By: Bonne Leung
It’s getting to the point of the year where all of us are just trudging through the days, Christmas break stubbornly out of reach as we’re bombarded by assignment after assignment by teachers who don’t seem to understand that there aren’t enough hours in a day to finish all that they ask of us.
So we all do what we can sacrifice a few minutes a day to catch up with friends, watch an episode of a TV show, and then mechanically carry out homework tasks and chores. Sometimes, we don’t even finish the work we intended because we just lack the energy to, and we fall into bed, sometimes at midnight, sometimes later, and savor the delicious warmth and calming dark draped over us until the alarm rings and we repeat the same all over again.
Needless to say, the toll of this perfunctory life — if you can call this living at all — is affecting our mental health. Since the beginning of lockdown and the implementation of quarantine protocols, there has been a significant rise in the rate of stress and anxiety. That’s not to say that the ongoing pandemic is the only culprit in our deteriorating sense of normalcy and mental health. A survey conducted by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development that involved 72 countries and over 540,000 students between the ages of 15-16 reported that 66% of students reported feeling stressed about poor grades and 59% reported that they often worry that taking a test will be difficult. Research also shows that stress precipitates the development of other mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, with the prevalence of anxiety being as high as 35% and depression at 30% in students. Now imagine how high those figures could become with the stress of some of us finishing our final year of high school online or some of us having to adjust to a new environment.
So what do you do about it? Some people get so stressed they work fanatically until they can finally relax, or if you’re anything like me, you just lament the time slipping through your fingers but do nothing to stop it. In truth, I think we all just need to hit pause. Not by spending an hour on a gaming console or scrolling through TikTok, but truly stop. Let your mind rest, take some time away from your technology. I’m not going to recommend you read a book because even that is too much at times, so here are some things you could do (some of them scientific, others not so much) to reset, and hopefully, after all of this, you will feel good enough to actually do all those tasks that are needed to be completed.
1. Poke at some Play-Doh.
Not the most conventional way to relieve stress, I know, but if you have younger siblings (or if you still have a container or two from your glory days) you could just sit down and play with some Doh. Part of the reason why this is such an effective way to reduce stress has to do with psychological studies on nostalgia where the research suggests it’s an effective way to boost mental well-being and reduce stress. Maybe you recall how much you loved the way your Play-Doh creations could be felled by one squish or find even that peculiar smell that didn’t smell like anything in particular trigger feelings of nostalgia. Nostalgia can increase an individual’s self-esteem as well as their sense of belonging, so take a moment and relive the past. If not with Play-Doh, you can do it with anything else that you might have enjoyed as a child even if it feels silly doing so.
2. Talk to yourself.
This one is definitely weird, and not very scientific, but it does work. I utilize positive self-talk very often, even when I’m not alone. While it may feel strange at first, it helps to develop a healthier outlook on your situation. The way we talk to ourselves matters, even when it is not out loud. Everyone has an inner dialogue, and it doesn’t help your stress if it’s constantly hissing that you don’t have time or you’re not going to finish the task on time. Instead, you could talk to yourself out loud, talk through the tasks that you have to do, how you’re going to do them. You could even give yourself encouragement. If you don’t want to say it out loud that’s fine too: just find a quiet place to sit or lie down and think it through in your head. Just be careful to avoid any negative thoughts that could lead to any feelings of doubt or worthlessness. I would recommend you say them out loud because it’s easier to think badly of yourself than it is to say them out loud.
3. Create a to-do list.
It might seem obvious but it’s amazing how many people’s to-do lists are miles long. When you make to-do lists, make sure they have all the information you need: a brief statement about what it is that you need to do (for schoolwork, you could format it with the subject at the beginning and then the task and due date eg. English — finish analysis for Macbeth, next Tuesday) and the deadline too. When they’re organized like this, you can go through them according to the due date, so it’s not one neverending list of tasks to do with a doomsday you don’t know about. They also help to relieve stress because you don’t have the added worry that you’re going to forget something, and it’s also helpful when you have those in-between moments maybe between a class where you have some time to get things done. You simply need to glance at your list to decide on a course of action. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me but ticking things off my checklist makes me feel infinitely better about myself, so a lot of the times my motivation to do things is simply knowing that doing them would mean ticking something off my list and subsequently watching it grow smaller.
No, not all of us have a beau to cuddle with, but a lot of us do have pets. Cuddling with something you love is known to release a chemical known as oxytocin, which provokes a release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that improves mood. If you have a significant other or a family member nearby that you could get a hug from, even a brief hug can increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, do it. Just ask for one. Or if not, you could have a cuddle with your pet. Research has shown that owning a cat or dog can help to reduce stress, but if your pet has to stay within the confines of an aquarium or a terrarium, simply spending time taking care of it can help to boost your mood. Maybe clean out your fish’s tank or watch your lizard bask in the warmth of his heating lamp, or have a singing contest with your parrot— any time spent with something you love can help to reduce your stress.
5. Become a sailor.
Not literally, but also kind of literally. Science has proven that swearing can help to improve your mood. This is more for times where you’re frustrated with pent up emotion and need an outlet to empty your feelings. Just swear. Channel your inner pirate and string together the most vulgar sentence you can think of. No examples will be given in this article but I’m sure you have an idea or two already. Just make sure you’re alone or with someone that understands your intentions because it could get awkward real quick. As ridiculous as it sounds, swearing has proven to increase pain tolerance. In 2009, a study done at Keele University where participants had to keep their hands in ice-cold water found that participants who repeated a swear word over and over again could leave their hands in the water longer than those who didn’t. So close the door, maybe put on some music, and swear away.