Stress Reduction

Stress, as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), is the pressure and tension we feel when faced with a real or perceived threat including situations that are new, unpleasant, or overwhelming.

The vast majority of faculty, staff, and college students report being stressed and overwhelmed by all they have to do. Stress is also reported as the top factor impacting academic and professional achievement.

Positive stress (eustress) can get you going and help you focus to meet life's challenges. However, distress occurs if your exposure to stress is long term. Without healthy coping strategies chronic stress can cause a variety of health complications and relationship tensions.

Assess Your Stress

Everyone responds to stress differently. Gaining awareness of your unique stressors, distress symptoms, and coping techniques can be insightful. Try a personalized assessment from American Institute of Stress to better understand your stress.

The Stress Response

Many things can trigger stress including:

  • Minor things like oversleeping, running late, car problems, or traffic.
  • Major events such as trauma, moving, getting married, having a baby, or loss of a loved one.
  • Ongoing problems with things like money, health, or work.

The stress response is the body/mind’s automatic reaction to a threat or stimulus. Our bodies respond to real and physical threats from our environment by releasing hormones and glucose into our bloodstream to provide extra energy and alertness to respond with a “fight or flight” reaction. This coping mechanism is well adapted for acute, or short-term, reactions to imminent stress.

However, our bodies react essentially the same way when stressing out about a big project at work or public speaking presentation. In those instances, our body’s reaction is less desirable. Stress is likely to change our emotions, how we feel and our mood; change our behaviors, what we do or how we act; and cause physical changes in how our body functions or feels.

The first step in managing stress is to notice how it affects you. Once you recognize stress, you can catch it early and work on managing it. Stress affects us all differently, but most people experience the same effects over time.

Signs and Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress symptoms/conditions can be physical, emotional, and behavioral. Some of these symptoms may be interfering with your health and quality of life.

Physical Symptoms: Headaches, clammy hands, dry mouth, heartburn, increased heart rate, muscle aches and tension, skin rashes, menstrual irregularity, sleep problems, high blood pressure, and being more ill than usual.

Emotional Symptoms: Anger, confusion, sadness, fear, irritability, feeling guilty, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, and a loss of interest in things.

Behavioral Symptoms: Alcohol or drug abuse, neglecting appearance, more aggressive behaviors like yelling and arguing, decreased or increased eating, decreased activity level, impatience, and avoidance of loved ones.

These symptoms can also result from various medical conditions, so talk to your doctor about these problems if they persist.

Stress Less Self-Care Tips

Taking time to develop healthy coping techniques can boost your resilience when faced with stressful situations. The American Heart Association offers 10 tips to Fight Stress with Healthy Habits.

Relaxation Techniques

In contrast to the stress response, the body also has processes for relaxation. The relaxation response slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and decreases levels of stress hormones. By voluntarily creating the relaxation response through regular use of relaxation techniques you can lessen the negative effects of chronic stress. There are many ways to relax. Different techniques work more effectively for some people. Here are a few examples:

  • Deep Breathing
  • Guided Imagery and visualization
  • Progressive Muscular Relaxation
  • Stretching
  • Physical Activity
  • Meditation
  • Yoga, tai chi, qi gong
  • Massage or body work
  • Social support
  • Music, art, dance therapy

Miami offers opportunities to try several of these techniques via Miami Recreation and Benefits & Wellness Fitness 4 Life Mind Body Programs. Also, the Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Inquiry offers regular meditation groups in McGuffey Hall, 128. If you’d like to try something on your own, visit the Guided Meditation podcast page from UCLA Health for a variety of guided meditations.

Campus Resources

Miami Counseling Services provides a detailed Stress Management website and host stress awareness weeks each semester.

Miami's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offers free in-person and telephonic counseling plus online resources for faculty and staff in many areas that cause stress and present work and life challenges. Topics include stress, financial, legal, grief, family, and more.

Benefits & Wellness Healthy Miami Programs offer a variety of programs for relaxation and stress relief free to all faculty and staff. Including blood pressure stress breaks with massage, yoga, meditation, group fitness, healthy cooking classes, health coaching, and more.

Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Inquiry offers opportunities for practice, research, and education in Mindfulness and other forms of mediation. Location in McGuffey, Room 128.

Campus Events

View the HR Calendar for special events, classes, and workshops including:

  • Mindfulness Awareness Week (9/11 - 9/17/17)
  • Stress Less Week & Suicide Prevention Week (9/24 - 10/1/17)
  • Out of the Darkness 5K (10/1/17)
  • Benefits & Wellness Fairs (10/3 & 10/4/17)

Additional Resources