Between homework, extracurriculars, family, relationships, and a social life, stress has become the norm for most college (and, even, soon-to-be college) students. It’s almost something we take pride in—bragging to one another about how little sleep we’ve gotten or how long it’s been since we’ve eaten a full meal.
The problem is, by living our lives like this, we’re actually aggravating the problem.
Almost every disease we know of is made worse by unmanaged stress. It decreases memory, immunity, sleep, and weight loss, while increasing anxiety and depression. Symptoms of unmanaged stress can include headaches, stomachaches, difficulty sleeping, lack of focus and attention, and a hundred other nasty things. Basically, it’s destroying us from the inside out.
Stress may be a part of our everyday lives, but that doesn’t mean it’s unmanageable. There are some easy things you can do today to stop stress from eating you alive.
This is possibly the most important one, and you don’t have to know everything about healthy eating to put it into practice.
Sugar and carbohydrates will make you feel better in the short term because they increase serotonin, a chemical in your brain that causes happiness. However, it only takes a few short days to get addicted to these things, and at that point they have the opposite effect. You’ll gain weight and feel worse overall.
There are good carbs, though, that will still increase serotonin without the negative side effects. These include things like sweet potatoes, quinoa, and almond butter.
While you’re avoiding sugar, it’s a good idea to avoid caffeine as well. I know a lot of students tend to live on it, but it only increases your difficulty sleeping while dehydrating you at the same time. No matter what anyone says, twelve cups of coffee will never—EVER—act the same as a full night’s rest. Besides that, coffee stains your teeth, and who wants an extra trip to the dentist?
Drinking something warm, however, has been shown to increase happiness-producing hormones in your brain. Tea is a wonderful substitute in these instances. Green tea, in particular, still contains caffeine, but is also full of healthy antioxidants. All kinds of herbal tea are free of caffeine, and lavender and peppermint in particular have been shown to decrease stress and stomach aches while increasing sleep.
Even a 20-minute brisk walk will increase the dopamine and serotonin in your brain. I know many of us hate even the idea of exercise (trust me, I used to be in that camp), but daily exercise decreases worry, increases attention, and makes you feel better overall. Why avoid something that works so well?
If your university or a nearby town offers yoga classes, consider signing up. There are also plenty of videos online to help you bring this healthy habit right into your dorm room. Just 20 minutes of yoga will give you the affects you need!
While you’re exercising, choose music that drives the worries out of your brain. Music is another thing that has been proved to greatly reduce stress.
Focusing on gratitude changes the connections in your brain—literally. Keep a journal of things and people you’re grateful for, and look back at this when you’re being attacked by negative thoughts.
Consider telling these people why you appreciate them. I guarantee it; this will put your worries in perspective and give you clearer vision when it comes to everyday disasters.
You can do this on your phone, and that’s a great way to keep track of gratitude you think of throughout the day, but I’d recommend spending some time writing it out by hand. Computer and phone usage has been proven to increase stress and decrease satisfaction. Even if it’s for only an hour a day, put your phone on airplane mode and walk away from the computer.
Laugh, Breathe, and Sleep
Sleep is just as important during college as it is during any other period of your life. I know we’re horrible at getting enough, but I would encourage you to move a good night’s rest up a few steps on your priority list. Some things are unavoidable, but generally the things we stay up all night doing could have been done at another time, or could’ve been turned in late.
Step back and take a look at the big picture. Taking care of yourself is more important than turning every single assignment in on time. If you find yourself being overcome by anxiety, take a deep breath. Close your eyes and fill your lungs with it. Then, after a minute or so, return to whatever you were doing with a fresh perspective.
Laughing increases the happiness-producing hormones in your brain. Yes, watching cat videos is actually good for you—as long as you don’t overdo it. Every hour or so, take a break and watch or read something that makes you smile or laugh.
Don’t let stress destroy you. Someday, you’ll want to look back on these years and remember joy and satisfaction, not anxiety and frustration.