The experience of stress is universal - it is part of being alive. Therefore, developing a healthy response to stress is a skill that will serve you well throughout your life. Some stressors are within your realm of control and can be prevented. For example, you can choose whether you want the additional stress of a fifth class, on top of your job, sports team, long-distance relationship, and so on. Other stressors are unavoidable, but you can alleviate the impact by practicing some of the wellness strategies outlined in these pages.
- Good self-care: Taking care of yourself will help maintain your physical, emotional, and mental reserves to prevent and manage stress. This includes regular sleep, exercise, relaxation, and eating well.
- Evaluate your priorities: There are so many amazing activities to engage in at Amherst, but if you try to do everything, you may spread yourself too thin to really reap value from the activities you’re engaged in. What is most important to you? Imagine yourself 5-10 years in the future, looking back. Will you wish you invested more in academics? Developing friendships? Co-curricular activities?
- Consider doing less: Try to leave yourself some down time to relax and replenish. Before taking on additional responsibility, take some time to think about whether it is going to contribute to or detract from your overall well-being. Are the benefits worth the potential stress?
- Practice setting limits: It can be tough to say "no" to others, or to limit yourself from doing everything, even if you know it might be better for you in the long run. Rather than automatically saying "yes" to new responsibilities, consider changing your default response to, “Let me think about it” or “I’ll get back to you” to buy yourself some time to consider the impact of the decision.
- Work hard, play well: Working hard is draining, and you deserve to relax and let loose. Choose activities that will help you unwind, have fun, and refuel.
What is your favorite thing to do when you are stressed? If your go-to strategy involves a pint of ice cream or a pint of beer, consider adding a few healthy options to the mix! It’s helpful to create a “diverse portfolio” of stress relief strategies to adapt to your mood and resources. Below is a sample list.
- Talk to someone: Whether it’s a friend, family, counselor, or religious advisor, getting support is crucial.
- Play: Do something purely for the fun of it.
- Write: Sometimes it’s helpful to get stressful thoughts out of your head and onto paper.
- Change the scenery: Take a walk in the wildlife sanctuary, explore a new place in town, or get out of town altogether.
- Try a relaxation strategy: Mindfulness, yoga, massage…there are many practices to choose from and a growing body of research expounding the benefits.
- Move your body: Find ways to get active and incorporate more movement into your life.
Too Stressed to De-stress?
If you’re so stressed that you don’t have the time or energy to devote to self-care, that’s when you need replenishment the most! Prioritizing self-care is a decision that only you can make, and changing behavior can take some effort. These are some tips to help make changes and maintain them.
- Set a goal: Be specific about what you’d like to try. E.g. spend 5 minutes a day focusing on breathing, or hang out with friends and not think about work 3 times a week.
- Make a plan: How will you meet your goal? What are the necessary steps? Breaking your goal into incremental steps will make it feel more manageable.
- Write it down: Just writing down your plan increases your chances of success by 30%. Telling other people will increase the likelihood of following through even more.
- Get support: Find a “buddy” who will engage in your plan with you, or find a role model, mentor, or coach.
- Reward actions, not results! It’s important to reinforce yourself for taking positive steps, rather than focusing exclusively on achieving your end goal.
- Turn bad days into good data: Try to view setbacks as information. What happened and how can you handle it differently? Get curious, not depressed! Give the new behavior at least three tries before giving up on it.
Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, and Ron McMillan