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How to Reframe Academic Stress

June 25, 2021

How to Reframe Academic Stress

Pretty much everyone experiences stress when they are preparing for a major proctored exam or working towards an exciting career goal. Stress is not inherently a bad thing, but stress symptoms can sometimes derail you from focusing on the task at hand and achieving your best. What if you could reframe your stress as a positive driving factor towards your success? That may sound quite challenging at first, but there are some simple steps that you can take to gradually shift your perspective.

Defining Stress

Before you can combat or reframe your stress, it helps to define stress and contextualize what you are experiencing. In Stress Science: Neuroendocrinology, editor and mental health educator George Fink asserts that "stress has a different meaning for different people under different conditions." Every person experiences stress in a way that is unique to them, but there are certain commonalities that can help us identify and combat our stress symptoms.

Fink also cites the author and endocrinologist Hans Selye, who offers a behavioural science perspective on the definition of stress. Selye describes stress as a "perception of threat, with resulting anxiety, discomfort, emotional tension, and difficulty in adjustment." When Selye talks about perception, he touches upon a powerful tool. How you perceive a situation can make all the difference in how you experience and manage stress symptoms. Now that you understand more about the definition of stress, it is worth exploring ways to release and reframe your stress.

Releasing Stress

In Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, authors Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA unpack the repetitive cycle of feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by life. Their groundbreaking book includes scientific reasoning, relevant advice, and useful exercises to help you release stress and move forward. Emily and Amelia Nagoski offer a positive perspective while also analyzing the social pressures and obstacles which can stand in the way of success. The pair also have a compact and useful TED article detailing Six Things You Can Do to Release Your Stress. Their main advice is to focus on:

  • Breathe
  • Positive social interactions
  • Laughter
  • Affection
  • Emotional release
  • Creative expression

Reframing Stress

Once you have identified a stress response to your academic or career pressure, try reframing your stress to focus on the positive. This does not mean that you have to discount or invalidate your emotions in any way. Your emotional responses are of course natural and valid, though it can help to shift your perspective and reduce stress by focusing on the positive. Be inquisitive. Ask yourself positive, practical questions that relate to your goals and aspirations:

  • Why are you feeling stress about a particular goal?
  • What excites you most about achieving your end goal?
  • What inspires you to pursue this goal?
  • How can you frame your stress as a source of healthy motivation?

By focusing on your inspiration and aspirations, you can shift your focus away from the negative stress symptoms. Imagine a river of pressure guiding you towards your goal. The process will be more enjoyable the less resistance you have. Stress can be overwhelming, but you can also reframe your stress as a positive motivation that gently pushes you into action. Before you jump into an intense study or exam preparation session, take a second to pause and remember how far you have already come in your career and educational journey.

Looking for more exam preparation and wellness advice? Ashton Testing Services has a number of helpful blogs to guide your process. Check out our previous blogs exploring How to Stay Healthy During Exam Time and What to Do When You Freeze Up During an Exam.

Written by: CJ McGillivray