Like every other Cal student, stress often makes up 60% of my body mass (the other 40% is caffeine). Between clubs, volunteering, academics, and juggling a social life, it is easy to allow all your responsibilities to pile up and topple you over. That’s exactly what happened to me.
At the beginning of the semester, I decided to move up to Berkeley from my hometown in Los Angeles. I wanted to gain some independence while having a more lively college experience. With the help of my parents, we drove the five and a half hours with what felt like my entire bedroom and frantically ran around for three days trying to get my life in Berkeley settled. While things for the most part went smoothly, it was still extremely stressful. Moving coupled with trying to apply for internships and clubs and living with new people left me with a lot of anxiety. For the next ten days, I had a tension headache, fast heart rate, and general feeling of floatiness, which I discovered were a result of hypertension anxiety.
Hypertension anxiety occurs when the body’s fight or flight response gets triggered and never has the opportunity to come down. For me, this felt like fatigue and tension. However, symptoms vary from person to person. It became obvious to me that something in my lifestyle had to change in order to better take care of my mental and physical health.
Although I have never really enjoyed exercise in the past, I decided to give yoga a try. As a kid, my mom enrolled me in many yoga classes (very LA, I know). I remember loving how it helped me turn off my brain even when it seemed to work relentlessly at times. So for the next two weeks, I made the decision to revisit yoga.
To ease into things, I decided to only do short yoga routines ranging from eight to twenty minutes, all of which I found on the app Workout Women. I tried to fit a routine in after my classes ended for the day to give myself a break from the screen, and I repeated this again right before I fell asleep to calm my body down.
After two weeks, the results have been pretty amazing! Physically, my body feels much healthier and more resilient. I can sit for longer hours on Zoom without having severe back and neck tension. I’ve also found that falling asleep has become easier. My brain has been trained to better reject intrusive, tangential thoughts and get me to a state of relaxation that leads me to deeper, more restful sleep.
The emotional improvements have been significant as well. I do still struggle with stress and anxiety nearly every day, but I no longer feel hopeless about my anxiety. I’ve been able to better recognize when my mind is leading me down an unhelpful path. In my relationships, I feel that yoga has helped me deepen the connections I have with those around me. I am much more attentive in conversations and able to converse more confidently. Overall, emotionally and physically, yoga has given me the chance to become a freer, more grounded person.
I know that I have a long way to go in continuing to manage my stress and anxiety, and yoga isn’t going to fix everything. Even when I’m doing yoga, I still have a hard time controlling my thoughts, and I often still wake up stressed. It’s important to recognize, though, that in these journeys toward mental health, you don’t need to be perfect! We often can get trapped in using wellness as a way to continuously improve our lives. But in doing that, wellness becomes a stress inducer, and that’s the opposite of the point! It’s completely reasonable for all of us to incorporate something into our lives that we don’t have to practice or perfect if we don’t want to do so. The fact that I’m doing something to improve my wellness at all is a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s something I’m proud of.
If you’ve been struggling with an issue — be it anxiety, depression, substance abuse, relationships, or the like — I invite you to incorporate something just for yourself into your daily routine. I want to emphasize that I could not be further from being a health or wellness expert. But if I can do it, you can do it too! Your wellness activity could be yoga, bullet journaling, meditation, or walks. No matter what, allow yourself to add something to the day that is entirely your own.