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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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News and Events
News and Events

Managing Stress
April 15, 2020

Stress Management Tips for National Stress Awareness Day, from Dr. Tracy Jalaba of the USC OT Faculty Practice.

Health and Wellness Pandemic

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By Tracy Jalaba OTD, OTR/L

In its most basic definition, stress is our body’s response to a demand. With the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the protective measures put in place to try to wrangle it, there has been no shortage of new demands for our bodies to try to adjust to!  While much of what is going on feels out of our control, there are techniques we can utilize to keep our stress in-check. In honor of stress management day, here are five strategies to help us lower our stress so that we are able to still manage our daily responsibilities, be there for our loved ones, and find a sense of wellness and relaxation amongst all this change and uncertainty:

Gratitude Journaling — Right now, it can be easy to focus on all we are missing out on due to the stay at home mandates. Identifying three things to be grateful for each day and writing these down can help us feel happier, allow us to better tackle stressors that we encounter during the day, and has even been shown to boost our immune functioning.

Gratitude Road

Photo by Bart Maguire

Stretching — For many of us, attending class, studying, and participating in meetings, may all be happening in the same workspace currently. Getting up and stretching periodically is not only good for managing aches and pains that can develop, but is a great way to alleviate muscle tension that can occur as a part of the stress response and provide proprioceptive input through our joints that can have a calming effect.


Photo by udge

Set Boundaries — There is an over-abundance of COVID-19 related news and media. While it’s important to stay informed, excessive consumption can contribute to increased fear and anxiety. Try limiting news intake to particular times of day or a few reputable sources, and then use the rest of your media consuming time to catch-up with loved ones, watch funny videos, and explore new and interesting topics.

Get Outside — Exposure to sunlight can increase Vitamin D production which is associated with reduced risk for depression and anxiety, and being in nature improves our mood and feelings of well-being. If you have access to safe outdoor space that you’re able to enjoy while socially distancing, consider incorporating an afternoon walk into your routine or sitting outside to read or study. If you aren’t able to physically go outside, spend time relaxing near a window or recalling your favorite outdoor setting — research shows that even imagining yourself in nature can have the same positive effects as being there!

Get outside

Photo by amanda tipton

Breathe — When your body is in a stress response, breathing becomes quicker and shallower. To move your body into a more relaxed state, focus on breathing slowly and filling your lungs fully with air before exhaling. Putting a hand on your stomach or counting (e.g., inhaling for 4, holding for 2 and exhaling for 6) can provide helpful cues. The great thing about breathing as a stress management technique is you can use it anytime, such as during a test or before speaking in front of the class, without anyone knowing.