December; temperatures are dropping, holiday music is playing, and for those of us in school, semesters are ending. This time of year is very exciting, but it can also come with an abundance of stress. We may stress over the perfect gifts to get for your loved ones, or maybe how to deal with awkward family dinners. However, the main source for many, including myself, comes from the final exams that roll around every December and May.
As a freshman in college with finals beginning this week, I can certainly feel the stress of my first round of college final exams. In high school, finals were important to keep that perfect 4.0 GPA and to get into the college of your dreams. Well, that’s over; you got into college, but you’re also paying $6,000 for a class. You fail, and that money is down the drain. Not to mention, you have to find another way to fill the void that failed class left in your academic record and somehow manage to bring that GPA right back up to where it should be.
Clearly, lots of pressure comes from finals, at least for me. As a student who is planning to transfer, my track record must remain pristine. Through all these little reminders of why finals are the end of the world, I am feeling the stress bug come on. However, it’s important to be able to manage the onslaught of toxic thoughts that flood our mind and dominate our lives when we feel stressed.
In fact, managing stress may allow you to focus and perform better on the task that is providing so much anxiety. Sounds great, to be able to turn these thoughts off like a light switch, but I think we all know that is easier said than done. Managing stress definitely takes a conscious effort, but it is so worth it in the long run.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of how to control overwhelming anxiety, I would just like to mention that not all stress is equal. In fact, a low level of temporary stress can be an excellent motivator. Without it, not much would happen; no studying, no saving for a rainy day, no showing up to work on time every day. Stress is a healthy motivator, to a certain extent; however, when it is prolonged or it is at too extreme of a level, it can become debilitating.
So, how do we actually control stress, turning the thoughts on and off when we need them? There are many strategies out there, and they work differently for different people. Find a few that work for you, and then you can whip them out whenever need be. There are also more techniques available than those that I will mention, so if the ones I suggest don’t do the trick, feel free to look around for others (hint: Pinterest has some wonderful ideas).
The first technique that I will mention is probably contradictory to what we all want to do when we are stressed, and that is to follow a healthy diet. Personally, when I get stressed I would love nothing more than to eat a jar of cookie butter, or a fresh bag of sour cream and onion potato chips. However, while it may bring us temporary comfort, eating junk food won’t help the situation; in fact, eating poorly may lead to more problems. Most junk food creates a sharp spike in blood sugar, which is the high that we feel after eating a whole container of ice cream by ourselves.
However, when there is a sharp rise, there is also a sharp fall. In the long run, these sharp falls in blood sugar will leave us feeling even worse. Yuck, right? Not exactly what you need when you’re swamped with tasks. So, when you get stressed, try to be even more adamant about following a diet that makes you feel healthy. For me, this entails eating small meals every 3-4 hours that are comprised of some type of produce, whole grains, and some form of protein. That’s what works for me, but different diets work for different people. Find what foods make you feel the healthiest, and stick strongly to those when you feel the stress bug creeping up.
Eating healthy foods is a way to feel your best all the time, especially when you’re feeling stressed. Another technique that works all the time, just like a healthy diet, is breathing. It seems silly to focus on breathing, as it’s something we can do subconsciously. However, when we get stressed, our breaths become faster, shallower, and we fail to fully fill our lungs with oxygen. But if you can really focus on taking really good, deep breaths, stress levels can plummet.
There are many different breathing techniques and exercises, but one of my personal favorites is the four-seven-eight exercise. All you do is breathe in for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. Super simple, right? The idea is that this is something you can do anywhere you start to feel overwhelmed, it’s something anyone can do, and you can continue the exercise until you feel calmer.
Breathing is essential to our survival, and it is crucial for us to learn how to do it right, especially when we are threatened by high levels of anxiety. If the suggested exercise fails to do the trick, try other exercises or simply focused, deep breaths until you feel calmer.
Keeping calm during times of high stress can be tough, but if you implement techniques that are crazy simple and almost innate behaviors, you can conquer stress without the dreaded anxiety that results from wondering if you are doing your stress management technique correctly. You don’t need to be an experienced yogi or have a vast knowledge of meditation techniques to be able to control stress. Eating right and focusing on your breath can work wonders to lower stress levels, but there is one more that always does the trick for me; exercise.
Getting some form of physical activities will release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes people feel happier and more awake. When you feel tired and stressed, getting up and going for a run may be the last thing you want to do, but some form of exercise will definitely help. Even dancing around your room like a maniac for a few songs can be an excellent stress reliever. The main point is to get moving; for some amount of time, with any type of activity.
Stress is a huge topic that we encounter every day, and it often feels as if we can do nothing to control it. After all, we have no control over what happens to us. However, you can choose whether you react with tension or tranquility. Try some of the techniques above, or find your own, it’s up to you; by learning to control stress in whatever way that works for you, you can gain control of your life.