1. Understand Your Stress
Take some time to check in with yourself and find out what are the main things causing us stress. Sometimes the stressor is something that is within our control (e.g, "I have too many tasks to finish by the end of the week"), sometimes it is not in our control (e.g,. "My partner might have an accident"), and often there are some aspects we can control and some we cannot. Sometimes the situation we are concerned about is hypothetical, that is, it has not actually happened yet, for example "What if I fail?". Understanding what aspects of the situation are within our control can help us to focus our energy and respond to the situation effectively.
2. Moving from 'Worry' to 'Problem Solving'
Worry is a style of thinking in which our mind repeatedly goes over and over possible or actual problems. E.g., "I might not pass that exam". When we are engage in worry, our thinking tends to go around in circles. Although it can feel like we are doing something helpful to prevent the feared situation from happening, usually worry leads us to feel so anxious that we procrastinate or do not take any effective action to take steps to solve the problem.
Problem solving is a different type of thinking. It is a linear and logical thinking process by which we identify possible ways of dealing with the problem, consider the pros and cons of each option, choose the best solution and then put that plan into action. After you have completed or scheduled the action, then you can try to shift the focus of your attention away from the worry, using mindfulness or grounding techniques such as the examples below.
The Worry Tree explains this concept:
- Feeling stuck with an assessment task? Can you chat to your tutor, lecturer, or even a classmate. Could you talk to Academic Learning Support, attend a PASS class, or chat to a Librarian for some help?
- Had a fight with someone? Can you talk to them or talk to someone else who might understand.
- Has life thrown you a curveball? Money trouble? Break up? Trouble at home? Can you speak to someone you know for support, or chat to a Wellbeing Advisor for some help?
There may be some problems for which there is no solution, either because it is outside of our control or because it is a hypothetical situation which has not yet occurred. In this case, it is not possible to use a problem solving approach, however it is also not helpful to continue to engage in worry. The best that we can do is to gently remind ourselves to disengage from the worry and put our attention on something else which is more useful.
Check out this helpful module from Centre for Clinical Interventions for more on Worry and Problem Solving Skills.
3. Changing the focus of attention: Grounding Techniques
Grounding techniques are quick and easy mindfulness strategies to help you manage times of intense stress or anxiety. These techniques work by allowing you to drop an anchor in the present moment, rather than being caught up in worry about the future or past. Many of them are easy and quick to use. Here is a list of a few that you might find useful:
- Counting from 1-10 and then reversing from 10-1
- Using a grounding phase like “I’m ok” or “stay calm”
- Focus on your breath. Inhale for a count of four and then exhale to a count of six
- Connect with your senses – name three things you can see, hear, smell and touch
- Visualise yourself walking along a beach and watching the waves break on the shore, or sitting under a tree watching the wind gently blow the branches above you back and forth
- Go for a walk and notice the things around you, what do you see? hear? smell?
- Stamp your feet on the ground as you notice the sensations
- Have a shower, bath or go for a swim and feel the water wash over you