Make College Work for You


5 Ways to Deal with Stress at School and in Life

By Professor Brill de Ramírez, author of Make College Work for You

Throughout the ages, scholars, sages, and writers have reminded us that stress is an unavoidable part of life. “La vida es dura.” Life is hard, and now we are being reminded that we need higher levels of grit, persistence, and personal strength to overcome the obstacles and challenges in everyday life.

Each person has the responsibility to contribute to the world and help carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. Students have the distinctive opportunity to strategically develop the knowledge and skills necessary to play their parts in this great global drama.

But in order to succeed in school and life, students need a mix of strategies that will help them to de-stress: quiet time, physical exercise, solitude, volunteerism, fun activities, time with friends, family, and mentors. It really is a process of trial and error for each person in finding the right mix that helps in dealing with stress, being productive, and having a happy and satisfying life.


5 Strategies for Dealing with Stress and Problems


1. Plan Ahead and Avoid Problems When Possible:

This means being strategic in your everyday life. It also means learning from your life experiences. For example, if you have a tendency to be distracted and spend too much time on the internet or with gaming, then you can make an executive level decision and simply decide to send your gaming equipment or cards home to only use on vacations. Or if you are falling behind with your work even though you are spending time “studying” with friends, maybe you need to make some strategic decisions regarding where to study, when to study, and with whom to study. Some problems like these can simply be avoided by sending the distracting equipment home or not spending “studying” time with certain friends.


2. Evaluate and Resolve Problems That Have Easy Solutions and Can Be Quickly Resolved

This means being analytical and bringing your critical thinking to the forefront here. Look at a specific problem that you want to address head on. Say that you have a full load of courses, but that you are not performing at the level that you really would like. Say that you would like to be getting a 3.5 G.P.A. which would demonstrate your hard work ethic and your commitment to excellence, but that your current performance in your classes is definitely not at that level. What could executive and critical thinking achieve ehre?

Well, you might decide that you need to step up the number of hours you spend studying and also cut back on social time. This is one option, but it is not the only one. You might also decide that you have a lot going on in your life and that to perform at a high level, you need to drop 1-2 classes. Sometimes this is necessary; at times and for many different reasons, 

a person may need to cut back on the number of activities and responsibilities in order to perform at a high level. But there is a proviso here: you want to make this sort of choice proactively for success, not reactively and as a “fail.” So commit to studying more for the other classes and achieving no less than a 3.5 G.P.A. for the term IF you drop the class or two . . . and then plan to stay at that level of performance . . . or better the following terms.


3. Deal with Some More Complicated Problems as Directly as Possible:


This means being smart in determining which tough problems to take on directly. Some problems are more complicated than others. MAny of these are societal negatives (e.g., racism, sexism, socioeconomic inequities, or any of the many other forms of prejudice that make it so much harder for so many people to succeed in the world). Say that you feel that you have not be given the opportunities to become a strong math or computer student and that only a small group of students you know have succeeded with top skills in math and computer science. So you and others believe that you’re just not good at those subjects.

One of the best kept secrets in the world is that virtually anyone can learn math and computer science at a high level. Did you know that in the country of Turkey more women excel in math than do the boys and men? Does that mean that Turkish women are innately better at math than girls and women in the United States? Of course not. They just live in a country where girls are taught that they can succeed in math and where they have many role models of women mathematicians. Well, we aren’t going to solve societal problems and prejudices right away, but you can work to make your own pathway forward less difficult.

For example, if you have not succeeded in math in high school, at college, you could decide to test into a math class at your level and then start taking math classes with a victorious attitude for success.  Some college students begin with Algebra I, working hard to achieve “A’s,” and after two years, wonder of wonders, they end up getting “A’s” even in Calculus and become great engineers or scientists! It might mean taking more time to finish college, but you would be fulfilling a dream, accomplishing college at the highest of levels, and proving to yourself that with hard work and a commitment to success, you can become great in classes that you did poorly in before.

4. Choose Your Battles and Decide Which to Address and Which to Leave Be

This means being smart and using your executive decision-making skills to determine which problems and difficulties need to be addressed more immediately and which can be resolved by you. Some may be beyond your control. Others may be issues that you can address, but that can be dealt with later down the road.

For example, say you have a roommate who spends too much time gaming or on the internet or watching movies and videos without a headset. Your studying, sleeping, and sanity are all suiffering. So, you have some choices. You can try to get your roommate to turn everything off or down or put on headphones, or you can decide to put on  your own headphones at times to solve the problem on your end. Perhaps you can get your roommate to put on headphones some times, but other times, you may decide that it just isn’t worth the effort to fight that battle over again. In these cases, you can just put your own headphone on or go elsewhere for a while.

5. Some Problems when Viewed from a Different Angle May Actually Turn out to Be Positives!

A student in one of your classes may be socially awkward and speak out of turn or never speak, but may also be an incredibly caring and intelligent person. You may have the opportunity to work with that student in a class group and get to know him or her better, possibly discovering a great friend. Before, when s/he would speak, you would be irritated and impatient, but now you are able to see the value in what is being said.

You may also have a professor whose teaching style does not fit with your preferred learning style. In that class, you find that you have to work that much harder to learn the material and succeed, but by the end of the term, you realize that you have learned a great deal, have learned how to succeed in a class taught in that professor’s teaching style, and have developed new study and work skills that you will be able to bring into your future classes and later into the workplace!


So, Remember to Have a Victorious Attitude

Remember that to be successful in college and in your future life, it is important to have a “CAN DO” attitude. Remember to evaluate your situations and make the executive choices necessary for your success in college and beyond.

For Further Guidance for Student Success in College

In my new book, Make College Work for You (Pearson 2015), you can read about these “5 Ways to Deal with Stress at School and in Life” in the first chapter of the book with additional attention to students’ everyday habits and choices. The book is available from the publisher or through the link above. Some students prefer the print copy where the work sheets can be filled out sitting in an easy chair, but you can also purchase the book in digital form. If the book is used with a class or school program, there are additional resources that you can access from Pearson. It would be great to use to help high school students and beginning college students learn how to make college work for them.

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