Tips for Managing Stress

The senior director of the Georgia Tech Center for Mental Health Care and Resources gives tips for managing end-of-year stress.
Vidal Annan Jr. is the senior director of the Georgia Tech Center for Mental Health Care and Resources in Student Engagement and Well-Being. (Photo by Joya Chapman)

Vidal Annan Jr. is the senior director of the Georgia Tech Center for Mental Health Care and Resources in Student Engagement and Well-Being. (Photo by Joya Chapman)

The end of the semester brings pressure to perform well on final exams and presentations. And with the holidays around the corner comes the added stress of traveling to visit family and friends or maybe spending the holidays away from loved ones. For some, it can be hard to manage.

“Stress is not automatically bad or unhealthy. It is part of being a human and growing and facing challenges,” said Vidal Annan Jr., senior director of the Center for Mental Health Care and Resources in Student Engagement and Well-Being. “When we step out of our comfort zone, chances are we will be experiencing something new. And when there's something new, there’s a chance it may be stressful. That stress must be managed because when stress becomes too intense, too frequent, or lasts too long it starts to shift from stress to distress and we want to avoid distress as much as possible.”  

Regardless of the source of stress, there are unhealthy as well as helpful ways to manage it. Annan identified some unhealthy behaviors to avoid.

  • Distraction: focusing on things that are not important or that are not meaningful. “Looking at social media or playing a game on your phone takes you away from the stressful situation temporarily, but when you turn off the phone the stress is still there.”
  • Avoidance: staying away from things that are meaningful and important. “Self-isolation is an avoidance technique. You’re not seeking out something else, but you’re tuning out, shutting down, or withdrawing from everything.
  •  Overthinking: focusing on worrying or rumination. You are trying to predict the future, or you’re wishing something different happened in the past. “Overthinking fools the mind into thinking that it is problem solving. But it’s just getting caught up in the problem, not looking at a solution.”

Other unhealthy ways for dealing with stress include taking the following actions to the extreme: sleeping; shopping or “retail therapy;” eating too much or too little; substance abuse; unhealthy sexual behavior; self-harm; or suicidal thinking.

“If any of these actions become a pattern, they can become problematic,” Annan said.

Self-Care Is Helpful

People often associate the term “self-care” with pampering or self-indulgence, such as getting a massage or having a slice of cake after a tough day. But it doesn’t have to be that narrowly defined.

“Self-care doesn’t have to be fun, but it does have to be deliberate,” Annan said. “Self-care is living a life that rejuvenates you and makes you healthier, stronger, and mentally fit. That means taking care of yourself on a regular basis and preparing for the demands that are coming.”

He said it’s important to dedicate time to the following:

  • Sleep. Follow a consistent schedule and get enough sleep. Most people need between six and nine hours each night.
  • Nutrition and hydration. Eat consistently and drink enough water. “The mind and body are connected, and we get ‘hangry’ when we don’t eat. If something stressful happens when we are hungry, we may feel very irritable, but we’re not angry because of what happened. We’re just hungry.”
  • Movement (not exercise). “We used to have natural movement from farming, doing manual labor, and walking because we didn’t have cars. Today we exercise because we don’t have enough natural movement in our lives.” We don’t have to rely on a gym or workout equipment, we can try to incorporate natural movement, such as gardening, dance, or taking the stairs.
  • Socialization. “We are not meant to be solitary. Engaging with others helps us to manage stress better.” Wanting to vent to a friend when you are stressed is a healthy response.  
  • Leisure time. Engage with your hobbies or creative interests. “Remember when you were 5 years old and you did things just for fun like drawing or building model planes? When was the last time you did that?” Revisit the things that brought you pure joy.
  • Reflection. Take the time to attend to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and look at your life in relation to other things, whether that is your values, faith, or ideals. Counseling, meditating, or journaling can be a great way to reflect.  

Reach out for help. Students experiencing a mental health crisis that requires immediate attention may speak with a counselor at any time 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During regular business hours, students who are not actively in crisis but would like to schedule a counseling appointment may call 404.894.2575 or walk-in to the Center for Mental Health Care and Resources located on the second floor, Suite 238, Smithgall Student Services Building, 353 Ferst Drive NW Atlanta GA 30313. After business hours, please call 404.894.2575 and select the option to speak to the after-hours counselor.

Staff can contact the Employee Assistance Program 24 hour a day, seven days a week at 1-844-243-4440, or via the Acentra website using company code: USGCares.

Campus Community Shares Stress Relief Tips:

“One of my favorite ways to unwind from a stressful day is to go on a long walk with my dog, Harper. Walking around the neighborhood gives me a chance to enjoy some exercise and quiet time to reflect. I tend to stay busy throughout the day in meetings and teaching classes, so this time in the evening is a good opportunity to decompress.”

—Donald Webster, Karen and John Huff School Chair, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering


“I really enjoy listening to music, as it helps put me in a better headspace and concentrate on what I need to accomplish for the end of the day. I have combined this with exercise by trying to go to cycling classes at least twice a week, which provides dedicated time for me to just focus on moving my body and getting into a more positive headspace.”

—Nicole McClelland, fourth-year, materials science and engineering major


“Generally, I walk home slowly looking at trees, gardens, street life, and architecture. No headset, no podcast just visual pleasure. During the workday, when it gets stressful, I sit on my balcony in East Architecture and do the same with a little deep breathing. Georgia Tech’s campus has become so verdant and beautiful in the last decade and my birdfeeder is pretty popular. At home, it is music. I have speakers everywhere and I listen to a lot of Erik Satie. The best way to unwind in the evenings, however, is with live music like Georgia Tech orchestra, jazz, and choral concerts at Ferst. And they are free!”

—Ellen Bassett, dean and John Portman Chair, College of Design


“Getting outside to exercise is my primary outlet and stress reliever, and I try to integrate that into my day. Most mornings I run a mile before doing anything else, regardless of the temperature or weather. On days I take MARTA to work, I bring my bike and ride home, which is a great way to decompress and refresh for my family. If I drive in, I bring my running shoes, so I can either run around campus after work, or stop on the BeltLine or a trail. In the last year, I’ve started taking a ‘digital sabbath’ on Sundays. Since I live on screens the rest of the week, that separation from text, email, and social media before the week starts has been incredibly renewing.”

—Rick Clark, assistant vice provost and executive director, Undergraduate Admission


“I am a swimmer and a morning person. As such, I start most every morning with a swim. I swim before coffee, before breakfast and even before email. I swim outdoors year-round and so for a good part of the year, it is a challenge to jump in the pool in the dark and cold. But after that plunge, I am pretty confident that the hardest part of my day is now behind me. At the end of the day, I relieve stress by quickly pivoting to my role as daughter, mother, wife, sister, and friend. A call to discuss what is going on in their lives helps me put aside small worries of my own. And in the middle of the day, there is always chocolate.”

 —Susan Lozier, dean and Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Chair, College of Sciences


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