Strategies for Managing Stress

Are you feeling stressed and wondering what you can do about it? One of the many challenges that college life presents is learning to cope with and manage stress in new, more effective ways. To some extent, this is as important as what you learn in the classroom.

There are a lot of long-term habits you can adopt, like practicing meditation, exercising, and getting enough sleep, but there are also things you can do in the moment when you feel your stress building.

Managing Stress in the Moment

Are you feeling stressed and wondering what you can do about it? There are a lot of long-term habits you can adopt, like practicing meditation, exercising, and getting enough sleep, but what can you do in the moment when something is stressing you out?

What Can I Do in 5 Minutes to Manage My Stress?

Managing stress in the moment:

  • Can help you reframe your perspective.
  • Give you a quick break to rejuvenate.
  • Provide motivation to continue on.
  • Allow you to work through any accompanying emotions that can go along with feeling overwhelmed.

If you start feeling your stress levels rise, try taking a break—get some exercise or fresh air, or go somewhere private to decompress. If your stress is due to feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to do, write a list of all the things that you need to do right away. Then prioritize the list and place your focus on only the top few. The rest can be your priority tomorrow.

The following stress-reducing strategies can all be accomplished in less than 5 minutes! They are great for managing nerves before a test or interview, helping to settle before sleep, or providing a respite from an overwhelming task.

Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can help to slow your heart beat, promote feelings of calmness, help you think clearly and can reduce feelings of stress or anxiety. They are also a great tool if you are having trouble settling down to sleep. The foundation of almost all breathing exercises is diaphragmatic or belly breathing. Here’s how you do it.

  • Either lie down on your back or sit comfortably with your feet resting steadily on the floor
  • Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest
  • Imagine that your belly is a pitcher and you are filling it up
  • Inhale through your nose and allow your belly to expand as you fill it up. Your chest should move last
  • Exhale through your mouth and allow your chest to fall first before your belly contracts
  • Repeat, or use one of the following breathing exercises below.

Here are some other breathing exercises to try:

Breating techniques to reduce stress


Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness practices are also a great way to de-stress. These practices can help you manage stress on a regular basis, as well. There are many available apps that can guide you through mindfulness exercises. Like breathing techniques, mindfulness practices also slow your heart rate, promote feelings of calm, and reduce stress and anxiety. In addition, mindfulness practices help people think more clearly, improve attentiveness, and alertness, and improve sleep.

Just like the exercises above, start with belly or diaphragmatic breathing. Here are two simple mindfulness exercises to help you get started.

Mindfulness Practices to Reduce Stress


Practicing Gratitude

Practicing gratitude in any frequency can boost your mood, increase resilience and reduce stress. People who practice gratitude reportedly sleep better and report higher levels of happiness. Next time you are feeling stressed out, try one of the following quick techniques below. Pay attention to your mood as you are doing so.

  • Send someone a thank you text, note, or email.
  • Tell someone in person what you are thankful for.
  • Write down three things you are grateful for or three things that made you smile recently.
  • Get outside in nature and appreciate what you see.
  • Reframe a negative thought into a positive one.

Compassion Poses

Change your body language to boost mood and confidence when you are nervous or feeling stressed out. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are all interconnected. If we are thinking and feeling a certain way, our body language will reflect these feelings. This is why people often feel tension in their body when they are experiencing stress. They are holding their body in a certain way in reaction to the stress.

Compassion poses rely on the sensation of touch to reduce stress hormones and allow you to comfort tense feelings. Try these poses out and notice how each makes you feel:

  • Place both of your hands over your heart and hold them there for 30 seconds.
  • Give yourself a hug and rub or massage your upper arms.
  • Place your hands on your legs and rub your thighs.
  • Cup your hands and hold your chin and cheeks.

Long Term Strategies to Handle Stress

Take care of your health. When unhealthy, you are even more vulnerable to stress. Exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and avoid using alcohol or other drugs to cope with your problems.

Become self-directed. Choose your own goals rather than letting others choose for you.

Maintain a support system. Let friends help you when you feel overwhelmed and stressed out and go out of your way to help them as well.

Try to be optimistic. Your mind sends signals to your body whenever you think about possible negative outcomes, initiating a stress response. People often recover better from stressful situations when they realize that negative events are not usually permanent.

Make decisions. In general, any decision—even the decision to do nothing—is better than none. By making decisions, you will likely feel more in control of your situation. Also, you can adapt to consequences or change your mind.

Be realistic. Don’t expect perfection from yourself or from others. Expect some obstacles as you work towards reaching your goals and recognize that you can handle most obstacles through practice and planning.

Become tolerant and accepting. Accept what you cannot change. If a problem is beyond your control, you’re better off learning to tolerate the presence of the problem rather than wasting valuable time and energy worrying about it.

Anticipate stress. Prepare yourself for stress. Be strategic and decide which challenges you are ready to take on and which challenges you need to postpone or delay for a bit. Practice how to handle those challenges you have decided to take on.

Live in the present. Learn from the past and take steps to successfully move on from prior experiences.

Manage your time. Developing a practice of prioritizing and planning and approaching work tasks strategically can keep life’s demands from becoming overwhelming.

Take time for yourself. Make yourself a priority. Find time to relax, if only for a few minutes. Go out of your way to do something for yourself.