College is a really stressful time for everyone! Classes are harder, there are more expenses, you are meeting new people, and you may be on your own for the first time. In general, most people do not automatically know how to deal with stress, so it takes some practice to identify when we are stressed and if we are dealing with stressors in an unhealthy way. Being mindful is a healthy way to handle stress. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your body, mind and feelings in the present moment, and it’s thought to create a feeling of calm when you practice it regularly. You can do a lot of things in a mindful way! For example you can eat mindfully, if while you are eating, you consider how the food tastes, feels, what emotions it sparks, and what thoughts you are thinking. Another example is creating a stress management plan which requires you to consider the sensations that indicate you are feeling stress and choose coping mechanisms that will successfully reduce your stress by realizing how different actions make you feel.
3 Main Types of Stress
- Acute Stress is the most common type of stress. It’s your body’s immediate reaction to a new challenge, event or demand, and triggers your fight, flight, or freeze response. Not all acute stress is bad! Feeling acute stress motivates us to study for an exam. You may feel acute stress hoping to get a match on Tinder! Everyone experiences acute stress and if managed well, it can be a healthy or at least normal part of life.
- Episodic stress is when acute stress happens frequently. If you are having episodic stress about school work, finances, friends, etc. it may be a sign that you need to learn to cope with your stress in a different way.
- Chronic Stress is constant stress that doesn’t go away. Chronic stress takes a toll on your physical and mental health. A stress management plan is meant to prevent chronic stress from developing by reducing the number of episodic stress experiences.
Stress and the Body
Spotting physical signs of stress in your body can help you calm down and recover from stress faster.
The sooner you recognize that you are feeling stressed, the sooner you can seek out campus resources to help you address that stress. Stress can have serious impacts to your physical and emotional health and wellbeing, so it’s important to not ignore this common signs. Listed below are common locations where you may observe symptoms of stress:
- Digestion: stomachache, heartburn, nausea, food cravings, constipation, diarrhea, cramping, and indigestion
- Skin and Nerves: dehydrated skin, chapped lips, acne breakouts, hives, numbness, tingling, twitching, jumpiness, itching, and shaking
- Bones and muscles: joint pain, muscle aches, muscle tension, stiffness, and increased risk for injury
- Head and mind: confusion, trouble finding words, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, jaw pain, fidgeting, and dry mouth
- Heart: chest tension, racing pulse, chest pain*, skipped beat*, pounding pulse, and shallow breathing*
- Reproductive system: decreased fertility, missed periods, painful periods, and low sex drive
- Immune system: more frequent illnesses such as colds, and illnesses last longer and feel worse than usual
*Important Medical Note:
Please do not ignore persistent physical symptoms, especially chest pain, inconsistent pulse, and shortness of breath, as these can be signs of a more significant medical issue. Seek professional help. You may call 9-1-1 or reach out to Student Health Services at 302-831-2226.
Ways to Help
- Breathe deeply from the belly for a few minutes
- Take 1-2 minutes to zone out and daydream
- Scan your body for tension and stretch
- Take a brisk walk
Creating a Stress Management Plan
A stress management plan can help prevent you from having future experiences of acute stress by helping you better identify what activated a particular stressor and how to manage that stressor more effectively in the future so it doesn’t reactivate or so you can deactivate it more efficiently. If you are experiencing episodic stress, this means you may need to reevaluate your stress management plan because it’s not working very well. Chronic stress is best addressed by working with a mental health counselor as managing it requires comprehensive strategies which are beyond the scope of a stress management plan.
Explore How You Currently Manage Stress:
- When was the last time you were really stressed? Remember to select an example of acute or episodic stress.
- What were the signs that you were stressed? Many people consistently behave or feel a certain way when they are stressed. These could be behavioral such as not eating, binge eating, sleeping too much, not doing things you typically would enjoy. Or these could be emotional such as feeling anxious or on edge, feeling irritable etc.
- What was the root cause your stress? Stress doesn’t just appear. Typically, our actions, or lack thereof, build up which leads to a really stressful situation. For example, if you are stressed because you have no spending money, it may be a result of poor saving or not having a budget. You may not be utilizing your meal swipes or spending a lot of money on alcohol. It’s important to be mindful of the root cause of stress to prevent that particular stressor from activating or happening again.
- What’s your best strategy to deal with stress? Think how you should behave in the moment to get your stress under control and what is the first thing you should try. Some positive mechanisms to address your stress are exercising, listening to music, socializing with friends, or taking a nap to re-energize yourself. Choose a coping mechanism that would be helpful in addressing your stress and write it down. But be smart about it. If a symptom of your stress is that you’re not eating, exercise might not be the best choice because you may not have the right nutrition, instead try eating fruits and vegetables.
- What is your backup strategy? Stress can be really stubborn and our first choice of a coping strategy may not always work. It is important to have a plan B just in case you need a little bit more help. Think about a second coping strategy that might help you get through your stress and write it down.
- Who is part of your support system? Most of us need to build a support system to best handle our stress. These may be casual relationships that we build with our friends or family. We may also choose to include people with a more official role like the Counseling Center, Career Services or Student Health Services. Think of who would be helpful to you in times of stress and write them down.
