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Anxiety and Stress Management

There are three basic elements or results of any effective stress management approach:

  • A here and now awareness - being in the present moment.
  • Slowing down of the mind and body
  • Suspension of judgment about one's experience and one's self

So let's get started! 

Step 1: Call It What It Is

That is, identify how you experience anxiety. You may know that you are anxious but may not have a clear sense of how and when you feel anxious. 

Anxiety comes in the forms of: 

  • Worried, negative thoughts, apprehension about the future, and guilt
  • Uncomfortable, tense, irritable feelings; feelings of dread and being overwhelmed
  • Physical discomfort - headaches, muscle tension, upset stomach, dizziness, feeling flushed, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, clammy hands, sweating, etc.
  • Avoidance and compensatory behavior - missing class or work, afraid to be in certain places
  • Overextending and pushing oneself with perfectionistic behavior

Anxiety comes from both external demands and situational stress as well as internal demands (e.g., perfectionistic expectations, negative self evaluations). 

Anxiety can be signal , but sometimes it just happens. It is important to decide whether your anxiety is signaling you to take certain problem solving measures or whether your anxiety is just distracting, unproductive noise because you already have done what you need to or have the power to do about a particular situation or concern.

Anxiety is what it is - uncomfortable, distressed feelings and thoughts. You have anxious thoughts and feelings that can be tolerated and managed. You are not your anxious thoughts and feelings. 

Step 2: It's All About Attitude

Or, at least, attitude has a lot to do with it. Life can be difficult. How stressed and anxious we feel though is not so much a matter of what upsetting events have occurred, but what meaning we give to those events. Stress is part of life. Our goal is not to eliminate stress but to reckon with it. A moderate level of stress or anxiety can even enhance one's performance. 

A paradoxical attitude is necessary to confront symptoms of anxiety and stress. Try practicing and adopting the following beliefs and attitudes when you feel anxious or stressed:

  • It is OK, even expected, that I am feeling anxious right now. It's not terrible that this is happening.
  • I want to experience or face my symptoms so that I can learn to manage them. I don't need to be afraid of my symptoms.
  • How I handle this situation now is just practice, it is not a test of who I am or how my future will be.
  • It is important simply to try and make the effort. I can continue to try and learn from this.
  • I can only control my efforts. I cannot always control the results.

Avoid berating yourself for feeling anxious. Use affirming, supportive self-talk that highlights your strengths and resources.

Step 3: Allow Yourself to be Still

Relaxation skills are basic to stress management. It's how our bodies and mind are able to release tension and slow down. You can easily learn to relax, to slow down, even appreciate and embrace stillness. These audiofiles can help you get started as you find and appreciate relaxation.

A hurried mind is sick
A slow mind is sound
A still mind is divine 
-- Mehrer Baba 

 

Adapted from the work of Dr. Dan Darnell, PhD.