Conquering Stress

One Haverford student uses what’s called cognitive reappraisal

 By Ryan Dukarm

Heather Robinson may be stressed, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at her.

The easy going and energetic Haverford College senior from the Boston area has dealt with her fair share of stress as a college student. However, she credits a new technique she learned in her Stress and Coping class to helping alleviate some of her worry in her final year at Haverford.

“It’s called cognitive reappraisal. It’s part of cognitive behavioral therapy” said Robinson, a Psychology major and Neuroscience and Dance double minor, “but it’s more of an easier everyday technique that you can do.”

“I had a little journal and whenever I had these negative thoughts I would write down the situation and what was happening when I had this thought, my mood during it, the thought itself and then whether or not the thought was helpful or accurate.”

Many of Robinson’s stressors were about the amount of responsibilities she balanced, both academically and other wise. When she would go through her responsibilities for

Heather Robinson

the day, things that she enjoyed and loved began to feel like chores among all the other obligations she had. That led to negative feelings around things she enjoyed.

“Say, I have Bounce rehearsal later today” Robinson said, giving an example of a potential area for cognitive reappraisal by referring to her hip hop dance group Bounce, a group Robinson has been in all four years of college, “I really don’t want to go, I’m so tired, I’m so exhausted, I just want to go back to bed. But thinking about it like that meant that I was dreading it instead of looking forward to seeing my friends.”

Cognitive reappraisal has helped Robinson change her outlook on things she can’t change her commitment to. She loves dancing, so keeping those negative thoughts in a notebook where she can analyze whether they are helpful or not allows her to put a more positive spin on stressors in her life and continue to enjoy her many obligations.

Robinson went on to say that as a senior her stress has developed into stress about managing her responsibilities and worrying about her future. As a first year, she was often worried “about the high school to college transition.”

“I had no idea what my professors were looking for from me” she said with a laugh. It’s something many college students struggle with in their transition into college and Robinson was no different. “I would get super stressed feeling like ‘oh my God I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know how to study for this class, am I doing the readings correctly?’”

As we walked to her dance rehearsal with Bounce, she continued on what troubled her early on in her time at Haverford: “The first few years of college I definitely had a lot of stress from just trying to manage my time.”

“Trying to balance readings, I definitely think I procrastinated more then than I do now, especially with readings and assignments.” Robinson also said she struggled to plan her time and get ahead on assignments. “I just wouldn’t look ahead to when my deadlines were.” Add to all of that trying to balance her extracurriculars, dance minor and neuroscience minor and it’s not surprising some stress still creeped in.

And while things have improved for her, everyone has to deal with stress, college students especially. As we walked through the athletic center to the Multipurpose Room where Bounce holds their rehearsals, I asked Robinson how she’s seen her stress develop and change over time.

“It almost seems because I’ve been able to plan ahead more, I don’t find too much stress from time management in the academic sense,” Robinson said, “but there’s definitely stress from time management in balancing academics and extracurriculars because that’s always a problem that happens.”

Students at Haverford tend to be very involved, so this isn’t a surprising statement from someone who not only has her academic pursuits and role as Bounce’s treasurer but also works as an Honor Code Orienteer on a first year Customs Program orientation team. The work is rewarding but stressful in its own right… and unpaid to boot.

“It was really fun and it was nice because it was obviously before classes started. But now it gets kind of frustrating trying to schedule hall meetings because ours are not really scheduled, we don’t have a time we always meet, it kind of depends on the week.”

But now, thanks in large part to her cognitive reappraisal coping strategy, Heather Robinson has a new look at life during her senior year, and while she’s definitely excited for the next step in her life, it’s easy to see how the Psychology major has gotten the most out of her time at Haverford.