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Mental Health

Practical tips & services to help you relieve stress

In a 2005 survey of UWM students, 34% reported that stress affected their academic performance. It's impossible to get rid of all stress in our lives, but learning how to manage stress effectively can decrease its negative impact.

Stress can be defined as the body's response to a perceived threat or demand. The body responds to a threat by increasing heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension and blood pressure. These changes in the body are designed to give us additional energy in a crisis situation, but in response to long-term stressors, they can cause health problems and decrease our ability to cope effectively. Therefore, when you're feeling stressed, it's important to take time to relax and bring your body's heart, muscles and lungs back to normal.

Techniques that can help your body relax and relieve stress include:

  • Progressive relaxation, which involves systematically tensing and releasing all the muscle groups of the body. A written description of the progressive relaxation technique is available: view or download. An audio file* that walks the listener through the technique can also be downloaded.
  • Deep breathing (also called diaphragmatic breathing). A written description is available: view or download.
  • Meditation or guided visualization, which both serve to calm the mind and take a break from stress-inducing thoughts. An audio file* of a guided visualization can be downloaded.
  • Yoga, taking a walk or other gentle exercise. An audio file* describing a gentle yoga routine can be downloaded.

Norris Health Center can help students manage stress in a number of ways:

  • The Norris Peer Health Advocates can come to your dorm, student group or event and give free 10-minute hand massages while distributing information about stress management techniques. Contact Brian Stahlkopf, advisor to the Peer Health Advocates, at stahlkop@uwm.edu or 229-2919 to schedule a hand massage event.
  • Students can make a free 30-minute appointment with a health educator at Norris to develop an individualized plan for managing stress. Call 229-4716 to schedule an appointment.
  • If students are experiencing on-going stress or have experienced a life event or crisis that has increased stress in their lives, they can get free short-term individual counseling from the Norris Counseling and Consultation Services staff. To make an appointment, call 229-4716.
* Audio files developed and made available by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Health Promotion and Wellness at the MIT Medical Department. See http://web.mit.edu/medical/h-library.html for more information and a disclaimer.
Stress Management: Progressive Muscle Relaxation

What is progressive muscle relaxation?
Progressive muscle relaxation is an effective method for treating stress and anxiety. Concentrating on relaxing your muscles makes it difficult to think about problems and events that cause stress and anxiety.

In these exercises you focus on specific muscle groups, one at a time, tensing and relaxing each group while breathing slowly and deeply. Audio tapes that teach this technique are available at many bookstores.

How do I do this exercise?
Sit in a chair with your back straight, head in line with your spine, both feet on the floor, and hands resting on your lap. Tighten each muscle group and keep it tightened for 15 to 20 seconds. Then relax slowly and notice the difference between tension and relaxation.

It is best to start at the head and work down the body or start at the feet and work up. The muscle groups to tighten and relax are:

  • Forehead and scalp
  • Eyes
  • Nose
  • Face
  • Tongue
  • Jaws
  • Lips
  • neck
  • Upper arm
  • Lower arm and hands
  • Chest
  • Stomach
  • back
  • Back buttocks and thighs
  • Legs
  • Feet

For example, you can tighten your neck muscles by pulling your chin in and shrugging your shoulders. Hold the tension for 15 to 20 seconds. Then relax slowly. Exercise all muscle groups twice a day. Each exercise session should last 12 to 15 minutes.

Stress Management: Deep Breathing

What is deep breathing?
Deep breathing is a method of relaxation that removes tension from your body. It can be done practically anywhere. It is also called diaphragmatic breathing.

How do I do this exercise?

  • Sit in a comfortable chair or lie on the floor with a pillow under the small of your back.
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply, pushing your stomach out as you breathe in.
  • Say the word "relax" silently before you exhale.
  • Exhale slowly, letting your stomach come in.

Repeat these deep breaths 10 times without interruption. You will notice a feeling of relaxation and quietness, and fewer symptoms of distress.

Practice this exercise five times a day.

More Information

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