Tips to help students destress

Everyone experiences moments of physical, emotional, or psychological strain due to demanding circumstances; otherwise known as stress. If you are struggling with a medical or personal issue, need to talk about possible OXs, or are otherwise concerned about finishing your coursework,  please connect with your instructor, advisor, GradSupport, or Student Support Services (S3) to talk through your options. Below are some strategies you can use to help destress and remember that you can always get support when you need it!

  • Write stuff down – Sometimes, the things you feel you need to accomplish can get pretty long. Writing these things down, and physically seeing them in a list,  can help you feel like you are holding less things in your mind. It can also help reduce anxiety to cross things off the list as you complete them!
  • Take deep breaths – When you are feeling stressed, you might notice shallow breathing from your upper chest; this is a typical stress response. Try this belly breathing exercise to help relieve tension in your body.
    • Step 1: Sit or lie down
    • Step 2: Place your hands on your lower belly or ribcage, or place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly
    • Step 3: Silently count “1-2-3-4” as you inhale and “1-2-3-4” or longer as you exhale
    • Step 4: Allow your hands to follow the movement of your breath, expanding and relaxing
  • Take a moment to ground yourself – When we let our minds race with all of the things we have on our plates, we can become overwhelmed. Taking a moment to pause and ground yourself can help ease your anxiety and allow you to refocus your priorities. This sense scan exercise is an easy and quick strategy you can use anywhere:
    • Step 1: In a comfortable seat, sit upright and close your eyes
    • Step 2: Take 3 deep breaths and imagine the air entering and exiting your lungs
    • Step 3: Notice how your fingertips feel when you rub them together or the temperature of your skin
    • Step 4: With your eyes closed, bring your awareness back to your mind. Notice any thoughts that come and then let them go like a bird. Take 3 deep breaths and gently open your eyes.
  • Accept your stress – There are certain times in life, such as during final exams, when things feel more stressful. Research shows that by accepting your stress, rather than trying to avoid it, you can feel less upset by the stressors.
  • Focus on progress not perfection – Being a perfectionist can cause a lot of added stress. Instead, set small achievable goals, celebrate small accomplishments, and shift your focus to the effort you put in rather than getting it perfect.
  • Take a break and get some fresh air – It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you have to do. You could lose sight of “the big picture” when you are spending hours on end studying. Make sure you take breaks that include getting outside and moving your body. Go for a walk when you become stressed or feel challenged. Be mindful of your surroundings and stay present during the walk. Actually allowing your brain to recharge can improve your memory retention. 
  • Don’t sacrifice too much sleep to study – Getting poor sleep the night before a test negatively impacts your ability to think, reason, and understand. During sleep, your brain builds pathways to connect and consolidate everything you studied during the day. It’s more beneficial to get a good night’s rest than cramming all night right up until an exam. Call the MIT Relaxation and Sleep Line at 617-253-CALM (2256) to listen to a 3-minute destress recording.
  • Make time to eat nutrient rich foods – Eating nutrient dense foods, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, peas or any nuts, gives your brain power, energy, and improves your concentration and memory.
  • Ask for support – When you reach out to someone and feel connected, you can manage stress better. Utilize the social resources available to you.
  • Show yourself some compassion – Focusing on negative thoughts about yourself leads to decreased motivation and greater feelings of helplessness. Instead, substitute this with affirmations such as, “I am doing my best,” “It’s going to be okay,” “I am smart and capable,” or “I believe in myself and I can do hard things.”
  • Make time for socializing – Being with friends can provide a much-needed break from studying and give you something to look forward to. Grab a meal or take a walk with friends to incorporate nutrition and physical movement into their routine as well. 
  • Keep yourself accountable – If you are struggling, or procrastinating,  to complete a big assignment, try to find an accountability partner and ask that person to check in with you periodically. You can offer to do the same for them. Sometimes it helps to have another person to keep you on task.
  • Team up – Join or start a study group to increase motivation, ask questions, and problem solve together. Teaching others can reinforce learning and you can learn new ideas and study habits from your group.
  • Practice gratitude – Research shows that expressing gratitude lowers blood pressure, improves your sleep, and boosts your immune system. When taking a break from studying, think about or write down a few things that you are grateful for.
  • Create a to-do list – Sometimes being able to visualize the work you need to do helps make it less overwhelming. Break things down into smaller tasks you can complete. As you finish different steps for projects or P Sets, you can cross it off and feel accomplished. This will increase motivation and allow you to accomplish more tasks. 
  • Plan around your schedule – Plan out what you’ll be doing weekly by using your syllabi/class schedule. Make sure to schedule in free time, relaxation, and breaks as well to prioritize your own wellbeing. 
  • Do work during your prime time – If you find that you work or study more efficiently at certain times of the day, plan to complete your most challenging assignments at those times.
  • Reward yourself – Plan to reward yourself for finishing a hard day’s work. We are human and humans like rewards at the end of hard work. It motivates us to continue to work hard. Think of a few activities that you can treat yourself with that are relaxing, enjoyable, and recharging.

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