Coping with Stress
When it comes to stress, having a large repertoire of strategies to draw on is incredibly helpful because you can pick and choose what works for you and for the situation.
Strategy #1: Prevent Stress
- Learn to say “No”: Don’t take on more than you can comfortably handle. This is true for both your personal and professional life.
- Set realistic expectations: Be honest with yourself about what you can accomplish, without making yourself crazy.
- Get rid of your stress causing habits: Learn to eliminate procrastination with time management and organization skills.
- Be assertive: Clearly communicate and defend your boundaries to others.
- Avoid your stressors: Whether it is specific people, topics, or situations, minimize the time you deal with them.
Strategy #2: Prepare for Stress
- Rally support from others: Let the people who support you know that you’re facing a stressful situation and you’ll need their support.
- Mentally gear up: Believing that you will get through a stressful situation can help immensely. Remember, your presence in grad school is not a fluke!
- Make a plan: Divvying up when and how you will accomplish something can reduce stress and increase your chance of success.
Strategy #3: Reduce Stress Symptoms
- Exercise: A miracle for reducing bodily tension and clearing your mind to improve your focus, exercise will also reduce the risk of anxiety and depression caused by stress.
- Eat well: Eat whole, nutritious foods to keep your energy up and digestion working well.
- Reduce sugar and caffeine: Both sugar and caffeine will cause you to crash, offsetting any temporary benefit that they provide. Avoiding them can also help you improve your sleep.
- Sleep: Getting good sleep when you’re stressed out can be hard, but it’s important. Start a nightly routine that relaxes you before you hit the sack and don’t work or read in bed.
- Laugh: Laughter forces the body to relax. Watch a comedy or talk to a funny friend. You can even fake it if you have to – your body doesn’t know the difference.
- Focus on the good: People who have a grateful attitude better manage stress. Take a moment to think about what you are grateful for.
- Learn the relaxation response: You can learn to relax on a whim, using techniques such as visualization, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, and meditation.
Strategy #4: Cope with Stress
- Accept what you cannot change: Many things in life are outside of our control. Focus on what you can control and try to see uncontrollable situations as opportunities for learning and growth.
- Task focused: Analyze the problem, think about solutions, and implement an appropriate course of action. This strategy is especially helpful for managing a large workload, but it may not work well for an emotional problem like a fight with your partner.
- Emotion focused: Understand and express your feelings. This type of coping is helpful for emotional problems like a fight with your partner, but is not ideal for handling academic stress.
- Thought focused: Understand and express your feelings. This type of coping is helpful for emotional problems like a fight with your partner, but is not ideal for handling academic stress.
- Avoidant: Sometimes you just need to take a mental break, especially if the situation is something that you can’t control. Do something fun to distract yourself for awhile. Avoidant coping doesn’t work well as a long term solution, but can be a helpful break from time to time.
Strategy #5: Strive for Balance
- Have fun: You need to smile everyday.
- Relax: Take time to relax everyday, even if it’s just ten minutes before bed. When you feel stress building, close your eyes, consciously relax your muscles, and take a deep breath.
- Slow down: Stressed people tend to do everything fast from talking to eating and even driving. Slow down and appreciate the moment.
- Enjoy those you love: Take the time to truly enjoy your family and friends.
- Occasionally break from your routine: A change of pace can be refreshing and break us out of a mental rut of introspection and self-pity. It can be as simple as taking a different route home from campus.
- Think about your values: Sometimes we forget why we’re working so hard. Remember why you are in grad school and also about the other things in your life that you value, like your friends and family. How are you spending your time in service of what you value?
- Volunteer: Helping others can help put your own life into perspective and give you a break from routine.
Strategy #6: Learn To Do It Better
- Learn yourself: You have to acknowledge that you are stressed before you can consciously act to reduce it. Learn what your stress symptoms are and what coping techniques work best for you.
- Model after someone who is balanced: If you have someone in your life who does have balance, try to model their behavior or think about how they would handle the stressful situation you’re up against.
- Reflect: When trying a new strategy and monitor if it is reducing your stress.
- Practice, practice, practice: Believe it or not, stress management is a learned skill. Try and try again, you will get better at this!
~ American Psychological Association, 2007
Strategy #7: Get Help
- Participate in Workshops
- Make an appointment with the Counseling Center – any MSU student can get 8 free, confidential counseling sessions
- If you are a MSU employee, see an EAP counselor - you can get 6 free confidential counseling sessions.
Make an appointment with the Counseling Center open to all students. Each student is eligible for 8 free, confidential counseling appointments.
Talk to a doctor at Olin. Every student has three pre-paid visits per year.
PhD Career Services offers several workshops:
- Stress Management and Enhancing Performance in Graduate School.
- Banishing Burnout from Stress to Strength
The Employee Assistance Program is open to all MSU employees, including Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants, and their immediate family members (spouses, partners, children, etc.). The EAP offers:
- 6 Free, confidential counseling appointments
- Coaching to improve a skill or functioning in a particular work/life area Breaking Free From Stress workshop
Health4U provides graduate student employees and their partners/spouses with education, opportunities, and support for developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Health4U workshops and classes include:
- Free Chair Massage Samplers (On-Site)
- Fundamentals of Meditation
- Meditation Group
- Holiday Survival Guide
- Power of Belief
- Relaxing Under the Stars at Abrams
- The Healing Power of Guided Imagery
- Understanding Mood
- Understanding Stress