Uncertainties about the future and regrets about the past are a 24-hour factory for stress and anxiety: "Do I have somewhere to live?" "Can I get home to see my parents?" "Am I going to run out of money?" All too often, we simply end up worrying for the sake of worrying, long after the practical benefits of worrying have vanished. If you feel that your stress or anxiety is getting beyond your control, please reach out to a member of your residence team for support.
What can we do to recover from stress when it becomes unproductive? Here are three strategies that may help to relieve stress, according to the latest scientific evidence:
Express and reappraise
Stress is a common reaction when the stakes are high, and two strategies may be particularly useful when we’re anxious. First, describing emotions in detail can make them feel less overwhelming, so writing a short paragraph about your emotions when facing something new and scary can be calming. Second, reappraising anxiety as a good rather than bad thing can also help to make it manageable. For example, anxiety can enhance performance by helping you to focus better on a specific problem and avoid distraction.
Meditation techniques can help to reduce stress. Focusing on the rise and fall of your breath can train your attention to rest on the present moment instead of panicking about past mistakes or future uncertainties. It’s important to enjoy experiences while you actually live them, because distracted thoughts frequently spiral into uncontrollable obsessions with “what if?”. By taking control of your attention, you can choose what is and isn’t worth your mental energy.
Connect with nature
Spending time in nature is great for mental health and cognitive performance. Data from ~20,000 UK people was analysed and found a relationship between how many hours people spent in nature each week and their overall levels of happiness and wellbeing. A minimum dose of 2 hours a week of nature was associated with stronger reports of health and life satisfaction. This becomes more difficult to achieve when living in a city or when in self-isolation at home, but there are still practical things we can do to get the benefits of nature. There are many free playlists that provide sounds of nature which can be an excellent calming background when studying. You can also bring nature inside by ordering indoor plants for your workspace.
We should never lose sight of the important advantages of stress and anxiety. We experience negative emotions for a reason, and they often keep us away from major dangers. But when they become excessive or unproductive, we can learn to stay on top of them.
Carefully reflecting on painful feelings and focusing on their possible advantages can prove that they’re not so terrifying after all. On top of that, meditation can help to settle our attention on real feelings rather than imagined problems. And finally, when it all gets too much, listening to the sounds of nature is a great way to bring ourselves back down to Earth.