ELEVEN Ways to Relieve Stress: Part 1
Assignment deadlines. Project presentations. FYP submission. Then examinations will roll around. And what about extra-curricular and/or social commitments peppered throughout the semester?
The peaking of semestral stress that typically starts from around mid-term and lasts till the end of the exam period is part and parcel of university life, but its normalcy does not mean it need not be dealt with. Every person has different stress tolerance levels, and our coping mechanisms vary according to our individual preferences. In order for us to be able to optimally attend to our commitments, we have to ensure that our health and well-being are preserved. Not to mention, we owe it to ourselves to take good care of the body and mind that have allowed us to get to where we are now, and will continue to bring us forward in life InshaAllah.
Here are eleven (pun! 👀) stress relief methods that aim to ameliorate the health and well-being of the body, mind, and soul. The list contains a mix of both fast-acting strategies for convenience and long-term ones for lasting health. These are not meant solely for school-related stress; whether your stress is work-related or stems from your personal life, the methods here may be useful in aiding you to alleviate it. And this list is not chronological either! Feel free to take your pick on whatever suits you best.
1. Do Some Deep Breathing (Body/Mind)
When under stress, your mind is flooded with anxiety and responds to it the same way it does to a threat. This prompts your body to activate your “fight or flight” response, a reflex physiological reaction to an event perceived as threatening. During this reaction, a flood of stress hormones are released and you experience physical symptoms such as a faster heartbeat, quicker breathing, constricted blood vessels, and tense muscles – all intended to rouse the body for emergency action. But since the trigger for this response is stress and you are in no physical danger, there is no output for these changes, so you are left with these uncomfortable physical symptoms. Deep breathing exercises can help activate your body’s counterreaction: your relaxation response.
When you are stressed and/or anxious, you tend to take short and shallow breaths. The purpose of engaging in deep breathing is to adjust your breathing to become slow and regular again. Slowly inhale, hold your breath for five seconds (count slowly!), and exhale at the same pace at which you inhaled. You will be aware of the speed of your heartbeat, and while it is tempting to exhale prematurely so that you would not be in mild discomfort, resist! The point of deep breathing is to bring back calmness, so try not to stop until you’ve achieved that. Do up to ten counts, which constitutes one set, and once successful, try doing seven sets (the numbers were recommended to me by a school counsellor).
But remember, there is no pressure. Do what you can. Funnily enough, this is not the easiest task to do when anxious or stressed, so it takes some level of concentration to fully immerse yourself in your breathing. And that’s good. Concentrating on your breathing can help you stay focused amidst the stress and prevents your mind from wandering to thoughts that may add to your stress or worry. This way, deep breathing helps not only to regulate your heartbeat but also orientate the mind.
2. Stop Everything and Take a Walk (Body/Mind)
The easiest thing to do to immediately remove yourself from stress is to physically remove yourself from a stressful situation. Literally stop whatever you’re doing, drop everything, and take a walk. If you’re in an enclosed space like a classroom or an office, find a pocket of time where you can slip out – I personally believe that a change of landscape is what makes this method effective, so walking around the space you’re currently in may help to alleviate some stress, but not as much. Walking is a convenient exercise to do, and the stimulation of blood circulation will enable you to feel lighter (since you’re stretching all those tense muscles) and think better (with improved oxygen flow to your brain) once you resume your work. Your mind will also feel rejuvenated when you spend some time away from your workspace, and hence function better.
If you’re tight for time, you don’t have to make this activity a long one!
3. Tune In to Your Body (Body)
Pay attention to what your body tells you! This is highly effective to both immediately alleviate some stress you’re currently dealing with and also manage the amount of stress you allow yourself to be subjected to in the long run. Most of the time, the signals your body sends you such as lethargy and drowsiness go unnoticed because there is a tendency to brush them off as common signs of tiredness, and as long as it’s not a burnout, you’re good to proceed with your current load and at your current pace. Personally, I’m guilty of that. But this is definitely not healthy as our body knows our capabilities and limits better than we do. So, listen to it!
