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Fight, Flight, or Breathe

An Interview on Stress Management with a New CLE Student

by Brigitte Cooper, CLE Denver

Fight, flight, or breatheA little bit of stress is good for us, too much stress gives us acid reflux and gray hair… okay, genetics tend to give us the grey hair, but you get the point. Stress looks different for everyone and manifests itself in different ways. According to Web MD and the Mayo Clinic, stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations – whether they are real or perceived.

Fight or Flight

During our primitive days our body’s response to a threatening situation, such as a predator, caused the “fight-or-flight” scenario, which was useful for escaping from something that wanted to eat you. Unfortunately our stress response has not evolved to adapt to the changes of today’s sophisticated world. We still initiate the same chemical reaction and flood of cortisol in the body when we are stuck in traffic, on a massive group text, or studying for a big exam as we did when we were actually running from a wild beast.

The problem with today’s stressors is that they are consistent through our day-to-day routine. Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress, but we are not designed to handle chronic stressful events without adverse consequences. So what’s a CLE student to do? Have you ever looked at one of those color-coded, Tetris-maze schedules that our students carry around? Between the ILS groups, career groups, tutoring, advising, actual class, socializing and gaming, well there is just barely any time left for sleeping and healthy eating!


Alex at a Mocktail PartyTo see just how our students handle stress I had a conversation with a relatively new student at CLE, Alex Fleener. I wanted to speak with a new student because there are a lot of changes and a lot of different factors to get used to when a student starts here. Alex has been at CLE since January and it appears that she has made a relatively seamless transition into her new life. Appropriately enough, I checked in with Alex about her stressors as we were running to catch the bus to her voice lessons. Yes, being late is a stressor for Alex, a huge stressor, which she normally avoids by following her schedule dutifully. Alex has an impressive attendance record at CLE. Once we figured out transportation and knew we were going to make it on time I had the opportunity to talk more in depth with Alex about the things that stress her out and what she does to cope with them.

In addition to timeliness, Alex can get stressed out with new experiences, like a new transportation route or meeting new people. She can get stressed out in social situations. Schoolwork is another trigger for Alex. She works hard to complete her assignments, but if she gets behind it seems that things spin out of control and she might be up all night working on a project. Stress can manifest for Alex as a physical pain in her shoulder or in her posture. Alex also admits that she gets run down and tired when she is stressed, which can cause her to get sick or have mood fluctuations. If she is tired and frustrated she might be short with people.

How to cope with stress

Alex certainly does not like being stressed out as it negatively affects her and those around her. When I asked Alex what she does to help alleviate stress she gave me some really great coping methods. Alex is very self-aware and is mindful of the triggers stress causes in her body. If she starts to notice that she is getting tight, her posture is off or she is getting a pain in her shoulder, she will take a break and decompress with music. Either listening to music or singing music out loud is a great stress reducer for her. Alex implements breathing techniques to slow down when she is getting escalated, and will take a moment to herself to concentrate on her breathing away from others. Visuals are also a big help to Alex and she came to CLE with an emotion chart to keep her emotional progress in check.

Stress curveThe chart is associated with these colors:

RED = Danger zone, very escalated
ORANGE = Warning, look for ways to calm down immediately
YELLOW = In between, slightly agitated, but still having a good time
GREEN = All is good!

Alex tries to keep the chart with her in her backpack and use it as a reference in new situations to manage stressful situations. The visual is helpful because it allows Alex to manage her emotions independently, which prevents a more stressful situation. While we each might have different triggers and manifestations of stress, it is important to be self-aware and have some practices in place for stress management. Students should spend some time doing a self evaluation and then work with a mentor or their advisor to come up with individualized coping solutions. When all else fails, try a little dark chocolate and a nap!

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This has been a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future. You may also click here to read the original article on the main program website.