When it All Goes Wrong

By Becky Bando, 4th year Con-Ed/English student.

The First Time I Experienced Stress

My family and friends often describe me as someone who never worries and always lives in the moment. In fact, I have had several close friends approach me in the past and ask how I handle my stress so well, especially when it comes to school. When I hear comments and questions like this, I agree that for the most part when I encounter a stressful situation, such as having five essays due in a week, my immediate reaction is not to panic. I have always approached these situations with the attitude that I will be okay and that I will be able to find a solution.

But almost exactly one year ago, I encountered a situation where I believe I let myself experience the physical and mental symptoms that stem from chronic stress for the first time. At the beginning of last year, my computer crashed and I lost two months’ worth of notes in three of my full-year English courses. On top of that, someone close to me had recently passed away and so I was already in low spirits. Normally, I look forward to the beginning of every year and treat it as a fresh start. So you can imagine how discouraged I felt to start off the year on the wrong foot.

I spent the first three weeks of my classes running to malls, computer stores, calling Microsoft and reaching out to friends who might be able to recover the data from my computer. I grew more nervous every time I was given back my computer with the news that they were unable to get the data off of it. During this time, I experienced constant headaches, insomnia, and shortness of breath, which made it impossible to focus in class and complete homework. I never got the data I needed off of my computer. Eventually, however, I was able to diminish my stress and reduce the severity of my dilemma through the following resources:

  1. Student Wellness Services: This resource at Queen’s offers a note-taking program where students are able to submit their lecture notes for those who are unable to make their own notes. As I had been a note-taker for several of my courses, Student Health and Wellness Services was kind enough to provide me notes for one of my courses.
  2. Professors: After telling my professor my problem, he created a Facebook group and told our class he would provide participation marks for those who uploaded some of their notes to a google doc.
  3. Friends: One of my friends who was in all three of my classes shared her notes with me. I felt ashamed when I asked her, but she made sure that I knew that she is always there for me and wanted to help me out.

After having this experience, I decided to develop my own solutions for how to mitigate my stress should another similar situation arise.

Strategies for Preventing Stress

  1. Understand the causes of your stress: It’s helpful to reflect on the sources of your stress. For example, for university students, deadlines are often a major trigger of stress, but the level a deadline causes anxiety may differ depending on the course and weight of the assignment. One way to better understand the severity of these triggers is to create a stress management journal where you record the things that you worried about that day and rate your stress levels on a scale of 1 to 10.
  2. Make a plan: Now that you know the main causes of your stress, you can make a plan for how you will tackle your stressors head-on. Some people argue that planning may just cause them more anxiety, and although this may be the case for some at first, I believe planning helps with anxiety over time. Stress is scary because we do not address the causes until it is too late. Making it a routine to understand and brainstorm solutions to stressful situations on a daily basis helps to normalize stress into our lives. In fact, it is better to think of stress in a more positive light by viewing it as a tool for recognizing the warning signs of a problem early on. Here are some good questions you can answer when developing this plan:   
  • What is the worst outcome of this stressor?
  • How much can I handle?
  • At what point will I take action?
  • What resources do I have available to me if this happens?  

3. Separate your work/stress space from your home: Attempting this step does not necessarily mean you can only do your homework in the library. It can be as simple as only doing your homework in places outside of your bedroom such as a common room or kitchen. While some people may argue they concentrate best in their room, it is important that when it’s time to sleep they find a safe space where there are no stress triggers.

4. Make your safe space a happy space: This differs for each person, but for me, I like to decorate my room with succulents and funny posters that ironically resemble a stressful situation. For example, I have a poster of a sad orange standing next to his mother who has been transformed into a glass of orange juice. This poster makes me think that although my life is not perfect, at least I’m not that orange. Yes – I have a dark sense of humour.

What to Do in a Stressful Situation

While it is often difficult to think clearly and logically when in a stressful situation, it becomes much easier if you follow some of the solutions below in situations that are only mildly stressful. By doing so, you can develop more of a habit of using your defense mechanisms in extremely stressful situations: 

  1. Take Action: Similar to the preventative strategies listed above, you can write down the main stressors you are experiencing in this moment and jot down ideas for handling them, especially in the form of specific actions. For example, if I am worrying about an upcoming essay, I will write down actions such as “create a time management plan,” and “develop an outline.” I will also write down dates/times to complete each action by.
  2. Talk to others: In many cases, it is much easier to focus on the problem than to find a solution. Even when something may not be a problem, we may feel inclined to find a reason to worry simply because we can. It’s a horrible habit! This is why talking to friends and family is so important in order to stay calm and remember that you will always be loved and valued even if you make a mistake every once in a while.
  3. Ask for help: On top of valuable resources like Student Academic Success Services (https://sass.queensu.ca/stress/) and Student Wellness Services (http://www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/home), you should also reach out to your professors and TAs. They were once students too and have your best interests at heart. Although it can be intimidating approaching a professor, especially if you have never spoken to them before, the worst they can do is say that they cannot help you.
  1. Take a break: As I mentioned before, it is hard to think clearly when you are extremely stressed. As a result, you will accomplish more if you take a break rather than exerting too much energy trying to resolve the problem right away. My favourite ways of doing this are drinking green tea, going to coffee shops and restaurants like SIMA, and watching funny movies.
  2. Just Breathe: Have you ever heard of the phrase “smiling can trick your brain into happiness”? Well, the same goes for breathing! Here is a blog on some simple breathing techniques: https://sass.queensu.ca/how-simple-breathing-can-stomp-your-test-anxiety/
  1. Relax for one hour before bed: After the most stressful days, it can take a while for you to unwind. Sometimes I will listen to apps such as “Take a Break” and “Sleep Pillow,” or podcasts on YouTube. During this hour, I will not check my email, do any homework, and will try to avoid looking at screens in general.


More Great Resources

  1. “Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable”: https://sass.queensu.ca/university-has-taught-me-to-get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable/
  2. Student Wellness Services strategies for handling stress: http://www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/health-promotion/health-resources/stress-management

Photo courtesy of MArtii under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.