Managing Stress

Many students experience stress as they combine busy lives, the demands of study, family time, and work while also trying to enjoy their college experience. All students experience some periods of intermittent stress (a major exam, finishing a major paper, learning new and difficult material, etc.). However, for some students stress almost becomes a way of life. Health professionals tell us that stress – over a long period of time – can have a negative impact on your health and sense of well‐being.

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s general response to any demand that is placed on you. Stress is not, by definition, synonymous with nervous tension or anxiety. It is important to remember that certain forms of stress are normal and essential to a normal, healthy lifestyle and that without some stress people would not get a lot done. For instance, that extra burst of adrenaline that helps you finish your final paper, perform well in sports, or meet any challenge is positive. On the other hand, it can also cause exhaustion, illness (physical or psychological), and accidents if it does subside when the challenge has been met.

As your body responds to various forms of physical or psychological stress, certain predictable changes occur (increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and secretions of stimulatory hormones). Often called the “fight or flight” mechanism, these responses to stress will occur regardless of the positive or negative nature of the stress.

However, the result of continual stress may disrupt your health (physical, emotional, spiritual or social). So, it is important to understand that stress is a process that builds with time. Because of this, it is more effective to intervene early in the process rather than later.

Symptoms of Stress

Stress Management for the Health of It, National Ag Safety Database & Clemson University Cooperative Extention Service, College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences

The following reactions suggest that you may be experiencing stress:


  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Colds
  • Pounding heart
  • Fatigue
  • Weight change
  • Digestive upsets
  • Accident prone
  • Teeth grinding
  • Restlessness
  • Increased alcohol, drug, and/or tobacco use
  • Neck and shoulders tighten up and/or ache


  • Forgetfulness
  • Lethargy
  • Low productivity
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Boredom
  • Dull senses
  • No new ideas
  • Negative attitudes


  • Anxiety
  • Bad temper
  • Depression
  • Easily discouraged
  • Feeling down
  • Crying spells
  • Nervous laugh
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Worrying


  • Isolation
  • Clamming up
  • Few contacts with friends
  • Resentment
  • Lowered sex drive
  • Using people
  • Loneliness
  • Nagging

Irrational Beliefs & Thoughts

Often our thoughts or beliefs are “irrational” or “dysfunctional”. By challenging these irrational thoughts, we can begin to see things more realistically and make better choices about how to act. Irrational or dysfunctional thoughts are born out of irrational beliefs which we hold about ourselves and others. Just a few of these beliefs might be:

  • Scripts we have in our head about how we believe life “should” be for us and others.
  • Ideas, feelings, beliefs, ways of thinking, attitudes, opinions, biases, prejudices or values with which we were raised. We have become accustomed to using them when faced with problems in our current life, even when they are not productive in helping us reach a positive, growth‐enhancing solution.
  • Counterproductive ways of thinking which give comfort and security in the short run but do not resolve or actually make a problem worse in the long run.
  • Negative or pessimistic ways of looking at inherent life experiences such as loss, conflict, risk taking, rejection or accepting change.
  • Patterns of thinking that make us appear to others as stubborn, bullheaded, intemperate, argumentative or aloof.
  • Irrational conclusions about life that we have developed over time (e.g., unrealistic expectations of self which developed while a child in a high‐stress family).

Out of these irrational or dysfunctional beliefs are born irrational thoughts which interfere with your ability to solve problems and move forward in your present life situation. Some examples of these irrational thoughts include:

  • I do not deserve help.
  • I should never burden others with my problems.
  • I’m stupid.
  • I’m uncreative, ineffective and have no talent.
  • I’m powerless to solve my problems.
  • I have so many problems I might as well give up right now.
  • I’m the ugliest, most unattractive slob in the world.
  • No one cares about anyone else.
  • What counts in life is others’ opinion of you.
  • There is only one way of doing things – my way.
  • Admitting a mistake is a sign of weakness.
  • Asking for help is admitting weakness.
  • It’s not who you are but what you do that makes you attractive to others.
  • There are only two choices: right or wrong; black or white; win or lose; pass or fail.

Recognizing when Irrational Beliefs & Thoughts are at Work

Irrational beliefs and thoughts may be at work if we:

  • Find ourselves caught up in a vicious cycle of addressing our problems over and over.
  • Have been suffering from a problem for a long time yet have not taken steps to address the problem.
  • Have decided on a creative problem solving solution but find ourselves incapable of implementing our solution.
  • Have decided on how to solve a problem and find that we are unhappy with that solution but avoid looking for alternatives.
  • Are afraid of pursuing a course of action because of the guilt we will feel if we do it.
  • Are constantly obsessed with a problem but take no steps to resolve it.
  • Are immobilized by our problems.
  • Find that the only way to deal with a problem is to ignore it.

