Stress management 101

Stress Management 101

November 13, 2020
Author: Sharon Kelly, VIU Success Coach

Tips to help you maintain focus and stay healthy

A little bit of stress can be a good thing, increasing our alertness, improving performance and heightening our ability to focus. However, when stress levels increase beyond that optimal amount, our performance and ability to focus can be negatively impacted, and there are other physical and emotional impacts. With the uncertainty and ongoing anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the regular pressures of being a student, you may be experiencing elevated levels of stress.

Here are a few stress management 101 tips to help you maintain your focus and stay healthy:

Recognize the signs

When I get stressed, I start losing things. What is your “tell” that you are getting past the point of optimal stress? Do you burst into tears? Does your heart race? Do you get sweaty palms? Do your thoughts race or become extremely negative? These are all typical signs that you are getting beyond that useful, focus-fueling level of stress. 

Learn to quiet the mind

Once you realize you are stressed, pause and focus on your breathing, which has the power to bring us back into our bodies, get oxygen to the brain and regulate our emotions. You can practice quieting the mind by imagining yourself sinking down to the bottom of the ocean. Picture yourself in the quiet of the depths, well below the surface, where thoughts and emotions are swirling. When you learn to be mindful, you can practice to the point that you can stop and breathe and ground yourself in the midst of a stressful moment. Practice, practice, practice, so that when you need it, you have the capacity to stop, breathe and choose your response instead of simply reacting. There are a number of apps available to help you learn to do this. Here is a review that compares two of them – Calm and Headspace.

Pay attention to your emotions

Pay attention to the sensations different emotions create on your body. Try to label the emotions and also notice what your emotions are trying to tell you. Pause and breathe – try taking five quiet, mindful breaths. Breathing helps bring us back into the present moment. Checking in with our emotions, and not getting swamped by them, can allow space to choose to tap into the deliberate and rational part of our brains. We can choose empathy, creativity and thoughtful action instead of reacting.

Take command of your thinking

Identify what you can control (turning in that English paper on time) and what you cannot control (worrying about when classes might return to campus) and consciously spend more time thinking about what you can control. Develop your optimism and take time to dwell on things that are positive, encouraging and inspiring to you. Develop gratitude by identifying people and situations for which you are grateful or spend time trying to identify the positives in your day. Keeping a gratitude journal is a proven method of nurturing optimism. 

Practice self-care

Exercise, proper nutrition, destructive habit avoidance and building trust into our work or school relationships, which creates social safety, belonging and identity in our lives, are all ways to take care of ourselves and build resilience. Practicing self-compassion is a powerful strategy for combatting stress, increasing resilience and employing a balanced approach to dealing with our own shortfalls and failings. Self-care can also mean setting healthy boundaries in relationships. You are precious, so take care of yourself. 


Although it’s natural for us to feel nervous, stressed and fearful in times of uncertainty, exercising compassion, empathy and kindness towards both ourselves and others improves our personal well-being. Setting up routines and structures to care for our own well-being, such as meditation, prayer and mindfulness, as well as taking time to exercise and nourish ourselves physically, spiritually and socially all play a part in helping us deal with stress. Practicing mindful breathing and even saying a short mantra like “I will allow myself to feel, then refocus before I react” can be helpful. Creating mutually supportive connections with people is also a key aspect of helping us reduce stress and flourish in our lives. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for a deeper dive into this topic!


Sharon Kelly is VIU’s Success Coach. You can reach her at For more information about her services, visit Student Success Coaching and check out her podcast, Successful U 

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