Being a student is not as ‘easy’ as some parents make it seem. Juggling getting to class on time, studying for exams, completing homework assignments, going to work, and managing expectations from loved ones, all while trying keep a social circle intact can wear you down over time. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress related to school can lead to conditions such as muscle tension, headaches, depression, and anxiety. Simply telling a student to ‘get over it’ or ‘figure it out’ does not do justice to the stress (real or perceived) they are coping with.
When you add in additional challenges such as living transitions (e.g. moving away for college, renting an apartment for the first time, etc.), a bad break up, living through a pandemic, or a death in the family, the emotional toll can become unbearable. If you are a high school or college student looking for answers on how to better manage your high levels of stress, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together the 5 best stress management techniques for students trying to keep themselves together.
Take Calm, Deep Breaths
Some people think you need to get into a lotus pose, be in a quiet space, and think about nothing in order to relax the body through meditation, but that simply isn’t true. Sure, finding a quiet place to do breathing exercises is a great idea, but sometimes there isn’t time to find the proper location and your anxiety is in full swing.
STOP. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. RELAX.
Recommendations on how to modulate breathing and positively influence mental health goes back centuries. For example, the 7,000-year-old practice of Pranayama (“breath retention”) yoga centers its doctrine around respiratory control. According to its teachings, people who practice controlled breathing can increase their overall longevity and dramatically decrease their levels of stress.
Thankfully, you don’t need to practice yoga in order to accomplish breathing exercises. Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed (e.g. before a test, overwhelmed with responsibilities, etc.), try this out:
- First, exhale the air in your lungs completely from your mouth
- Next, close your lips and inhale steadily through your nose while counting to five seconds
- Then, hold your breath for seven seconds
- Finally, exhale with a whooshing sound for seven seconds.
Consider doing the process repeatedly until you feel your heartrate slow down. First timers may struggle to get a rhythm, but continuous practice over time will lead to better results. When doing breathing exercises, an effective trick to get your mind distracted is to focus on the rhythms of the body as you inhale and exhale. If the idea of doing this seems silly to you, consider all the amazing benefits associated with breathing exercises listed below.
- Combats insomnia
- Helps reduce inflammation
- Improves blood circulation
- Assists the body to manage chronic pain
- Reduces depression and anxiety
- Natural painkiller
Rethink Your Diet
You are what you eat, quite literally. If you’ve ever had second thoughts about how unhealthy food affects you, you are on to something. Food directly impacts your attention span, energy levels, and stamina negatively. Below are some of the most counterproductive foods to eat if you are going to have a busy day.
White Bread, Rice, Pasta – processed grains lack bran (fiber-containing outer layer of the grain) and germ (nutrient rich part of the grain), which are removed during the creation of these foods even though they are key parts of the grain that give your body energy.
Foods with Added Sugar – The combination of high sugar and low fiber found in breakfast cereals, yogurts, and other foods with added sugar create a sugar dependency, which can inevitably lead to a crash.
Coffee – When drunk in moderation, coffee can actually have positive physical and mental effects. The problem is, most people don’t just drink in moderation and they load their coffees with cream and sugar.
Energy Drinks – Sure, energy drinks (and sodas) work in the short term, but the more you drink them the more you body adapts and needs more to gain the same effect. Be wary of the dangerously high levels of sugar, it’s a trap.
Fried and Fast Foods – Low in minerals, vitamins, and other essential nutrients, a steady diet of fast food will lower your energy levels consistently.
Chances are some of your favorite foods were mentioned and it may be hard to cut these things cold turkey (which is understandable). If this is you, consider adding healthy food slowly into your diet. Over time, gradually add healthier alternatives until your body adapts to the new diet. Some healthy choices include:
- Brown Rice
- Sweet Potatoes
- And so much more
If you hate fruits and vegetables, you may want to consider juicing as an option. It’s a costly investment to get a good juicing machine, but the benefits are boundless. The increased concentration of nutrients per ounce and overall absorption of nutrients make juicing an ideal way to pack your daily veggies into one or multiple drinks. Juicing options include: carrots, beets, apples, wheatgrass, celery, cabbage, and spinach.
Prioritize and Organize
A cluttered space will rarely lead to an organized mind. According to an article published by Erin Doland, which referenced a research study done by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, “Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.” In plain English, when an environment is filled with clutter, it restricts your ability to stay focused.
One of the most important things students can do is not only organize, but prioritize their responsibilities. Having a to-do list is helpful, but too often they are used the wrong way. When creating a to-do list, be sure to separate the tasks to three different categories: immediate (what needs to be done today), short term (what needs to be done this week), and long term (what needs to be done this month and beyond).
Another good strategy is tidy up your workplace before you start working, so less things will distract your attention. If possible, keep your electronics completely out of sight. Phones in particular are one of the most susceptible objects to become distracted with, so make sure it is on silent and completely out of your vision if possible.
Listen To Music
Music can have beneficial cognitive benefits for a variety of situations and circumstances. For example, a meta-analysis of 400 studies conducted by psychologists Daniel J. Levitin and Mona Lisa Chanda from McGill University in Montreal found that listening to music consistently reduces levels of stress and improves the body’s immune system function. In addition, listening to music has also been found to be more effective in reducing anxiety in hospital patients before a major surgery than prescription drugs (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013).
When studying, try listening to music that matches the intensity you need or the type of mood you want to be in to help you focus. Listening to classical music, Tibetan bowls or nature sounds are a popular choice for students because they are calm and not filled with lyrics that can be distracting. If these melodies are too slow for you, try something more upbeat that will help you “wake up” and stay focused like electronic dance music (EDM).
Get Sufficient Rest
Although sleep is often taken for granted by students, it has a massively positive impact on memory, learning ability, attention and focus. On the flip side, lack of sleep is directly related to several issues, such as:
- Increased levels of stress
- Proneness to irritability
- Higher levels of anxiety
Creating a schedule that gets you the optimal amount of sleep is critical to lowering stress and increasing overall productivity. If you are struggling to fit in the recommended 7 to 8 hours, squeeze in naps (15 min. – 30 min.) whenever you can throughout the day to give you an extra boost of energy. When sleeping or napping, try to do so in a dark room or space as the absence of light sends direct messages to your body that it is time to rest.
Another helpful tip is to avoid watching television or being on your phone before going to sleep. Why? Because blue light tricks your body into thinking that it is still daytime. The National Sleep Foundation recommends for everyone to stop using electronics 30 minutes before bedtime in order for melatonin (hormone that controls sleep) to not be suppressed before going to bed.
Find the Right Balance
Whether you apply one strategy or all five, it’s important to combat stress any way you can before you start feeling overwhelmed. Consider talking to an adult, friend, or mentor if stress levels reach a critical point and never forget how blessed you are to be alive. Negativity and self doubt will never allow you to be the best version of yourself, therefore, do everything you can to reduce stress and live a happy life.