Ask the Experts: Coping with Stress

With finals fast appoaching, Richard A. Lenox discusses how to deal with stress and school anxiety.

Richard Lenox

Richard Lenox

Finals at Texas Tech University take place from Friday (Dec. 5) to Wednesday (Dec. 10). This is one of the most stressful periods of the year for many students and faculty. According to Richard Lenox, director of the Student Counseling Center and licensed psychologist since 1996, stress is a normal reaction when we have many responsibilities. However, there are ways stress can be avoided.

What are easy ways for college students to relieve stress and school anxiety?

There are easy ways to reduce stress and anxiety, but just like anything else that is worthwhile, a commitment is necessary to get results. We often talk with students during intakes at the Student Counseling Center who say they are too busy to address their stress. I certainly understand that mentality. But the time commitment doesn't have to be large. Taking two 15-minute breaks each day to sit quietly and focus on your breathing can reap big benefits.  This strategy is called mindfulness, and the Student Counseling Center staff can help students find other ways to create mindfulness in their daily lives.

Are there any home remedies?

Absolutely. There are a number of ways a person can reduce stress on their own. Remember to take breaks and engage in activities that you enjoy and fully engage your attention. Watch TV, play video games, connect with friends and family…there's nothing wrong with these self-care strategies. It's a good idea to set a time limit on your breaks, though, so that they don't turn into an avoidance of your responsibilities. Also, I can't stress the benefits of mindfulness enough. Have you ever walked across campus and been so lost in your thoughts that you don't remember getting from one building to the next? That is the opposite of mindfulness, and it is a recipe for stress. Try paying full attention to your surroundings when you are walking or driving. Stress and anxiety tend to melt away when our mind is focused in the present.    

How important is it to be relaxed when studying?

It is important to be relaxed while studying, but make sure you aren't so relaxed that you are falling asleep or not absorbing the information. Conversely, if you are so anxious that you can't focus on the material, you probably aren't going to retain much. You can learn to be both alert and calm at the same time; this is the ideal state of mind for taking in and retaining information. Recreating this alert and calm state of mind during the test is the best way to retrieve the information you've learned.

Studying for Finals

What are tips for creating a relaxed environment?

Everyone is different, so you may need to experiment with different environments to see what works. Although some people may study well with others around or with background noise such as music, others may need a quieter environment. Since relaxation to the point of sleepiness is not ideal for studying, trying to study while lying in bed might not work for you. Sitting at a desk or table might help you maintain a certain level of alertness. Also, some people depend of caffeine to remain alert and focused, but too much caffeine can cause a jittery and anxious feeling. The night before a final isn't the best time to test your response to increased amounts of caffeine.

What resources are available at Texas Tech to help relieve and cope with stress?

Exercise is a phenomenal stress reliever. Any exercise that gets the heart rate up will help reduce stress, so take advantage of the facilities at the Student Rec Center. Try to keep your mind in the moment when exercising, rather than letting it dwell on stressful things.  Also, the Student Counseling Center has a self-help facility for stress relief called the MindSpa. The MindSpa has a massage chair and computer/video programs to help individuals learn how to relax. These services are available to any Texas Tech student, faculty or staff member. Visit our MindSpa website for more information.

While understanding that stress is a normal part of one's college career, are there signs that one's stress level is getting too high and they should seek professional help?

There is a difference between stress and anxiety, but sometimes it is hard to tell them apart. Yes, stress is a normal reaction when our responsibilities are numerous and time-consuming. Muscle tension and disrupted sleep are very common stress reactions. Some anxiety is also normal before exams.  A little of the butterflies in the stomach feeling is nothing to be concerned about. Actually, a little bit of stress and anxiety has actually been found to improve performance – it keeps us on our toes. But when stress and anxiety start to get in the way of our performance, it's time to do something about it. For example, if your anxiety is so high that you blank out during an exam and can't recall what you've learned, you may need some additional help. Also if your anxiety is of the panic variety causing things like increased heart rate, sweating or hyperventilating a counselor can help you find ways to control this. The Student Counseling Center staff is here to help.

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