Six Strategies for Effective Stress Management

Written by Susan Helmick, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate College 

the words and breathe in cursive neon against a brackdrop of leaves

November 1st is National Stress Awareness Day, a timely reminder to prioritize our mental well-being. Stress is an intrinsic part of life, and our ability to handle it effectively has a profound impact on our overall health and happiness. This is especially true for graduate students, who face a multitude of stressors, from stringent deadlines and budgeting for tuition and living expenses to upholding academic performance and conducting research, all of which can create a high-pressure environment. 

Additionally, graduate students frequently grapple with poor sleep, irregular eating habits, and insufficient time for exercise or self-care, exacerbating the challenge of stress management. The cumulative impact of these factors can lead to physical and emotional breakdown.

Having a toolkit of effective stress management techniques can be beneficial in mitigating the negative effects of graduate school stress. In observance of National Stress Awareness Day, here are six valuable stress management methods to consider incorporating into your daily routine for a healthier and more balanced lifestyle. 

  1. Deep Breathing and Mindfulness One of the most immediate and effective ways to manage stress is through deep breathing and mindfulness. By focusing on your breath and being fully present in the moment, you can break the cycle of stress and anxiety. Try the 4-7-8 technique: inhale for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. Practicing mindfulness can help you stay grounded and reduce stress.
  2. Regular Exercise We know – who has the time?! But whether it's a short morning jog, a quick yoga session, or a brisk walk during your lunch break, physical activity is a powerful stress-buster. Even a small commitment to daily exercise can enhance focus, and memory, making it easier to tackle academic or professional tasks while also promoting a more restful night's sleep.
  3. Time Management and Prioritization Stress often arises from feeling overwhelmed by competing demands. Effective time management and prioritization can help you regain control of your schedule. Create to-do lists, set clear goals, delegate tasks and postpone what isn't immediately essential. You can find multiple time management tools and apps for managing calendars, to-do lists, and tasks in our article on navigating graduate school with adult ADHD. 
  4. Healthy Eating Choices Maintaining a healthy diet doesn't automatically equal a significant time or financial commitment. Start by prioritizing basic nutrition and focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods which are often more affordable and provide essential nutrients. Invest a little time in meal planning and preparation by cooking in batches and storing leftovers for future meals to save both time and money. Opt for cost-effective sources of protein like beans, lentils, eggs, and canned tuna which are both good for you and budget-friendly. Additionally, avoid excessive alcohol and substance use, as these can exacerbate stress and anxiety.
  5. Seeking Support Don't hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or professionals when feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes, talking about stressors with a trusted confidant or seeking guidance from a therapist can provide invaluable emotional relief. Remember that you don't have to face your stress alone, and seeking help is a sign of strength. University of Cincinnati Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers multiple mental health resources and services for students, from individual counseling to group therapy.
  6. Relaxation Techniques Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and hobbies like painting, reading, or listening to music can be effective stress-relief tools. You don't need to set aside large chunks of time for relaxation. Start with short, focused sessions. Even 5-10 minutes can make a difference and provide a sense of calm and rejuvenation to counter the impact of stress.

Stress is just a part of life, but there's a silver lining: with some handy techniques and a proactive mindset, you'll have the upper hand in dealing with it. If you weave these tricks into your daily routine, you'll see that stress can take a backseat, and your overall quality of life will get a boost. It may be National Stress Awareness Day, but stress awareness isn't a one-day event; it's an ongoing journey towards a healthier, happier you.