As you’re no doubt well aware, stress is a part of university life: exams, competition, relationships, finances, and difficult decisions can literally make you sick. Researchers now have hard data confirming the negative influence of stress on the body. Yet many people still don’t notice the connection between unrelenting tension and feeling achy or sick.
Stress - Relax
We have two built-in mechanisms to protect our health: the stress response and its antidote, the relaxation response. Our stress response kicks in automatically when we feel threatened. The heart speeds up, breathing becomes faster and more shallow, blood pressure rises, and we’re ready for “fight or flight.”
This survival mechanism is great for short-term emergencies, like being chased by a bear. But it’s harmful when triggered and sustained by anticipated fears. It leads to physiological changes that affect your immune system, sleep, and digestion, and can lead to serious problems.
But when the relaxation response is invoked, heart rate slows, muscles relax, and breathing deepens and slows. Relaxation reduces anxiety, fear, muscle tension, pain, healing time, and sleep problems. It strengthens the immune system, and enables you to renew yourself in the midst of continuous change.
Learning to Relax
Many of us who manage our outside lives skillfully are often clueless when it comes to knowing what our own bodies need. We have to learn how to relax. Here are some tips:
- Observe how your mind and body respond to events (notice when you tense up; when you relax)
- Make tension-release a habit: stretch your neck (chin to chest, chin to each shoulder, ear to each shoulder), gaze at the sky, stretch muscles, and take deep breaths anytime, anywhere
- When under stress, repeat to yourself: “calm body, clear mind”
- Take up an activity to balance your academic life: try ceramics, a martial art, wrestling, quilting, calligraphy, singing, taiko
- Take a hot bath or get a massage
- Plan something fun
- Watch a TV comedy or funny video
- Get absorbed in a game
- Have lunch with a friend or go to the movies
- While driving, play soothing music
- Alternate activities: do vigorous exercise after concentrated study; do laundry after challenging classes
Physical Exercise: Whether it’s a 65 km bike ride or a quick walk around the building, exercise is a proven method of tension release.
Muscle Relaxation: Tense each group of muscles for 10 seconds, then suddenly release them. Notice the difference.
Meditation: You stop everything in your mind to quietly reach a “still point.”Here the mind is calm and clearly aware, and both mind and body relax.
Yoga: This discipline involves breathing and holding certain positions.
Affirmations: The repetition of positive expressions such as “I will do well.”
Self-hypnosis: Relaxing and focusing your mind on a relevant topic.
Imagery: Concentration on an image.
Visualization: “Seeing” yourself relaxed, successful, happy, (whatever).
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