Benefits of Refuting our Irrational Beliefs & Thoughts

Irrational beliefs and their resulting irrational thoughts can become so ingrained in how you view the world that they are difficult to recognize and change. However, by learning how to deal with these beliefs and thoughts you can:

  • Become a productive, realistic problem solver.
  • Gain greater credibility with yourself and others.
  • Gain clarity, purpose and intention in addressing your current problems.
  • Identify the barriers that must first be hurdled before your problems can be resolved.
  • Become more honest about yourself and your problems.
  • Put your problem into a realistic perspective as to its importance, magnitude and probability of being solved.
  • Separate your feelings from the problem.
  • Gain a sense of humor in the presence of your problems and their resolution.
  • Recognize your self‐worth and separate it from the mistakes made in your life.
  • Forgive yourself and others for mistakes made.
  • Gain a sense of purpose and control in your life as you solve problems.
  • Gain the ability to look for a “win‐win” solution to problems which considers compromise as an acceptable part of the solution.

Steps to Refuting an Irrational Belief

As seen by the benefits listed above, refuting an irrational belief is well worth the effort. The following five steps can help you in identifying and refuting an irrational belief which is blocking your ability to deal with a change in your life. We suggest that you use a journal to respond to the questions in each step below.

Is your thinking and problem solving ability being blocked by an irrational belief? Consider a specific problem as you answer the following questions:

  1. Am I going in circles in trying to solve this problem?
  2. Is there something inside of me that is keeping me from taking the necessary actions in this matter?
  3. Am I bothered by the thoughts of what I or others should do, act like, think or feel in this situation?
  4. Do I find myself saying how this situation “should be” and having a hard time facing it the way it really is?
  5. Do I use fantasy or “magical” thinking in looking at this problem? (Am I always hoping that by some miracle it will go away?)
  6. Am I burdened by the fear of what others think of me as I work on this problem?
  7. Do I know what the solution is but become paralyzed in its implementation?
  8. Do I find myself using a lot of “yes, buts” in discussing this problem?
  9. Do I find it easier to procrastinate, avoid, divert my attention, ignore or run away from this problem?
  10. Is this problem causing excessive distress and discomfort for me and/or others and yet I cannot decide how to resolve it?

If you answered “Yes” to any or all of the questions in Step One, you are probably facing a problem or situation in which an irrational belief is blocking or clouding your thinking. The second step is to identify that blocking believe. Please answer the following:

  1. Is the blocking belief something I have believed in all my life?
  2. Is the blocking belief coming from the teachings of my parents, church, family, peers, work society, culture, community, race, ethnic reference group or social network?
  3. Is the blocking belief something that always recurs when I am trying to solve problems similar to this one?
  4. Is the blocking belief something that has helped me solve problems successfully in the past?
  5. Is the blocking belief something that can be stated in a sentence or two?
  6. Is the blocking belief a consistent statement as I face this problem, or does it tend to change as variables of this problem become clearer to me?
  7. Is the blocking belief a tangible statement of belief or is it simply a feeling or intuition?
  8. Can I state the blocking belief? If so, write it in your journal (“My blocking belief is …”)

Once you have identified the blocking belief (Step Two), test its rationality. Answer the following questions about the belief with either “yes” or “no”.

  1. Is there any basis in reality which supports this belief as always being true?
  2. Does this belief encourage personal growth, emotional maturity, independence of thinking and action, and stable mental health?
  3. Is this belief one which, if ascribed to, will help you overcome this or future problems in your life?
  4. Is this belief one which, if ascribed to, will result in behavior that is self‐defeating for you?
  5. Does this belief protect you and your rights as a person?
  6. Does this belief assist you in connecting honestly and openly with others so that healthy interpersonal relationships that create growth are a result?
  7. Does this belief assist you in being a creative, rational problem solver who is able to identify a series of alternatives from which you can choose your own personal priority solutions?
  8. Does this belief stifle your thinking and problem solving ability to the point of immobilization?
  9. When you tell others of this belief, do they support you because that is the way everyone in your family, peer group, work, church or community thinks?
  10. Is this belief an absolute? Is it a black or white, yes or no, win or lose, with no options in the middle form of belief?

Healthy answers to these questions are:

  1. No
  2. Yes
  3. Yes
  4. No
  5. Yes
  6. Yes
  7. Yes
  8. No
  9. No
  10. No

If you are unable to give a healthy answer to one or more questions in this step, then your blocking belief is most likely irrational.

If you determine that the blocking belief is irrational, you are ready to refute this irrational belief. Answer the following questions in your journal:

  1. How do I consistently feel when I think of this belief?
  2. Is there anything in reality to support this belief as true?
  3. What in reality supports the lack of absolute truth in this belief?
  4. Does the truth of this belief exist only in the way I talk, act or feel about this problem?
  5. What is the worst thing that could happen to me if I do not hold on this belief?
  6. What positive things might happen to me if I do not hold on this belief?
  7. What would be an appropriate, realistic belief I could substitute for this irrational belief?
  8. How would I feel if I substituted this new belief for my blocking belief?
  9. How will I grow and how will my rights and the rights of others be protected by this substitute belief?
  10. What is keeping me from accepting this alternate belief?

Once you have answered these questions, review and confirm (or change) your answers, and then substitute a rational belief and act on it:

My substitute rational and healthy belief is …

With this rational and healthy belief in play, work on a solution to your problem or life change.

Remembering that you may have multiple blocking beliefs which affect your problem or life change and if you are still having trouble solving problems, return to Step One and begin again.

Works Consulted

Handling Irrational Beliefs. Accessed September 14, 2011, from

National Ag Safety Database - Stress Management for the Health of It. Clemson University Extension. Retreived Sept. 12, 2011 from