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STRESS

MANAGEMENT

MODULE

Exercises & Handouts

Generic Skills Integration Project (GENSIP)


Student Counselling Service & Staff Development
University of Dublin
Trinity College
Compiled by Tamara O’Connor

January 2003
Trinity College Dublin Generic Skills Integration Project
Stress Management

EXERCISES

Performance Quiz

Stress Test

How Do I Respond to Stress?

Sorting - Stress & Coping

Creating Positive Affirmations

I Am Grateful

Deep Breath or Quick Release of Tension

Short Relaxation

Body Scanning

Breathing and Visualization

Stress Prescription

A Balanced Life Style

HANDOUTS OR EXAMPLES

Stress Diary

Signs, Symptoms and Reactions of Stress

Coping Strategies

Time Management Tools


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Stress Management

Performance Quiz

2 H 7 Q 9 R Z 8 A 15
X 3 B 10 P 1 5 G 12 N

The above is a key. If the presenter calls out “2”, you put the letter “X”
in the box, if he or she calls out “H” you put the number 3 in the box.
The quiz is timed.

1.

2.

3.

4.
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Stress Management

STRESS TEST

Answer yes or no to the following questions:

1. Do you worry about the future?

2. Do you sometimes have trouble falling asleep?

3. Do you often reach for a cigarette, a drink, or a tranquilliser in order to


reduce tension?

4. Do you become irritated over basically insignificant matters?

5. Do you have less energy than you seem to need or would like to have?

6. Do you have too many things to do and not enough time to do them?

7. Do you have headaches or stomach problems?

8. Do you feel pressure to accomplish or get things done?

9. Are you very concerned about being either well liked or successful?

10. Do you perform well enough in life to satisfy yourself?

11. Do you get satisfaction from the small joys or simple pleasures of life?

12. Are you able to really relax and have fun?

Scoring: Give yourself one point for each question 1 – 9 with a yes response
and one point for each question 10 – 12 with a no response.

If your score is four or more, then you may be under significant stress. You
may want to find out more about managing stress.

From The University of Texas Learning Center. Making the grade 101. Austin: The
University of Texas. www.utexas.edu/student/utlc/makinggrade/ Accessed 13
November 2001.
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Stress Management

How Do I Respond to Stress?


Take a minute to think about past experiences of performing under stress.
Think about times when you did well and also times when you felt you could
have performed better. When you have thought of a few examples from your
life of performing under stress, answer the following questions in order to
become more aware of your own optimal level of stress.

1. A time when I performed well under stressful circumstances was . . .

2. On a scale of 1 to 10, at the time my stress level was _____.

3. I prepared for this task by . . .

4. I did the following things to manage the stress I felt . . .

5. A time when I would have liked to perform better under stress was . . .

6. On a scale of 1 to 10, at the time my stress level was _____.

7. I prepared for this task by . . .

8. I did the following things to manage the stress I felt . . .

9. Right now, my stress level on a scale of 1 to 10 is _____.

10. In order to get to a more optimal level of stress I need to . . .


(get organised, get some exercise, practice relaxation or ??)
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Stress Management

Sorting Exercise – Stress and Coping

Instructions: Here are 24 cards (presenter will have to print and cut) which
have a stressful situation, a symptom of or reaction to stress, and a way of
helping a person to cope with the stress printed on them. You have to sort
these cards into three bundles, according to the categories mentioned above.

Stressful Situations

Being arrested by the Gardai Moving living premises

Losing one’s best friend Being in a car crash

Losing your part-time job Having to go for an operation

Having a fight with a friend Getting a poor mark on essay/exam

Symptoms or Reactions

Not being able to concentrate Dry mouth

Avoiding people Muscle tension

Sweating hands Forgetting things

Not being able to sleep Being very moody

Ways of Coping

Think of positive things Talk to a friend

Eat good food Share your problem with others

Tell yourself that you can make it Do relaxation exercises

Take part in sports Go out with a friend


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Stress Management

Deep Breath or Quick Release of Tension

Whenever you feel anxious, panicky or uptight …………

1. Let your breath go (don’t breathe in first).

2. Take in a slow, gentle breath, breathing in through your nose.

3. Hold it for a second or two (count to four).

4. Let it go, slowly with a leisurely sigh of relief out your mouth.

5. Make sure your teeth are not clenched together.

6. Repeat 4 times.

This exercise forces your shoulders down and it relaxes the abdomen – both
areas where tension gathers. It also gives you a short break to think some
positive thoughts and get back in control.
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Stress Management

Short Relaxation

This exercise is very useful when you don’t have much time available or are
somewhere you cannot lie down (e.g. library, waiting for an interview, etc.).

