What is stress?

Stress is a reaction to a demand placed upon a person. Individuals respond to stress in many different ways. What may be considered a stressful event for one person is no big deal for another. A certain amount of stress can be healthy; it gives you the drive and energy to perform at your optimal level. Too little stress and a person may experience boredom. Too much stress can result in exhaustion, anxiety, burnout, and a number of other symptoms. (Image from thinkadvisor)

Stress graph

The following are some of the different symptoms of stress:

Physical Symptoms

Thoughts and Feelings


Shortness of breath
Muscle aches
Back pain
Clenched jaws
Tooth grinding
Stomach upset
Increased sweating
Sleep problems
Colds & flu
Weight gain or loss
Sex problems
Skin breakouts
Chest pain
Pounding heart
High blood pressure

Mood swings
Job dissatisfaction
Feeling insecure
Inability to concentrate
Seeing only the negatives

Angry outbursts
Drug abuse
Excessive drinking
Increased smoking
Social withdrawal
Crying spells
Relationship conflicts
Decreased productivity

Tips for Managing Stress

In general, living a healthy and balanced lifestyle can help manage stress. This includes:

  • Practice good time management.
  • Maintain a routine.  That includes going to bed and waking up at the same time.
  • Get plenty of sleep.  The average person needs around 7 hours each night.
  • Stay hydrated.  Be sure to drink plenty of healthy fluids such as water and juice.
  • Take time to relax.  That might mean listening to some music quietly, practicing yoga, meditating or just breathing deeply.
  • Exercise.
  • Get involved in extracurricular activities on campus. Visit the Office of Campus Life.

However, there are some important things to know about how to handle those times when your stress levels start to rise.

Step 1: Recognizing when you're stressed

When a person experiences stress, he is less likely to take care of himself and the negative effects of stress can build. It's important to intervene sooner rather than later so that stress doesn't snowball out of control. Learn to recognize some warning signs that you're getting stressed, such as a change in appetite or sleeping habits, mood, stomach ache, fatigue, or any other symptoms listed above.

Step 2: Think about your resiliency

Resiliency is “the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to resources that sustain well-being.” The study of resiliency revolves around attempting to identify protective factors that enable people to overcome difficulties. These protective factors have been researched and proven to help people deal with stress and challenges effectively:

  • Strong social support networks
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Good time management
  • Involvement in supportive groups such as religious organizations, clubs, teams
  • A willingness to seek help when needed
  • An ability to confront a problem head-on (not avoiding)

Each of us has protective factors that help us manage stress and difficult situations. What are some of yours?

Step 3: Practice Self Care

Self care is consciously engaging in various behaviors or activities for the specific purpose of improving one’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing. When you realize you're feeling overwhelmed or anxious, it's important to set aside some time for self care.

Physical self care activities can include:

  • Exercise (whatever kind of exercise you enjoy)
  • Getting a good night's sleep
  • Taking a break
  • Deep breathing
    • To begin square breathing, sit in a comfortable, upright position on the floor or in a chair.
    • Inhale through your nose for four counts (1, 2, 3, 4). Hold that breath in for four counts. Exhale through your nose for four counts. Hold that breath out for four counts. That’s one cycle.
    • Repeat 10 times, going at your own pace: Inhale 2, 3, 4. Hold 2, 3, 4. Exhale, 2, 3 4. Hold, 2, 3, 4.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation

Mental self care activities include:

  • Meditation or prayer
  • Guided imagery


  • Looking at pictures of cute, baby animals on the internet
  • Keeping a gratitude journal
    • Studies show that the regular practice of gratitude (listing or remembering things you're grateful for) can actually reduce stress and increase happiness
  • Go outside
    • Research suggests that the simple act of "being in nature" can reduce stress. Visit one ofBoston's many parks and green spaces to go for a walk or spread out a blanket on the grass and watch the clouds.
  • Talk with a friend of family member
  • Talk with a counselor
  • Art therapy


If you want to talk with someone about stress management, contact the Center for Wellness to set up an individual health coaching session.


Managing Stress : A guide for college students

Online Relaxation Exercises - Information and audio files.

Relaxation Techniques and Tips

Pathways to Wellness - a nonprofit organization committed to providing equal access to high quality holistic care including acupuncture, shiatsu, and Chinese herbs.  Offers discounts to Boston area college students.

Meditation Classes - Free meditation class in Boston.

Boston Yoga Directory - Directory of yoga studios in Boston

Social Boston Sports - Community for young professionals who live, work and play in Boston.

Walk Boston - Walking maps of Boston.

Map My Run - Tool for mapping out walk/bikes/runs in your area.

Cool Running - Complete online source for runners of all abilities.  Listing of local races.

Running in the USA - List of road races in Massachusetts. - Fun local stuff to do without the booze.