You know that feeling when you’re rushing to write a paper the night before it’s due, and you realize you forgot your textbook in your room, only to head back and remember you lent it to your classmate who's out of town? Oh, and your laundry is piling up, you need to book your flight home for summer, Mother’s Day is right around the corner, and you still haven't grocery shopped for the week…
The feeling, as you probably guessed, is stress. It's a part of human life that we all have to find ways to manage, and your early twenties are an opportune time for learning not only how to handle stressful moments when they occur, but also how to keep them at bay.
Here are 12 action items to manage stress when it comes knocking:
1. Try the 4-7-8 breathing exercise. You've heard it before—mindfulness is key to both preventing stress and calming it in the heat of the moment. With this exercise, try inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds, then exhaling for eight seconds. Repeat. Calming your heartbeat can actually calm your mind.
2. Enjoy nature. Take a step back from what's stressing you by taking a step outside, perhaps for a walk. Getting moving and breathing some fresh air can work wonders, especially when you're surrounded by the beauty of the outdoors.
3. Unplug, literally or metaphorically. What do you do when your laptop or phone gets glitchy? You power it down, give it a minute, and let it reboot. Next time you’re feeling stressed, try the same trick with yourself: unplug, recover, and reboot. This might mean snoozing your phone notifications for a while to give yourself a break from that stimulus, or maybe it’s more about no social events and a nice quiet night in. Like most de-stressing tips, this one is personal, so reflect on what makes you "glitch" that you can unplug from.
4. Stand in a power pose. Never heard of it? The theory is that by standing in a power pose (think Wonder Woman with her hands on her hips and her chin and chest held high), you can induce that positive “I’ve got this” energy you need in stressful times. Pro tip: try a power pose in those moments full of last-minute nerves, like right before a presentation or the morning you’re walking in for a job interview.
5. Check out a soothing app. There are tons of apps out there designed to help you manage stress, but a few that colleagues in our office have had success with and recommend are Headspace, Calm, and Dare, among others. While not all of these apps are free, some offer free trial periods that you can take advantage of.
6. Watch bloopers of your favorite TV show. Isn't it weird how bloopers from TV shows are sometimes funnier than the actual show? Good thing, because we all know how much of a cure-all laughter can be. If you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, all you need is an Internet connection to hop on YouTube and mine for comic medicine.
7. Say "no". It's important to carve out time for indulging in the activities you love—whether that's watching TV, reading a book, doing calligraphy, or anything in between—and a key to finding such time is learning to say "no" to the things that cause you to stress. Learning to say "no" will give you the space to say "yes" to other, more personally important and enriching activities that bring you joy.
8. Keep a stress journal. Whenever you feel stressed, try writing a couple sentences about how you're feeling and why you might be feeling that way. This will help you lock in on any underlying patterns, and the journal will eventually grow into a log of all the times you've made it through stressful periods for you to reference as those events reoccur.
9. Color! Whether it's on a blank page or in an actual coloring book, coloring has been shown to be a powerhouse of a stress reducer. Maybe it's because it helps bring about mindfulness, or maybe it's because it transports us, in a way, back to simpler times, but whatever the reason, it really seems to work. To get you started, here are our Keep Calm and Color On coloring pages for you to print off and color to your heart's delight (or rather, to your heart's deep, stressless, meditative content).
10. Clean your space. It's a weird phenomenon, but cleaning your space of clutter really does spark joy. If you're feeling stressed, take a look around where you spend most of your time and ask if it's as tidy and neat as it should be. If dishes are piled up in the sink and the floor is conceiled under a layer of dirty laudry, put on some tunes and scrub the place down. A clean and organized environment can make for a clean and organized mind.
11. Make a to-do list. Sometimes stress is just a symptom of pure overload, and a quick way to manage that is to itemize what's on your plate by making a to-do list. Take a seat, grab a pen and notepad, and list out all the things you need to accomplish that day, including even the smallest tasks. Shining a spotlight on your responsibilities like this will give you some direction as you start checking them off. Pro tip: start with the easiest thing first to build momentum (and to more quickly enjoy the soaring thrill of crossing something off).
12. Ask for help. No one ever accomplishes anything alone, so why try? Don't be afraid to ask for help when you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed. There are people in your life who care about you and want you to succeed, and all it takes to tap into that is a text, a call, an email, a knock on the door, a shout, a letter—any small, single unit of communication, really (even a chirp would do). If you're the kind of person who struggles with asking for help, remember that at the end of the day, all of us have to do it from time to time—and that's completely okay.
These are just a few methods to manage your stress, but this list is by no means comprehensive. Give one or two of them a shot next time you're feeling stressed, and hopefully they do the trick!