I have the most wonderful young cousin. She’s a sophomore in college, sweet, bright and completely energized. Like most college students, she is a member of many clubs, has a full course load and is part of campus social life. With all that going on, she quickly found herself a little overwhelmed, under-slept, and over-scheduled. Sure, college is demanding, but I suspect it’s a little more than that…
Social media and smart phones have completely changed the world. They provide an amazing level of connectivity between people, but there’s also the downside of being too connected, too easy to distract and interrupt. This can make it hard to focus and stay present from day to day. With those tiny screens you are one vibration away from a text, tweet, Facebook message, game reminder, Snapchat pic, Instagram like…okay, you get the picture. All that buzzing from your pocket is a lot. It’s a distraction. It’s an addiction. It’s also a crazy anxiety inducer. Be it from seeing the best parts of other people’s lives, to feeling like there’s too many messages coming at you all at once, smart phones can be the source of a lot of stress.
At the time we spoke of her anxiety, my cousin admitted that she was a heavy user of her phone, often fielding messages from peers well after midnight. Combined with confusion and concern about the current political climate it was a recipe for disaster. I decided that she needed a stress-reducing care package STAT and got busy gathering some of my favorite items that help me unwind, focus, and breathe.
I included the following:
1. A journal for clearing the mind. Writing your thoughts down on paper can help you figure out things that are bothering you. Set a timer and do 5, 10 or even 20 minutes of writing whatever comes into your head. If you can’t think of anything, or have a moment of blank thought, write “What I really mean is…” over and over until you come up with something to say. This unfiltered release can help purge all the worry.
2. Romance novels for endorphins. For me, these are like junk food, they release endorphins and are a guaranteed happy ending every time. I think everyone needs a good stack of romance novels.
3. Coloring book for stress reduction. Coloring has been found to reduce stress in adults. Isn’t it nice to be a kid again?
4. Pusheen for cuddles. I love this squishy cartoon cat and it’s nice to have something to squeeze when you’re feeling overwhelmed or sad.
My pick: Pusheen the Cat Medium Plush
5. Green tea for zen. I first had Genmai-cha at the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco, and every time I drink it, I am transported back to their bamboo patio overlooking a perfectly manicured koi pond. It warms the heart and soothes the soul.
My pick: Shizuoka Matcha Genmai-cha
6. Portable speakers for music and radio shows. Do you take time to listen to the radio? I have been an avid listener of podcasts for several years and with each listen I am transported to another place. Listening to This American Life or Planet Money immediately reduces my stress, makes me use other parts of my brain, and often allows me to do two things at once (usually listening while I cook, or take a shower). I also like Pandora’s radio channels, particularly Billie Holiday and Mozart really take off the edge. Books on tape, from Audible are also a favorite!
7. Water bottle. Your brain works better when it’s hydrated, but it can be hard to remember to drink any water. If you carry a reusable water bottle around, you’ll remember to stay hydrated!
My pick: BKR Glass Water Bottle
8. A note to your friend or family member. I wrote a letter to my cousin with all my tips and tricks on how to avoid and deal with stress. Advice I included:
– Take a moment to breathe
– Identify one or all of the things causing you anxiety. Is it something you are putting off? Is there a way to get it done quickly so it’s put away?
– Excuse yourself from social activities and take time to gather yourself.
– Use one of the items in this package to bring you some calm.
– Tidy or clean your room. Chaotic spaces can make you feel more stressed.
– Delete Facebook from your phone, I promise you wont miss it!
– Try meditation using an app like Calm.
– Set a scheduled Do Not Disturb between 12pm and 7am, which will stop calls and texts from vibrating your phone and waking you up. If you are trying to work, you can also use it any time during the day when you don’t want people to be able to reach you.
Once I had all my items collected, I labeled each one with a Post-it (mostly for laughs), wrapped them in a box and sent the package to her in upstate New York. She loved it and I really hope it helped her be better able to take on stress.
Things are different now than when I was in school, and while smart phones and social media were emerging, they were in no way as all-consuming as they are today (seriously, how long could you really have spent on MySpace?). I’m grateful I missed that, and got to focus moment to moment while on campus, but I am definitely feeling too connected and in-the-know now. I can’t imagine the incredible pressure that young students have on their shoulders and the self discipline that is needed in order to dump the distractions. And let’s face it, students aren’t the only ones. With all that’s going on in the world (and on Facebook), we ALL need a game plan on how to unplug and de-stress.
P.S. What are your favorite tips for reducing stress?