Managing Stress and Building Resilience

Daily Life

Articles for students and families transitioning into higher education.

Managing Stress and Building Resilience

  • AsIAm
  • 11/05/2021
  • 4 minutes read

The transition from second level to third level education is all about navigating the unknown. From managing a new workload, familiarising yourself with unfamiliar surroundings and interacting with new people; adjusting to college involves adjusting to change. The stress of this transition is experienced by every student to some extent and although much of this stress is inevitable, it certainly can be managed. Learning to manage your stress effectively allows you to build resilience, building resilience allows you to reach your full potential whilst maintaining your health and happiness.

Stress can manifest in many different ways; it may be emotional, physical, or both. The source and extent of stress experienced may also vary significantly from person to person; some may become stressed as a deadline approaches while others may experience stress that is not so easily attributable. Because stress is such an arbitrary thing, there is no universal manner in which it can be managed. It may be necessary to test out different techniques by trial and error until you find what best works for you!

Talk, talk, talk

“A problem shared is a problem halved.” This is a cliche for a reason. When you internalise feelings of stress you leave them to fester until they are seemingly insurmountable. The longer your feelings are left to dwell, the harder they become to manage, hence it is important to break the cycle before this becomes the case. Talking to someone trusted is a beneficial method of managing stress as it offers both release and perspective. A lot of our stress originates, or is exasperated, in our heads; it is easy to become consumed by one’s own thoughts when they

are the thoughts most accessible to us. By allowing ourselves to hear the opinions of others, we expose ourselves to more objective perceptions of reality that are often too difficult to see for ourselves when in a state of stress.

If talking is more likely to contribute to your stress than it is to alleviate it, try ‘sharing’ your thoughts with a piece of paper instead. Simply write down the words that best embody what you are feeling. If no words seem appropriate, try illustrations instead. By transcribing your thoughts you are decluttering your mind and giving yourself a moment to better understand your stress and the reasoning behind it. What happens to the piece of paper next is up to you – you may wish to share it with someone, keep it in a safe place, or tear it up into a thousand pieces and discard it.

Grounding Yourself

Under stress, you may shut down and have difficulty functioning or you may become overstimulated and have trouble maintaining concentration. These are normal reactions, however, it is very difficult to effectively manage stress when you are in these states. Grounding

yourself is essentially like pressing the refresh button; it is taking a moment to pause and process things so that when you do return to what you were doing, you are better able to progress.

Some techniques to help you ground yourself:

  •   go for a walk – try to focus on your surroundings or count your steps as you walk

  • place your hands in some cool water – focus on the temperature and ask yourself how it feels on each part of your hand. You can alternatively play with a fidget toy and focus on this in the same way.

  • try the 5-4-3-2-1 technique – in your head, make a list of 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This technique is especially useful as it can be done anywhere at any time

  • take a deep breath – breathing is so inherent to us that it is often something we forget to notice. The simple act of observing your breath can be immensely therapeutic in times of stress. Pay attention to how you are breathing, do not try to change it, simply acknowledge if it is slow or fast, deep or shallow. When you feel ready, you can try to bring rapid breathing under control by taking long, deep breaths.

  • make a mantra – come up with a word or sentence which you can repeat to yourself in times of distress. This may be a friendly reminder that “I got this” or “I am enough”. It may even be reciting a fact or a song lyric that makes you smile. Whatever resonates with you!

When you are inundated with thoughts and things to do, taking some time out may seem counterintuitive. However, building resilience is learning to identify when it may be more productive to walk away, take a breather and come back when you are in a better state of mind.

Staying Organised

Developing good organisational skills is a proactive method of consolidating your ability to manage stress. When you maintain organisation, it is significantly easier to keep on top of assignments and exams, hence the stress of crunch deadlines and all-night study sessions can be avoided. Of course unexpected stresses will arise and this is okay, simply preparing the best you can with the foresight you have will help you better manage what you have to do.

  • keep a diary with a record of all your important dates and remember to check it regularly. It may be helpful to use the same diary for both academic and personal life so that you are reminded of the importance of balancing both!

  • learn to prioritise your work. Always do what is most important first. If you have trouble identifying this try talking to your lecturer or tutor, they will help you distinguish what is necessary from what is recommended

  • work on improving your time management skills. Do not spend forever on a task that does not necessarily carry much weight. Again, you may want to talk to a lecturer or tutor to gauge what the recommended length to spend on a given assignment or piece of work is, you may also have a module hand book which offers guidance on this.
  • make a ‘to-do’ list at the beginning of each day. Put stars next to the tasks that must take priority and as outlined, do these first. Set a time limit for each task, you should try to abide by this as best you can. It is also important that ‘tasks’ you enjoy are also included in your list; schedule some time throughout the day to meet a friend or watch a tv show. It is unlikely that everything will be crossed off your to-do list by the end of the day; don’t worry, it exists as a guidance. A to-do list should not be a source of stress, it should be a method of managing it.


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