The stress of finals can greatly affect your well-being. Relaxation techniques can be valuable tools in the management of stress. A relaxation technique is any method, process, procedure, or activity that helps a person to relax; to attain a state of increased calmness; or otherwise reduce levels of anxiety.
Your emotional and physical reactions to stress are partly determined by the sensitivity of your sympathetic nervous system. This system produces the fight or flight reaction in response to stress or excitement. It involves the speeding up and heightening of the pulse rate, respiration, muscle tension, glandular function, and circulation of the blood. If you have an especially stressful life (like during finals), your sympathetic nervous system may always be poised to react to a crisis, putting you in a state of constant tension. In this mode, you tend to react to small stresses the same way you would react to real emergencies. The energy that accumulates in the body to meet this “emergency” must be discharged in order to bring your body back into balance. Repeated episodes of the fight or flight reaction deplete your energy reserves and, if they continue, can lead to emotional burnout and eventually complete exhaustion. You can break this spiral only by learning to manage stress in a way that protects and even increases your energy level.
Most relaxation techniques make it possible for you to spend a short period of time in a state of relaxation. In this state both the body and the mind are at rest. The outside world is screened out for a short period of time. Ongoing practice of one of these techniques can provide a wonderfully calming and relaxing feeling that seems to have a lasting effect for many people. Your energy level and ability to cope with the external world may be replenished. Relaxation exercises are easy to learn and implement. They can be remarkably effective in addressing stress, test anxiety, phobias, and other similar concerns.
Progressive Relaxation techniques involve systematically relaxing your major muscle groups by briefly flexing your muscles and then slowly releasing the tension. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie down. Begin by flexing your facial muscles, continue with your neck and shoulders, and on down to your arms, abdomen, and legs. End by breathing deeply and slowly.
Visualization uses your imagination to reduce stress. Sitt or lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Imagine a pleasant, peaceful scene, such as a sandy beach. Picture yourself in this setting – a desolate beach, dozing on the soft white sand under a warm sun, listening to the waves and seagulls. Use all of your senses to imagine this place: see the clear ocean, feel the sun and breezes. As you slip into your pleasant place, consider your body. Are there any areas that feel tight or tense? Concentrate on those areas and envision the tension slipping away. Feel the warmth of relaxation replace tension. At the end of your relaxation period, take a few deep breaths and slowly open your eyes.
Another form of visualization involves the use of color. The color blue lessens the fight or flight response. Blue also calms physiological functions such as pulse rate, breathing, and perspiration. Sit or lie in a comfortable position, your arms resting at your sides. Take a deep breath and visualize that the earth below you is filled with the color blue. This blue color extends 50 feet below you into the earth. Now imagine that you are able to soak up this blue energy through the soles of your feet. As you inhale, visualize the soft blue color filling up your feet. When your feet are completely filled with the color blue, bring the color up through your ankles, legs, pelvis, and lower back. Each time you exhale, see the blue color leaving through your lungs, carrying any tension and stress with it. See the tension dissolve into the air. Continue to inhale blue into your abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, neck, and head. Exhale the blue slowly out of your lungs. Repeat this entire process five times and then relax for a few minutes.
One of the easiest ways to relieve tension is deep breathing. Lie on your back with a pillow under your head. Bend your knees (or put a pillow under them). This relaxes your stomach. Put one hand on your stomach, just below your rib cage. Slowly breathe in through your nose. Your stomach should feel like it’s rising. Exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely and letting your stomach fall. Repeat several times until you feel calm and relaxed. Deep breathing can be done anywhere. Try it right before an exam. While your peers scan their notes, sit back, close your eyes, and take some quiet deep breaths.
Focusing is another kind of relaxation technique. Select a small personal object that you like a great deal. Focus all your attention on this object as you inhale and exhale slowly and deeply for one to two minutes. While you are doing this exercise, try not to let any other thoughts or feelings enter your mind. If they do, just return your attention to the object. After completing this exercise, any tension or nervousness that you were feeling upon starting the exercise should be diminished. Some people use this method but substitute a sound or word for the personal object.
Some people use aromatherapy as a relaxation method. Aromatherapy is the use of scent to improve both your physical and emotionally well-being. Essential oils are usually used. They are reasonably priced and available from many sources. Put a few drops of essential oil on a tissue or cotton ball. Carry this with you and when you are feeling anxious or stressed, sniff it. Some common scents used for relaxation include lavender, rosemary, rose, orange/mandarin, bergamot, chamomile, and sandalwood.
Physical activity is a great relaxation method. It provides immediate stress relief as well as long-term stress management. Just 20-30 minutes of walking a day, for example, can give you more energy, help you put things in perspective, improve your sleep, sharpen your mental productivity, and boost your self-confidence.
Laughter is one of the best stress-busters there is. Conjuring up a big belly laugh out of nowhere might be impossible when you’re under stress, but there are ways to utilize this stress management technique. Watch a comedy or sitcom during one of your study breaks. If possible, share your laughter with a friend. Double the laughter means double the stress relief. It’s also a good idea to keep your sense of humor during finals. Rather than suffering a melt-down when things go astray, learn to laugh about it.
If you are feeling stressed, listen to calming music, do deep breathing exercises, or take a 10 minute break to take a walk. Just sitting quietly or watching television is not enough to produce the physiological changes needed to produce a relaxed state. For many people, prayer is the answer to stress. The techniques you choose are entirely up to you.
Most college student related stress is self-manageable, especially during finals. There are situations that may be serious enough to require counseling or the advice of other professionals. If the stress in your life is overwhelming and/or you feel helpless, get help.
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