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The Shrink is in ... Stress Less

by Gail Bruce-Sanford, Ph.D., Staff Psychologist
MSU Denver Counseling Center, a Department of Student Engagement and Wellness

Stress is inevitable; it is very difficult to avoid it completely. We all cope with it in different ways. Of course, some ways are healthier than others. As college students, you may have a better sense of when to anticipate some stressful times such as mid-terms, days with presentations or recitals, final exams, going home for the holidays and readjusting to old routines, graduation and some required social events to name a few. Notice that some of these sound like pure fun, but even exciting and fun events could be a source of positive stress; it’s still stress. Whenever our existing resources are inadequate for handling multiple expectations and demands, we get stressed. Hence there are implications for maintaining a healthy balance to avoid the stress trigger.

Let’s look at this issue through the lens of a young adult student, Veney, who is curious about deepening understanding of this stress phenomenon.


The holidays are approaching and I am planning on visiting with my parents and two younger identical twin siblings who are tenth graders. I love them all dearly, but after the first day of being with them, they all drive me crazy, and I find myself wanting to avoid them. What can I do to avoid being so stressed over this issue?


Let me start of by saying that I recognize some good strengths in your family dynamics. You all seem to get along well, and the first day of reuniting appears to be fun and cherished.

There is something that happens from the second day that perhaps you all need to discuss openly. It could be related to unrealistic expectations of each other such as feeling imposed upon, not feeling fully respected for expressing different opinions and more ... Note that it’s these subtleties and nuances that often contaminate harmonious relationships, especially if not shared openly. After all, you are away at college and would have incorporated some different changes that are different from when you were growing up and no-one is really truly prepared to embrace that in many ways you all start seeing each other through different lenses. Parents may find you too independent and you may perceive them as being stuck in their ways. It is hard to talk about because no-one wants to hurt the other’s feelings intentionally; but, feelings are still being hurt because something is not being said and everyone feels stressed.


So is it ok to tell my parents that I have different views on relationships and how they are raising my younger siblings?


Yes, of course. I am suggesting that you invite dialogue in a very respectful manner; no need to lose your cool. You may something such as: “Mom and Dad, I have been noticing some tension among us; can we talk some more about it? Perhaps you are noticing my withdrawing a bit more than usual; I am not sure ...” Such an approach opens up the opportunity for clarification and a deepening of understanding as both parties decide to engage in a process of sharing, listening and validation of each other as you identify the issues that get in the way.


My parents are really opinionated and I doubt that they would listen to me.


I appreciate your saying that because this issue is so real for so many. An important piece is to first express your appreciation to them for something that you are genuinely thankful for before launching into a criticism. Then your views are more easily received.


That’s helpful for dealing with stress in the family; what do I do about just feeling simply overwhelmed?


Veney, students often take on too much. Here are ten suggestions that you may find useful:

  1. Say ‘no’ to others when plans simply will not work out for you, and suggest alternate times. It’s a part of being assertive.
  2. Delegate to capable others when you have too much on your own plate.
  3. Try to stay organized. Develop a scheme for placing deadline due dates on a calendar; color code them for different academic courses or events. You may use hard copy or an electronic version like a smart phone app.
  4. Also prioritize each day; things that are critical can be placed at the top.
  5. Ensure that you have down time for yourself each day; even if it means to sit, close your eyes and relax.
  6. Adopt a physical exercise routine that would work for you: walking, jogging, running, swimming; whatever works for you. Physical movement is important.
  7. Try to have adequate sleep each night; anywhere from 6-8 hours.
  8. Eat as healthily as you can; avoid skipping meals as a routine.
  9. Surround yourself with friends who are positive and encouraging.
  10. Avoid relying on substances to calm you down.

Veney, I must reiterate the importance of self-care. As we encounter the many demands that are placed on us, we want to maintain control and balance. An experienced writer once said: “Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass ... It's about learning to dance in the rain.”

Do not hesitate to utilize our Counseling Center mental health professionals for some professional support when the need arises.

We are located in Tivoli 651 and can be reached by phone at 303-615-9988. Our website can be accessed at any time for additional resources at

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