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Jessica Russo

De-Stress BEFORE it Gets Overwhelming

Posted by Jessica Russo on April 24, 2014

Papers. Mid-Terms. Presentations. Finals. At the beginning of the semester, classes may seem like a cruise, and work doesn’t feel so intense. Sometimes, it’s easy to let work and other responsibilities take over time that could go to studying.

But then you find out that assignments are due at the same time. And you’ve got two tests tomorrow. Suddenly, the pressure to do it all at once takes over and eats at your ability to concentrate. You may pull all nighters if you can stay awake. You may order out a lot, bark at your loved ones, or feel quite miserable. In your head, you wonder how this happened.

Part of this could be attributed to time management skills. It’s important to read the syllabus at the beginning of the semester and plan out when you will do each activity. Time management is an effective tool for preventing some stress. However, plans don’t always work, and sometimes, we still end up with a stressful workload. Add little stressors throughout the day, like how cold it is outside, ruined clothes, and annoying people, and you’re headed for a nervous breakdown.

Don’t wait until life gets so overwhelming that you just want to bawl. Incorporate the following tips into your life now to keep your mood elevated throughout the semester and push yourself through all adversity.

Exercise. One hour and fifteen minutes of vigorous intensity workouts or two hours and thirty minutes of moderate intensity workouts per week would be ideal,[1] but every session counts towards lowering your stress level. You don’t even have to go to the gym. A bicycle ride, brisk walk, or jog will also work. Getting active releases your stress and clears your mind.

Sunshine: It’s not just for plant growth; we need it too! Vitamin D is very important for your mental function. Many people in colder climates don’t get much sunlight. And this could lead to a deficiency in vitamin D, especially for people with darker skin tones. If you aren’t taking a vitamin D supplement, check with your doctor to see if your levels are normal. If not, your doctor will recommend a supplement of 2000 IU a day. To increase your vitamin D intake even more, add fish to your diet, as well as products that are fortified with vitamin D, like milk and cereal.

Meditate. It sounds so silly to people like me who always want to be doing something, but research shows that mindfulness meditation increases our ability to cope with stressful life events.[2]  If it’s your first time, try a guided meditation like one on calm.com. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands to your lap. Close your eyes. Observe your breathing. Focus on a mantra, like “calm.” When thoughts interrupt you, let them pass. After trying this, try lying or walking meditations, or even gardening. Stick with whatever relaxes you more.

Sleep around seven hours a night (or whatever is a full-night’s sleep for you). If this is hard to do, set a specific time when you must go to bed. Try a nighttime routine to calm you down before sleeping. Shut down your computer an hour beforehand, so that your brain has time to wind down from the straining brightness of electronic screens. Lavender and chamomile are herbs that help by relaxing the body. Some people wind down by drinking Chamomile tea. I sometimes use a lavender and chamomile lotion from Bed Bath & Beyond to relax at night.

Eat healthy foods. Notice I didn’t say don’t eat unhealthy foods. It’s okay to treat yourself to a little chocolate or bag of chips. However, make sure that you incorporate fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins FIRST. By eating nutritionally, our bodies will be well equipped to handle more stress than otherwise.

Journal. When something grinds your gears, even if it’s small, take ten minutes to write about the situation. By transferring your thoughts to a piece of paper, you are better able to look at it objectively and find a solution to eliminate or tolerate it. Some find that journaling before bed also helps them sleep.

Learn contentment. This factor is second to none (except maybe vitamin D if you are deficient). Write down three things that you are thankful for every morning. Learn to see yourself as a good person by recounting what you do for others like your family and friends, or start doing something good like volunteering or showing gratitude to your loved ones. Do your best and don’t beat yourself over what you could have done. Studies find that these will boost happiness, which helps you get more things done; that means that assignments won’t build up to the last minute and cause much stress.

In college, it’s easy to accrue so much mental stress that your body breaks down. By forming good habits such as these, your body will build up less stress, even in the middle of the semester. You will also be better prepared to deal with the stress that does show up in your life by thinking clearly on what matters and letting go of the rest. It all starts with taking care of your physiological needs. Then, everything else will work itself out.


[1] http://www.neahin.org/assets/pdfs/kill-stress-before-it-kills-you.pdf
[2] http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/289116

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