Are your eyes tired from staring at your laptop or phone screen for prolonged periods? Stop and look outside a window, at the trees. Is your body aching from sitting too still for too long? Get up and stretch or walk around. Are you falling asleep all over your work because you’ve been pulling all-nighters? S L E E P. Even for a short while. You will feel much more reinvigorated and be able to continue better. Remember, taking a break is not doing nothing. Resting is also productive. Burnouts exist because rest has been normalised to be viewed as a reward rather than a right. Claim your right to rest because your body deserves better than burnouts. Give your body some love too ♡
4. Get a Massage; or Release a Trigger Point (Body)
If you are under great stress, your muscles will become tense in correspondence to your body’s reaction to combat a non-existent physical threat triggered by your anxiety-ridden mind. Where deep breathing helps to trigger a relaxation response that will regulate your body’s internal environment, manipulating your body’s external environment will also help to relieve you from stress fast. Get someone you’re comfortable with, like a family member or a friend, to give you a back rub to loosen up your tense muscles. If there is pain accumulated anywhere from sustained muscle tension, or what is known as trigger points, this would also be a good time to address that. Releasing a trigger point involves applying pressure, normally with a finger, to the trigger point until the trigger point “releases” and softens. Relaxed muscles will greatly help to make you feel more... well, relaxed.
5. Eat Right (Body)
This is a tip intended to benefit your health in the long run. In order for your body to function optimally for a long time, you will have to take care of what you input into your system. Eating a balanced diet will regularly provide your body with the nutrients essential for its healthy functioning, which in turn enhances its ability to manage itself under stress. You will also fall sick less often, which is ideal regardless of whether you’re rushing to meet deadlines or just intent on living life in the best way possible. Easier said than done, yes, but this is definitely rewarding and you can feel the change in your body pretty quickly.
If you’re daunted by this task, try taking it step-by-step. Changing small habits such as reducing your caffeine intake also puts you on the path to eating right. Caffeine is a stimulant usually consumed to improve mental alertness, and beverages with a high caffeine content such as coffee are a popular go-to when pulling all-nighters (yes, that includes myself). It is true that sensitivity to caffeine can vary greatly from individual to individual, but consistent high consumption of caffeine is unhealthy because your body is forced to function without rest. You need to rest when you need to. For me, I’ve started drinking much less coffee and tea, and grown to enjoy having a hot drink that contains no caffeine, such as warm milk, instead. Herbal tea works too.
6. Reassess Your To-Do List (Body/Mind)
Many stress-relief strategies focus more on changing how you feel about the stressor, but sometimes, you may not necessarily get relief until you change the environment and remove the stressor from your life. Reassessing your to-do list is one way to do so. A realistic to-do list is important especially when deadlines are jammed together as staying on top of your to-do list can help ward off procrastination-related stress. This may sound simple enough to do: prioritise what you need to do first and make time for it. But this may prove challenging, especially to someone who is used to procrastinating and multitasking (yes, ‘tis I again).
In essence, this method entails working on whatever needs to be completed soonest and cutting out things that add to your stress. This includes not taking on more than you can handle, as switching between tasks or multitasking can be stressful itself. Know your limits and know when to stop. It is imperative that your schedule allows you to give yourself chunks of uninterrupted rest time so that you will not exhaust yourself trying to maximise your body’s ability to function without sleep and your mind’s ability to produce multiple deliverables simultaneously.
Apportioning enough time for work and enough time to recuperate and do what you love with the people you love will help your physical and mental health in the long run. Once you’ve mastered reassessing your to-do lists, the next step would be setting work-life boundaries. Your body and mind will thank you for it!
Looks like we’ve gone on for a while. We’ll stop here!
Wait Izzati, aren’t there supposed to be ELEVEN ways? I only counted six here–
Don’t worry, dear readers. You’ll get the rest in part two of this article, which will be posted on 31 May. Stay tuned! Until then, let’s practise what you’ve read so far. Rest well and go easy on yourself. Assalamu’alaikum.