Welcome to Week 10, where if you’re not stressed out, then you must not be doing the end of Spring Quarter right!
Kidding … kind of. We all know the build-up to finals week is incredibly busy and stressful, but, in my opinion, Spring Quarter might be the worst of all: it’s moving-out season. What are my plans for summer? Am I going home or staying here? Where can I get a job? How do I make time to study, too? The cycling never seems to end until we reach that glorious moment on June 15, where we’ve made it out in one piece.
In preparation for finals, we are all constantly reminded of preventative actions, such as getting enough sleep, drinking water, watching caffeine intake, and making sure we are eating regularly. However, beyond that, I’ve found that we are not quite given the tools we need to deal with such high anxiety in the moment when all the stress bubbles up and feels out of control. Because of this, I’d like to take a moment to list some realistic ways we can all cope with this rising anxiety.
Exercise: This is something most of us have heard before, but truly does work. Often times, anxiety can come along with a rapid heart rate and extra nervous energy we don’t know what to do with. According to many therapists and counselors, the best way to combat these physical symptoms is trying to engage in intense exercise for about 15-20 minutes, which just enough time for your body’s actions to catch up to your heart rate. This way, as you finish your workout, your heart and the rest of your body can come back down together, naturally.
Call a Friend: Another common suggestion for times when we are struggling is to reach out to a friend. Often times, I, like many others, find it very difficult to truly open up to my friends or I feel too overwhelmed to dive into the issue. If you can relate to this, make a note in your head to form two categories you’d put each friend under: those you can call to vent, cry, problem-solve with, etc., and those you can call to just listen, laugh, and distract with.
Temperature: This tool is one with yet another scientific explanation that my Literature major self cannot express in detail. Additionally, it sounds extremely silly and I refused to believe something so stupid could actually work … until it did. Simply put, get some ice or an ice pack and place it on your forehead. Without going into detail, basically, when your mind is racing and/or beginning to panic, the extreme difference in temperature on your head forces the brain to only be able to focus on one thing: the ice on your face. Again, though it sounds odd and ineffective, using ice and some purposeful breathing (which I will cover below!), can be a helpful tool to have. After using it a few times, you might even begin to begrudgingly keep those travel ice packs from CVS in your purse like me.
Breathing: Finding ways to control your breathing is a big part of trying to calm anxiety. In the moment, thorough breathing is not the number one thing on our mind. In fact, it is very common for our breath to be very shallow when anxiety is up. To combat this, the number one thing to remember is to make the exhale longer than the inhale. Additionally, you can try box breathing — inhale – hold – exhale – hold — and repeat for four seconds each. This way, your mind is only occupied with counting and breathing.
Self Soothe Kit: This tool is my favorite part! The self soothe kit is something to keep on you at all times: at home, in your backpack, in your purse, etc. Find a paper bag, Ziploc bag, or whatever you’d like to use (mine is a glittery makeup bag). Next, try to find at least one thing for each of the five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound) to put inside of it. For example, I keep little bottles of lotion, hand sanitizers, a rose water spray, and my favorite chapstick to cover both smell and touch. For sight, you can include pictures of family, friends, vacations, nature, etc. However, personally, I use print outs of some of my favorite memes and pictures of bunnies. Again, whatever works. For sound, I keep earbuds on hand with a list of my favorite playlists and podcasts to listen to. Finally, for taste, I keep my favorite brand of peppermint gum and a couple of Dove dark chocolates, just in case. The idea of it all is to help calm and soothe yourself with a personalized kit of all your favorite things. And remember, be realistic; only put things in the bag that you know for sure you will go to in a moment of anxiety, panic, and/or distress.
Last, but not least, is my unofficial tool: acknowledge. Allow yourself to identify that you are feeling anxious without trying to fight it by stuffing it down or feeding into the stress. The phrase “name it to tame it” is not lying to you; it will help! Though the skills above seem to only be distractions, remember that in order to use them, you must be able to stop, acknowledge, and then choose to do something different. I’m not saying any of these skills are easy, but if you begin to practice them now, you’ll soon see the long-term benefits of being able to cope with anxiety and to bring the intensity down! So as we enter Week 10 and finals, prepare those self-soothe kits and throw those ice packs in the freezer! You got this, my fellow Tritons!