This post was written by ScIU Undergraduate Intern, Gabrielle Rangel.
According to the NASPA, 4 out of 5 college students felt overwhelmed at least once in the past year by the amount of anxiety that they have experienced. The usual stresses of school, life, and work were met with even more challenges due to COVID-19. Students had to switch their learning style, were kicked out of their dorms on campus, lost on-campus jobs, and some even lost family members. To top it off, quarantine has amplified feelings of isolation and loneliness. As quarantining persists, it’s important for everyone to take personal measures in order to reduce stress and anxiety as much as possible. Here are 5 everyday practices that have been proven by recent studies to reduce anxiety.
Meditate. Meditation is a great way to explore your inner self. This includes aspects of anxiety and stress. Meditation is a practice of techniques to enhance awareness and focused attention. While participating in meditation, the mind will naturally wander through several thoughts, but the key and purpose is to focus the mind on breathing. On a physiological level, meditation quiets the sympathetic nervous system and lowers blood levels of norepinephrine, a naturally occurring chemical in the body that acts as a stress hormone. For about 15 minutes a day, find a quiet, distracting-free space where you can relax and recenter through mediation practices. Meditation takes practice, but through the process you will find yourself at peace with your inner self and be able to control your reactions to challenges faced in life.
Reduce Social Media Use. In a recent survey held by Harris Poll, 51% of total respondents reported increased usage on social media platforms during COVID-19. It would be tempting to think that we can make up for social distancing with social media, but spending too much time on social media can enhance feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as worsen anxiety. A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study found that reducing social media use to 30 minutes per day results in a significant reduction in anxiety. But, as we all know, the reality of only being on social media platforms for 30 minutes a day is slim. However, just being more mindful of social media use can also be beneficial to your mental health. Track how much time you are on social media with a tracking app, turn off your phone at certain hours of the day, or disable your social media notifications.
Get Outside. Staying indoors at all hours of the day can have negative impacts on mental health. It’s a great idea to step outdoors and get some fresh air, take a walk, jog, or hike. Not only is this great for reducing levels of anxiety but it is also beneficial for your physical health. Psychologists studying how exercise reduces anxiety suggest that a 10-minute walk can be just as effective as a 45-minute workout at relieving stress. Furthermore, a study that looked into exercise as treatment for anxiety found that individuals who exercise regularly are less likely to meet diagnostic criteria for generalized anxiety disorder. A simple exercise to get your body moving improves mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. Consider taking daily walks on breaks in between meetings and classes, taking a jog at the end of the day, or taking a bike ride with a friend.
Get Enough Sleep. The body needs additional sleep and rest when stressed. Lack of sleep has proven to affect mood and emotional health, which can worsen challenges caused by anxiety disorders. A new study suggests that a sleepless night can raise anxiety by up to 30%. When people get a full night’s rest, their anxiety levels plummet by restoring the brain’s prefrontal mechanism which regulates our emotions and thereby prevents the escalation of anxiety. If experiencing serious sleeping problems, speak with a doctor. Consider improving sleep hygiene by making your bed more comfortable, avoiding caffeine in the evening, not using your phone before bed, and allowing for a relaxation period before your desired sleep time.
Follow a Routine. Routines serve as a way to ease anxiety through structure. A study conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University suggests that repetitive routines can be calming and help reduce anxiety by managing stress. Following a routine reduces stress levels because it decreases the amount of ‘unknowns’ in your day-to-day living. This also reduces the number of decisions that you need to make, which can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Consider starting and ending your day at the same time each day, dress as if you are going into the office or classroom, have a designated area for work and school, take walks in between zoom calls, eating three healthy meals a day, and go to bed at the same time every night.
Taking care of yourself during challenging times is very important as it can be easy to lose oneself in surrounding chaos. Everyone experiences anxiety, so don’t be afraid to get help if needed. Here are some resources for more information regarding anxiety and mental health as well as online support groups, Mental Health America, Anxiety and Depression of America, Daily Strength, 7 Cups of Tea.
Edited by Taylor Woodward and Joe Vuletich