These days, “stress” and “college” might as well be synonyms. With the amount of exams, extracurriculars and outside jobs or internships you juggle at any given moment during the semester, it’s not surprising that you might start feeling the heat eventually. So, what’s the best way to deal when stress comes knocking on your door?
Well, you’re probably familiar with conventional self-care methods like venting to a friend or simply taking a nap, but what about giving exercise a chance? We know: Working out after a long day of classes might be the last thing you want to do, but exercise actually can positively impact your mental health.
Of course, if you’re dealing with something longer-term than a bit of stress, like anxiety or depression, exercise alone won’t treat it—think of these as helpful supplements or temporary alleviators that should be incorporated in tandem with your other doctor-approved treatments and medications. Knowing the difference between simply feeling anxious sometimes and having a diagnosable anxiety disorder is important; if it’s the latter, visiting a mental health professional is the best step you can take. But if you’re simply looking for some fun ways to move your body, read on for the best workouts for reducing stress.
1. A brisk walk
While you may have been expecting something a bit more intense, a 10-minute walk can decrease your blood pressure and stabilize your mood for the next several hours, both of which will reduce your stress. We think that’s perfect if you want to take a quick study break; it’s easy to fit into your schedule and can make your whole day better.
Instead of going at it on a treadmill, why not amble across campus and do some people-watching to get your mind off whatever it is you’re stressed about? If you’re attending school in a city, walking to a nearby coffee shop or just strolling through the neighborhood can be a great stress-reliever. After all, walking has been linked to lowering the amygdala activity in your brain, which controls your anxious feelings and stress, as Lisa M. Shin and Israel Liberzon note in their neuropsychopharmacology research. You may not class this one as a traditional “workout,” but for the lazy college girl, it might just be the boost you need to clear your head and get the blood flowing.
If you want something to push yourself a bit more, college students swear by running as a great stress-busting technique. “It’s a great way to clear your mind and relax your nerves if you’re anxious or stressed,” says Audrey Lent, a fifth-year student at Cal Poly Slo. We can see why; taking your energy and putting it toward one clear goal or path will take most of your focus away from that test or that fight with your friends.
“I like to use my anger or frustration to push myself,” adds Sierra Knoch, a student at Loyola Marymount University, “and then I end up feeling much happier and less stressed from accomplishing a new time or distance.” Having something more concrete to show for how much you’ve gotten done, such as the number of miles you’ve run, is definitely satisfying and you’ll be ready to take on your next task with gusto, whatever it may be.
According to Everyday Health, dancing is a great way to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. We’re glad this one makes the list because what’s more fun than dancing with friends? Aerobic exercise that increases your heart rate is the best when it comes to anti-stress workouts, so something like a Zumba class is perfect for this.
The other upside of dancing, Everyday Health notes, is the social aspect (although, okay, dancing around your room by yourself is also a hell of a good time). Socializing, especially in a fun, high-energy environment, can also serve to elevate your mood, so grab some friends and your favorite tunes and dance it up. By the end, you might have made a fool of yourself, but we guarantee you’ll be smiling and sweating, leaving you feeling less stressed and more energized to return to the #grind.
When it comes to connections between your mind and your body, there’s perhaps no better exercise than yoga. Mayo Clinic recommends yoga as a stress-relieving workout because it emphasizes inner peacefulness and physical control through different poses and breathing exercises.
Yoga incorporates meditation, which can help you relax and reduce the amount of stress you’re dealing with—perfect for the struggles of midterm season. It also has physical benefits, like helping with your balance, strength and flexibility. Yoga is also great for beginners, or anyone of varying fitness levels, so it’s a nice way to ease into making exercise a regular part of your day.
Yoga is ridiculously popular right now, so finding a yoga class (even on campus!) and a buddy to try it out with should be easy-peasy. If not, buy a mat and find some YouTube tutorials online; doing yoga in the privacy of your dorm room is fine as well!
On the other end of the spectrum, kickboxing might not relax you in the same way that yoga will, but doing some cardio might just be what you need to knock-out your stress. American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA) explains that enzymes produced by stress reduce your supply of endorphins, which can bog you down, so doing some cardio-kickboxing can release those endorphins and have you feeling top-notch again.
LIVESTRONG notes that kickboxing comes with a wealth of other benefits, as well. Getting better at self-defense as a college student is always a good idea, and you’ll also be working out your entire body because it’s such an involved workout. We’re all about killing two (or more) birds with one stone, so you’ll definitely catch us in our local Rumble studio once the stress starts bearing down on us.
A lot of the times, stress is about lack of control. Maybe you got stuck with the TA that harshly grades your papers or all of your professors who scheduled exams on the same day. College is constantly throwing things at you left and right, so maybe the best course of action is to put some control back in your hands, even if it’s small.
It’s for this reason that Makena Gera, a sophomore at Marist College, favors one workout in particular. “I really love weightlifting,” she says. “When you’re stressed, a lot of the time you feel out of control like there are too many things going on and you can’t tackle them all. But with lifting, I feel so strong and in control. It’s a great way to just let out any anger or stress you’re feeling and use it to accomplish a goal—like finishing that final rep.” Yes, please.
Ultimately, exercise doesn’t just have to be about burning calories and getting fit; your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and you shouldn’t shrug off your stress. These workouts will hopefully help you flex your muscles and relax your mind, so you can feel good on all counts. Even the least exercise-savvy person can find a workout that works for her, so don’t wait—grab your yoga mat, dancing shoes, a friend or whatever else you may need and get to it!