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
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:
Norris Health Center can help students manage stress in a number of ways:
- 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:
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:
- 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
* Audio files developed and made available by the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology Center for Health Promotion and Wellness at the
MIT Medical Department. See
for more information and a disclaimer.
- 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 Laura Anne Stuart,
advisor to the Peer Health Advocates, at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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
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
- Upper arm
- Lower arm and hands
- Back buttocks and thighs
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.