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Stress Management

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.”

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.

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.  Try the Student Counselling Service's Mindfulness podcast.

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 in college include the Student Health CentreStudent Counselling ServiceCollege Tutors and Chaplains.

Useful resources

For a great range resources on time-management, in a variety of formats, Click here to enrol the SLD Blackboard module.