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Classes. Clubs. Sports. Extracurriculars. Homework. Jobs. Is there no end to the things we are involved in on a daily basis? With so much to do and only so much time in a day to do it, it's no wonder our generation has been dubbed "The Sleepless Generation." And while it's all well and good to have things to do, where do we draw the line with doing too much?
Actively listening to yourself is the first step to preventing burnout, which is becoming more and more common these days. Our bodies and minds aren't meant to go-go-go all of the time. Even pro athletes take days off. Below, I provide tips on how to beat stress before you reach the burnout phase, and what to do if you've already crossed over that threshold. Coming from an overachieving college senior who has the FOMO syndrome (that's Fear Of Missing Out, naturally), you can trust me when I say this advice can work! Do what feels right to you, or try out a few things to see what can happen. You should never feel that you have to be stressed out to be successful. If your activities aren't giving you happiness, don't be afraid to cut them loose and find new ones.
How to Prevent Stress:
1. Find something you love doing and do that thing every day. Whether it's writing, singing in the car on the way to school, or watching YouTube cat videos before you go to bed, make time for it. It's weird to think that even ten minutes of doing something seemingly trivial (in the eyes of our hyperactive, work-until-we-die society) can make a difference in our stress levels, but it does. When you partake in something you love, your cortisol (stress hormone) levels go down. Way down. Cortisol taxes your heart, your brain, your immune system--pretty much everything that keeps you running. By actively allowing yourself to do things that make you happy, you prevent cortisol from emitting. So "Say Yes to the Dress", and let yourself have some fun.
2. Live a (reasonably) active and healthy lifestyle. It's a new year, and I'm sure many of you made resolutions to be healthier. Well, good, because being healthy is one of the main ways to prevent and beat stress. You don't have to go crazy. Often we try to throw ourselves into a new routine--"Workout twice a day! Take wheatgrass shots for lunch! No more processed foods, ever!--and end up burning ourselves out from it two weeks later. You don't want to stress yourself out with something that should be enjoyable! That's right, I said enjoyable. I've been exercising and eating healthy for over a year now, and love it. I've never felt (or looked) better. The key is to ease yourself into a routine; try adding healthier foods to your diet instead of focusing on cutting out a lot of bad ones. Do a workout you enjoy three times a week. Jog, play basketball, go cross-country skiing-- something that gets you active and your heart beating. You'll start to feel healthier, and thus start making healthier choices as a result. Do you really want that second cookie? Nah, one was enough. Tweak your life, and welcome the rewards. Healthy foods and exercise are killers of stress.
3. Organize the right way. Do you have a calendar on your phone, one on the wall, and an agenda? Oh, and maybe you make to-do lists on scrap sheets of paper or sticky notes, and they're fluttering around somewhere, too. With all these things competing for your attention, it's easy to get frazzled or feel you forgot something. The best advice is to choose two ways of organizing important dates/reminders. Have a wall calendar where you put homework due-dates, practice times, and special occasions, and then make to-do lists for your daily tasks. Or use your phone's calendar to track when important events are, and use your agenda for school-related homework and dates. Writing your life out in two places is much more organized, and less stress-inducing, then having it written all over Timbuktu. If you can narrow it down to one calendar/place, even better!
4. Learn and utilize time management. Your life will vastly improve. Much of time management is discipline--so work on strengthening that muscle if it is on the weak side. Make a reasonable to-do list every morning and tell yourself that you'e going to complete the tasks before the day is done. Then, take it one step further, and give yourself a time frame. And after that, it's mind over matter. You can accomplish the things you need to do, as long as the time you've allotted for them is reasonable and you commit yourself to getting them done. A little pressure on yourself shouldn't make you stressed--instead, you'll feel great knowing that you're completing what you need to do. This pressure is called "eustress"--otherwise known as "good stress." With each thing you cross off your list, you'll feel a little lighter. The pressure of needing to do things, in itself, is not unhealthy. It's dwelling on that pressure, or not doing anything to change it, or taking on too many pressures, that is bad. By learning effective time management, you will feel more in-control of your life (and, thus, feel less stressed as a result).
How to Stay Sane in the Midst of Stress:
1. Tell yourself it won't last forever. Nothing really lasts forever. Buildings crumble, ink fades, even your emotions change on a daily basis (you adore your baby brother one minute, and the next, he's making you want to pull your hair out). By acknowledging the simple fact that this shall pass, you can start alleviating stress.
2. Meditate. No, you don't have to strike a lotus pose and go "Om." But you should take about ten minutes to sit or lay in a comfortable position, trying to clear your mind of thoughts. Feel free to play some music that relaxes you, and really listen to the words/instrumental sounds. How does the beat change? You could also try lighting a candle and focusing on the flickering flame. Or, you could close your eyes and imagine that you are in a place you love. Really imagine the sensations of being in that place--what does it sound like? Smell like? Is the sun warm on your face and shoulders? Who's with you, and what are they wearing/doing? By taking a few minutes to focus on something other than your stress (and, ideally, clearing your mind as much as you can), you can lower your cortisol levels and slow your heart rate. Meditating is a proven method for reducing stress, not just in the moment, but always, if practiced regularly. I highly, highly encourage it.
3. Laugh with friends. Yup, this is a big one. It's often easy when you're stressed to want to cut down on social time. You've got things to do and no time to do it, and if someone gets in your way you won't be happy! We've all been there. But isolating yourself only breeds more stress. Humans are social, and we need out friends to be happy. If you can't commit to eating lunch with them, make time for a quick phone call, or an afternoon walk, or a morning coffee date before school or on the weekend. Don't stress about finding time--that just defeats the purpose! But do make the effort. You have a moment in there, somewhere. And after you have that interaction with your friend(s), however brief, odds are you're going to feel lighter and happier.
4. Seek help. We can't do it all alone. If you feel like you are drowning in work, or you've signed up for too many things, or all those fights with your boyfriend are taking its toll--do not be afraid to get outside help. Parents, counselors, friends, therapists, teachers--they're all there to support you. It's surprising how accommodating a teacher can be if you tell them, truthfully, why you don't think you can finish an assignment in time. They've been stressed-out students, too! And don't feel that going to a therapist or your parents is giving up. It's not. You're strong and capable of doing anything--just not everything at once. The smartest people seek help when they need it.
5. Distract yourself. Put everything away. The papers, the novel you should have read yesterday, the club meeting you need to be planning. If it can wait (and even if it can't), and you are feeling this close to breaking down, you need to escape it for a while. Remember, it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Your mental health (and your physical and emotional health) are more important than whatever it is you're working on. It can wait, trust me. Get outside and get some fresh air, go for a walk, get moving to distract yourself. It's usually better to be active than to go somewhere else and sit. Moving makes you feel that you are in control, and gives your body the opportunity to start burning away some of the stress. You can also phone a friend, do something you enjoy, drink some water or tea, do a deep-breathing exercise, or drive somewhere. Getting out of your environment and your head-space is a very effective way of diminishing stress.
Those are my top tips! I hope they help you the next time you're feeling overwhelmed. They've certainly helped me! If anyone has anything to add, please do so in the comments below. Cheers to stress-free living! :)
Kayla Maneen received her BFA in Creative Writing and minored in adventure and fun. After graduation, she worked on an organic farm in Ireland and taught English in Italy, and learned all there is to know about chasing sheep and eating long, leisurely meals with family. She is adamant about people living out their passions and reaching their highest potentials. Always follow that fire in your heart!