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This Year Will Be Different - Six Tips to Stress Less

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Every August, as the back-to-school sales start rolling out, and the temperature drops a few degrees, I start getting the back-to-school jitters. I stockpile accordion folders, 3-ring binders, and gel pens to color-code my notes; I pick out the perfect planner, which will soon hold my entire life together. I try to make use of the advice I get every year-"Stay ahead of your assignments!" "Practice self-care!"-but once the waves of assignments, tests, and activities start to roll in, I inevitably slip into the old habits from last year. I end up losing the pens within a month, and soon all my notes are taken with a green colored pencil I found in the lunchroom. My once-immaculate planner gets filled with scribbles as due dates change and instructions are shouted over the bell at the last minute of class. I try to plan ahead, but there's so much to keep track of that I always feel behind. How am I supposed to get 8 hours of sleep when I have so much to do? Do all these people who tell me to "practice self-care" think my algebra teacher will be fine with me meditating in the middle of her lecture? When I do have some free time, I don't want to do yoga- I want to hang out with my friends, or watch Netflix.

Sometimes, stress is unavoidable-especially when your life is full of lots of different things going on at once. This school year can be different, but in order for something to change, we need to change the way we approach self-care. Here are some of the practical ways that I've started using stress-management techniques that actually fit my life.

1) Check in with myself.

Some days I feel awful and can't put my finger on why. When I can't figure out why I'm feeling bad, I feel more out of control, like I don't know what it would take to feel better. I've started checking in with myself about some things that stress me out often-am I exhausted? Am I stressed about a relationship? Am I feeling self-conscious? Is there a large workload on my plate this week? Sometimes I can discount these things, and think that because I "should" be able to deal with them, that I also shouldn't be affected by them. But I deal with things far better when I recognize what's going on and why it's affecting me-and I function better when I allow myself to care about the things happening in my life.

2) Know my limitations.

There are definitely times when the thing that's stressing me out is out of my control. I might be waiting to hear back from an organization I applied to, or worried about a sick friend or relative, or anxious that my parents are angry at me. These kinds of situations can be so overwhelming, especially on top of all the normal stresses of school and friends and activities. When I'm in a situation like this, I try to stay in the moment, and think about what I can do to make it better, even if it's something small. I might send a text to the person I care about, simply letting them know I'm thinking of them, or figure out a time that I can plan what I want to say to my parents (my friends can help me during lunch). If it's something that's really out of my control, I'll work on something else I can control, like getting an assignment done, or cleaning my room-one time I even gave myself a haircut because I needed something to change in my life-just taking control of one small thing can help me feel less overwhelmed.

3) Make room for my needs.

When I'm consistently overwhelmed for a long time, it means that something needs to change. It's always hard to let things go for me-I hate saying "no" to people. But when I finally did, I felt like I had room to breathe again. I learned that if I didn't prioritize making time to take care of myself, then I wouldn't be giving my best to any of the things I cared about, so losing one activity was worth it.

4) Do what makes me happy.

I don't like meditating. It's nice for a few minutes, but I usually end up getting anxious again as soon as I end the meditation. The same handful of suggestions seems to get thrown around when it comes to self-care: journal, get enough sleep, eat a balanced meal, do yoga. But for me, sometimes what I actually need to feel better is to go out with my friends, or to look through my favorite dog accounts on Instagram, or to listen to music VERY LOUD in my car. I'm happy to try different suggestions, but my coping skills are what make me feel better.

5) Switch tracks.

If I notice that I'm wrapped up in things that are stressing me out, sometimes I try to deliberately switch up what I'm thinking about. Sometimes this means finding something positive to say to myself, one thing I'm grateful for or proud of. If that feels to cheesy, or I can't think of anything, I'll give someone else a compliment. Making other people happy helps me feel better about myself, too. Sometimes I'll listen to music to set my mood- I have go-to songs for motivating myself, and for calming myself down. Sometimes I'll just look at some memes. There's something about laughing at something absurd that just makes me feel better, even when the rest of the world seems to be going wrong that day.

6) Laugh!

This is my personal favorite coping skill. It's an immediate release of endorphins, which chemically changes your mindset. There's YouTube videos, funny tweets, old vine compilations, stand-up specials on Netflix-there's enough funny content out there to make anyone laugh, and it only takes a second to help, even if it's just a little.

I hope some of this helps some of you prepare for the school year! 

Written by Ellie Borgstrom

Take Your First Step
What is Hope?
 

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Sunday, 16 December 2018