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University Counseling Center

Stress, Anxiety and Stress-Reducing Tips


Stress is a natural reaction to changes in your life – both happy and sad. Going on an exciting first date or getting rejected both create stress. Stress is normal and can even motivate you, e.g., when you are stressed the week before a test and you study hard. However, too much stress can cause DISTRESS. Faced with too much stress over long periods of time, the body can become exhausted and you can become ill. Some illnesses associated with prolonged stress are high blood pressure, heart disease, migraines, allergies, etc.

New York State Department of health lists these top ten ways of telling you are stressed:

  • Becoming anxious and confused over unimportant events
  • Problems eating or sleeping
  • Inability to concentrate or pay attention
  • Persistent hostile or angry feelings
  • Overpowering urges to cry or run and hide
  • Weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, anxiety attacks
  • Changes in exercise habits
  • Frequent accidents and minor injuries
  • Behaviors that put you or others at risk (driving too fast, vandalizing property, or practicing unsafe sex)
  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs

The suggestions below can help you deal with stress. It is important to remember that different things work for different people, so try several different ones, and see what works best for you.

  • Talk it out with a friend, advisor or therapist (University Counseling Center Therapists and Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning counselors are available by appointment).
  • Take a break from handling your problem, even if it is for 10 minutes.
  • List all the things you have to do and prioritize. Do the top few and leave the rest for the next day.
  • Do something for someone else. It will help to forget your problems and make you feel good about yourself.
  • Find humor in the situation. Laughing is good for you.
  • Go to a quiet place. Noise and chaos might contribute to your state of mind.
  • Take a long hot bath or shower.
  • Shift your perspective. In the grand scheme of things, your midterm grades don’t really matter.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. It will make you more productive and able to deal with the situation.
  • Take care of your body. Exercise and eat well, avoiding caffeine, greasy food and sugar.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol use or drug use. It leads to more stress in the long run.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.
  • Accept your limits, and strive for excellence within your limits.
  • Manage your time, anticipate stressful situations and plan time for them.

(Sources: New York State Department of Health, University of Rochester – University Counseling Center, and Learning Assistance Services)


Anxiety can be described as fear or dread lacking a clearly defined cause or specific threat. Though some anxiety is part of the experience of being human, too much anxiety can cause interference with life, avoidance of certain activities or situations, physiological symptoms (such as shortness of breath, hearth palpitations, sweaty palms, dizziness, etc.) and/or depressive feelings.

Feeling anxious temporarily is one thing, but when your anxiety interferes with your life and work and leads you to avoid certain situations or keeps you from enjoying life, you may have a medical condition known as an anxiety disorder.

Some examples of anxiety disorders are:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – persistent worry for 6 months or more. This worry is exaggerated and unfounded and is more than what most people experience. Individuals with GAD worry about their health, finances, jobs, and loved ones even when there is no reason to worry. Generally, these people find it difficult to relax and often suffer insomnia.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – persistent symptoms that develop in association with the experience of a traumatic event and last over an extended period of time. Individuals with PTSD are unable to shake the images of the traumatic event from their minds, have nightmares, lose sleep, have flashbacks, replay the event in their minds over and over again, have physical symptoms similar to those during the traumatic event, etc.

Obsessive – Compulsive Disorder – persistent preoccupation with dirt or germs, nagging doubts, or a need to have things in a certain order, i.e., obsessions that are relieved by engaging in repetitive rituals (compulsions) to reduce the anxiety brought on by the obsessions. Some examples of compulsions include constant hand washing, checking and rechecking, following rigid procedural rules, hoarding, etc.

Phobia – a fear that the person knows is irrational but yet is excessively distressing and causes significant disruption in a person’s life. There are three main types of phobias:

  • Specific phobia – an excessive fear of one object that is not harmful under general conditions, e.g., heights, snakes, etc.
  • Social phobia – fear of social or performance situations. The primary symptom is anxiety around other people, e.g., going to a party, speaking in public, meeting new people.
  • Agoraphobia – fear of experiencing a panic attack in situations from which escape might be difficult or help is not at hand.

Panic Disorder – experiencing repeated feelings of intense, sudden terror or impending doom. The symptoms, which usually peak in 10 minutes, include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, choking sensations or fear of going crazy, etc. Because these attacks can occur without any warning, individuals with panic disorder sometimes limit their activities, and even avoid leaving their homes.


Psychotherapy and medication can provide significant relief for anxiety disorders:

Psychotherapy (or counseling) involves working on the symptoms and causes of the anxiety disorder with a mental health professional. University Counseling Services (UCC) provides psychotherapy for many U of R students with anxiety disorders.

Medications can provide fast and effective anxiety relief. Safe and effective medications are also available for the long-term treatment of anxiety disorders.

Treatment for anxiety disorders often incorporates both psychological counseling and medications. Your UCC therapist can refer you for a medication consultation.

(Sources: National Mental Health Association, University of Rochester – University Counseling Center)

Compiled by Erla Leon, M.A. for the University Counseling Center

Stress-Reducing Tips

Summer’s coming up fast but there’s still a lot to cram into the end of the semester. Whether you’re a school staff member, a student, or a parent, there suddenly seems to be an endless amount of things to get done each day. That equals stress, but there are ways to deal with it.

  • Planning: Nothing is more stressful than overload – and we’re totally into the logjam weeks. Planning out a realistic schedule, complete with plenty of breaks, will make your days easier to navigate.
  • Sleep: Be sure to get those six to eight hours and try to go to bed around the same time every night. Don’t take schoolwork to bed with you. Instead, unwind a little before lying down and then give your brain the rest it deserves.
  • Exercise: Walking, jogging, biking, hitting the gym, team sports… whatever works best for you. And mini-breaks for stretching, short walks around campus will help you relax.
  • Self-Soothe: Try: meditation, yoga, relaxation tapes, tai chi, pilates. Treat yourself to a massage!
  • Breathing: A break of 3-to-5 minutes to sit down and breathe deeply can work wonders. Try it.
  • Diet: It’s a torrid time so you’re going to need good fuel. Get your fruit and veggies and dodge the junk food. And fish, with its omega-3, is great for the brain.
  • Use Your Head: Focus on positives, reassure yourself (“I can only do my best,” “This will get done”), give yourself permission to stop thinking about school or other responsibilities at given times each day, and even feel free to “zone out” now and then.
  • Music: Soothing music has been shown to lower tension, so load some easy listening into your iPod and take music breaks.
  • Laughter: Laughter releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones. Put the action flicks on hold and break out the comedies ’til the school year is done.