Make sure you are sitting comfortably. It works better if you close your
eyes.

Sit upright and rest your hands on your thighs. Let your feet rest on the
floor.

Gently breathe out. Slowly breathe in, and gently breathe out again. Do
this slowly several times, starting to let the tension ease. Continue
gentle breathing.

Now focus on your body parts. First your feet – tense all the muscles in
your feet, curling your toes. Now let your toes, feet and ankles relax.
Feel the tension draining away into the floor.

Next your legs – tense all the muscles in your legs, pressing your legs
against the chair. Then relax, letting your legs loose, allowing the
tension to drain down your legs, through your feet and into the floor.

Now your back and your spine. Tense your shoulders and back muscles.
Press into the chair. Relax, letting the tension drain slowly down your
spine, down your legs, into your feet and into the floor.

Remember to continue gently breathing. You are slowly getting more


and more relaxed. Let your stomach muscles relax as you breathe.

Focus on your hands and arms. Tense all the muscles, curling your
hands and fingers in your lap. Now slowly let the tension drain down
your arms, through your hands into your thighs, down your legs, down
your feet and into the floor.

Finally the neck and head. Tighten your facial muscles; locate the
tension in your neck. Relax now and allow the tension to drain down
your back, down your legs, into your feet and into the floor.

Check to see if your muscles are relaxed. Your breathing is still gentle
and even. Enjoy the feeling of relaxation for a few moments.

When ready, gently shake your body and open your eyes.
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Stress Management

Body Scanning

To help identify areas of tension:

Close your eyes.

Starting with your toes and moving up your body, ask yourself, “Where am I
tense?” Whenever you discover a tense area, exaggerate it slightly so you
can become aware of it.

Be aware of the muscles in your body that are tense. Then, for example, say
to yourself, “I am tensing my neck muscles . . . I am creating tension in my
body.”

Note that all muscular tension is self-produced. At this point, be aware of any
life situation that may be causing the tension in your body and what you could
do to change it.

From Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R. & McKay, M. (1995). The relaxation and
stress reduction workbook, 4th edition. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Trinity College Dublin Generic Skills Integration Project
Stress Management

Creating Affirmations
An affirmation is simply a statement of what you want. They are most
effective if they are personal, positive and in the present tense. Also they
need to be practiced, so try saying them several times a day, out loud if
possible.

Here are a couple of examples:

I am healthy.
I work well with many different kinds of people.
I have friends who love me.
I try hard.
I am a loving son, daughter, etc.

Now you write 3 positive affirmations for yourself. Remember – personal,


positive and present tense!

1. ________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________

2. ________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________

3. ________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________
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Stress Management

I Am Grateful

This exercise is particularly helpful as the day is wearing on and your sense of
stress and frustration is rising. It is also an excellent sequence for relaxing
and putting yourself in a pleasant frame of mind before you drift off to sleep.

A. Use a short form of progressive relaxation:

1. Curl fists, tighten biceps.


2. Wrinkle forehead, face like a walnut.
3. Arch back, take a deep breath.
4. Pull feet back; curl toes while tightening calves, thighs, and
buttocks.

B. Reflect back over your day so far and select three things for which you
feel grateful. These do not have to be major events. For example, you
may be grateful for the warm shower you took this morning, a
colleague helping you, your child giving you a hug and telling you he
loves you, a lovely sunrise, and so on. Take a moment to relive and
enjoy these experiences.

C. Continue to think back over your day. Recall three things you did that
you feel good about. Remember, these don’t have to be major feats.
For example, you may feel good about saying no to something you
really didn’t want to do, taking time for yourself to exercise or relax,
doing something you had put off, or being supportive to someone you
like. Take a moment to re-experience those positive moments.

