Written by Aakanksha Gupta, Edited by Aradhita Saraf (Weloquent)
When I was in college, I was always stressed. It felt like all my anxious thoughts were crammed into a bus that I was running to catch up with. Between my classes, friends, and music club, I was often overwhelmed. My mind went into overdrive as I stressed about specific things or imaginary situations. How should I start writing this long essay? Will I be able to submit it in time? What if my friend misunderstands the tone of the text I just sent them? What if no one shows up to our music concert next month? In moments like these, I found it difficult to be calm, focused, and feel physically well.
Tired of juggling these anxieties all by myself, I gradually opened up to my best friends. Soon after, I realised that I wasn’t alone in worrying about so many things at once, we were aboard the same boat! We agreed that we felt trapped in a vicious cycle where we were beginning to stress about stressing. It took the better part of four years, heart-to-heart conversations, and study groups for me to understand that I could not avoid stress, but instead could learn how to manage it.
Stress, after all, is our body’s way of reacting to a challenge or demand. Imagine if we were made to stand unguarded in front of a wild lion. We’d instantly begin sweating. Our hearts would pump blood faster, and we would get goosebumps. Our bodies would gear up for a fight-or-flight response that needs extra energy and endurance - thus resulting in an increased heart rate and the secretion of stress hormones.
Something similar happens to us minutes before exams, doesn't it? This is because our bodies think we are in a do-or-die situation. Pausing and telling ourselves that the situation isn’t all that grave, or that it is okay to fail, will immediately help us de-stress and calm down.
Interestingly, stress in short bursts can be positive phenomena that help you overcome a challenge or meet a deadline. Once I was aware of this fact, I stopped worrying incessantly. To help you de-stress and manage stress optimally, I’ve put together the following four essential strategies:-
It might sound cliché, but eight solid hours of sleep are necessary. Studies show that not sleeping enough impacts your mood, memory, focus, and ability to handle challenging situations.
It is helpful to create and follow a night-time routine because we must allow our minds to unwind with our bodies. Give yourself time to brush, change into comfortable night-clothes, and pack your bag before you head to bed. Replace screens with a book and if you’d rather listen to something, try a guided meditation, relaxing music playlist, or ASMR sounds (ensure that your phone is kept face down and out of reach.)
Make a Move
It is vital for us to engage in a physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day. There’s something for everyone—you can walk in the nearby park, do some yoga or exercises, or dance it out (YouTube has plenty of free resources - see what strikes your fancy!) If you can go outside for some fresh air, please do so! It is proven that spending time in nature helps to reduce stress and exhaustion.
I was told to focus on urgent tasks only and put all other tasks on the back burner and cross the bridges when I come to them. But over time, I have found that starting to build the bridge in advance helped me prepare better and feel more in control and relaxed. Although you can't predict what will come up, you can reduce stress by using the information you do have to plan ahead. Give these steps a try:-
Keep a physical calendar near your study space. Use it to note down all your tests, homework deadlines, and extracurricular or social activities. Those who use phones can set additional reminders on those.
Number each task by priority. Make a list with two columns: “do” and “done,” so that you can keep track of your tasks and appreciate yourself for the progress you’ve already made.
Include time for your hobbies, which can be the perfect refresher. Your passions are important, so make sure to spend some time on them every day.
Jot it down
If it feels like your thoughts are about to burst out of you, write down everything that’s on your mind. If you need some guidance, try answering these prompts:-
What were today’s roses and thorns? ‘Rose’ is something good that happened and ‘thorn’ is a challenge or stressor. You can also add a ‘bud,’ something you’re looking forward to, especially on days with more ‘thorns.’
Which emotion sticks out most? Why? Which emotion comes next? Try prioritising your emotions.
What is one thing you can do that you know will help you resolve the situation?
What is one thing a friend or family member can do for you? Be it listening to you vent, studying together, or watching something fun.
The best thing we can do for ourselves is to pause and think about how to approach stress in healthier ways. I hope that these strategies help you figure out what works for you. Good luck!