Stress Management for Online Students
You’re an online student balancing many responsibilities, including school work, a career, family, and other obligations. Many online students complete their work whenever they have free time – during a lunch break, at night, or on the weekends. The pressure to meet these requirements and manage other important aspects of your life can produce a feeling of anxiety and stress. When students cannot maintain an effective balance and become overwhelmed, they often drop out. What will help you avoid stress is the development of a proactive plan that keeps you focused, prepared, and ready to meet these demands.
Recognize Good Stress and Bad Stress
There is a difference between productive stress and negative stress. A busy schedule with many responsibilities can produce good stress when an effective time management plan is in place because it can help you stay motivated. Negative stress is often a result of feeling that there isn’t enough time. A key factor is your perception of events that occur every day because everyone has the potential to experience stress in their career and personal lives. The way that this stress is perceived often determines how you address it and respond to it. For example, if you perceive stress as something you can manage and control, your attitude will enable you to work with it.
Recognize Stress Triggers
Managing stress effectively is necessary so that you can maximize your effectiveness as a student. It is helpful to recognize what triggers the potential for stress. As an example, your physical health and well-being may trigger stress if you are not getting enough rest. One method of identifying potential stress triggers is to keep a journal and monitor the outcome of your weekly responsibilities and how you felt throughout the week. This will help you determine if there were stressful conditions that resulted in feelings of anxiety and your response to it.
Stress Management: Build a Social Network
A common source of stress for many online students results from a feeling of being disconnected from the class because the other students and instructor are not visibly present. Additional sources of stress include not being able to find the needed materials, posting a question that is not immediately answered, or feeling that you do not know how to relate to other students. All of these factors can contribute to a sense of isolation. It becomes very important then for online students to connect with each other, which can be accomplished through active participation in the discussion threads. If there is a chat thread or chat forum available, use that to share your hobbies and career interests as a means of developing connections. As you learn to collaborate with other students, you will feel more like you are a part of the class.
Stress Management: Develop a Schedule
You are expected to find the course materials, complete the assigned readings, submit your assignments on time, and remain actively involved in class discussions. This can become overwhelming if it seems that there are too many tasks to complete each week. Developing a planned schedule is a good way to organize your tasks and is a proactive form of stress management.
The purpose of a schedule is to help you stay organized. Many students establish a schedule according to their responsibilities and assignments. For example, you could divide up the required tasks for an assignment (prep time, research, writing a draft, making revisions, etc.) and add each component to your schedule. It is a good idea to periodically review the effectiveness of your schedule to make sure that all requirements are met.
Stress Management: Utilize Your Schedule
Developing a schedule becomes more effective when you also have a time management plan in place to help you utilize that schedule. Instead of just planning what needs to be accomplished each week, you can also allocate time to complete each task. Students who create a schedule, but fail to allow enough time to stick with that schedule, often feel pressured at the last minute to get their work caught up.
Managing your time is directly related to managing your stress because you will feel in control of your time and will be less likely to experience anxiety if your school work is completed on time or even ahead of time.
Consider these questions as you review your time management plan:
• Do you have any potential time traps that could cause stress? Time traps are any unplanned or unnecessary activities that prevent you from completing what has been scheduled.
• Should you consider or weigh the importance of obligations and activities? Because there is a fixed amount of time available each week to complete your school work, you may find it necessary to establish priorities. Activities with the lowest priority may be eliminated so that other high-priority items can be accomplished.
Stress Management: Include Downtime
As you develop a schedule and plan the use of your time, it is helpful to also include scheduled breaks. The purpose of downtime is to shift your attention away from the intensity of your responsibilities long enough to allow yourself to catch your breath and feel relaxed. The amount of time allocated can be a matter of a few minutes or several hours, depending upon your schedule.
Here are important questions to ask as you review the potential for stress:
• How could you include downtime in your weekly time management plan? A downtime activity could include exercising, reading, or breathing techniques to release tension.
• Would downtime help you feel relaxed and better able to cope with a busy life?
• How will you remind yourself that you need time to relax so that you can manage stress?
Putting It All Together
Development of a proactive stress management plan will allow you to maintain control of your school work without always feeling overwhelmed. If you establish control of your time, you are likely to complete the required assignments, balance other responsibilities, and manage the potential causes of stress. How you feel is also an important aspect of being able to manage a challenging schedule as an online student. Try to include downtime each week and find ways to stay connected with other students in your class.
By Dr. Bruce Johnson
Photo: © David Burton/Corbis