My high school chemistry teacher once said to me with a serious look on his face ‘Miss Genovese, if you’re not careful you’ll have a stress induced heart attack’. I was 16 at the time and thought relaxation was for lazy people who spent their lives meditating in caves in far away places.
As a teenager feeling stressed out was the norm for me, which was a problem. On several occasions my mind would go blank in test situations and as a result, I ended up failing those tests.
It wasn’t until I started studying Psychology at university that I realised that I could actually do something about my high stress levels. Below are 3 simple ways that have helped me to relax over the years.
Often when we feel stressed or nervous (e.g. giving a presentation before the class or taking a test) our breathing becomes faster and shallower. We often notice ourselves breathing fast and may think ‘woah, I’m so nervous!’ and this may cause us to stress us out even more! One way we can change this is to consciously make an effort to slow down our breathing. I usually spend 2-3 minutes focusing on breathing deeply in and out for 6 seconds to start with and then for 3 seconds. This exercise will help you to feel more in control of your body and can slow down and clarify your thoughts. Students have even told me that doing this breathing exercise before important sports games makes a difference to their performance.
Try to laugh and feel stressed at the same time. Can you do it? I bet $100 that you can’t. There is so much truth to the saying ‘Laughter is the best medicine’. 10 years ago Dr Kataria (inventor of laughter yoga) noticed that his patients who laughed more regularly appeared to have better immune systems, heal faster and appeared to be calmer than patients who did not laugh as much. The reason for this is that laughter releases endorphins, which is a chemical that gives you a natural high. So if you’re feeling stressed out, catch up with a friend who makes you laugh or watch a comedy show. If you can’t do that, force yourself to laugh. Say out loud ‘HA HA HA HA HA’ (I don’t recommend you do this in public) because the brain doesn’t know the difference between a fake laugh and a real one. In a nutshell, you can trick your brain into releasing those feel good, happy chemicals (endorphins).
When I walked into my university gym six years ago there was a sign on the wall that said “The question is not – can I afford to do this? The question is – can I afford not to do this?” Studying law for me was not easy and going to the gym after every lecture was the main reason I stuck with the degree. As an 18 year old attending lectures on contract and criminal law I felt like the lecturers were speaking a foreign language. I did not understand the legal jargon that was being used and this was upsetting for me. After every lecture I would be telling myself “I can’t do it. It’s just too hard. Perhaps I’m not cut out for this” and somehow in my helpless state, I’d get myself to the gym. After a one hour session of cardio and strength training I was a different person. I felt clearer, less stressed and just knew I had to break things down, use my legal dictionary more often and take things one step at a time.
So there you go, 3 simple strategies to help you stress less. What works for me, may or may not work for you. You wonâ€™t know unless you give them a good shot (test them out for 30 days). If you know of any ways that help you to relax and decrease your stress levels I’d love to hear about them.