Strategies that address real stressors
The goal of these strategies is to remove the danger that is causing your stress by taking action. You can take action to reduce the demands, increase your resources or a combination of both. The result is that you will have enough resources to meet the demands of the situation. The action you take will likely require building and using skills. Don't wait until you are stressed to build these skills — work on the skills you think will benefit you the most whenever you get a chance.
The skills you use will depend on what is causing you stress. They include:
Review the demands you listed in Step 3 of the stress management worksheet [PDF] and identify how you can use your problem solving skills to reduce them. For example, could you withdraw from some tasks or defer them to a later date? Also, review the resources available to you from Step 3 and find even more options. For example, ask someone to help you.
Effective problem solving skills are developed and refined over time. For more information on problem solving, consult Here to Help, which has an online problem-solving worksheet where you can print your results or Mayo Clinic's problem solving techniques for stress management. Although the information is geared towards business management, Mindtools has comprehensive information on problem solving that can be adapted to personal issues.
The decisions you make can determine the resources required to handle a situation. For example, you may take on extra courses to finish your degree earlier; this decision will add to your academic demands. If you base your decision on one criterion only ("I want to finish my degree earlier") without considering the impact it will have on other parts of your life, such as your relationships, you may be setting yourself up for several stressful semesters.
Strong critical thinking skills help you make good decisions, help you analyze your reasoning and provide strategies for improving it. We recommend the method developed by Richard Paul and Linda Elder. You can learn more about this approach on their critical thinking website (start with the "Where to Begin" page) or in the book Critical Thinking: Tools for taking charge of your learning and your life. You can also visit the critical thinking section of our website to learn more about this approach and the many benefits of building good critical thinking skills.
A big source of stress for many people is having too much to do and not enough time. Since you can't increase the resource (i.e., you can't increase the amount of hours in a day) stress-related time management strategies require that you reduce the demands (i.e., modify the things that you do with your limited time).
Learn more about time management.
Your interactions with others can be a source of stress if they are characterized by conflict, feeling you are not being heard, working in a group that is not functioning well, etc. Building good communication skills can help you manage stress in these and other social situations. For more information, consult Skills You Need, Mindtools or our page on communication skills.
Some people find it difficult to say "no" to the requests of others. As a result, extra projects or responsibilities pile up, which leads to stress. Saying no can be difficult, but learning to do it in an assertive way makes it easier and more effective than being aggressive or passive. Learn more about saying no.
Conflict is normal, but it can be a source of stress. However, when resolved appropriately it enhances relationships.
Conflicts involve differences in values, opinions and ideas. Resolving differences is best achieved using the conflict resolution process. Negotiation is often part of this process. The book Getting to Yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in by Fisher, Ury and Patton provides a framework for effective negotiation that can be used in every type of conflict. The authors stress four main points:
- Separate the people from the problem.
- Focus on interests, not positions.
- Invent options for mutual gain.
- Insist on using objective criteria.
A good summary of this book is available online.
Mindtools has helpful information on this topic.
Finances are a cause of stress for many people, especially for those that spend more money than they make. Building budgeting skills can help you manage financial stress by reducing the amount you spend or increasing how much you keep.
My Money Coach provides many useful resources, including How to Build a Budget at Any Income, Money Management Basics: 7 easy steps to help you create your first budget [PDF], a monthly expense tracker, How to Take Control of Your Finances While at Post-Secondary School and Practical Money Management Tips for Post-Secondary Students.
Another useful resource is McGill Personal Finance Essentials, which is a "free, online personal finance course offered in English and French. From budgeting to borrowing, real estate and beyond, invest a few hours in this free, online course and you’ll gain the knowledge and confidence to make a lifetime of smart financial decisions."
For many students, exams, papers, labs and assignments are a cause of stress. Building good academic skills can remove the stress created by these demands.
At Concordia, the Student Success Center offers a number of academic resources such as meeting with a learning specialist and handouts and resources on a variety of topics, including writing, learning, reading, note-taking, exams, oral presentations and online learning. The Library website has a help and how to section with many resources to help you build academic skills.
Crash Course Study Skills is an 11-video playlist on YouTube that has information on topics such as note taking and studying for exams.
Identify the source of your stress to determine the skills you need to build. The website Skills You Need has information on a variety of skills, including personal skills, interpersonal skills, leadership skills and parenting skills.