My grades were dependent on the outcome of these exams, but around the same time, I learned that my parents were getting divorced and that my ex was dating my best friend. Talk about a disaster. As a result, my stress levels soared to the point that at 3 a.m. I sat huddled in the fetal position in the shower trying my best not to cry (I totally cried). In the end, I did survive midterms (barely) but made it my objective to not allow stress to overwhelm me like that again.
Mostly because dorm showers are disgusting, but also to figure out a better way to cope in any instances of stress. These are seven strategies I have used over the years to handle stress that I think you’ll find extremely useful.
1. Break a sweat to ease your mind
You probably have heard a million times that exercise is a great way to cope with stress, and there is research to back this up. Researchers have found that engaging in physical activity increases the production of endorphins in your brain.
Endorphins are the neurotransmitters that act as your body’s mood boosters, and give you that coveted runner’s high. The release of these endorphins can give you a state of relaxation post exercise which can help eliminate any existing stress. As a bonus,a paper from Harvard Health Publishing mentions that aerobic exercise helps reduce the levels of your body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
When I began running as a way to combat my issues with stress, I felt as if my stress melted from my mind as soon as I began breaking a sweat. There’s a reason for this. The repetitive motions while exercising causes your mind to drift away from whatever is worrying you to focus on your body. Whenever I get stressed, I either take a 20 minute walk, go on a run, or lift some weights. You’ll feel a difference before and after a workout, trust me.
2. Skip the kegger, just this time.
Alright, I know this is something no one wants to hear, but sometimes the best thing to do when coping with stress is to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and even nicotine. When I first started coping with stress, I’d take a few shots with friends or smoke a cigarette or two. I’d do this all as an attempt to ease my stress, but normally I’d end up more upset and more on edge.
This is based on the fact that alcohol is a depressant when taken in larger qualities, so put away that six pack if you don’t want to end up like that one sad dude at the party. Taking in small quantities, alcohol acts as a stimulant, just as caffeine and nicotine. When you mix a stimulant with stress, you’ve just doubled your stress levels. Therefore, my best recommendation is to focus on drinking water, herbal teas, or natural fruit juices. In addition, watch what you eat.
Shoving a bag of flamin’ hot cheetos into your mouth may seem like a fun breakfast, but your stomach may not love it later. Eating a healthier diet will make you feel better overall, which can improve your mental health and stress levels.
3. Get in touch with your inner zen
This is a coping skill I didn’t learn until my senior year in college while dating a yoga instructor. When I would get stressed, she’d remind me to practice deep breathing. Whatever, right? After my initial chuckles, I began to realize the advantage to deep breathing.
The benefits of zen techniques are endless. All you need to do is sit somewhere comfortable with your hands in your lap, close your eyes, and just visualize yourself in some sort of paradise. Take slow breaths in and out, and do this for five to ten minutes. Meditation like this triggers your body’s relaxation response, and helps create a sense of calm.
If you’re anything like me, sitting still for even 30 seconds is difficult, and that’s okay. I went to guided meditation apps like Breathe to help me get in the habit of meditation while learning to calm down. The app is great since it is free, and has meditation drills as short as two minutes for all those impatient guys trying to get into the practice.
4. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your buddies
I think one of the biggest mistakes when you’re stressed is attempting to tackle it solo. I mean, what are friends for if they aren’t with you in the good and bad times? It is vital to have that rock you can go to in times such as these.
Simply being able to open up to a friend, and talk about it can help put things into perspective and ease your mind. If that doesn’t convince you, a study published in the journal Developmental Psychology examines the significance of having a best friend during negative experiences.
What they ended up finding is that having your best friend around during moments of stress can actually decrease levels of cortisol. So when you find yourself stressing out, reach out to your best buds.
5. Go on a hike!
The benefits of being in any sort of green space have a positive effect on your overall well-being. I usually make it a personal goal to immerse myself in some sort of green space a few times a week like in the villages fl, whether that is through a hike with my Boxer, Chewy, or throwing frisbee in the park.
A ton of research has been published that examines the short and long term benefits of being outdoors with reduced stress levels. For example, researchers at the University of Essex in England strongly support the idea of “green exercise.” This term they have dubbed refers to activity done while in green areas. According to studies done as early as 2010, even five minutes of green exercise shows a significant boost in self-esteem and mood. Along with the fresh air you’re bound to naturally feel calmer after being in nature.
6. Always aim to get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is essential in helping our bodies cope with stress. Unfortunately when we’re stressed, our sleep cycle is suddenly interrupted. Thoughts whirl through our heads like tornadoes, and instead of waking up feeling rested, we wake up looking like something from The Walking Dead. Instead of letting stress interrupt your sleep cycle, find ways to make yourself more comfortable before bed. Try to make your room a more relaxing environment.
Stop doing any demanding work a few hours before bed so your mind can rest. Practice doing undemanding things before bed that can help you feel more relaxed before turning off the lights. Get in the habit of going to bed around the same time each night to get your body in the habit of a routine, and aim to get at least seven hours of sleep.
Waking up feeling rested will not only help you feel less stressed, but also more alert throughout the day. Maybe even use this as encouragement to actively exercise since research shows that people who exercise on a regular basis sleep deeper and longer.
7. Learn how to manage your time
Here is a skill that I sometimes have trouble with. Time management can be tricky, and seeing a long list of to-do’s can add a level of worry. Don’t let it. Remind yourself that you’re human and you can’t do everything at once. The best thing to do is prioritise things you need to-do. I typically do this by jotting out a list of everything I need to accomplish during the week. I then go through the list and take note of what is urgent, what can be done later in the week, and what can be completed whenever. To me, breaking down a list like this makes my tasks seem more manageable.
I dedicate a certain amount a day to different tasks, and feel myself more organized, which usually translates to me also feeling less stressed. In addition, I think it is important to mentally carve out time in your week for unexpected tasks, and more importantly, time for yourself to relax.
After my freshman year when everything felt like it was crashing down, I realized that there were better ways to approach the unexpected and expected stressors of life. Hopefully by reading about some of my personal experiences and tips, you now feel more confident about how you will approach future stressful situations. Remember, these are not things that you will master overnight. I still have moments where I don’t take my own advice. The most important way to look at all of this is as a process. I promise you’ll notice a difference.