Managing Stress

Recognizing when you are stressed, what causes it, and managing your stress can greatly improve your quality of life and prevent some of the harmful effects of stress on your physical and mental health.

Good and Bad Stress

"Stress” is a term that is commonly used in everyday life. It is a normal physical, emotional, and mental response to any challenge.

Good stress is a balance between arousal and relaxation that can help you concentrate and achieve what you want. 

Bad stress is too much stress, such as the constant worry over school and relationships. This constant arousal prevents you from relaxing.

Understand Your Sources of Stress

Stress can come from events and situations that happen to you (e.g., family, relationships, exams and assignments, unexpected bills, an overwhelming workload, and noisy neighbours). Many of these things you cannot change and are beyond your control. Stress can also come from within you (e.g., fear, uncertainty about the future, unrealistic expectations, and negative thinking).

Recognizing the Symptoms Related to Stress


  • Shoulder/neck tension
  • Backaches
  • Headaches
  • Teeth grinding
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach problems
  • Insomnia
  • Increased drug/alcohol use
  • Colds/viruses


  • Easily discouraged
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Worrying
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Anger
  • Crying spells
  • Tension
  • High blood pressure


  • Fewer contacts with friends
  • Lowered sex drive
  • Nagging
  • Clamming up
  • Loneliness
  • Lashing out
  • Impatience
  • Outbursts of anger


  • Poor concentration/poor memory
  • Low productivity
  • Negative attidude
  • Confusion
  • No new ideas
  • Lethargy
  • Boredom
  • Increased irritability

Building Defenses Against Stress

  • Enjoy yourself - Happier people tend to live longer and are more productive. Laugh and tell a joke! Find and engage in things YOU want to do.

  • Exercise - Exercise your heart and lungs for 30 minutes, 4-5 times per week. Exercise releases built-up tension in your body. It also releases endorphins, “happy hormones,” for a natural high.

  • Organize your time - Take better control of your time and energy (e.g., prioritize, make lists, and schedules).

  • Write - Dedicating a period of time every day to write about a situation that is bothering you may reduce tension and give you stress relief for the rest of the day. Keeping a journal can also help you solve problems or find positive angles amongst the stressors.

  • Prioritize sleep - Sleep 7-8 hours every night and when studying take breaks often.

  • Be aware of yourself - Recognize distress signals like insomnia, headaches, and feeling anxious. STOP and ask yourself WHY and then do something about it.

  • Eat nutritiously - Follow “Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.” Avoid foods high in fats and sugar. Don’t depend on drugs and/or alcohol to elevate your mood. Limit your caffeine intake by having a maximum of two cups of coffee per day and less energy drinks. Choose to drink water instead of caffeine.

  • Don’t believe everything you think - Pay attention to your thoughts. If negative, ask yourself, “Are these thoughts helping me?” Check your thoughts against objective reality. Don’t let your negative thoughts influence your feelings and behaviour.

  • Find solitude - Spend some time alone every day to remove yourself from external stressors.

  • Reward yourself - You will work more effectively if you have something to look forward. Go ahead and treat yourself!

  • Relax! -Take a walk, have a bath, do yoga, practice deep breathing and visualization exercises, have a nap, daydream, and communicate with friends and loved ones. Anything that makes you relax.

  • Breathe deeply - Practice several times a day, especially when you are feeling stressed.

How to Breathe for Relaxation

You can use this exercise anywhere and anytime.  All you need is a few minutes!

Here is How

  1. Sit or stand in a relaxed position.
  2. Slowly inhale through your nose, counting to five in your head. 
  3. Let the air out from your mouth, counting to eight in your head as it leaves your lungs.
  4. Repeat several times.


  • As you breathe, let your abdomen expand outward, rather than raising your shoulders.
  • You can do this just a few times to release tension or for several minutes as a form of meditation. 
  • You can make your throat a little tighter as you exhale so air comes out like a whisper.  This can add additional tension relief.

Why It Works

When we are stressed our sympathetic nervous system is aroused leading to many physical changes; our heart rate rises, we perspire, our muscles tense and our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Taking a deep breath can directly influence these stressful changes. A deep breath stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in relaxation and a reversal of the changes caused by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system.

Try a Breathing Box

Slowing down your breathing will help your mind to relax and reduce your anxiety. Choose any square object (e.g., a window), and use it as your breathing box. Starting in the bottom left, inhale through your nose as your eyes move up the box. Hold your breath as your eyes move along the box, and then exhale as you move your eyes down the box.

The Dangers of Stress

Chronic stress affects your immune system, hormonal response, and biochemical reactions. In turn, this can affect all the systems of your body and lead to increased infections, heart disease, depression, and even cancer in the long term.  Effective stress management can help prevent these health problems!

Feeling Stressed? Ask yourself Some Questions:

  • What's happening to me?
  • How am I feeling?
  • What's not working?
  • Are any of my needs being neglected?
  • Do I need to say NO to some things or some people?
  • Do I need to change my expectations?

Attitude towards life also plays a major role in effecting daily stress levels.

  • Our thoughts effect our emotions and behaviours.
  • Reduce Negative self-talk and replace it with Positive self-talk (e.g., instead of "What if I don't pass the exam?" to "How can I prepare for the exam?").

Tips for Staying on Top of Your Studies

  • Take ownership of your learning - Develop strong study habits that work for you.

  • Read your course syllabus - Use it as a planning resource and study guide for your resource.

  • Know your supports, get help when needed - Develop your skills as a learner by learning when to reach out for support.

  • Actively engage in class - Class time is scheduled for your benefit. Develop a system for taking note.

  • Ask questions - Evaluate your thought processes by asking yourself questions, like “why?” and “how?”

  • Manage your time - Create a term schedule and weekly agenda.

  • Make time for yourself - Practice a hobby, go to bed early, or simply reflect in a comfortable place.

  • De-stress, not distress - Incorporate stress management techniques into your day.

  • Treat your brain like a muscle - The brain’s ability to adapt or change as a result of experience and repetition, just like a muscle.

  • Focus on your progress - Be an active participant in your own learning. Celebrate your successes and learn from the difficult times.


Achieving Balance

  • Take care of your physical health - Eat nutritious meals, reduce your caffeine intake, exercise moderately, and get enough sleep.

  • Make time for pleasant activities - Develop a hobby, see a movie, listen to music, or read a book.

  • Examine your stressors - Ask yourself whether or not you have control over a problem. Take action when you can.

  • Maintain supportive relationships - Don’t neglect your friends and family members.

  • Make adjustments as needed - Stay aware of how you are doing and make adjustments as needed.

  • Seek professional assistance if needed - If mental health difficulties (e.g., substance abuse, depression, anxiety) are interfering with your ability to achieve balance in your life seek professional assistance.

Common Signs of a Lack of Balance

  • Lack of exercise
  • Inability to say "no"
  • Avoiding asking for help
  • Lack of contact with friends
  • Using drugs or alcohol to cope
  • Intense focus on a single goal
  • Work to the exclusion of leisure
  • Persistently feeling overwhelmed and stressed
  • Low energy
  • Lack of enthusiasm

Additional Resources