Stress Relief Techniques for the College Student
Summer’s coming to a close, class will soon be back in session, and for many students that means the familiar onset of stress and worry (unless you’re in summer school; you’ve already started suffering weeks ago). No more sleeping in or staying out late, class and homework everyday, working on your major, that internship, planning for your future… yikes. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, and you wouldn’t be the first student to flip out if you did. That’s why it’s important to keep a steady pace and set your priorities while at the same time making time for relaxation. “All work and no play…”, right? Switch off your iPod for a moment, close your laptop, and take a couple minutes to simply relax… Here are some quick and easy tips for stress relief for when everything starts to swirl around you just a little too fast:
Practice Deep Breathing
Simple and effective. This will help you calm yourself and your state of mind. You can do this anytime and anywhere, which makes it quite easy. Try it when sitting in traffic, waiting to be called up for an appointment, or if your class has grown too boring to follow. Try breathing from the abdomen versus breathing from the chest- abdominal breathing inhales about a quart of oxygen, while chest breathing only inhales a teacup’s worth. Be sure to do it slowly and mindfully.
Also known as guided imagery. Close your eyes and picture yourself in a beautiful, peaceful setting. Maybe it’s a lakeside cabin in the mountains, a sunny spot on the beach, or out in a starlit field at nighttime. Whatever it is, stay with it for several minutes until you feel yourself begin to relax.
Oftentimes people find themselves worrying about something stressful completely out of context, like in the shower or when they are out with friends. When this happens, simply close your eyes and silently say to yourself, “Stop” to release the thought from your mind. If it doesn’t work right away, repeat the process.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When you begin to stress out, your muscles tense up. Learning to release your stress and tension from your muscles isn’t at all hard. Start by tightening the muscles in your toes and holding for a count of 10. Relax them and enjoy the feeling of release from constriction. Next do the muscles in your feet, legs, butt, abdomen, back, neck, face, and any other muscles you feel like. Breathing deeply and slowly can help a great deal.
Take a Break
Been blazing through that Humanities Core essay all day? Stop. Take a breather, you deserve it. Run some hot water into the bathtub and relax. The steam and warm water will sooth your muscles, in turn relaxing you. Go outside and take a walk to get a change of scenery. Seeing new things during your current conundrum might offer a new outlook on your situation.
The key to using these techniques is to stop your worrying. That does not mean pushing stressful thoughts to the back of your mind but releasing them from your mind altogether. Millions of students are going and have gone through the same situations you are now, so don’t feel like you’re stuck alone on a raft in the ocean. Of course, there are other techniques that, while more time-consuming, may help you more than the quickies listed above:
The kneading and loosening of muscles to relieve tension and stress. Massages alleviate tension in sore muscles and leave you feeling refreshed and invigorated. Health clubs, spas, and fitness centers often offer the services of a masseuse. Massages are very popular for stress relief, though they don’t usually come cheap. If money is tight- and as a college student it probably is- ask a friend to give you a massage. If your school’s gym has a massage class, it might offer free massages for students, usually during finals week, and you can check in to see if the class needs volunteers to be massaged for the class to practice on.
Well, you don’t have to skip through a meadow and sing. But simply driving out to the beach to watch the waves roll ashore or taking a stroll through the woods can help you relieve stress. Doing this for as little as 15 minutes a day can go a long way in helping to relieve stress.
It’s a tried and true technique. Go pump some iron or jog laps to get all that weight off your back. Exercise releases endorphins- “feel-good” brain chemicals- in the brain that protect you against depression, decreases the output of stress hormones, relaxes your muscles, and helps you sleep better. Your local gym is a great place to go let off some steam. If your school has a gym, all the better. Go with some friends if you don’t feel like going alone. Working out not only helps you stay healthy and in shape, but it’s a great place to release aggression and stress. You’ll also leave the gym feeling a lot better about yourself after a workout. The feeling of doing something progressive with your body will also make you more satisfied with what you see in the mirror. Sessions as small as 15 minutes a day, three times a week can prove effective, but for optimal relief try to go for at least 30 minutes on some days. Just be sure to give yourself at least one day of rest afterwards or you’ll get sore.
Students around UC Irvine have also devised their own methods of calming themselves when the rat race starts becoming too fast. “I usually turn on my iPod and dance around my room,” says John Brennan, a second-year business economics major. “I dance to music I enjoy, like cheery music. Happy stuff.” Rachel Goosens, a second-year civil-engineering major, states, “When I’m stressed, I usually call my dad or sister to talk. Sometimes I take a break and watch a funny movie or listen to music. Calming music, nothing too upbeat.” So whatever the source of your anxiety- be it classes, major requirements, your future, job, family, friends, or love troubles- take a time-out from everything to focus on you and do something you enjoy. Just don’t overdo it or you’ll have to go find an article on motivating yourself to work next.