Anxiety and Stress Management

Difficulty with anxiety is one of the most common mental health complaints.

Virtually all of us have the experience at one time in our life of feeling keyed up, worried, or stressed. Many times, you may notice the following symptoms: shortness of breath, racing heart, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, and feeling at the mercy of our fears.

Anxiety: Fight of Flight

As problematic as anxiety can be, simply having some anxiety is not a bad thing. In fact, anxiety can be healthy, motivating, and serves as a signal for us that something is amiss and requires our attention. In caveman days when faced with survival challenges (such as a bear invading our camp), we would rely on anxiety to pump oxygenated blood to our muscles and extremities to allow us to quickly respond with either "fight or flight" to a perceived threat. This also explains the physiological symptoms of anxiety - we need blood to pump quickly to get our muscles into action and to make snap decisions. In modern times, we typically do not have prepare our bodies to run away from or fight life-threatening predators, but this system is still in place and we often react with alarm to non-life-threatening triggers such as giving a speech in class, fearing making mistakes, or worrying about our social lives, academics, and loved ones. Keeping in mind that many of our anxiety experiences, though unpleasant at times, can be tolerated without too much distress, there are a few ways to manage anxiety.

Stressing at School

Student resting chin on bookYep, there's no way around it - you're bound to have stress in college, stress in academics, interactions with friends/roommates/partners, finances, and related to family back home. Virtually everyone around you is carrying some form or stress or another. A little bit of stress is healthy. It helps us stay on task, prepared, and focused. However, a lot of stress can feel debilitating and interfere with productivity, happiness, and well-being.

Each of us has our own threshold or limit to how much stress is too much. Finding healthy ways to balance our stress level at college is essential. Below are seven commonly used strategies to manage stress, followed by a quick description of three of the most popular relaxation strategies.

7 Stress Management Quick Tips

Know that stress will eventually pass and there are several ways to help decrease its impact.

  1. Look for healthier, more realistic thoughts to replace stressful, critical or demanding ones.
    • What kinds of thoughts typically lead to stress?
    • Which thoughts are helpful or unhelpful?
  2. Journal your thoughts.
    • Note the situation and what you were thinking and feeling.
    • This often helps you see the critical thoughts more clearly and also helps you relieve some of your stress by doing something productive with your thoughts/feelings.
  3. Consider several relaxing or leisure activities to counter stress.
    • Go to a movie, read a book, take a long bath, call a friend, exercise, go for a walk, spend time with a pet, and so forth.
    • Make a point to do these on a daily basis to help "recenter" and maintain a better emotional balance.
  4. Deep breathing.
    • Slowly take a deep breath in, hold it, then slowly release.
    • Focus on breathing for several minutes, notice stress drift away with every exhalation.
  5. Visualization.
    • Pick a relaxing scene, real or imagined, and try to place yourself there fully - imagining the scene with all senses, while breathing slowly.
    • Visualize this as if you expect to see the scene when you open your eyes.
  6. Muscle relaxation.
    • Tense and release major muscle groups while breathing deeply.
    • Hold tension for 5-8 seconds, noticing what it feels like in individual muscles.
    • Then quickly release tension and notice how you feel when muscles are not tensed.
    • Note what "relaxed" feels like throughout your body.
  7. Seek support.
    • Allow other people (friends/family/significant others) to support you - Ask for help!
    • Make opportunities to share responsibilities with others (don't be afraid to delegate).
    • Consider seeking professional guidance - consider counseling or self-help materials.

      CUA Counseling Center: 127 O'Boyle; (202) 319-5765;