Self-Help Information: Stress Management
What is Stress?
Stress – that tense, anxious feeling you get when you are faced
with a difficult situation that requires a response on your part.
What is it?
Stress is how our bodies react to demands and change. Stress is an
automatic physical reaction to a danger or demand (whether real or
perceived). The "fight or flight" response kicks in which allows our
bodies to prepare to deal with threats or danger. Muscles tighten,
blood pressure rises, the heart speeds up and extra adrenaline
rushes through your system. This is very helpful when you need
bursts of energy to fight or flee a predator, or win the
championship game. Without some stress, people wouldn’t get a lot
done. The extra burst of adrenaline may help you concentrate better
to finish your final paper. It can be positive stress when it is a
short-term physiological response that subsides when the challenge
has been met, enabling you to relax. However, if the stress is
excessive or long lasting, it can lead to negative consequences and
harm your physical and mental well-being.
What are Stressors?
While stress is the feeling we have when we are under pressure,
stressors are the things in our environment that we are responding
to. Stressors can be as simple as background noise in our
environment or as complex as a social situation, such as going on a
date. Stressors can involve a physical threat, such as a car
speeding toward you, or an emotional threat, such as being rejected
by your boyfriend or girlfriend.
Relationship between Stressors and Stress
The relationship between stressors and our experience of stress
is not one to one. On average, the more stressors we experience in
our life, the more stressed we will feel. However, what is stressful
for one person may not necessarily be stressful for another. How can
this be? Our experience of stress is greatly influenced by how we
interpret and label our experience. In order to feel stressed, I
must interpret the environment as some sort of threat or as
requiring some change or adaptation on my part. If I wake up on a
crisp winter morning to a fresh snowfall, my reaction will be
determined by how I interpret this event. I may enjoy the beauty and
relax while I sit and have my breakfast, enjoying the view out my
window. Alternatively, I may be concerned about driving on slippery
roads and be very tense and worried and the physiological stress
response will kick in while I try to eat my breakfast. Another part
of the equation is how I judge my ability to cope with the stressor.
If I have had considerable amount of experience driving on slippery
roads and have a four-wheel drive car with studded snow tires, I may
have confidence in my ability to cope with the stressor and I will
experience less stress.
Stressors + Perceived Threat/Demand + Evaluation of Coping
Ability = Stress
Thus, the amount of stress I feel is determined by three things:
The number, intensity, and length of stressors I
My evaluation of the degree of threat or demand posed by
My evaluation of my coping ability to deal with the
How Do I Deal With Stress?
There is no single technique to lessen your feelings of stress.
You can work on any of the three parts listed in the equation above.
The more parts you change or work on, the more successful you will
be in decreasing your level of stress.
Notice what the stressors are in your life.
Are there any you can change by avoiding them or eliminating them
Can you reduce your exposure to them?
If you get stressed driving in traffic, maybe you can go to
work at an earlier time.
Can you organize your time better so you’re not studying for
a big exam at the last minute?
Pay attention to what you say to you to
yourself about a stressful situation.
Do you tell yourself "If I am not a perfect student, no one will
ever hire me and I will be forced to "flip hamburgers" the rest of
Work on changing to more realistic expectations of yourself.
Are you overreacting and seeing everything as
absolutely critical and urgent?
Try to shift your focus to looking at what really is
Increase your confidence in dealing with your
Learn techniques to help you cope with whatever
stressor is most predominant in your life.
Take a study skills or time management class. Use a calendar
to organize your time.
Take care of yourself emotionally and
physically. How well you deal with stress is determined
partly by your overall level of health and feeling of
Treat yourself. Exercise and eat well. Develop close friendships.
All of these can provide some resistance to stress.
Learn techniques for dealing with the physical
effects of stress.
Try relaxation, deep breathing, meditation,
biofeedback or whatever appeals to you.
Learn to enjoy the little things in life.
Take a few minutes each day to watch a sunset or
enjoy the chorus of birds on your walk between
Need Additional Help?
Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Counseling and Wellness Services offer free individual counseling
for these and related issues for veterinary students (WSU Veterinary
Students ONLY). For more information or to schedule an appointment
call or e-mail:
Donna J. Scott, PhD
The information contained in these self help
documents is not to be used as a substitute for professional
care. Neither the authors, Washington State University nor the
College of Veterinary Medicine assume liability for injury incurred
by following the information presented in these self-help documents