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Mental Health

3 Easy Ways to Start Reducing School Stress

Edited By: Joy Jiang

 

Transitions can be stressful. The transition from being on winter break to heading back to class can be a particularly stressful one. 

This doesn’t come as a surprise, as post-secondary students are one of the most frequently stressed populations. In a survey from 2008, it was reported that “eight in 10 college students said they have sometimes or frequently experienced stress in their daily lives over the past three months. This is an increase of 20% from a survey five years ago”. 

Fast-forward to a 2017 survey, and “almost 90 per cent of students said that they felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year, while more than 50 per cent said they felt hopeless and 63 per cent said they felt very lonely”. Feelings of hopelessness and loneliness are easily brought on by high stress levels, and if school is what is being associated with feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and lonely, it makes sense that we feel stressed when the time comes to go back.

Most of us have incredibly busy schedules, and it’s easy to feel like we don’t have enough free time to develop stress-decreasing habits. Here are three strategies that are easy to incorporate into your daily routine, and that may help to reduce your stress levels at school!

 

1. Learn How to Breathe Mindfully 

Breathing is something that you (hopefully) won’t need to carve out time in your day to do, so why not make some positive adjustments to the way you breathe! 

Your limbic system is a group of structures in your brain, and it is in charge of many different things, including emotion regulation and arousal/stimulation. This means that the same system is in control of many different things, including your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels, hormone balance, and moods.

The way that the hypothalamus and the limbic system interact with each other causes them to be in control of your autonomic nervous system, so by definition, they control our fight or flight response. Since the limbic system regulates both breathing and stress levels, there is evidence to suggest that they can also regulate each other (this is something that is often applied to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). 

One of the best ways to breathe in order to reduce stress is to exhale out through your mouth, and then begin to breathe in and out through your nose. The key is to focus on the feeling of the air moving through your nose, and noting things such as the speed of your breathing, the temperature of the air, and the feeling of the air entering and leaving your nose. This gives your brain a change to turn off its fight-or-flight response, which can reduce your heart rate, regulate your blood pressure, and lower your stress levels. 

This practice is often called “mindfulness breathing”, and you can adjust the way you breathe in your stressful moments to best suit you. For some more information on mindfulness breathing, click here.

 

2. Listen to Music

Whether you’re a commuter, a person who listens to music while they study, or someone who just listens to music as a pastime, most of us have already incorporated music into our daily routines to some extent.

In a 2013 study, it was found that “music listening impacted the psychobiological stress system. Listening to music prior to a standardized stressor predominantly affected the autonomic nervous system (in terms of a faster recovery)”. 

If you already find that listening to music helps you to relax and de-stress, make an effort to create a time for relaxation in which you listen to music without multitasking or doing anything else that would distract you from the listening process. Even if it’s only for one song, you are exercising the same kind of mindfulness practice that we applied to breathing.

Better yet, combine your active listening with your mindfulness breathing, and you’ve got yourself a quick and simple relaxation method that is sure to at least make you feel a bit better, if not less stressed. 

 

3. Adjust Your Sleeping Habits

This is a big one. Students rarely get enough sleep to be able to properly function, and we know it. Research at Brown University found that approximately 11% of students report getting good sleep, while 73% report having sleep problems. 

We know that sleep is connected to many major health benefits, but one of the biggest ones is reduced stress. The problem is, feeling stressed can make sleeping more difficult, and lack of sleep contributes to more stress. Stress affects your ability to sleep by making the body aroused, awake, and alert. How can this cycle be broken? 

This is only my personal experience, but I have found that combining mindfulness breathing with listening to music has helped me fall asleep faster, and therefore, has allowed me to get more sleep per night. On nights that I’ve slept well, I feel far less stressed when I wake up. A study found that people who got only 4.5 hours of sleep per night for a week “reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood”.

While it’s hard to fit eight hours of sleep into a night, by using these techniques to help you fall asleep faster, you’ll spend less time laying in bed awake, and more time sleeping.

These three tips may seem a bit trivial, but implementing them into your daily routine might be worth a shot if you’re looking for some easy and convenient ways to help curb your back-to-school stress. They’ve worked for me, so I hope they work for you!

 

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