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Stress Management

Starting college involves a tremendous amount of change and excitement, which can lead to excessive stress.
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Managing Stress
We all experience stress--defined as “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.” Stress, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Some short-term stress has been shown to help people perform better (on tests, in job interviews, etc). It’s how we interpret the stress that determines how we characterize it.

Things that are stressful to one person may not be to another. Two different people can perceive the same situation very differently because of how they interpret the associated stress. Although stress is normal, long-term or chronic stress can lead to a variety of problems.


Signs of Stress

Stress impacts people differently. Knowing your signs can help you more quickly take steps to alleviate your stress levels before they become damaging. Some signs of stress include:

  • Emotional
    • Moodiness
    • Inability to relax / being on edge
    • Irritability
    • Tearfulness
    • Feeling anxious
  • Behavioral
    • Avoiding others
    • Inefficiency in work
    • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
    • Binge TV-watching or video game playing
    • Neglecting self-care
    • Engaging in negative coping strategies or numbing behaviors
  • Physical
    • Headaches and muscle tension
    • Stomachaches, digestive distress or gastric ulcers
    • Raised blood pressure and increased heart rate
    • Fatigue
  • Cognitive
    • Constant worrying
    • Racing thoughts
    • Catastrophizing
    • Forgetfulness and disorganization
    • Inability to concentrate
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When you are feeling stressed, it’s important to identify the source of the stress (known as a stressor), so that you can determine how to best deal with it. Many things in life can be stressors, including:

  • Interpersonal interactions (family demands, conflicts with friends or roommates)
  • Life events (death of a friend or loved one, moving, break-ups)
  • Financial (loss of job or income, paying tuition, unplanned expenses)
  • Physiological (injury, illness, poor nutrition)
  • Lifestyle choices (lack of sleep or exercise, poor time management, use of alcohol or drugs)
  • Environmental (indoor environment, weather, noise, etc.)


Many people can list plenty of ideas to deal with stress; however, it’s important to remember some overall strategies—“The 2 C’s and 4 A’s of Stress Management” that can be helpful.

  • Change the situation
    • Avoid unnecessary stress
      • Not all stressful situations can be avoided, but sometimes stress is created unnecessarily. For example, there may be things you are doing that you can say “no” to or delegate. There may be people that you can avoid that cause you stress or you might be able to drop things from your to-do list that aren’t actually necessary.
    • Alter the situation
      • Sometimes you can limit the stress in your life by changing the situation. For example, you could communicate with others more, be more assertive, state your boundaries and limits, manage your time better, or even walk away from the situation temporarily.
  • Change your reaction
    • Adapt to the stressor
      • Even if you can’t change the stressor, you can change your own attitudes and behaviors by reframing problems, looking at the big picture, adjusting your standards, and practicing gratitude. Many “traditional” stress management strategies (like exercise and meditation) fall into this category, as you change your behavior.
    • Accept the things you can’t change
      • Some sources of stress are unavoidable and in those cases, it’s often best to accept things as they are. Don’t try to control the uncontrollable (including the behaviors of others), look for the upside, and share your feelings.
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Additional Stress Management Methods
In addition to the strategy outlined above, there are plenty of other stress management methods. It’s important to figure out what strategies work for you--while recognizing that what works to help alleviate stress in one situation may not be effective in another. It’s good to have multiple strategies to draw from, especially as some strategies work better for short-term stressors than longer-term stressors.

  • Engage in healthy behaviors—exercise, regular sleep and rest, proper nutrition
  • Practice meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Utilize goal setting and planning
  • Connect with others, including trusted family and friends
  • Try to follow a routine
  • Make time for activities you enjoy
  • Spend time outdoors


With these strategies, you likely can figure out predictable pressure release methods that work best for you in most situations. These will be your best resource for reducing your stress levels when you notice them rising.

However, when your feelings of stress and overwhelm exceed your ability to cope, or you find that these strategies don’t help, you may consider talking to your doctor or a mental health professional.


Make sure to take advantage of college resources to help you develop stress management techniques. Additionally, the following sources offer tips on coping with stress.

Greenberg, M. (2017). The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Zolli, A. and Healy, A.M. (2013) Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Levitan, D. (2015). “How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed.”

McGonical, K. (2013). “Ted Talk: How to Make Stress Your Friend.”

*Please note that selecting any of these links will redirect you away from Ensign College's website. Because websites are constantly changing, Ensign College does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of this information.


The Student Success Center is here to help! Please contact us with any further questions at 801-524-8151.

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