Guided Candle Meditation
There are several benefits to candle meditation such as: better quality sleep, stress reduction, increased mental stability and improved concentration. By focusing on one thing — how the candle light changes — the muscles around your eyes contract less, your heart rate may slow down, and if you experience racing thoughts they may slowly shut down, one by one. Candle meditation is one way to practice mindfulness by directing your focus to one particular thing instead of trying to focus on external stimuli around you and multiple thoughts or feelings inside you. By doing this, you are honing your ability to be present in the moment.
We recommend using a battery operated LED color changing candle with flickering light in tea light size for this practice. The goal of candle meditation is to maintain your focus on watching the candle change colors. If you are using a real flame candle, do not look directly at the flame, instead look at how the glowing light around the candle changes shape or observe the smoke as it moves and rises. Your endurance and ability to complete this practice will increase with each session. You will need to pace yourself beginning with a session for 10 seconds, then 30 seconds, then one minute and continuing to increase slowly up to ten minutes (or even longer if you choose).
Set the Scene Before You Begin
This practice may be done in your room or on the go. Try to find a comfortable space and sit up straight in a comfortable spot. Put your candle at eye level so you don’t strain your neck or slouch your back. Then, you’ll flip the switch at the bottom of the candle to turn it on, and set up a timer for ten seconds. A non-electronic timer that makes a sound when time is up (such as a wind up egg timer) is ideal to reduce any distractions that take away from your practice. If there are any machines or devices running around you, like a TV or radio, turn them off if you can. Put your phone on silent and place the screen out of sight so you can have this moment for yourself without the risk of distraction.
Begin the Guided Candle Meditation
- Take a few moments to gently listen to the sounds going on around you. Then, listen to the sounds your body makes, using your steady breath as an anchor. Take a slow, deep breath. Listen to the sound you make when you are breathing. Notice how your belly expands on the inhale. Hold your breath, then slowly release, as your stomach flattens on the exhale.
- As you continue to slowly breath in and out, focusing on your breath, watch the candle fading from one color to the next. Without thinking about what the next color will be. Simply sitting, simply watching. As you find yourself drifting in thought, come back to your breathing. Taking slow, deep breaths.
- Continue to watch the colors of the candle flicker and fade, flicker and fade. Focusing on your breath, and when your mind wanders off, without judgement, bringing it back to the present moment of calm. A moment of being alone with yourself.
- At the end of your session, do not forget to thank yourself for taking the time to practice centering yourself in the present.
Bedtime Calculator for Better Sleep
If caffeine is the only way you can make it through your 8:00 am class, then try out this website: https://sleepyti.me/ that calculates exactly when you should be going to bed. It bases the math on when you’re at different sleep stages or cycles during the evening. By doing so, it helps you find a time to go to sleep so that when your alarm goes off you aren’t waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle which can cause you to feel groggy.
- When you arrive on the website, you are given the option to input the time you need to wake up in the morning, or to calculate when you should wake up in the morning if you were to go to bed right now.
- Once you input the time, the calculator counts backwards through sleep cycles to provide you with 4 different bedtimes that would allow you to wake up alert.
- You choose the bedtime that meets your needs, taking into account how many hours of sleep you need. College students generally need a minimum of eight hours of quality sleep each night.
- Keep in mind that it takes the average person about 14 minutes to actually fall asleep so using our example, you would need to be in bed with the lights off, your phone put away, and your eyes closed by 9:11 PM so that you would actually be sound asleep by 9:25 PM giving you a solid 9 hours of sleep before waking up at 6:25 AM.
- To ensure the best possible sleep quality, stop using all screen devices (laptops, phones, tablets, etc.) one full hour before going to bed, that means in our example, you would need to put down your phone by 8:11 PM.
Videos to Help You Manage Stress
In the videos below, you will learn valuable techniques to better manage stress as well as ways to improve your success in reducing stress no matter where you are (in class, at home, on vacation, out with friends, etc.). You might also be interested in watching our Wellness Break video series produced by S.O.S., sign in with your UD email address to watch.
Use this booklet to learn essential studying strategies for final exams, crucial communication skills for negotiating relationships over the summer break and great tools to help you reduce and manage stress. Click the title above to view or download this .pdf booklet.
Use this booklet to explore how you currently manage stress and reflect on ways you can improve your strategies to reduce negative experiences related to stress. Click the title above to view or download this .pdf booklet.
A former Student Wellness intern created this document which addresses the stigma surrounding men and mental health issues including: stress, physical activity and trauma. Click the title above to view or download this Google Doc article.
This booklet includes links to YouTube videos with virtual candles if you are unable to use a real candle or do not have access to an LED candle. It also contains the full instructions for the candle meditation so you can have a copy with you when you need. Click the title above to view or download this .pdf booklet.
Choosing Well at UD
Click on the images or titles below to explore the "Choosing Well at UD" series which includes information about topics such as substance use, safer sex, healthy relationships, stress management, and more.