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The Best Stress Management Techniques for Students

Stress management for college students has always been an important topic, but now, more than ever, this is a topic worth revisiting. Why now? Let's face it, the last couple of years have been stressful.

There are plenty of articles that discuss stress management techniques like healthy eating, avoiding stimulants and procrastination, and exercising regularly. All these great tips stem from three vital steps you can take to manage your stress long term.

So, let's examine stress to learn how we can better cope with it.

What is Stress?

Hans Selye, a Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist, coined the current use of the term "stress" more than 50 years ago. He later discovered and described General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), a body's response to demands placed upon it. This means that stress is our body's natural reaction to adapt to a particular demand. Stress is actually a normal adjustment or adaptation. A bad event, like getting a bad grade on a test, can be stressful. A good event, like getting offered a job you really wanted, can also be stressful.

Contrary to popular belief, not all stress is bad stress. In fact, moderate stress can improve your memory and help you become more productive. This is because stress strengthens the connection between neurons in your brain. So stress can be good and learning to cope with stress healthily can make you more resilient. In some cases, it can promote productivity and facilitate paying attention.

So, if stress is normal and even positive if managed correctly, how do we optimize it?


The Best Way to Manage Stress

The following three steps are a way to mitigate the three General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) stages: alarm, resistance and exhaustion. If put into practice, these steps can help you learn how to manage stress in school, stress management in the workplace, and in your everyday life.

Step 1: Reduce Your Demands  

Observe your environment. Is your home or office causing you stress? Don't overcomplicate your space. Organizing your space and life to encourage predictability helps avoid surprises. Reducing surprises or unpredictable events reduces needless demands for adaptation and thus helps prevent the alarm stage.

Step 2: Rational Perspective 

Don't underestimate the power of positive thinking. We can't avoid the stress that comes with unexpected news or an unexpected situation, but we do have control over interpreting the information we are receiving. 

Woman practicing yoga

Remember that example we mentioned earlier about the stress caused by getting a bad grade on a test? This bad news will undoubtedly cause you to stress, but amplifying this situation will continue to escalate your stress. In other words, don't turn a genuine but manageable concern into a catastrophe. De-catastrophize these situations.

Practice accurately identifying the degree of threat or danger you are encountering. While getting a bad grade is not great, it is not catastrophic. Instead of letting the stress about a bad grade get amplified, think about a constructive way to approach the situation. For example, you could ask to discuss the grade with your professor to understand why you received this grade. This could be a good learning opportunity and can help you move from the alarm stage to a measured resistance stage in doing so. Approaching stressful situations in this manner can also give you a greater sense of control. This is how stress can actually build resilience.

Step 3: Strengthening the Quieting Response

The Parasympathetic System is the stage our body is in when we are relaxed, even drifting off to sleep. Also known as the quieting response, we can strengthen and prepare this response to better respond to our alarm state. So how do we support the quieting response?

The best way is to learn how to do belly breathing or Diaphragmatic Breathing

Making your breathing smooth, slow and rhythmic is one of the best stressbusters we have. But remember, this type of breathing needs to be practiced regularly to become part of an automatic response to stressful situations.

Watch the belly breathing technique

Or follow these simple steps:

  1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  2. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
  4. Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.
  5. Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.
  6. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

The Benefits of Stress Management

Increased risk assessment, uncertainty about the future, upended routines and more have become part of our daily lives. And that's on top of managing work, school, family life and every other responsibility we already have. The silver lining is that we are having more conversations about stress management. Suppose you can practice reducing demands, maintaining a rational perspective in stressful situations and strengthening your quieting response. In that case, you'll be able to enjoy the benefits of stress management at a deeper level.

Are you looking for additional support to help manage your stress?

Here are some helpful campus resources: