Stress: Tips to Help you Manage Stress

By Seth Strawn, MS LPC | June 30, 2023 

Lately, it has been “finals season” for many students ranging from middle school to college-age. With the growing reality of finals approaching, there is often also a growing increase of stress. Stress is something we all can relate to, whether it is stress due to finals and end-of-year assignments for class, the stress of work and job performance, trying to figure out how on earth you will be able to get all of the chores and grocery shopping done while also taking kids to appointments, practices, youth groups, or the stress of cleaning the garage.

Oftentimes, when people experience an increase in stress, they feel a sense of being overwhelmed, which can then lead to greater amounts of procrastination and avoidance. Some people might feel stuck or frozen when stressed, not knowing where to start or how to start. It is almost as if the more there is that needs to be done, the more scattered and unfocused our thoughts become, the less we actually accomplish, and the more we fall behind. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.

During my time as a counselor working with numerous clients (and from my own experiences in dealing with my own stress), a helpful practice I have found is to work on cutting the stress down to size. What this means is taking something that is really big – such as preparing for finals week – and breaking the overall load into smaller pieces. So, how does one go about that? The following outlined steps might be a helpful place to start:

  • First, create a list of everything that needs to be done, accomplished, or is due within a set timeframe. The timeframe could perhaps be the approaching week; it could be from where you are currently in your week to the end of the week, or it might even be the timeframe of one day. It may be the timeframe of “tomorrow” or just simply making it to the end of “today.”
  • If you are utilizing the timeframe of the upcoming week, then the next step will be to make a notation alongside each task on your list of what day that particular task needs to be completed or will be due. Some tasks will be reoccurring each day, and others will be specific to only a certain day.
  • After that, divide and organize your list into days so that your Big List is divided up into Smaller Lists for each day. If your timeframe is Monday through Friday, then your list of tasks under “Monday” will include only what needs to be accomplished by the end of the day and what prep-work or studying is needed in order to be prepared for entering into Tuesday. As you look at your list for Monday, try to organize it into a rough schedule or itinerary, having a pre-determined plan for the order and precedence of how you would like to approach your day’s list and where each task will fit within your day.
  • The next phase in all of this is simply to focus on only one task at a time, namely, the current task at hand. At this point, you have already created the plan for your schedule. So now, to the best of your ability, stay focused and present with your current task; notice when your mind starts to jump ahead to future tasks, and then gently guide your thoughts back to where you are now and what you’re working on now. Then, once the task is completed, cross it off of your list and move on to the next task. The hard part of this discipline is that we often know on a cognitive level we can only do one thing at a time, yet training our thoughts to remain present with one thing at a time while allowing ourselves to “let go” of “what’s next” can be a challenge. This is where having a tangible list is helpful; the list is able to keep track of the “what’s next” for you.
  • Finally, you might find it helpful at times to invite others into your schedule with you. This could be inviting a family member to help with yard work, a friend to go grocery shopping with you, or a classmate to study with you. You can also, if you choose, share your plans for each day with a trusted support figure in your life; this would be someone who knows you well, cares about you, and can help encourage you as you move through your list of to-do’s. If you are easily or frequently tempted to lean toward procrastination and avoidance, this person can also help with providing accountability. (It’s sort of like the difference between a person who goes to the gym with a plan and great intentions but low motivation or guidance once getting there, and spending the majority of the hour wandering from one machine to another without really working any specific muscle group, versus that same person going to the gym with a dedicated workout-buddy or personal trainer.) Additionally, this is a person who can help you find moments of rest, peace, and balance in the midst of the stress, because even stress that “is cut to size” is still stress. Hopefully, though, the stress will seem a bit smaller and more manageable.  

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Lately, it has been “finals season” for many students ranging from middle school to college-age. With the growing reality of finals approaching, there is often also a growing increase of stress. Stress is something we all can relate to, whether it is stress due to finals and end-of-year assignments for class, the stress of work and job performance, trying to figure out how on earth you will be able to get all of the chores and grocery shopping done while also taking kids to appointments, practices, youth groups, or the stress of cleaning the garage.

Oftentimes, when people experience an increase in stress, they feel a sense of being overwhelmed, which can then lead to greater amounts of procrastination and avoidance. Some people might feel stuck or frozen when stressed, not knowing where to start or how to start. It is almost as if the more there is that needs to be done, the more scattered and unfocused our thoughts become, the less we actually accomplish, and the more we fall behind. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.

During my time as a counselor working with numerous clients (and from my own experiences in dealing with my own stress), a helpful practice I have found is to work on cutting the stress down to size. What this means is taking something that is really big – such as preparing for finals week – and breaking the overall load into smaller pieces. So, how does one go about that? The following outlined steps might be a helpful place to start:

  • First, create a list of everything that needs to be done, accomplished, or is due within a set timeframe. The timeframe could perhaps be the approaching week; it could be from where you are currently in your week to the end of the week, or it might even be the timeframe of one day. It may be the timeframe of “tomorrow” or just simply making it to the end of “today.”
  • If you are utilizing the timeframe of the upcoming week, then the next step will be to make a notation alongside each task on your list of what day that particular task needs to be completed or will be due. Some tasks will be reoccurring each day, and others will be specific to only a certain day.
  • After that, divide and organize your list into days so that your Big List is divided up into Smaller Lists for each day. If your timeframe is Monday through Friday, then your list of tasks under “Monday” will include only what needs to be accomplished by the end of the day and what prep-work or studying is needed in order to be prepared for entering into Tuesday. As you look at your list for Monday, try to organize it into a rough schedule or itinerary, having a pre-determined plan for the order and precedence of how you would like to approach your day’s list and where each task will fit within your day.
  • The next phase in all of this is simply to focus on only one task at a time, namely, the current task at hand. At this point, you have already created the plan for your schedule. So now, to the best of your ability, stay focused and present with your current task; notice when your mind starts to jump ahead to future tasks, and then gently guide your thoughts back to where you are now and what you’re working on now. Then, once the task is completed, cross it off of your list and move on to the next task. The hard part of this discipline is that we often know on a cognitive level we can only do one thing at a time, yet training our thoughts to remain present with one thing at a time while allowing ourselves to “let go” of “what’s next” can be a challenge. This is where having a tangible list is helpful; the list is able to keep track of the “what’s next” for you.
  • Finally, you might find it helpful at times to invite others into your schedule with you. This could be inviting a family member to help with yard work, a friend to go grocery shopping with you, or a classmate to study with you. You can also, if you choose, share your plans for each day with a trusted support figure in your life; this would be someone who knows you well, cares about you, and can help encourage you as you move through your list of to-do’s. If you are easily or frequently tempted to lean toward procrastination and avoidance, this person can also help with providing accountability. (It’s sort of like the difference between a person who goes to the gym with a plan and great intentions but low motivation or guidance once getting there, and spending the majority of the hour wandering from one machine to another without really working any specific muscle group, versus that same person going to the gym with a dedicated workout-buddy or personal trainer.) Additionally, this is a person who can help you find moments of rest, peace, and balance in the midst of the stress, because even stress that “is cut to size” is still stress. Hopefully, though, the stress will seem a bit smaller and more manageable.  

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