Everyone understands the stress of finals week, but what about factors that affect you daily? As classes begin and we start a new chapter in our lives, many new people and circumstances enter our lives, and it can cause an overwhelming surge of emotions...particularly anxiety. Some strategies are fitting for a day, or even a week, but in this article I will share strategies of my own or some that I have learned from others that help you deal with both long term and short term stress.
Now, I have to be honest. Anxiety is not one singular experience multiple people share. It affects people differently, and the way some people deal with it may not work as well for others and so on. I will simply be sharing my experience, and if any of these strategies are something new, maybe you can find something that works for you.
Just take a breather
It seems so simple, but when stress builds up it can feel nearly impossible to do. There are a couple different strategies available that help breathing become a tool to relax.
One example is called "square breathing". With this technique you breath in while counting to four, hold your breath while counting to four, and release the breath to the count of four. It also works with counts of six, and eight, and can be done however many times it is needed.
Controlling your breathing makes you focus on the specific action, rather than wait is causing your stress, and the counting combined with an increased amount of oxygen can lower the heart rate and ease tension. This could also include a specific movement that may be subtle or exaggerated. You can add a bigger movement of your chest. You may include moving your arms in a way that 'guides' the breath, such as moving your arms up or out and away from you while exhaling, and bringing your arms down or closer to you while inhaling.
Yes, I was skeptical about this one too. However, after trying it a couple times, I found it was very helpful in not only regulating my anxiety, but it also helped me strengthen my focus and even boosted my confidence. The most important part of meditation is mindfulness. It is about sitting quietly and reinforcing a certain habit or thought pattern. It also allows you to focus on your body: everything that you think, feel physically, or experience emotionally becomes something you can focus on and release.
There are many resources that can help you too. There are YouTube videos, websites, and many apps that offer guided meditations. I, personally, use an app called 'Peace' that allows you to change the background music and offer guided meditations for different scenarios. It also has a visual of watering an inner flower with each mediation session.
Release through art
This one is great because it is a fun hobby that you do not have to be good at. A lot of people put pressure on themselves while doing this, but if you can you need to let go of that standard and just have fun. This is also a very broad topic so I'm going to give a few examples.
One thing that many people find helpful is keeping a journal. This is appealing because it is usually private, and can take whatever form you want it to. You can write about your day, write a fictional story, or write poems. You can write letters to someone, and even if you don't send them, you will have put thoughts down on paper.
You may also draw, paint, or create some sort of collage. As long as it is visual and physical, it would fit within this category. Putting a visual to your feelings can be really helpful for a lot of people. You can draw characters, or objects, or just put a bunch of color on paper. You can explain their meaning to someone, or you can keep it to yourself. This has helped me on a few occasions, as I was better able to express my feelings through a picture than trying to assign words to it that I couldn't think of in the moment.
Express yourself through music
Another form of art? Really? Yes. If you can't tell, I am a fan. Listening to music may help anxiety, yes. But playing it can also be a great way to relax. Playing drums, guitar, or any instrument you can think of requires focus, and movement. It's a way to move, but also get your mind active. Playing music engages several parts of your brain and body, and once again directs your focus from your stress to the activity.
Pray and/or read your Bible
You know, if you're into that sort of thing. It isn't easy; to release that stress and if you are a believer, hand it to God. However, doing something spiritual, finding wisdom, or simply feeling as if you are talking to someone can go a long way. You don't have to do it a specific way. As long as you are acknowledging the beliefs, and focusing on your spiritual well being, you will find that stress may be a bit easier to handle.
It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it had to be included nonetheless. Often, when feeling particularly anxious, I find I have an excess of energy. I want to pace, or I'm shaking, and I just need to move. So I would go for walks, or go to the gym on campus. I've tried kickboxing, and yoga, and the machines, and I find all are fairly useful, depending on the level of anxiety I have or how much energy I need to get rid of. Again, you do not need to be particularly skilled at this in order to do it, or in order for it to help. I'm not athletic; I'm not very fast, or strong, or coordinated, but just getting moving and sweating helped me calm down and think clearer.
Look into counseling or just talk to someone
When you are feeling anxious, some people may find a need to vent. There is no shame in getting help, especially professional help. It is also okay to find friends, family, someone you trust and let them know if you are having a hard time. It can be scary, but if you find that helps then please pursue it. Those who care about us will be happy to help if it means we do not suffer. It is important to release these feelings, because the longer you hold onto them, and the longer they build, the harder it gets to deal with the next issue.
Again, THERE IS NO SHAME IN SEEKING HELP. There are many resources that offer help when you are feeling your anxiety is too much. The suicide prevention lifeline website offers chat rooms that allow you to speak to a professional who can help in the moment. You may also call 1-800-273-8255. If you are on campus you can seek counseling in the Student Union for one session, or many. You may also "Call SAM". This is an acronym that spells out Student Assistance by Mercy, which offers a 24/7 lifeline on which you may speak to a professional, who will help during times of depression, anxiety, and stress. The number is 1-855-225-2726. If you are needing assistance, particularly if it is urgent, call. Reach out. Get help.
You are not alone, and anxiety affects a lot of people. If none of the above resources or strategies help you, please don't stop your search. The internet offers the world at our finger tips and these are only the strategies I have used and can vouch for. Feel free to continue looking for solutions. Your answer, and what will work best for you is out there, just stay determined. I wish you all the best of luck, and I hope you find your peace.