How to Improve at Surviving Stressful Situations
Develop Your Coping Skills
- Plan ahead - anticipate - prepare for the unexpected - have a plan B, C & D. Some events are extremely stressful despite good planning, e.g., the Gulf War. Some events are extremely stressful because they threaten our safety, e.g., the attack on 9-11-01.
- Organize your academic, social and personal life. Establish goals and objectives. Develop time lines for reaching your goals.
- When you schedule your day, allow time for leisure activities, study breaks and time to do absolutely nothing or indulge your guilty pleasures. My example of doing absolutely nothing is watching TV. Take time to relax - listen to relaxing music, do relaxation exercises, reflect and meditate. Whatever it takes to loosen up.
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At the end of this piece you'll find some very specific and helpful coping strategies for college students.
- DON'T PROCRASTINATE - take care of business in a timely way. Some people procrastinate simply because they want to avoid a task that is unpleasant for them - that's the simple explanation and normal. Some people procrastinate because they crave excitement and like living on the edge. If that's a pattern for you then you better look me up.
- If you mess up on a test or an assignment, reflect on what you did wrong, make the necessary changes and let it go. Don't beat yourself up. If you learn from the experience you're not a failure. This is an essential part of growth.
- If you're academically stressed, this is good because it means you're challenged. People who are not challenged seldom grow. People who graduate from IUS are people who have grown.
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- Maintain your emotional support system. These are the people you can vent your frustration with and share your successes with. Includes family, friends and classmates. Talking about what's happening to you is the best way to defuse your feelings and symptoms. Get feedback and advice from the people you trust. If the feelings and symptoms persist after three days to a week of talking then give me a call.
- Don't become so obsessed with school or work that you neglect friends or family. Strike a balance.
- And don't become so taken by a relationship that you neglect family, friends, or your academic responsibility. Strike a balance. In a romantic relationship this is easier said than done, but try to keep your wits about you especially in that first six week to three month period of infatuation.
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- Attitude, not aptitude, determines your altitude. One suggestion for a good attitude is an out take on the serenity prayer: accept what you can't change and focus on what you have control over. We all have days where we need to say this twenty times an hour. It will help you to avoid the control trap.
- Try to exercise. Exercise releases tension in the muscles and reduces the effects of anxiety. Eat right and get your sleep. If you're run down, you won't be efficient or function at the intellectual level required to get good grades. Stress degrades the first line of defense in our immune system and prolonged stress usually leads to illness. Ever notice how many people get sick at Christmas or at the end of a semester.
- Maintain your self-confidence and self-esteem. If you can, avoid toxic people and situations. Value and protect yourself. If you're in an abusive work environment and can't change it, then find another job. If you're in an abusive relationship, assert yourself and attempt to change it. If that doesn't work, you have the option of either leaving the relationship or detaching to protect yourself.
- Don't overextend yourself especially at work. Learn how to say no. Know your limits. When life becomes overwhelming, breathe deeply, tighten your muscles (begin with your toes and work your way up), and then slowly relax each set of muscles as you exhale.
- Commitment, the best measure of personal integration or how together you are. Students who are marginally committed to their educational goals have more conflicts and stress than the truly committed student. The truly committed student knows their goals, how to achieve them, and, barring unusual, extreme or catastrophic events, will reach their goals. The student who lacks full commitment is ambivalent about their classes and studying and is frequently conflicted in their choices. This student will waste a lot of time weighing options like should I party or should I study. Which brings us back to the issue of maturity and discipline.
- If you are well integrated, you'll see yourself as behaving well and you'll most likely feel good about yourself, think clearly and perform at your optimum level. The integrated person enjoys life, accomplishes their goals, and is usually happy. They also have less stress.
- Try to get along. Most people respond well to someone who smiles and is friendly. But don't be afraid to speak up for yourself in a calm and reasonable voice. This shows that you value yourself and you expect others to also value you. Having self-respect is crucial to keeping your stress at a minimum.
- Allow yourself to cry. It releases feelings and tension. Birds don't do it, bees don't do it, but football players do it.
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