Adapted from Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R. & McKay, M. (1995). The relaxation
and stress reduction workbook, 4th edition. Oakland: New Harbinger
Publications, Inc.
Trinity College Dublin Generic Skills Integration Project
Stress Management

Breathing and Visualization Exercise


This exercise will help you manage the stress and anxiety associated with
taking exams. It is a good idea to practice the exercise every day. That way,
your body will begin to relax just out of habit when you begin the exercise (this
is called the relaxation response). When you are in a stressful situation, such
as an exam you can use this exercise to get relief and allow yourself to use
the stress to your advantage.

Get comfortable, close your eyes, and begin to notice your breathing. Try to
notice each breath and nothing else. As you inhale, say to yourself “one” and
as you exhale, say to yourself “two”. Keep doing this for several minutes.

When you feel relaxed, turn your attention from your breathing to a situation
you find stressful (such as picturing yourself sitting in the room just before an
exam). Picture yourself arriving at the exam venue. Imagine yourself finding
the seat number. See yourself sitting comfortably. See yourself getting the
exam and reading each question calmly and with confidence. Picture yourself
selecting the questions you’ll do. See yourself writing answers to the
questions in a relaxed and efficient manner. Know that your answers don’t
have to be perfect, and accept that no one is perfect. See yourself finishing
the exam and turning it in, knowing that you have been successful. Sit for a
minute with that feeling of accomplishment and relief. Remind yourself that
you have experienced success in the past, and that you will experience
success again.

Spend a few seconds enjoying the feeling of success, and then focus on your
breathing again. When you feel ready, open your eyes and return to whatever
you were doing.

To make this exercise even more effective, try incorporating more of your
senses the picture. For example, hearing the noise of people writing, smelling
the fragrances, the feel of the pen in your hand, etc. This will make the image
more real.

Adapted from Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R. & McKay, M. (1995). The relaxation and
stress reduction workbook, 4th edition. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Trinity College Dublin Generic Skills Integration Project
Stress Management

Stress Prescription
Identify stressful situations or demands. These can be academic, personal,
family or job related.

Why do you think it is stressful? What are your thoughts, feelings, and
behaviours?

What can you do about changing these situations/demands?

Are you able to think about them/appraise them differently?

What resources do you have to cope with the demand/stressor?

Do you need other ways of coping? What might you try?

Behavioural Strategies:

Cognitive Strategies:
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Stress Management

A Balanced Life Style

1. Calculate the number of hours you spend on college/studying (lectures,


labs, independent work).

2. Calculate the number of hours you spend socialising (including coffee


breaks).

3. Calculate the number of hours you spend exercising.

4. Calculate the number of hours you spend doing paid work.

Now go back and calculate the same items, this time using the number of
hours you would ideally like to spend on each item.

If you think there is an imbalance between what is ideal for a balanced life
style and what you actually do, consider the following questions.

What needs to change in your lifestyle?

What might be the difficulties in changing?

What help might you need to make changes?


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Stress Management

Keeping a Stress Diary

One good way to learn about your optimal level of stress is to keep a stress
diary. It can be a very effective way of learning about what causes you stress,
and what level of stress you prefer.

In this diary, you monitor your stress levels and how you feel throughout the
day. In particular, you should make note of stressful events and what led to
you to perceive them as stressful.
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Stress Management

Signs, Symptoms and Reactions to Stress

Physical (physiological and behavioural)

• Racing heart
• Cold, sweaty hands
• Headaches
• Shallow or erratic breathing
• Nausea or upset tummy
• Constipation
• Shoulder or back pains
• Rushing around
• Working longer hours
• Losing touch with friends
• Fatigue
• Sleep disturbances
• Weight changes

Cognitive (or Thoughts)

• Forgetting things
• Finding it hard to concentrate
• Worrying about things
• Difficulty processing information
• Negative self-statements

Emotional (or Feelings)

• Increased irritability or anger


• Anxiety or feelings of panic
• Fear
• Tearfulness
• Increased interpersonal conflicts

Everyone has developed his or her own response to stress. The key is to
learn to monitor your own signs and become aware of when they are
indicating the stress level is unmanageable.
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Stress Management

COPING WITH STRESS


Coping resources can broadly be divided into cognitive coping strategies and
physical coping strategies. Some of these coping strategies will suit some people,
others will not. The key is to have a range of resources that can be applied,
depending upon the situation and the individual. Furthermore, it is important to have
strategies one is comfortable using.

