Relax, Relate, Release!

ID-100290415Relax, Relate, Release!

Are you struggling in school, overwhelmed with deadlines at work, or frustrated with family responsibilities?

No worries; stress is a normal physical and/or emotional reaction to balancing the ever-increasing demands of life that may leave one feeling stretched to the limit.  For example, both negative (e.g., job, relationship problems, and/or financial difficulties) and positive events (e.g., buying a house, starting a new job, and/or getting married) could potentially contribute to high levels of stress.  However, the American Psychological Association suggests that women, younger Americans, and parents, in particular, consistently endure levels of stress that may be detrimental to their overall health (APA, 2014).

Relax:  Understanding Your Stress Response

All stress is not bad stress.  Some may find that they perform “best” under time constraints.  On the other hand, the brain and body was not designed to remain on high alert for extended periods of time.

The brain is hard-wired with an alarm system that was set in place for protection.  For example, if the brain were to perceive a threat, it would notify the body and decide whether the potential life-threatening situation required a “fight-or-flight” stress response.  But once the threat, either real or imagined, has been resolved, the body is meant to return to its normal relaxed state.

Relate:  Identifying Your Stressors

What triggered your stress?  What time of day did it occur?  What were your thoughts?  Did you have a behavioral, emotional, and/or physical response?

Identifying the source(s) of one’s stress may seem like an obvious step in the resolution process.  Nevertheless, it is one that is often overlooked, thus causing one to develop a negative stress cycle.

Common Effects of Stress

On your body

On your mood

On your behavior

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension/Pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Upset Stomach
  • Sleep Problems
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation/Focus
  • Irritability/Anger
  • Sadness/Depression
  • Overeating/Undereating
  • Angry outburst
  • Drug/Alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social Withdrawal

Mayo Clinic, 2013

Release:  Managing Your Stress

Incessantly high levels of stress may lead to the development of serious health problems (e.g., high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and anxiety) later in life.

Creating a Wellness Toolbox is a healthy way to reset the brain’s alarm system to manage current or impending stress.  For example, one’s toolbox may include the following self-care activities:

  • Proper rest – the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that adults aged 18-64 years get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Proper nourishmentWebMD recommends 3 nutritious meals plus 3 healthy snacks per day.
  • Physical activity – the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommends at least 20 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (e.g., brisk walking or swimming), 10 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (e.g., running or Zumba), and strength training (e.g., light weight lifting and yoga) as needed on a daily basis.
  • Therapy – to assess one’s current level of stress and recommend further successful interventions, such as:
    • Keeping a stress journal to track and monitor one’s current stress cycle as well as clarify one’s needs.
    • Practicing meditation/relaxation techniques (e.g., counting, deep breathing, and art/music therapy) to help one instantly achieve a calm state in highly stressful situations.
    • Practicing positive self-talk to replace negative thoughts regarding one’s situation with more positive and constructive thoughts.
    • Developing a support system (e.g., close family and friends) to assist in times of high stress.


For more information, please contact Hillcrest Center at (202) 232-6100 or email us at

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Amelia Hall, M.A.Amelia R. Hall, M.A. is a clinical psychology doctoral student, with a special concentration in diversity and multicultural related issues.