Stanford community shares tips on dealing with stress

June 3, 2015, 1:18 p.m.

Dead week can be stressful -- especially during Spring Quarter when Dead Week lasts three days. The Daily compiled a list of 10 ways to fight stress. [VICTOR XU/The Stanford Daily]
Dead week can be stressful — especially during Spring Quarter when finals start the Friday of Week 10. The Daily compiled a list of 10 ways to fight stress. [VICTOR XU/The Stanford Daily]
Week 10. Dead Week. Dead Day. Duck syndrome. Twenty units. RBA. Primal scream. All-nighter. P-sets. Coupa. Lathrop 24-hour room.

All of these phrases are regularly exchanged among Stanford students, especially as the quarter draws to a close. This vocabulary may seem like a strange dialect to those outside of Stanford, but students and faculty have adopted these expressions, most of which serve to accurately represent stressful situations that go along with Stanford’s unique environment.

In Stanford’s competitive and academically rigorous environment, students are thrown into many stressful situations, both academic and social. As spring quarter ends, finals approach and paper and project deadlines loom, levels of stress only seem to build.

There are plenty of suggested strategies for managing stressful situations. In honor of Dead Week, or Dead Day in this case, The Daily has gathered information from students, professors and psychologists about coping with stress, especially in Stanford-specific instances.

The Daily spoke to several current undergraduate students, asking for their best strategies for coping with stress and times during which they have felt the most overwhelmed at Stanford.

Sarah Radzihovsky ’18 says that she gets burned out working nonstop and that even short breaks can lead to increased productivity later on.

“My best strategy is to take breaks and go for runs or hang out with friends, briefly,” she said.

Balance is important, Radzihovsky added.

“I think I balance things by using social outings as a reward or break for working really hard and staying focused,” she said. “It’s difficult to stay focused if I don’t have a fun break in mind for the near future.”

Other students expressed similar sentiments, and exercise is a common way to relieve stress at Stanford. Finding a group of friends with whom to run, walk or even swim can be great for many students, releasing endorphins from exercising and relieving stress through talking out problems and bonding over similar difficulties.

Time management and balance are especially important for dealing with stress. Natalie Whittig ’18 recommends creating a schedule and a timetable detailing everything to accomplish, but she adds an interesting twist.

“Take everything you have to do, see how long it will take you, add two hours and then write it into your schedule,” Whittig said.

Adding the extra time actually sets realistic expectations for how long tasks can take and allows buffer time for unexpected changes. Allotting yourself more time also reduces stress, because it is more likely you will actually complete work on or before deadlines.

Athletes at Stanford not only deal with academic stress but also the stress that comes with competing in a Division I sport. Varsity soccer player Jaye Boissiere ’18 explained that to manage everything, it’s important to understand her body’s limits, including how much sleep she needs and when to study. This includes approaching each stressful aspect of her life differently.

“I’ve found that [stress is] easiest to deal with if you compartmentalize it,” Boissiere said. “Stress from a bad practice is different than stress from an upcoming midterm, so for me, it’s usually best if I deal with each section of my life individually. This is also easier said than done, because a lot of times I’ll go to practice freaking out about schoolwork, or I’ll be studying but thinking about what I could have done better at practice, but I’m most efficient when I can separate the two.”

To combat stress, time management is even more crucial for athletes than the rest of the student body. With less flexible schedules due to practice and game times, pulling an all-nighter before a deadline is not a viable option.

“You can’t really afford to procrastinate homework or an essay, or [study] until 11 p.m. the night before something is due, because you are responsible for your performance on the field the next day and won’t be at your best on two hours of sleep,” Boissiere said.

Law professor Joe Bankman, who is also currently training to become a clinical psychologist, has applied cognitive behavioral therapy techniques in his law classes to help students reduce stress. The tactics serve to combat anxiety through group discussions, providing a platform for students to share concerns. Bankman asks students to anonymously write down their worries, and then he posts them on the board. By reading everyone’s concerns, students realize everyone is going through similar struggles.

Bankman highlighted the importance of framing your thoughts to give yourself a more realistic perspective in managing stress.

