I recently sat down with Erik Marks, a staff clinician at the Counseling and Mental Health Services Center, to talk about stress. We discussed what stresses Tufts students face, how people most often deal with stress, and ways to help decrease stress in our lives. Our conversation was very informative, and provided a lot of great insight into ways that we can all increase mindfulness, live in the moment, and decrease our stresses and anxiety.
What stresses do Tufts students face?
Erik noted that “stress is anything that taxes our system.” These taxes to our system are often perceived as negative and/or positive. Some of the things Tufts students feel are negative stresses include: academics, social life, work responsibilities, and balancing health. And, positive events and things in our lives like falling in love, anticipation of spring break, and learning something new are also stresses.
A lot of people deal with stress by “stress suppression”, Erik said. Stress suppression is anything that avoids stress, but doesn’t change our condition. For instance, playing a video game, watching TV, surfing the web, and even working out (if our minds are still churning) can all be stress suppression techniques. These activities put what we are stressed about on the back burner, and we might feel more relaxed. However, we aren’t dealing with the stress, and it will resurface after that activity is over. Erik noted that “even drinking is a way people try to suppress stress. People may feel they are reducing their stress by decreasing inhibitions or ‘forgetting their worries,’ but really, people are avoiding the thoughts that are stressful while stressing themselves physiologically with alcohol—and can create new problems in the process.”
What should people do to confront, manage, and alleviate stress?
It may be easy to educate ourselves about what to do when we are stressed, but knowing how to do it is extremely hard! I wanted to get Erik’s insight into the ways we can all reduce our stresses in our lives. He spoke about three main ways:
- Consciously reduce physical body tension: Physical body tension usually manifests itself as muscle tension in the body. For example, physical tension can show up as gritting ones teeth or as tension in the lower back. Exercises can be done to focus on relaxing the body, which in turn helps to relax the mind.
- Be in the moment: Staying in the moment helps people to focus on what is important in the present, and decrease the anxiety of what is to come. This can decrease the propensity for people to make assumptions about is yet to come.
- Work with your thoughts and emotions: This can be the hardest of the three, because one stays present with one’s own thoughts and emotions to move forward and decrease, or live with, stress or anxiety. This is all about working through feelings and coming to conclusions about how to deal with them.
Erik said that there is “no order to the three tactics, rather it depends on the person and what works for them.” Also, he noted that mindfulness, the practice of bringing our minds back to the present moment, is a necessary and effective process in dealing with stress. In the next post, exercises to increase mindfulness and how to access resources at Tufts will be discussed. Stay tuned!!