The foliage is changing color, the breeze is picking up, the peaches at Wegmans are being replaced by squash and the candy aisle of CVS is filled with spooky fun-sized treats. It’s official: fall has fallen. The sweat and excitement of August (and a new school year) came and passed, and September brought with it T.V. pilots, college football, apple season and … prelims.
The nasty little guys came out of nowhere this year, but the Cornell campus is, undoubtedly, infested.
You know it’s prelim season when that girl in your English class who is usually dressed to impress walks in wearing sweatpants and slippers, or when you wake up after sleeping for five hours relieved that you got such a great night’s sleep. It happens every semester, always about four weeks in, but it catches me off guard every single time. This year was no exception, but it seems I’m not the only one who didn’t emotionally prepare. From what I can tell, the entire campus borders on certifiable insanity during these work-laden weeks. It is quite normal these days to see students racing to and from class, crying on their cell phones and scarfing down dinner (often alone) during a quick library break. We’re stressed.
That’s not to say that we are out of line for falling into this frenzy. Maybe this week you have three tests, five papers, a homework assignment, a meeting for that save-the-world club you are president of (there’s an important guest speaker), and an interview for that impressive summer internship. We’ve all been there, and, from what I can tell, it looks like we’re going to be there again.
But I wonder: Does it have to be this frenetic? Can I — er … I mean, we — get it done and spare ourselves at least some of the anxiety? And if it’s only coming back four weeks from now, can I somehow avoid driving myself crazy? The work is here to stay, but does the stress have to be?
We all learned “coping mechanisms” when we moved onto North Campus. Every bulletin board had a different tip for an easy transition to college — sleep nine hours a night, exercise 30-60 minutes a day, eat a healthy diet and find a passion. Well, here we are. If you’re anything like me, as soon as my schedule gets busy (see above), exercise and sleep are the first to get cut. CTP is much more convenient than cooking, and the reason I got this overwhelmed in the first place was because I’m already pursuing my “passion,” so I don’t believe that one, either. And, while I appreciate the R.A.s’ best intentions, I’m not sure everyone heard me: I might actually shrivel and die in Mann Library because of all the work I have.
So how can we realistically manage our stress — or at least lower it for long enough to make these hellish weeks less miserable? Well, I did some research, and here’s what I’ve got:
• Take a deep breath. Now, do it again. When we’re stressed, we take short, shallow breaths. Researchers have found that by taking long, deep breaths, we clear our minds, lower our blood pressures and release muscular tension. Put down the coffee, close your laptop and take a minute to breathe.
• Laugh. Studies in the field of Positive Psychology have shown that laughter reduces levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, leaving us feeling less aroused and more relaxed. Take a break from the textbook, log into YouTube and watch that video that is pee-in-your-pants funny. And if you can’t find something to make you chuckle, fake it. The body can’t distinguish between fake and genuine laughter, so you get the same great benefits even if you’re pretending. So go ahead, LOL.
• Pick up the phone and call a friend or family member to whom you feel close. Even if you only speak for a few short minutes, by triggering feelings of security and increased self-worth, you will feel less anxious and more confident.
• Listen to your favorite song. Not only does good music put you in a new “zone” of concentration, it has also been shown to alter breathing rates, lower blood pressure and increase happiness (often based on memories associated with the song). Turn up the volume to whatever song gets you excited. Please, just use headphones if you’re around other frenzied folk.
• Have a moment with your significant other, if you have one. Researchers at Arizona State University found that “positive contact” with significant others predicted better moods and lower levels of stress in women. And, according to one study, those who had sex shortly before stressful events (e.g. public speaking engagements) exhibited less of a stress response during the event than those who did not have sex. No matter how many more lectures you have to review, make time for your partner. It’ll help.
Well, if you’ve made it through to this point, you’re either a) not as busy as you seem to believe you are or b) eager to try to manage your stress during these crazy days. I’ll assume the latter and hope that you take a minute for yourself this week, because listening to your favorite song is more appealing than being that girl who loses her cool in the library lobby. Good luck, and don’t forget to breathe.
Hannah Deixler is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shades of Grey appears alternate Thursdays this semester.