How to Manage Stress

Flipping the Script on Stress in Language Learning

Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.

Khalil Gibran

Reading time: 3 minutes

Stress can help us!

Believe it or not, when you deal with it the right way, stress can actually motivate and help you instead of holding you back. One student said:

When I was learning Spanish I was thrown into a foreign country and living with someone who spoke no English whatsoever, kind of like a trial by fire. I remember it was stressful going anywhere because I had no clue what was going on, where we were going, or what I’d do if we got separated somehow. At first, it was really overwhelming and I felt very alone, but in the end, I think it was that stress that really pushed me to want to learn the language quickly. I wanted so badly just to understand what was going on and communicate with somebody, that I studied rigorously and took every opportunity I could to learn! By taking in the situation and accepting the stress, I was able to use it as my drive and that helped me learn Spanish better than I would have. I think stress can be very beneficial when handled in a healthy way.

Learning a language doesn’t require an immersive experience, but you can expect to encounter stress in one way or another. It’s a totally normal part of learning a language.

In a paper on stress in language learning, Dr. Abdulmuhsen Ayedh Alqahtani and Dr. Saad Shajea Alajmi suggest:

  1. Language learners should shift their paradigm with respect to stress; stress is normal and can be dealt with in productive ways.
  2. Positive stress can help maintain challenge, commitment, and perseverance.

So how do you handle stress in a healthy way?

Dig in, don’t back out

When you’re feeling stressed, you have two choices:

  1. Run away
  2. Double down

In the story above, the student took his stress and let it motivate him to improve instead of scaring him away from his language study. In order to do that, you have to be able to release your stress in a healthy way. See other articles here, here, and here for ideas and techniques you can use.

Know what works for you, and have a plan!

Everyone is different, and what helps you cope with stress varies from person to person. Regardless of how you choose to cope, it’s helpful to have a plan ahead of time so you know how to deal with stress when it comes. Another student said: 

“The gym every day was the best way to deal with the frustrations for me, as well as just taking a little personal time at the end of every day. If I was frustrated or stressed I found that taking a step back for 15-30 minutes and then getting back at it was very effective for me. When I tried to just push through I realized those feelings would become magnified.”

And another said:

[KS] “Related to coping with stress: think in advance and plan on several plans of how to cope. For example, I need alone time and escapism. After the long school day and soul-crushing experience of trying to talk to people every day, I personally NEEDED alone time. My roommates got a gym membership for the same purpose. You have to plan this before you go and give yourself options. When you feel discouraged, find something you can do and stick with that for a little bit, and then make sure you go back or find a new study pattern/strategy.”

The Main Takeaway

Everyone experiences stress, so anticipate it as part of your learning process! Make a plan of what you will do when you start to feel anxious and want to back out.

Try it out!

Time Required: 5-10 minutes

  1. When do you feel the most stressed? Think about what parts of your language learning experience cause you the most anxiety. For example, does your heart rate start to climb when you can’t seem to master new vocabulary? Do you get sweaty when you have to talk to a native speaker for longer than a few minutes?
  2. What can you do when you feel this way? Think about some things that help you to calm down. Look at the other articles in this section for ideas.  
  3. Implement your plan! The next time stress makes you want to walk away from your studies, try out one of your strategies. Reflect on how effective it was and what other strategies you might want to try in the future.