Cognitive coping strategies

These refer to ways of dealing with stress using our minds. Cognitive coping
strategies are a good way to combat stress-producing thoughts. As Shakespeare’s
Hamlet said, “. . . for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. . .”
Examples of these strategies are:

• Reframing – focus on the good not the bad; think in terms of ‘wants’ instead
of ‘shoulds’. It’s best if our thinking is related to our goals. For example, “I
want to read and understand this chapter in Chemistry so I do well in my lab
practical” instead of “I have to read this difficult chapter in Chemistry”.

• Challenging negative thinking – stopping the negative thoughts we may have


about a situation or ourselves. Examples of negative thoughts include
expecting failure, putting yourself down, feelings of inadequacy - a thought
such as “Everyone else seems to understand this except me.”

In order to gain control of negative thoughts or worries, you must first become
aware of them. Next, yell “Stop!” to yourself when they occur. Try replacing
with positive affirmations or at least challenge or question any irrationality of
the thoughts.

• Positive self-talk – using positive language and statements to ourselves.


These are sometimes referred to as positive affirmations; they are useful for
building confidence and challenging negative thoughts. For example, “I can
do this or understand this” or “I’ll try my best”. These work best when they
are realistic and tailored to your needs and goals.

• Count to ten – this allows you time to gain control and perhaps rethink the
situation or come up with a better coping strategy.

• Cost-benefit analysis – Is it helping me to get things done when I think this


way?

• Keeping perspective – when under stress it is easy to lose perspective; things


can seem insurmountable. Some questions to ask yourself: Is this really a
problem? Is this a problem anyone else has had? Can I prioritise the
problems? Does it really matter? “Look on the bright side of life!” - Cultivate
optimism.

• Reducing uncertainty – seek any information or clarification you may require


to reduce the uncertainty. It helps to ask in a positive way. Situations that
are difficult to classify, are obscure or have multiple meanings can create
stress.
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Stress Management

• Using imagery/visualisation –imagining yourself in a pleasant or a successful


situation to help reduce stress. One way to use imagery is as a relaxation
tool; try to remember the pleasure of an experience you’ve had or a place
you’ve been. The more senses you involve in the image the more realistic,
therefore the more powerful. This strategy is often combined with deep
breathing or relaxation exercises.

Visualisation can also be used as a rehearsal strategy for an anticipated


stressful event. For example, if you have a presentation to give, practice it in
the mind a few times, picturing the audience’s reaction and even visualising
yourself overcoming any potential pitfalls.

• Smell the roses – “Experiencing life as fully as possible requires conscious


effort, since we become habituated to things which are repeated. Varying our
experiences (such as taking different routes to school or work) can help in this
process” (Greenberg, 1987, p. 129).

Behavioural coping strategies

These refer to ways of dealing with stress by doing something or taking action to
reduce the stress experienced. Examples of these strategies are:

• Physical exercise – aerobic exercise is the most beneficial for reducing


stress. It releases neurochemicals in the brain that aid concentration. For
some people, even a short walk is sufficient to relieve stress.

• Relaxation – from simple relaxation such as dropping the head forward and
rolling it gently from side to side or simply stretching, to more complex
progressive relaxation exercises. Progressive relaxation involves tensing and
releasing isolated muscle groups until muscles are relaxed. There are also
tapes and books available on this topic.

• Breathing – from simple deep breaths to more complex breathing exercises


related to relaxation and meditation.

• Smile and Laugh - gives us energy and helps to lighten the load; relaxes
muscles in the face.

• Time management – specific strategies such as clarifying priorities, setting


goals, evaluating how time is spent, developing an action plan, overcoming
procrastination and organising time. These help us to cope with the
numerous demands placed upon us, often a source of stress.

• Social Support/Friends – encourage the development and nurturing of


relationships.

• Seek Help – to help us cope with unmanageable stress. Supports for


students in College include the Student Health Centre, Student Counselling
Service, College Tutors, and Chaplains.
Trinity College Dublin Generic Skills Integration Project
Stress Management

Date: ___________

TO DO LIST

Priority Item (be specific) Reward (if necessary)

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Stress Management

Study / Social Timetable


Day-time

Time Mon Tue Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun


7.00

8.00

9.00

10.00

11.00

12.00

1.00

2.00

3.00

4.00

5.00

Evening

Time Mon Tue Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun


6.00

7.00

8.00

9.00

10.00

11.00

Notes

Total Study Hours Total Social Hours Total Physical Recreation


Hours