By Autumn Raven
College Student, Citizen Scientist, cosplayer, Meritize Intern
I’ve been in college four years now with at least two more years to go, and I have been on every part of the stress spectrum. Although stress and anxiety are inevitable, there are some tricks to avoid them, or at least reduce the toll that these very real enemies can take.
We all know that college is a time of making lifelong friends and memories while working toward your dream job. But we also know that college is a haven for anxiety and stress, causing even the most extroverted person to hide in their room and hiss at the sun. Since I’m smack in the middle of these stress-filled years, let me offer some tips that have helped me navigate the treacherous waters of churning emotions.
Join a Club
Social life is key in college. Not only is meeting people good for making friends and networking, but getting out and socializing is a proven stress reliever. Friends can share in the misery of your classes and workload and allow for some cathartic complaining. But the kicker is when you have a deadline sneak up or a paper take way too long to complete (mostly because of your distraction with the latest binge-watching on Netflix), and the first thing to go are plans with your friends. After a tough week of deadlines, you could emerge realizing you haven’t left your room or classrooms the entire week. This isolation is destructive and can promote mood swings and sleep issues. There is an good solution to ensure you get a proper dose of social interaction – join a club or organization on campus. By doing so, not only are you spending time away from your room and with other people who share the same ideas and hobbies as you, you’ll also have a more structured social schedule and commitment, making it harder to cancel or blow off. It’s a forced social engagement that will expand your mind or at minimum give you the opportunity to reduce your stress by focusing on something other than schoolwork.
We all know cooking every night and affording the healthiest foods aren’t exactly compatible with a college schedule and budget. If you have a meal plan through school or Greek life, then you have more options to eat healthier and on a more regular schedule. But if you’re on your own, like me, anything better then a package of ramen noodles is a rare occurrence. Don’t get me wrong,I’m not here to promote salads every night or to suggest you should cut out junk food – that would be wrong and weird. But the old adage is true that you are what you eat so don’t forget to occasionally treat your body to veggies, fruits and lean protein. We all know these are way better that chili fries, so do yourself a favor and look for opportunities to get some real nutrition.Force yourself to get out and go to the grocery store, which will save you money and allow you to eat better. Try adding eggs, veggies or protein to your ramen so that you get more so that you can do more. Make things like taco meat, sloppy Joes or chicken salad in larger quantities to give you ready meals for the week. Cook on the weekends when you have more time and can plan ahead so that you have healthy options at the ready. If there is a communal kitchen, gather some friends and cook while studying or just hanging out – a good way to remove study stress and share the cooking (and cleaning) efforts. Even small efforts to eat better and add more variety to your diet will help improve your mood, stamina and energy level, and that will keep stress and anxiety in check.
Working out has been the biggest stress relief I have found so far, aside from throwing textbooks at walls. The endorphins from even the most basic workout or other exercise help relax and clear the body of toxins and tense muscles. But don’t be one of those people who bring their study materials with them to the treadmill because that’s just going to make matters worse. Workouts are for more than just the body. It’s a time for the mind to think about something else or even nothing at all as you listen to the steady rhythm of the treadmill or count reps in your head. The mental break can be even more important than the physical benefits – I know it is for me at least. By planning a workout or a run in the middle of a long study period, it allows your brain to pause and catch up to everything you’ve learned. It’s relaxing,and you will be more awake in mind and body when you sit back down to study some more. Also, eating or showering right after your workout can give you added benefits. Many going into college haven’t been in the habit of working out, but there are a variety of ways to learn the basics and add some sort of exercise to your weekly routine. As helpful as YouTube is for other subjects to learn, I suggest workout apps on your phone. These apps can show you the moves of a workout with or without equipment, and most of them also provide preplanned workouts that can help you ease into a routine. If apps and a set routine aren’t for you, you can always walk or jog around campus so that you get the workout you need without having to plan anything out first. Exercising may seem like a chore or something you don’t have time for, but if you commit to even a few hours a week of physical activity, it will improve your mood. And of course, you’ll look better too.
In part two of this blog, we’ll look at other tips and tactics to help keep stress and anxiety at bay.