Three Strategies to Alleviate Stress

Stress

Without a doubt, we live very busy lives. Our calendars are filled with meetings, our to-do lists contain never-ending tasks, and we can’t seem to keep up with our commitments.

Our lives are stressful. And sometimes, the stress takes the better of us.

But stress isn’t something to avoid or dislike. Stress can have negative as well as positive outcomes. In some cases, stress can be intense, making us irritable and anxious. In other cases, stress may increase our concentration, enabling us to manage competing priorities efficiently.

Stress may be viewed from multiple perspectives. Physiologically, we respond to certain stimuli such as pain with a stress response. Our heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure increase dramatically to respond to the stimuli.

Psychologically, on the other hand, stress can have different effects on the body. Your perception of stress can also have important consequences on your health and wellness. In a TED talk, Kelly McGonigal discussed how orienting one’s perception of stress to something that is natural and useful can have positive effects on body and mind: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend/up-next

Dealing with stress in our educational and work lives is different than other forms of stress. This form of stress comes from numerous, competing priorities, ineffective time management skills, procrastination, demotivation for various reasons, and burnout. In the rest of the blog post, I suggest three strategies that may support you to deal with stress in education and work lives more efficiently.

Map it Out

When we start multiple complex projects with numerous subtasks and priorities, we may experience an intense feeling of stress. In such cases, it may be helpful to visualize everything relevant to the project.

On a blank piece of paper or a whiteboard, record all the subtasks, meetings, activities, resources needed separately, and other things relevant to the project. Then, prioritize each of the subtasks using a starring system (3 stars for subtasks that require immediate action; 2 stars that don’t require immediate attention but are important; and 1 star for those tasks that can be attended to at a later time).

Give yourself sufficient physical and mental space to visualize everything that will go into the project. Use this information to make a personal plan and schedule.

This process may place a level of certainty into the project that makes you feel comfortable with its direction. By visualizing all the processes, activities, and resources needed to perform your responsibilities, your stress levels may naturally decrease because you have it in front of you rather than in your mind, which may have otherwise overwhelmed you cognitively.

SMART Goals

In addition to mapping out subtasks and priorities, you should be able to set tangible and appropriate goals for your project.

SMART is a buzz-acronym that many of you are familiar with; it is a framework for designing goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, andtimely(Majid, 2017). For example, saying “I will exercise” is not a SMART goal because it is not specific and measurable. However, saying that “I will exercise 30 minutes daily for 6 months” is a SMART goal.

Designing SMART goals is a skill that improves with time. Working on a project with multiple priorities and subtasks is a useful opportunity to develop this skill. When developing SMART goals, consider the following:

  • What are the deadlines for each task?
  • Does a particular task need to be completed before working on another task?
  • Can I work on any tasks concurrently?
  • What resources do I need to complete each task?
  • Can I complete this task by myself or do I need others? Who do I need?

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Self-Regulation

The ability to monitor one’s learning and performance is crucial to completing tasks. Self-regulationis the process of managing one’s own thoughts, behaviours, attitudes, and learning purposefully to acquire skills or knowledge and achieve goals (Pintrich, 1995).

Adopting strategies for self-regulation may enable you to monitor your progress towards tasks and priorities efficiently. Without self-regulation, on the other hand, you may not be able to clarify progress towards your goals. Moreover, without self-regulation, you may not be able to adapt your resources and work strategies to meet the evolving demands of the project.

There are many strategies you can employ to increase your ability to self-regulate. For example, before engaging in a task or project, reflecting on the following questions may support authentic reflection on your motivations, expectations, and attitudes (Maxwell, 2013):

  • Currently, the thing I am most excited about is…
  • My main hope for the next few months is…
  • The main thing I am afraid of in the next few months is…
  • The biggest assumption I am making about what I expect to learn is…
  • One thing I am unsure of before starting this project is…
  • I would be really surprised if, as a result of this experience, I learned…
  • Other thoughts that came to mind while doing this exercise are…
  • What personal, practical, and research purposes would this project meet?
  • What are the different “I’s” (aspects of yourself) that may come into play in the project?
  • What are the values and goals of each of the “I’s”?
  • What are the implications of each of these identities for your study in terms of the goals you are trying to achieve, the context of your personal life, and the strategies you will use to achieve the goals?

If you wish to explore other strategies for self-regulation, do not hesitate to contact me by sending an email at umair.majid@queensu.ca.

References

Majid U. (2017). Research Fundamentals: The Research Question, Objectives and Background. URNCST Journal, 1:2 (1-7). https://doi.org/10.26685/urncst.14

Maxwell J. A. (2013). Chapter 2, Why are you doing this study? and Chapter 3, Conceptual context: What do you think is going on? Qualitative Research Design. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Pintrich, P. R. (1995). Understanding self‐regulated learning. New directions for teaching and learning1995(63), 3-12.

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