Beat stress with sweat, serenity and simplicity

Midterms are looming closer and closer, like a dark cloud of rain, while actual dark clouds loom on Portland’s own horizon. Before you start freaking out, take a deep breath because it will all be OK. I promise.

I know you are used to stressing through your term, anticipating midterms and finals even before they are a reality in your life. As nice as it would be to lounge on a tropical beach or go on a yoga retreat somewhere when stress hits, we also have to be realistic. After all, we are college students who work hard and we often don’t have the time and money to make these fantasies come true, but I’m here to tell you there are ways you can deal with stress that are readily within your reach and budget.

Sweat it out

First of all, you have to get your body moving. This doesn’t mean you have to run 12 miles if that isn’t your thing. You can do some yoga, take a bike ride, play your favorite sport, go on a hike or do something as simple as take a walk around your neighborhood.

Another good physical activity? Sex. Yep, sex is scientifically proven to release stress from your body as well as elevate the endorphins in your system, making you much more relaxed—and much, much happier.

Good exercise gets your body active and sweating, has you breathing deeply and evenly, and gets you outside of the dark confines of your study space. Focus on what you are doing in that moment, leaving behind stressful distractions. Leave your phone in the locker and turn off the TV on the treadmill. Working out with partners is a good way to forget about the outside world and focus on the task at hand. Whether with your partner or teammates, exercising with others adds external incentive to get moving. Finally, don’t forget to take many deep breaths and acknowledge the benefits of what you are indulging in.

Get your om on

Having a relaxing place to call your sanctuary is imperative to your sanity. Therefore, you should take some time to make your bedroom, living room or any other favored space in your home into a place that makes you feel calm and peaceful. This will make it easier for you to indulge in things like meditation and deep relaxation. Find your niche, light some candles, turn off all artificial lighting, get comfortable and quiet your mind.

Don’t be surprised when, nestled in your fresh sanctuary, eyes closed and ready for quiet, your brain springs into overdrive. Sometimes when you try to quiet your mind that is when it seems to retaliate and try to drown you out with mindless chatter. You sit there tensing up, worrying about the past and anticipating the future.

This is totally normal. The worst thing you can do is get angry and abandon your meditation efforts. Having something to distract your mind and keep you focused is imperative for most people, so listen to some Zen music or browse YouTube for free guided meditation tracks. In no time at all you’ll be lulled by soothing sounds, guided by serene voices on a journey to another dimension or, at least, to your happy place.

Let your creative juices flow

Getting creative is an amazing way to relieve stress. It is one of the few moments in life when you are focused solely on one thing and all other thoughts are momentarily pushed to the side. This centering of thought is what many meditation and relaxation experts talk about—focusing on the moment, quieting your mind and finding your center.

The trick to this is to find something you truly love to get creative with. What are you drawn to? What have you always wanted to try? Maybe you can grab some paint and go crazy on a blank canvas; try writing a song, poem or story; play some music on your favorite instrument; or sing yourself hoarse. Try knitting, sewing, or building something brand new from some old wood you have stored in your garage.

There are thousands of ideas on the internet for DIY projects—sites like Pinterest and YouTube are great places to start. Not only will they give you some ideas on what to do, but they will often come with instructions on how to do so. We’re lucky enough to live in a time when information is so readily available to us, so put it to use.

If all of this sounds like too much effort to you, try simply writing in a journal. It can be just a dribble of consciousness, writing anything that comes to mind, but get those thoughts onto the paper. Writing things down helps release the tension that you’re holding inside—it’s almost as effective as seeing a therapist, and way cheaper!

Keep it basic

Hit that snooze button! Do it, I dare you. Ok, don’t take that too literally and sleep through your morning class. What I’m getting at is you should get lots of sleep, at least eight hours of it every night. I know it’s hard not to pull all-nighters when you’re cramming for midterms, but you’re doing yourself and your body a disservice by switching to zombie mode. Being tired makes you cranky, and being cranky stresses you out. You’ll do your best work when you wake up feeling wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Two other very basic things you can do to keep yourself healthy are to drink lots of water and eat nutritious foods. This might sound obvious, but it’s quite surprising how many people don’t drink enough water. Experts say you should drink at least eight cups a day, though it varies depending on your body type. Try taking at least a few swigs of water every 15 minutes and this will get you used to reaching for your bottle of water more and more.

Try to avoid fast food and junk food as much as humanly possible. Yes, it’s cheap and convenient, but cramming your body with bad food wears it down and it will affect your mood. Drink enough water and eat healthy for a few days in a row, and you’ll definitely see an improvement in your mood that will bring your stress levels down and make you feel a lot happier.

It’s amazing how simple, affordable and accessible methods can change your life. Tweaking your routines just a bit will benefit you and set you on the path to some long-term self improvements. And in the short term, if all else fails in moments of crunch time, take some deep breaths and find your calm. You’ll find it easy once you’ve had practice.