Coping with Stress

What is Coping?

copingThere is no doubt that college is stressful, but how you handle the stress is essential to your success and well-being. Coping is a dynamic process that involves both cognitive and behavioral changes to manage stress. There are two major categories in coping: problem-focused and emotion-focused coping.

  1. Problem-focused coping is when individuals put forth effort to manage or alter the stressor or situation (e.g. positive self-talk, goal-setting, and time management).
  2. Emotion-focused coping is when individuals regulate their emotional responses due to the problem (e.g. meditation and relaxation). However, some emotion-focused strategies are detrimental such as self-blame, wishful thinking, and behavioral withdrawal.

Common Sources of Stress in College Students

  • Being unorganized
  • Poor eating habits
  • Being in competition with others- this can be acceptance into programs, classes etc.
  • Course work
  • Social stress and relationships
  • Financial situations
  • Time management

Common Strategies to Cope with Stress

  • Task focus-narrow in on the most important detailscoping2
  • Rational thinking – gain perspective on the situation
  • Thought control – block out distractions
  • Positive self-talk – encourage yourself
  • Positive focus and orientation – focus on believing in your ability
  • Social support
  • Time management
  • Study hard and smart
  • Anxiety management and pretest mental preparation – mental practice and relaxation strategies (see below)
  • For more see Tips for Coping with Everyday Stress of College Life Handout

Relaxation Techniques

Taking time to purposefully engage in relaxation is an example of a healthy coping strategy. All of the relaxation techniques described will use deep belly breathing. Begin by taking long, slow, and deep inhalations through the nose and out the mouth. Feel the tension leave your body as you exhale. Try to concentrate only on your breathing. If your mind wanders, redirect it to your inhalation and expiration pattern.

  • Rhythmic breathing – inhale for a count of 4 seconds, hold for 4, and exhale and 4.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – this type of relaxation involves the contraction of a specific muscle group, holding the contraction for 5-7 seconds, followed by relaxation. This exercise progresses from one muscle group to another until the whole body is relaxed. The contraction phase helps you understand what tension feels like in the body, while relaxation teaches you what the absence of the tension feels like. (see video below)
  • For meditation techniques visit Headspace – Guided Meditation

Articles on Coping with Stress

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Video