In the event of heavy snow or an extreme weather event, visit for details on campus conditions.

Student wearing a mask walking up a set of outdoor stairs
March 4, 2021
4 mins read

Turn panic into power: How to use stress to your advantage

Student life can feel like being surrounded by alarms that won’t stop going off.

Between academic, personal, and career concerns, it’s difficult to know which warning signals really demand our attention. If you can’t turn the alarms off, you’re left feeling stressed out and uncertain.

During my last semester at UBC, I attended a workshop at the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers (CSIC) called “Panic to Power: Build Your Confidence”, which helps students learn how to relax and harness nervous energy.

We talked about how everybody feels nervous about something, from class presentations to job interviews. You develop confidence by figuring out what types of coping techniques help you learn to turn your alarms off.

Below are the key things I took away from the workshop. I encourage you to try out some of the techniques to learn what might work for you when you’re feeling stressed.

Relaxation techniques

Self care

The most basic way of calming yourself is to make sure there’s time in your schedule to do something that you enjoy. This might be something as simple as reading a good book or taking a walk. What matters is that you have time to check in on yourself—you can always take 5 minutes just for you!

At the workshop, they recommended having a ready list of quick, easy activities you can use to decompress. Keep it on your phone and reference it when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed.

Mindful breathing

Pay attention to your breaths. One of the most common physical manifestations of anxiety is rapid, shallow breathing.  

If you find yourself doing this, pause and take a cleansing breath. It’s super easy and can be done anywhere. Just breathe in slowly through your nose and then out through your mouth, allowing the exhale to be longer than the inhale.

Here’s a guided video to get you started:

For more breathing exercises (and other simple relaxation techniques), check out our post on quick ways to de-stress.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

If you have a little more time, try out Progressive Muscle Relaxation. It’s a technique for releasing physical tension to make you feel more relaxed.

Take 10 minutes to bring yourself back to your body by repeating 2 steps:

  1. Consciously tense a specific part of your body. Usually, you start with your feet and work your way up. Hold the tension for a few seconds.
  2. Let the tension go. Exhale as you do so. Take a moment to notice the difference.

By the end of the exercise, you’ll feel light and loose! Much better.


One of the most crucial points from the workshop was the importance of learning to reframe our fears. Stress and nerves can often result from the fear of fear itself. It’s a vicious cycle.

Understanding fear

Remember that the presence of fear is a result of a desire for the opposite outcome. You’re feeling nervous because you want something to go well. That’s a good thing!

Try mental contrasting

Fear is often a result of something you’ve told yourself, rather than the actual circumstances. Rather than torturing yourself with “what if…?” statements, try mental contrasting: focus on a positive outcome, and then consider what types of obstacles might be in your way and how to tackle them.

Let’s say you wanted to get a particular job, but you aren’t sure you have the right experience. You might imagine what it would be like to have the job and then think about how you could revise your resume and cover letter to reflect the reasons the position is right for you.

Practice makes progress

If you have a particular situation that makes you nervous, being as prepared as possible can really help.

Student at desk conducting a mock interview via Zoom
Take the time

Give yourself as much time as possible to get ready. If it’s a job interview, research the workplace and even the person who will be interviewing you. Make a list of questions they might ask and have a friend conduct a mock interview with you.

You can also plan out how you’ll present yourself. Pick out an outfit that makes you feel comfortable and professional. If your interview is in person, you can even map out exactly what buses to take if you’re worried about being late.

Learn from your mistakes

Even if an interview (or presentation, or event) doesn’t go as well as you wanted it to, you can still make it into a positive experience.

Think about what might have gone wrong or why it didn’t work out, and then incorporate those lessons into your behaviour as you move forward. You can only get better!

Make room for positivity

Time for yourself

Fear can take over your whole brain, leaving no room for anything else. The best way to combat fear is to always make space in your life for things that make you happy. Time for yourself, time with friends, and time for laughter are all important for your wellbeing and self-confidence.

Find your anchors

Anchors are thoughts or ideas that keep you grounded. This might be a particular memory of a time when you felt accomplished, a comforting object, or a personal motto. No matter what, you can always come back to it to remind yourself of your value.

Photos on a wall of a student dorm

Your anxiety doesn’t have to be your enemy. Use that energy to remember what’s important to you and refocus so you can achieve the things you want. If you learn what coping methods work for you, you can accomplish anything!

For more info, visit the Panic to Power page. You can also check out upcoming CSIC workshops on the Student Services website.

If you are concerned that your feelings of anxiety are getting out of hand or are interfering with your daily functioning, you may want to look into ways to take care of yourself. Check out the Health and Wellbeing page to see what resources are avaialble to support you, no matter where you're studying from.

Header photo credit: Paul H. Joseph / UBC Brand & Marketing