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Get A Handle on Life! Stress Management Tips for Students

Shari Robertson, CCC-SLP

There's no getting around it—school is a stressful undertaking. There is so much to do—a paper due tomorrow on otoacoustic emissions, a language sample analysis on its third revision, comps in 3 weeks, and those darn PRAXIS tests! Everything has to be done—and done well—and you can feel the stress building up. While a certain amount of stress motivates us to excel in our performance, too much stress can overwhelm us. The good news is, there are a number of proven strategies to help you manage your stress levels while boosting your efficiency. Here are my "top three" suggestions for students.

Use a Master List

A master list is the backbone of any effective time and stress management program. While this may seem to be an obvious strategy, it is a powerful and relatively easy method of organizing your time effectively—which ultimately reduces stress and makes you more productive. This list should include all of the tasks (e.g., projects, papers, assignments, exams) you must accomplish and their due dates. Large tasks (such as a research paper) can be broken down into steps and assigned a date for completion of each step. Keep the list in plain site and cross off items as you accomplish them. Add pages as you need them (don't waste time re-writing your list every day) and review and consolidate it periodically. It is helpful to keep your list on a clipboard and clip items you need (such as copies of the assignment) right to the clipboard along with the list. This way, you have both a visual representation of what you need to be working on and the materials you need to accomplish each task all in one place.

Organize Your Workspaces

Most students do not have the luxury of a personal office dedicated only to their academic pursuits. Instead, they may work at counters in cramped apartments, on card tables in the corner of a bedroom, or in a communal space provided by their university. While none of these is ideal, you can reduce stress by taking time to work out a consistent method for organizing your space and materials. Use file folders for each class (some students like to color-code them). Store them in a sturdy file box with a handle so you can stay organized even if you have to move from place to place. Try to carve out at least a niche somewhere in your living space that is dedicated only to the academic part of your life so that papers do not have to be moved to eat dinner, or entertain friends, etc. Keep this space as well organized as you possibly can (try to eliminate those annoying and time-stealing "piles" of paper by filing them as you receive them). You will save valuable time and reduce your stress if you don't have to hunt for your materials and/or a place to work on your tasks.

Take Time to Sharpen Your Ax

Consider the following story: Two woodcutters ventured into the forest one day. In order to provide for their families, they needed to cut as much wood as possible. The first worked nonstop from dawn to dusk-taking no time for breaks. However, as he worked, he noticed that the other woodman would periodically stop chopping and sit down on a nearby log. At the end of the day, the first man stared in disbelief at the much larger pile of wood his companion had cut. When he asked him how he had managed to accomplish this, the second man replied, "You were so busy working that you didn't notice that when I was sitting down I was sharpening my ax."

The lesson we learn from this is that is it critically important to step back from the demands of academia (and eventually your job) at regular intervals to re-energize yourself. How you choose to do this is up to you. Going for a walk, spending time with friends, working out, cooking, reading (something other than journals!). It doesn't matter so much what you do, but that you do it on a regular basis. Many students are afraid that if they take time out from their studies, they will never get it all done. However, infusing personal time into your schedule will actually help you be more productive and less stressed. So, no excuses—if you want to get more done, start taking time to sharpen your ax!

The conscious application of these and other strategies can help you lower your stress levels and help you not only to survive the rigors of school—but to excel! Each one of us must ultimately decide when and where to put our energies. The goal is to obtain a healthy balance between our work, our home, our family and ourselves. Here's to a stress-less day!

Want To Learn More?

Here are a few resources that you might find helpful (but wait until after comps to read them).

Carlson, R. (1998). Don't Sweat the Small Stuff at Work. Hyperion Books.

Davidson, J. (1997). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Stress. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Hemsath, D. & Yerkes, L. (1997). 301 Ways to Have Fun at Work. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Information About Stress. Retrieved February 9, 2009 from Info For Your Health Web site:

Poedesta, C. & Gatz, J. (1997). How to be the Person Successful Companies Fight to Keep. Fireside Books.

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