“Since we’re in law school, we call it thinking like a lawyer, but it’s really just using logic,” he said. “One technique is to imagine that a friend [is] in this situation. What would you tell your friend? Now tell that to yourself.”

Bankman said that it is much better to reframe stressful situations rather ignoring issues. According to Bankman, procrastination will only lead to “a cycle of stress,” which can negatively impact one’s well-being.

“Anxiety causes us to avoid the things that cause us stress, but in the long run, this only increases our problems,” he said.

Bankman also offered some finals-specific advice as the year comes to a close. To reduce stress, he recommends several different strategies. Exercise can be an immediate stress reliever, as well as talking to someone who listens well, whether it be a close friend or family member. Another technique is known as “mindfulness.”

“This is really an umbrella term which includes relaxation, meditation, yoga and breathing,” Bankman explained.

To learn more about mindfulness, as well as other techniques to reduce stress and manage time, Bankman says that Google is actually an incredibly helpful resource, as well as the brochures and additional material that can be found at the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).

Lastly, Bankman emphasizes the importance of self-care, especially during times of high stress.

“Something works for everybody, but when you’re stressed out, people don’t usually do enough of that, whether it’s talking to a friend, talking to your mother, or taking a walk — make sure you’re doing enough of that,” he said.

However, if stress is chronic, or interfering with functionality, Bankman does recommend talking to a professional or seeking other resources.

In a recent piece in the Stanford Report, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal proposes that stress is not necessarily always a bad thing and that embracing stress can actually have beneficial results, depending on the how someone chooses to approach a problem.

In order to reframe a stressful situation, McGonigal proposes three steps. First, though this is difficult, attempt to accept your body’s response to stress and try to view it as a natural and helpful process. Second, create a positive mindset, reminding yourself that you are capable of handling stressful situations, and view stress as an opportunity to learn and grow. Lastly, remember that everyone deals with stress, albeit differently, but that experiencing stress does not mean that you are weak or failing.

McGonigal emphasized that this strategy does not ignore the potential harm that stress can cause.

Embracing stress by changing one’s mindset is similar to the ideas that Dan Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, has studied regarding cognitive and impact biases. Following the publication of his recent book “Stumbling on Happiness” in 2004, Gilbert gave a TED talk, “The Surprising Science of Happiness.” In this talk, Gilbert explains that happiness is incredibly relative.

“Our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy,” he says in the talk.

He cited a study that found out that, on average, paraplegics and winners of the lottery are found to be equally happy one year after the event. Happiness can be entirely based on mindset, and people’s standards for happiness are actually what determine how satisfied they feel with their lives. Gilbert’s main conclusion is that happiness can be “synthesized” through positive thinking. This synthetic happiness has a much more positive impact than that which any form of material welfare can provide.

Synthesizing happiness is a strategy that can be used to cope with stress. By approaching a challenge positively and analyzing the potential benefits created from this situation, students can use stress to improve productivity. Sources of stress can often seem to be entirely life-encompassing, but it is helpful to step back and look at a problem holistically.

As graduation approaches for Michael Schwartz ’15, he has some advice for the rest of the student body. First, he recommends making weekly to-do lists to avoid forgetting anything and breaking tasks into smaller time segments with space for non-academic activities.

“Don’t try to jam out work for 10 straight hours,” Schwartz said. “Go to the gym to get your blood flowing. It makes you happier.”

Being social and seeing friends also decreases stress for Schwartz.

“Have fun with your friends when you can,” he said. “It’s really important to blow off some steam every now and then. And Skype your family — they’re always really positive.”

Finally, Schwartz reiterated the importance of seeking support.

“Don’t be afraid to ask your friends for help with p-sets, papers and studying, ” he said.

Contact Sophie Stuber at sstuber8 ‘at’


Sophie Stuber is a senior from Aspen, Colorado, studying International Relations, French and Creative Writing. Sophie has written for the Daily since freshman year . This year, she spends a significant portion of her time working on her thesis, which is about designing an international legal framework to aid people forcibly displaced due to climate change. Aside from academics, Sophie loves reading, writing short stories, listening to NPR, and adventuring outside. Any of her friends will tell you that she loves to talk about the mountains, skiing, Atlantic articles, and Rebecca Solnit essays.

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