This is usually the time of the year when cortisol (stress-hormone) levels are at an all-time high. You’ve got exams, end-of-the-year banquets to plan, competition and performances to practice for, last minute planning for prom, graduation to prepare for, and your summer vacations to sort out. You are thinking that you have no time for yourself right now and that you gotta just keep doing what you’re doing.
This semester in my neuroscience class, I learned that there are two types of stress: Acute and Chronic.
Acute stress can be beneficial. Stress hormones stimulate astrocytes, a type of glial (helper) cell in your brain, to release fibroblast growth factor 2, which in turn leads to neurogenesis, the growth of new neurons. Your hypothalamus and pituitary stimulate adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which gives your heart a boost, your mind a sense of focus, and your glucose liberated from where it’s stored so that you have an increase in energy. Acute stress also boosts your immune system, so it’s not bad to grind through what you must- what’s bad is overworking yourself to the point of overwhelming mental strain: chronic stress.
Chronic stress is different. It interferes with your memory, appetite, and performance. Chronic stress is prolonged stress, so your body will eventually get tired, your energy will be depleted and your mood, disrupted. And, now, instead of boosting your immune system, it actually compromises it. It’s unhealthy, and you know it. Stressing out is a way for your body to communicate that you need to take your time and slow down. You’re overwhelmed; your blood pressure is rising; your glucocorticoids are promoting visceral fat storage (junk in the wrong places), and, mostly, you are ready to skip to the good part: summer.
What if I tell you, you don’t have to wait until summer vacation to de-stress?
#1 IDENTIFY WHAT STRESSES YOU OUT
Is it school? Is it your relationships?
Knowing the root of what is mentally overwhelming you is the first step to managing your stress.
#2 GET YOUR BLOOD FLOWING
Take a 10 minute walk, run, or bike ride. Go to the gym, or take a dance class. Identify the type of exercise that you enjoy most, and make time for it every day. It’ll help with supplying your heart and brain with more oxygen. Moving your body is key to finding balance. Physical exercise will trigger the release of your endorphins, boosting your mood and energy and helping you get ready to tackle on the day.
This doesn’t have to be an hour-long session. You can do this anywhere – before getting up in the morning, during lunch, in the bathroom, wherever you find yourself alone. But, do take time to be alone for self-reflection. Ask yourself if you are happy with who you are, who you surround yourself with, what you are doing, and if not, it’s never too late to start over, rid your life of toxic relationships, to find your calling and do what will make you happy to get up every morning for the rest of your life.
#4 CLEAN and CLEANSE
Usually your bedroom is a direct representation of your state of mind and your life. I know that when my bedroom is messy, where I am in my current state of mind and life is not where I want to be. So, clean. Clean your laptop and your phone. Replace your bed sheets and pillow cases. Take out the trash. Do your laundry, vacuum, fold your clothes, dust, and when you’re all done, light a candle. Or two. Or three.
After cleaning, take a nice, warm shower with music you can sing along to. Moisturize from your head to you toes, and clip your nails. Brew a cup of tea or coffee to top it all off.
I know that reading this right now, you can already imagine the feeling you’ll get once you clean and cleanse.
This is not me telling you to resolve to stress-eating.
Nourishing your body with the right foods will give you the energy you need to tackle what life brings you, including stress. Prepare a nice, wholesome meal, full of protein, good carbs, and veggies. Eat your favorite fruits. Then, treat yourself with a piece of cake, a cookie, ice cream, or a chocolate bar.
#6 PAMPER YOURSELF
Self-care is a must! Sometimes, you have to be selfish and tend to your five senses.
- Buy yourself something nice that’s pleasing to your eye. A nice shirt, a pair of earrings, a hat, etc.
- Take a warm, candle-lit bubble bath, or take a hot shower. Clean yourself, and put some music on, while you’re at it.
- Get a massage.
- Put on a face mask.
- Get your nails done.
- Get a haircut.
- Watch an episode of your favorite TV show.
- Get a facial.
- Eat a piece of chocolate.
Stress-relief from laughter? It’s no joke. Laughter is the best medicine. According to Mayo Clinic, laughing-
- Stimulates many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the serotonin that are released by your brain.
- Activates and relieves your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
- Soothes tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
- Improves your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
- Relieves pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
- Improves your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.
Even if it feels a little forced, just smile. It really will make you feel better. Here’s how:
A little neuroscience crash course about Emotion-
Posed expressions produce the intended emotion and the associated physiological arousal; so we can create our own emotion. Cool, right?
Use this to your advantage! You can’t think your way into a new behavior, but you can act yourself into a new way of thinking.
Do I really need to go on a spiel over this? You know that sometimes, all you need is sleep to reset yourself. So, go do it. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb, and knock out.
#10 OTHER QUICK TRICKS
- Brush. Stroking your skin with a dry brush stimulates nerve endings, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and triggers a more relaxed state.
- Chew a piece of gum.
- Kiss. Kissing relieves stress by creating a sense of connectedness, which releases oxytocin and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters that counteract stress and depression.
- GO TO A DOG PARK!!!!!!!!!!
- Scream. One reason stress builds up in us is because we don’t release any of it. There’s nothing more primal than a good old-fashioned scream to get negativity out of our system. Doing so also releases endorphins that provide a great natural source of relief. To avoid scaring the bejesus out of people within earshot: shout into a pillow.
- Feel the sun.
- Go for a drive.
- Bake cookies.
Protect your energy, and do not ever stress on whatever you cannot control. Focus on what you can, and take care of yourself.
“If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago, today.”