For most college students, the words “stress” and “finals” are synonymous. This physiological response to exam week can result in issues like anxiety, fatigue and sleeplessness. Extreme cases can even cause gastrointestinal distress and muscle tension. Luckily, these unpleasant issues can be avoided through the practice of proper stress reduction techniques. To keep you sane amid all of the finals craziness, Pipe Dream enlisted the help of health and wellness professor Sarah Thompson to teach us different stress reduction techniques.
“It doesn’t have to be something that’s really complicated.”
You’ll want to start in a comfortable, upright position with your spine elongated to provide for optimal air-flow through the lungs. This will help to oxygenate your body’s tissues and relieve muscle tension. Close your mouth and, slowly and steadily, breathe in and out of your nose. Clear your mind and focus on feeling your body. If you’re having trouble concentrating, fixing your gaze on an object or repeating a mantra — a word, statement or sound — can help. Thompson feels that when most people start meditating, they overwhelm themselves by trying to do too much too soon. To prevent this, she suggests starting by meditating for only 2-5 minutes and building up to longer periods of time.
Progressive muscle relaxation
“A very helpful tool for people who are having a hard time sleeping.”
Cited by Thompson as a more active method of relaxation, this is a series of 10-15 second muscle contractions in particular areas of the body. After contracting each muscle, relax for 30 seconds before moving on to the next area. Thompson suggests starting with your feet, and then moving progressively up the body, eventually ending with your face. She says this creates a “systemic paralyzation effect,” as the body becomes more relaxed with each phase. If stress is keeping you awake at night, this can be done in bed to help induce sleep.
“They don’t have to be elaborate.”
Thompson says that any sort of creative outlet can provide a temporary distraction that will be helpful in the long run. She suggests coloring, painting a picture, organizing a scrapbook, sewing or cooking to take your mind off of studying. The key to this method is to keep it simple. Don’t add stress by turning your craft into a big production. Keep it to about 20-30 minutes.
“I am under the complete conviction that healthy adults should not be napping during the course of the day.”
Thompson warns that napping throws off the biological rhythms of the body and makes restful sleep difficult at night — the time when humans are programmed to sleep. She suggests opting for a cat rest instead, which consists of laying in your bed for 20 to 30 minutes without falling asleep, coming back to awareness to a soothing alarm and forcing yourself to get up. When you get up, you should expect to feel like you’re in between being asleep and being awake. Allow yourself to come out of the fog and you’ll feel much more focused, rested and ready to be productive. If you can’t do this without falling asleep, opt to meditate in a place where you’re less likely to fall asleep, like a busy area in Glenn G. Bartle Library.
Eat healthy carbohydrates
“You want to have things that are mentally and physically stress reducing.”
Thompson suggests choosing wholesome foods that you also enjoy. A lot of people turn to sugary, refined carbs when they’re stressed because carbs elicit the production of serotonin by the brain, which allows people to feel more calm and relaxed. Try eating unrefined carbs like whole fruit, or whole-grain breads or pasta. The difference is that while both refined and unrefined carbs will produce serotonin, refined carbs also make you feel sluggish, while unrefined carbs will keep you fueled and focused.
Thompson notes that not all relaxation techniques work for everyone and that what works for you can also change over time. She suggests exploring different methods when you’re not stressed so you are prepared for when you need to use them. Be mindful of your time and use these methods responsibly as short, 20 to 30 minute distractions.