10 Stress-Busters for End-of-Year and Holidays
December has been dubbed the most wonderful time of year. (Yes, there’s a song about it, and you pretty much can’t escape hearing it wherever you go.) It could be wonderful. This is the time when families and friends gather for festive fun and celebrations. In some parts of the world, snowfall creates a whimsical winter wonderland (another holiday song!), perfect for sledding and cocoa by the fire. Whether celebrating religious holidays or just the end of the year, the month is loaded with “seasonal” activities. Bake sales, winter concerts, cookie exchanges, family outings to get Christmas trees, visiting grandparents, decorating everything that doesn’t move (and some that do) –the list of fun things you could be doing seems endless. For students, however, the magic of the season may not fully kick in until exams are over and winter break has begun. More often, holiday activities seem to add a few more turns when you’re already tightly wound up with a long to-do list and deadlines. It can be tough striking the right balance between schoolwork and play. (Let’s keep it simple, if it’s not “work”, it’s play, even if you have to put in some effort into it). You want to be a part of the fun and games of the season, but you still need to turn in reports and prep for finals. Stressed out? Don’t worry. Here are some simple ways to keep the holiday spirit while wrapping up the semester (and the gifts!) without melting down like an over-heated candle.
Take a deep breath.
Have a holiday dinner and a paper due back to back? Feel your mind racing, fists clenching, stomach churning with tension? Just breathe. Start by inhaling slowly and exhaling deeply. It is a scientific fact that deep breathing triggers the body’s natural relaxation response. According to the American Institute of Stress (they should know!), focused breathing relieves anxiety by activating both physical and emotional responses. You’ll feel calmer immediately as you increase the supply of oxygen in your brain and stimulate your nervous system (read more about it here). Best of all, you can do it anytime, anywhere, without anyone noticing!
Limit the junk food.
This probably sounds like what your mom would tell you, and she’d be right. Nutritious food nourishes the body and fuels the mind. When you eat well, you feel better; study smarter; and score higher. Healthy food can also lower stress and can keep you healthy – nothing worse than battling a cold during the weeks leading up to exams and the holiday break. Of course, this is the holiday season, and sugary, fatty, caloric goodies can be found everywhere you turn… gingerbread cookies, chocolate cakes, eggnog, peppermint lattes. Yum. Go ahead, have some. Just don’t overdo it. (And speaking of peppermint lattes, cut back on caffeine intake so you avoid blood sugar spikes that’ll mess up your sleeping schedule.)
Get enough sleep.
If you feel run down or tired, you’re really not going to do so well taking exams, turning in papers, or even playing video games with your cousins at a family gathering. Pulling all-nighters has been proven to do more harm than good. According to this article on The Huffington Post sleep deprivation and stress form a vicious cycle that’s hard to escape. Set a study schedule for your finals, but do put up the books so you can catch a solid eight hours of zzz’s.
The holidays are a hectic time with high demands. Your friends are most likely in the same boat as you are. Take on what you absolutely must, and the rest can wait until you’re on vacation. Plan to spend time with your friends worry-free during winter break. Even with family engagements, it’s okay to decline if you’re under a tight deadline. Your family will understand that school should be priority #1.
Make a schedule.
Make a list (and check it twice!). End-of-year stress may seem overwhelming, but you’re already in the home stretch. Make a list of everything you have to do, and put your to-do list on your calendar, making sure you give yourself enough time. If you’re the kind of person who needs three drafts before you’re done with your essay, start writing earlier, not the night before it is due. And make sure to mark off completed items – a big, bold ‘X’ would do the trick – it’ll make your feel good to see the list shrinking!
Exercise is a well-known stress buster. A brisk walk outside will invigorate you and help keep your blood flowing. Leash up the dog and stroll around the neighborhood to admire all the colorful lights and décor. The fresh air will do you good, even if you only go out for 20 minutes. Balance your schedule to make some room for active hobbies. You’ll feel accomplished and alert, which means you’ll mark those X’s more often!
Take timeouts that will help you recharge your emotional batteries. Make time to kick back and relax, listen to music, enjoy hobbies and holiday events. Just because you’re up against finals doesn’t mean you can’t take a breather to make a gift for a friend or decorate the tree with your siblings. American University (http://www.american.edu/ocl/news/Coping-with-Exam-and-Holiday-Stresses.cfm ) recommends a healthy balance of extracurricular activities to make a stressful schedule feel more manageable.
Create an inviting study space.
If you’re going to spend a significant amount of time in your study space, make sure that it’s inviting and comfortable. Sitting at your desk for several hours? Add some festive holiday décor to set a merrier mood and balance your work and play. Light a soothing candle, or place a favorite photo within your view. As long as the space is quiet and you can concentrate, go ahead and have a little fun with it!
Sometimes you can multi-task in a good way. Getting together with friends to prep for a history test can be less stressful than doing it alone (unless group-study doesn’t work for you). You can gather at a friend’s home for some holiday cheer and then bust out the books. If you’re not able to meet in person, you can still ‘meet’ online to work together. There are many ways to do it such as Skype and Google hangouts. (Check out Meemli for a learning-focused shared online space.)
Ask for help.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to others for some help. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Your friends and classmates can help you study. Your family and teachers will be more than happy to lend a helping hand however they can. Ask teachers for a bit of one-on-one exam review, or have your parents quiz you on your course content. Or just help you de-stress and unwind a little.
These 10 tips can help you keep the stress manageable and stay on track as you finish up the year. And bonus tip, these ideas work for everyone – not just students! Feel free to share with your family, friends, teachers – anyone you know who could use some tips on de-stressing. Do you have your own favorite stress-busters? We’d love to hear about them. Good luck and Happy Holidays!