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Our fast-paced, technology-driven world coupled with the recent global pandemic has pushed our student’s mental stress levels to the limits. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health and learning to manage stress will serve you well throughout life. The college experience is chock full of stressors and major life decisions. The lengthy reading, research, studying, exams, and deadlines can all be extremely stress-inducing.
Develop strong coping skills
Coping skills involve the management and regulation of your emotions, which is the backbone of your mental health. These skills include distraction, managing your feelings, letting go of tension and expressing your thoughts.
As the first line of defense, many people use distraction as a coping skill. Binging Netflix, spending time on your phone, listening to music, doodling, journaling, and exercising are all good examples of distraction. They are effective in getting your mind to take a mental health break. In general, distraction is a surface level coping skill that will not change your overall stress level very much. Distraction is a temporary measure and serves that purpose well.
Identify and manage your thoughts and feelings
Stress is sneaky and can mask itself as other things. You may get angry at the ice machine, or snap at your roommate for a minor inconvenience. What comes out as anger may really be your body telling you that you have neglected your self-care and you are under duress. Becoming aware of your own stress levels can help you manage them. Identifying your feelings and writing out why you are feeling them is a healthy way to “get it out.” For example, if you are feeling frustrated, write down why you are feeling frustrated. Getting it out on paper can be stress relieving and some people find that crumpling and tossing the paper afterward to be also helpful.
To take it one step further, if you are bogged down by recurring negative thoughts, challenge yourself to write them down, followed by all the reasons each thought is not true. For example, if you score poorly on an exam and tell yourself “I will never be successful,” write down the things you have succeeded at, especially the things you did not think you could do, but accomplished anyway.
Spending a few minutes alone, practicing deep breathing, expressing gratitude, and visualizing success can keep you grounded consistently. Strategies such as “four square breathing” and “5-4-3-2-1” are especially helpful to calm you in stressful situations such as just before an exam or a class presentation. Many people have found success by starting and ending their days with these approaches. Although it is tempting to start and end your day on your cell phone, mindfulness activities are a much healthier way to manage your stress.
Normalize reaching out
As much as we do not always want to admit this, people need people. Establish and maintain a healthy network of support so that you have someone to talk to when your stress levels are high. Find people with similar values who are loyal listeners. Be sure to reciprocate the support and access the college’s counseling services when your own efforts to manage stress are inadequate.
Always consider what is in your control and exercise your own control over your circumstances to the best of your abilities. Your thoughts, words and reactions are your choices. You cannot control others. Consistently making your mental health a priority in your life will help you manage life’s day to day challenges.