Stressed Isn’t Best

BY ALEXA CHERRY
For the UAS Whalesong
Hey there,
I was recently re-watching some of the British comedy show The IT Crowd, a show about two IT department workers and their supervisor in a large office building. In one of the first episodes, the company boss gives a speech to announce that he’s declaring war on stress. Since it’s a BBC comedy show, you can imagine how rapidly things went downhill from there; regardless, it got me thinking about stress and how prevalent it is in our lives as college students. Sometimes it’s easier to ignore than other times, but it’s always there. So, when it does rear its ugly head and require Immediate Attention, how can you care for and alleviate your stress?
My first piece of advice is not to do what instinct might tell you to do, which is to act like an ostrich – if you can’t see the thing that’s causing you stress, it can’t stress you out   anymore. Kicking your physics book under your bed, avoiding your laptop so you don’t have to see the open Word file you started your paper in, taking a nap in order to avoid remaining conscious and aware of your responsibilities – these are all things that we do, and things that are not going to help with anything except exacerbating your stress levels. The longer you put off your assignments for, the more work you end up having to do in a smaller amount of time, and the more strung out you’ll become. It’s hard to try and relax with that hanging over your head like a sword on a string. But don’t worry – I have some ideas for how you can work and try to alleviate your stress levels at the same time.
You can start with some yoga breathing! For years, I sneered at the age-old advice for calming down of “just take deep breaths.” What does deep breathing do, I scoffed? It turns out, quite a lot. When you’re upset, you unconsciously start taking shallower breaths, meaning less oxygen is getting to your lungs and brain. Being aware of your breathing helps you regulate this and nullify its effects, which will ideally lead to you being calmer and less panicked as you work.
Another thing that can help lower your stress level is aromatherapy. This sounds fancy, but it doesn’t have to be; just get something lavender-scented, like an air freshener or one of those heated neck pillows that comes pre-scented, and do some of the deep breathing I mentioned previously. I don’t know about the science behind it, but I’ve been told that lavender is the go-to scent for relaxation and stress relief – and hey, don’t they say that half the functionality of medicine is in how much the patient believes in it? (Maybe they don’t say that. Don’t quote me.) This sort of goes hand-in-hand with my third multitasking suggestion, which is to drink tea. Chamomile tea is great for relaxing, and if you want to be even more straightforward about it, they sell plenty of teas in the store that are straight-up advertised as “relaxation tea” or something to that effect. Or, if you already have a bunch of tea and don’t want to shell out the extra money for new kinds, I imagine any type of non-caffeinated tea would work. As a general rule, tea smells good, which falls in line with my aromatherapy tip; tea is also hot, and I find that being warm calms me personally. And it doesn’t hurt to drink something that tastes good when you’re stressed, either.
Another interesting idea that I found online is to talk yourself through it. I would definitely recommend talking to friends, family, or a counselor if you’re really struggling with stress, but sometimes (like say, when you’re alone at 3 AM in your room and have several projects all clamoring for your attention) you are your own best motivator. If you’re uncomfortable with talking to yourself because it might make you seem a little crazy, just remember that you don’t have to do it loudly, or necessarily out loud at all. You can even keep up a running internal dialogue, if you want – just as long as you’re encouraging yourself, and you find that doing it is actually helpful.
Finally, there are plenty of things you can do before you start or after you complete a project (besides taking a nap) that are a little more involved, but still relaxing. Try pairing the yoga breathing with some actual yoga – and bear in mind that this doesn’t have to be body-twisting, sweat-inducing yoga. You can lie on your back and stretch your legs up a wall, and that’s a totally valid yoga move. Listen to your favorite music. If you have a TV show or a movie you’ve been wanting to see, or a particular film you like to watch when your life gets rough, now’s the time to watch it – it will be all the more enjoyable once you can associate it with a job well done, rather than procrastinating on something that just looms higher and higher overhead every time you click “next episode.” And last, but not least – try to ease back on the caffeine. As a wise sage once sad, “To be stressed out and hyped up is no way to live” (The sage was me. I am the sage. I mean, I’m a senior, so I’m basically a sage. Look – just trust me on this, okay? Drink some water instead).

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