Outrunning Your Stress

It starts with a twinge. Just a little twinge. And then a nip. Just a little nip that turns into a nibble. This nibble starts you moving, your meandering pace turning into a quick trot. You catch a glimpse of your pursuer in your peripheral vision. A shadow no longer biting at your heels but matching your hurried walk with ease. You pick up the pace and gain a few yards. Looking back, you can see that the shadow has turned into a substantive form and is now loping in your wake, strengthened by your anxiety. You break into a sprint, trying to shake the growling beast that is determined to bring you down. Fear grips you, things claw at you as you speed past, shredding every last bit of confidence while unidentifiable objects pull down your spirit. You aren’t going to last much longer. The beast is breathing goosebumps onto your neck and there is nowhere to hide, no place to go but forward. Always forward.

We all know this beast. Some of us more than others. But by the time we get out of high school we’ve dealt with it a few times and probably had a few close calls. This fiend that pursues us even in the most pleasurable of pursuits is stress.

And in a college student’s life, there’s a lot of it. From course work to jobs to sports to clubs to personal relationships, stress is part of the daily routine. There’s a difference, though, between being stressed in a healthy way, and having stress take over your life. The line between the two becomes increasingly hard to maintain, and as I look around me at freshmen wrapping up their first year of college, sophomores sorting out majors and minors, juniors searching for internships, and seniors getting ready to graduate, I see that line erase completely.

Why does this all matter you might ask? Well, besides the almost universal change-in-attitude-affect, people can also have physical side affects from stress. When I switched from homeschooling to a public high school, my stress level increased dramatically and I thought I was handling it pretty well…until my immune system rebelled against me and I developed a mild form of atopic dermatitis and alopecia. So not fun. But eventually I got a handle on it. I changed some of my routines and learned how to manage my stress levels. And I’m still learning, since college is a completely different environment from high school.

If you’re reading this and getting freaked out because a) you’re in high school,  b) you’re in college and you aren’t stressed or c) you’re a parent of a current or future college student, don’t be! (You’re probably snorting in disbelief right now, I mean, what was that first paragraph for, right?) I’m serious. When I was in high school I was told “College is so much easier,” and “If you’re succeeding under pressure now, you’ll be fine in college,” and I didn’t believe it. How could college be any easier and how could the stress lessen in any way?

I don’t have an exact answer, but it does. Maybe it has to do with your age, maybe there’s a mental advancement in compartmentalizing, or maybe you just know yourself better. No matter how, and no matter why, stress in the life of a college student is always present, but it’s always manageable.

In case you don’t believe me, and that beast is breathing down your neck, here are some tips to avoid or deal with stress while at Loyola:

  1. Breathe. Whether it’s meditation or just closing your eyes and inhaling slowly, it’s always good to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
  2. Make a plan. Instead of blundering ahead blindly and hoping your luck will hold out, write down what you want to do and when you want to complete it. Setting goals makes the process more rewarding and easier to handle.
  3. Sleep. Chances are if you’re super stressed, you’re not getting enough sleep. I’m a big believer in the 10 minute power naps that pick me up at 1am. You’ll get through those 20+ pages of reading faster and write that paper better if you have a little sleep under your belt.
  4. Talk to someone (or several someones). Venting about stress is a good way to relieve it. Find someone who doesn’t mind you freaking out for 15 minutes so you can get it out of your system. Hopefully they can do the same with you!
  5. Allow for some “Me” time. Take a walk. Do something creative (it uses a different part of your brain from analytical thought). Sing in the shower. Being on your own can really clear your head and shake that feeling of being pursued by constant anxiety.

Here Comes The Sun

This is going to sound ridiculous, especially coming from a college student, but it’s one of those things that will stay with you for a while (I can’t guarantee forever).

Wake up with the sun and walk around campus.

Bring an apple. Wear a jacket. Put on some shades (especially if you’re walking from Campion/Newman, you’ll be heading directly east). Listen to morning music (Fleet Foxes and Simon & Garfunkel are my preference).

I know what you’re thinking. What sane twenty-something gets up early to take a walk?

Confession: it wasn’t by choice that I discovered the calmness of campus at 7:30 AM.
I’m taking a life drawing class this semester which requires a lot of work: every week for homework we cover a new body part or bone structure and have reading assignments (open discussion during breaks in class), along with working from a model during the weekly class time. This week I had to draw the ribcage and pelvis from the front and side, so I got up super early to work in studio.

Last semester I had gotten up early for 8ams, but other people were walking around so the campus was populated, but very sleepy looking.

On the weekend though? Empty. Dead silent. Peaceful. Beautiful. Bright. Content.
It’s kind of rare to see Loyola like that, so empty yet so alive at the same time. The sun washes everything with a bright, golden light that practically makes the building glow. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some trees changing color.

The sunrise is so obvious but so often overlooked.

I’m asking a lot, I know. I really didn’t want to get up early (or at all) this weekend, but homework had to be done. I hear your groans and imagine your hands thrown up in disgust at the notion of rolling out of bed before noon on a Saturday.

But you should still do it. At least once.

So take a bite out of that apple, adjust your sunglasses, straighten your jacket, walk to the beat of your favorite band and soak up the morning sun.

Then take a nap in the afternoon.