellbeing and ability to cope and learn from stress. Learning new coping skills and habits will help you get better at stress and build resilience  – or the ability to survive, thrive and bounce back from challenges.

Sleep, Food, & Body Movement

Sleeping, eating and body movement patterns may shift under stress. To help your body rebalance and find energy, try to get a good night’s sleep of 8+ hours/night and eat well.

Moving your body will release good stress hormones that can help you feel better. Hamel Recreation Center offers many opportunities to get your body moving. You can try intramural sports, personal training, yoga classes, group fitness, and more. Or, go for a walk around campus or College Woods. You don’t have to go to a gym to move your body.

Meditation & Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to know what is happening in your body and your mind so that you can gently turns towards what you are experiencing and possibly find relief. One way to be mindful is through meditation.  Learn how we can help you create a mindfulness and meditation practice to cope with stress.  

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