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Self-Care: How to survive stress

Most of us start to feel a bit of stress towards the end of the semester.  Summer break seems so far away and the days just stretch endlessly ahead of you.  This is usually when stress starts to set in, if it hasn’t already taken hold.

What can we do?  Well, far too often our personal self-care is the first to go when we “are to busy”. Why is that?

This is when we typically fall into the sympathetic nervous system and go into fight/flight/freeze mode. Stress naturally causes this reaction.  Whereas our parasympathetic nervous system is where rest/relaxation and digestion takes place.  The two cannot function simultaneously.  Have you ever eaten something then became really stressed?  Did it feel like that food was just sitting, heavily, in your belly?  That was due to the sympathetic vs parasympathetic systems at play.

So what do we do?

First, understand that when we are stressed our brains get stuck in a “do, do, do” mode.  We don’t realize we need a break because we are so focused on getting the job done or overcoming the stressor.  When this happens, force yourself to simply sit quietly and focus on your breathing.  Take the break.

Second, make yourself a “to do” list for self-care.  Although self-care should be a habit, it’s not for most of us.  Thus, in times of increased stress, review your list of HOW to take care of yourself.  See below for some helpful suggestions and create your own.


SENSORY: focus on the now.  Use your senses to create a grounding effect within yourself.  Set the stressors on hold while you focus on the now.


  • Take deep breathes of fresh air. (fresh cool air is the most stimulating)
  • Snuggle under a cozy blanket or a warm sweater/sweatshirt.
  • Listen to water. There are many phone aps that have wonderful calming noises such as the ocean waves or a crackling fire.
  • Take a hot shower or a warm bath. Don’t think, just feel the water and breathe
  • Get a massage.
  • Pet/cuddle a dog or cat. (or any form of critter you call a pet)


PLEASURE: engage in activities you enjoy. It might be working out at a gym or reading a book. Whatever is your hobby, take time for it.


  • Enjoy a wonderful meal.
  • Watch a movie or your favorite show.
  • Be artistic. Paint, knit, draw, etc
  • Walk your dogs.


MENTAL: Sometimes you can give yourself some confidence if you face a challenging task and succeed.  Do something you’ve been avoiding.


  • Clean out and organize your closet.
  • Try a new activity.
  • Find a new way home after work.
  • Make a list/organize your day, chores, finances, etc.
  • Immerse yourself in a crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or a good puzzel.
  • Read


SPIRITUAL: one of the best ways to cope with stress is to focus on what’s important to you from a moral/values standpoint. Some people find that their belief can help them let go of the stress.


  • Attend church.
  • Read inspirational quotes or books.
  • Meditate/pray. (it’s okay if this leads to a nap)
  • Enjoy the quietness of nature.


EMOTIONAL: emotions are not good or bad.  They just are.  Acknowledge what you feel and don’t try to force the emotions away.  Accept them and experiencing them.


  • Accept your feelings. Sometimes it’s OK to not be OK.
  • Journaling.
  • Laugh. (sometimes it’s hard to do. But, if you look for the enjoy, it’ll start to become easier.)
  • Be self-compassionate.  We too often are only compassionate towards others.  This is the time to be compassionate towards yourself.  You are not actually Supergirl or Superman.  You will make mistakes and face stressors. And that is actually OK.


PHYSICAL: My favorite way to cope with stress is to engage in physical activity.  When the body feels strong, so does the mind. Physical activity is also a great way to quiet your mind and focus on something else, instead.


  • Yoga or Strentching
  • Take the dog for a walk.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Head to the gym for a workout
  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Take a nap.


SOCIAL: Utilizing your support group of friends and family can also help eleavate the stress.  This doesn’t mean you need to talk to them about the stressor.  Sometimes, just being around those you care about can help put stress into perspective.


  • Have lunch or dinner with friends
  • Chat with friends or family over a coffee.
  • Be apart of something.  Join a gym, a book club, or a support group.


I hope these tips were helpful.  The main thing to remember is simply this: When you are facing an increase of stress, you are not alone and it will pass.


Author: Kelly Dale, School Psychologist