As we approach mid-semester, you may begin to feel the stresses of an increased workload and additional responsibilities outside of school. Here are four ways you can manage stress that are surprisingly simple.
Check in with yourself
What things in your life feel overwhelming? Write out a list of everything on your mind. This could include things like upcoming tests, projects, job stress or relationships.
Listing your stressors out on paper will allow you to be more mindful about what is causing you to feel overwhelmed. It’s okay to take a deep breath, step away and come back to your list at a later time. It’s important to understand that mindfulness doesn’t always bring a sense of calm or relief – it can actually be a bit uncomfortable at first.
As you look at your list, be honest about how it makes you feel (anxious, tired, excited, etc.). Acknowledge and validate those feelings. Remember that you can hold multiple emotions at once, and there isn’t always a clear answer to how you should feel. It’s also important to remind yourself that feelings are temporary.
Finally, consider asking yourself why these things make you feel that way. For instance, if the most stressful item on your list is an assignment, ask yourself why. Maybe it feels like there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it, maybe you’re feeling stuck or are confused about the directions. Once you’ve determined the causes of stress for the items on your list, start breaking them down into smaller tasks to tackle. It could be as simple as going to your professor’s office hours, doing a half hour of research or writing an outline. Schedule 20-30 minutes to commit to working on one task, and avoid distractions like texting or checking your social accounts for that time.
Prioritize your most basic needs
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Prioritize your most basic needs first. These needs — sleeping, eating, exercising, socializing — set the foundation for everything else we do. When these areas are out of balance or get neglected, it can impact other areas of our lives.
Check in with yourself using HALT: are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? If you answer yes to any of those, take care of those needs first.
Imagine you’re feeling hungry, but you decide to put off eating in order to study longer. In the long run, this will likely cause more stress. You’ll get hungrier, and the last stretch of work may become unbearable or you’ll start to lose focus. If you’re tired, your priority should be getting some rest even if it means that you’re not able to finish an assignment until tomorrow. Pushing ourselves to the limits and ignoring our basic needs is a quick way to experience burnout, which could slow us down even more. Taking care of yourself will not only help you, but it will also empower you to accomplish the other items on your list.
Do the next right thing
If you’re looking at your list and your mind is racing or you’re feeling overwhelmed, try focusing on the “next right thing”.
This means focusing on the next smallest step that is going to move you forward. Sometimes that means dealing with your basic needs (HALT); other times it means tackling one of the items on your list.
If the next right thing feels too hard to pin down, check in with yourself again. What feels the most overwhelming? Can you break it down into pieces? Can you tackle a small piece of it right now? Most importantly, have you done a HALT check-in and taken care of your basic needs?
Repeating this check-in process any time you’re feeling overwhelmed can help you identify the next right thing.
Create a leisure list
Making time to relax and unwind is an important part of self-care and stress management. You can set yourself up for success by creating your own leisure list. Start by taking note of activities that fully consume you in the moment. That means you’re not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow, the items left on your to-do list or anything other than the activity you’re currently doing. Every time you find yourself completely present, write it down in a notebook or on your phone.
Your list may include a combination of simple and complex activities, like making your morning coffee, organizing your notes, reading a good book, creating spreadsheets, taking care of your houseplants, walking outside, listening to an interesting podcast or making art. Focus on the activities that make you light up or give you energy. As you build out your list, use it to plan your down time and engage in activities that bring you joy, clarity or peace of mind.
Connect with support
Everyone struggles sometimes, and it’s okay to ask for help. Health and Wellness Services is here to support you, no matter what you’re going through. Here are just a few resources that can help you manage stress and anxiety: