5.2 Stress Management and Your Best Self

Craig Keaton

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, the learner will:

  • Identify problems associated with chronic stress.
  • Describe a personal definition of ‘Your Best Self’


If you’re a college student, it may feel like stress is a persistent fact of life. In fact, a wide range of research from the last two decades finds that one of the top challenges to academic performance is college student stress. Scott (2009) notes that academic stress is caused by the different workload in college, challenging classes, and an independent learning structure. Freshmen face social stresses such as a new social network, less parental support, being away from home, living with a roommate, part-time jobs, and the dynamics of relationships. Other stresses include day-to-day chores, time management, and the developmental tasks of young adulthood. If not managed, stress can result in feelings of being overwhelmed, which can result in unhealthy habits like heavy drinking, weight issues, and the possibility of dropping out of college.

Sometimes stress can be good. For instance, it can help you develop skills needed to manage potentially challenging or threatening situations in life. However, stress can be harmful when it is severe enough to make you feel overwhelmed and out of control. While everyone experiences stress at times, a prolonged bout of it can affect your health and ability to cope with life. It’s not only unpleasant to live with the tension and symptoms of ongoing stress; it’s actually harmful to your body, too. Chronic stress can impair your immune system and disrupt almost all of your body’s processes, leading to increased risk of numerous health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

The potential health problems associated with stress reflect why it’s so important to learn healthy ways of coping with the stressors in your life. The best strategy for managing stress include taking care of yourself in the following ways:

  • Carefully use drugs and alcohol -They may seem to be a helpful way to feel better, but in the long run, they can create more problems and add to your stress—instead of taking it away.
  • Manage your time – Misra and McKean (2000) found that time management behaviors had a greater buffering effect on academic stress than engaging in leisure activities. (Be sure to review  Chapter 2: Successful Time Management).
  • Slow down and disconnect technologically – Try a short or extended digital fast. Take a break from your phone, tv, email, and social media from time to time.
  • Connect socially – Make time to enjoy being with classmates, friends, and family, and try to schedule study breaks that you can take with other people.
  • Find support – Seek help from a friend, family member, partner, counselor, doctor, or clergy person. Having a sympathetic listening ear and talking about your stress really can lighten the burden.
  • Take care of your health – Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Exercise regularly. Get plenty of sleep. And build and maintain a normal routine… Sound familiar?

If the self-care techniques listed above aren’t enough and stress is seriously interfering with your studies or life, don’t be afraid to get help. The student health center and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) are both good resources.

ACTIVITY 5.2A: Stress Management

Stress Management: What Works for You?

How might you use the stress management techniques mentioned above? For example:

  • How is your relationship with alcohol and drugs? Is there a change you feel would be good to make? If yes, how do you do it?
  • How can you better manage your time? Are there aspects of your day that are most important to work on? If yes, what are they? And how do you make that change?

Your Best Self

Returning to our definition of self-care – self-care is anything that makes you betterthere is an addition that may help direct you in further developing your approach. Humanist Psychologist Carl Rogers described the healthy and vital individual as a fully functioning person. According to Rogers, this person strives to and may act in congruence with what they envisioned as their ideal, best self. This was the process that Rogers referred to as self-actualization, and as a precondition to authentically helping others. Based on this understanding, a revised definition of self-care could be: self-care is anything that makes you better and helps you live more like your best self.

Previously mentioned was the idea that self-care says, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” If self-care is, in part, about realizing our best selves, it matters what you fill your cup with. There may be times when getting food-to-go and watching Netflix is the best thing for your mind, body, and soul. Other times, those same things could just be more junk that isn’t serving you or your development towards your best self. Therefore, when you think about your self-care needs, it may be crucial to ask:

  • “What does my best self want?”
  • “What does my best self need?”
  • “What can I do now that my current self and future self will both thank me for?”

To help guide you in recognizing and acting in alignment with your ideal self, self-awareness and self-compassion may be essential. The next section covers these in more detail.


My Best Self

Describe your best self. At your best, according to you:

  • What is your best physical self? What can you do with your physical body? How do you feel?
  • What is your best mental self? What do you think? What is your mindset? How do you care for a healthy mind?
  • What is your best emotional self? What do you to support positive emotional states? How do care for yourself in negative emotional states? How do you develop greater emotional intelligence?
  • What is your best social self? What are your social networks? Who are your most important relationships? How do you nurture them?

Find a time to give yourself 20 minutes or more of uninterrupted writing.


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