The end of the semester is coming, and (as you may have guessed from the title of this post) I’m a bit stressed. I have some big assignments coming up, so if I disappear from the blogosphere for a week of two, that’s why.

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Today, I would like to talk about stress. We all know what stress is; we all experience it at some point in our lives. What can we do about it?

According to some psychological theories, there are two basic ways we respond to stress. These are called “emotion-based coping” and “problem-based coping.” In problem-based coping, you attempt to resolve the situation that is causing your stress (solve the problem). In emotion-based coping, you don’t try to solve the problem; instead, you try to change the way you respond to the stressor by focusing on your emotions.

Both of these methods can be helpful or harmful (in psychology parlance, “adaptive” or “maladaptive”) depending on the situation. If you need to take action in order to keep a problem from getting worse, emotion-based coping isn’t going to help you. However, if you honestly can’t do anything to change a situation, it’s far more adaptive to accept this and focus on the things you can change, such as your emotions, rather than trying to fix an unsolvable problem.

To apply this to writing, I think many of the things that cause us stress in our writing have components that we can change as well as aspects that we can’t do anything about. For example, if a piece of writing that you’ve submitted somewhere as been rejected or if you’ve gotten a bad grade on an essay, there is nothing you can do about this. It’s more helpful to use emotion-based coping such as taking a walk, drinking tea, or talking to a friend to deal with this aspect of the situation.

However, the negative response to your writing could also cause you stress as you consider submitting your work somewhere else or turning in your next assignment. In this case, problem-focused coping is the adaptive response because you can take actions to reduce your stress: paying attention to any feedback you received in the past and making sure to proof read, among other things.

In my situation (three large papers due) I’ve been using both emotion-based and problem-based coping. I drew up a battle plan today (aka a “to-do” list) to help me plan out what I need to do in the next few weeks. I’ve also been trying to do things that reduce stress such as listening to music and spending time outside.

Ultimately, though, I know the only thing that will really get rid of this stress is finishing these assignments, so that’s what I’m going to do. To quote Anne Lamott, “You’ve got to keep your butt in the chair. You’ve got to just do it!” I may have to break these assignments down and write them page by page, piece by piece, but I can do it. And I’m going to.

I think this blog post has been a kind of emotion-based coping response, because I’m trying to convince myself that I can get through the semester. Haha. But I hope if you’ve gotten this far that it has also been somewhat helpful for you too. Thanks for reading!


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