Graphic by Ashley Stewart

There’s a lot I can say about stress, but what’s most important is how to deal with it. I’m not going to tell you to watch your favorite show, play your favorite video game, go outside, exercise and be with friends. Those will just distract you from your stress or take a chunk of time out of your day that, as a SCAD student, you probably do not have.

What I’m going to tell you are things that might not have crossed your mind when trying to deal with stress. What I’ve learned from having chronic stress is that it is physical. Yes, the worry comes from a mental place; it comes from the workload and confusion of everyday life. What makes it worse is stress’s physical attributes. Stress causes headaches and blurred vision, making you unable to work. Stress will cause overeating and weight gain. Stress will even change your sleep pattern, causing you to sleep too much or not enough — now you’re either wasting time or sleep-deprived. For more physical signs and consequences attributed to stress, click here.

As a student, stress is one thing you’ll always have. As a working artist, it won’t go away either. Being a functioning human is more stressful than our parents made it out to be. The first step is to admit that stress is a part of life that cannot be fully cut out — and that’s OK. To make sure it doesn’t stop you from being your best self, I want to share some tips I’ve discovered that help me. These tips will not necessarily solve your stress, but they will help you deal with your it so you can work to reduce it.

 

Water with honey and lemon

I’m going to start off with something that is simple enough to do in your kitchen. Get a large glass of iced water and mix in some honey and lemon. When I find myself feeling stressed, or I’m beginning to stress, I feel my body start to fade. Dehydration, headaches, muscle aches and visible acne are all signs of stress. The combination of honey and lemon can help prevent these physical symptoms. Honey clears skin and helps digestive issues. Lemon helps dehydration and toothaches (another sign of stress is grinding your teeth). All of this in a big glass of water can help at least take the edge off of your stress. This does not solve or block out stress, but it does help when it comes to dealing with stress on your own.

Blank ceiling theory

The blank ceiling theory, one that I have to admit is something I came up with myself, has helped me in stressful situations. It was something I began doing out of my own experiences with chronic stress. My blank ceiling theory requires you to lay down under a blank ceiling. If you can’t do that then you can sit in front of a blank wall as long as you have back support. Once you are in position, you have to stare at that blank ceiling or wall for at least 2-3 minutes. This isn’t meditation. Meditation is an internal thing, and because of that, stress can make it harder to do successfully. The theory is supposed to help clear the path in front of you.

Every day you experience a number of active shapes, colors, sounds, faces and words. Between the moments you wake up and fall asleep, there’s too many things that mean something. A blank ceiling or wall means nothing. By staring into a blank space, you are allowing yourself to look at something you do not need to analyze. This helps clear the residue visuals of one task so you can take on the next task with fresh eyes. If you are in class and you feel like this can help, stare at a piece of printer paper. Try not to arch your back too much as this can cause more physical stress. Staring for 2-3 minutes minimum will help you, but any longer than 5-6 minutes might cause an existential crisis.

Stretching

Have you ever yawned and stretched at the same time during your 8 a.m. class or within the first hours of being awake?You might have noticed feeling relaxed afterward. That’s because you are releasing muscle tension from sleeping in the same position all night. While you sleep, fluids will begin to, “pool along your back,” according to Science Focus. This causes a lot of muscle tension and stress, so stretching is a great way to relieve that.

Stretching doesn’t have to be with a professional trainer. The simplest and most effective way to do this is to stretch out your legs and your arms at the same time. The motion feels like you are being pulled upward with your hands and downward with your feet. Imagine your body is taffy, stretching without any resistance. This helps relieve muscle tension that stress causes. Do this during a test and relish in the after-feeling. This brings peace to your physical body without forcing it mentally. A good stretch should bring an instant relief. Do this every time you feel like you need to.

Screaming, belching and singing

Stress is a build up of tiny anxieties formed throughout the day. Thinking of stress as a balloon of hot air, rather than a rock in your stomach, helps tackle stressful situations. One honest way that has helps me de-stress comes in the form of a vocal exercise. Think of a way to use your voice to release the tension in the form of a balloon. The three I like to use are screaming, belching and singing. Screaming into a pillow, drinking soda so I can burp or singing along to Barbra Streisand’s “People” from “Funny Girl” (1964) allow me to use my voice in a way that can expel that hot air inside me. One reason this works is because stress is internal, leaving your senses blinded to it. By being vocal about your stress, you are engaging your sense of sound, allowing yourself to hear what you are going through and thereby making the problem easier to understand.

Sense of smell 

It is also crucial to engage your sense of smell. Your olfactory bulbs are a direct channel to your brain. This is the reason why smells can impact you so immensely. A bad smell can ruin your day and a good smell can change your mood entirely. Smells — bad or good — can trigger random memories. By satisfying your sense of smell, you are doing something that affects your brain more directly than your other senses.

I find that smelling pumpkin, sandalwood or mint brings me a lot of pleasure — once I smell those scents, I feel an immediate joy. This is a simple way to calm my brain down and remind myself that I am OK. Fill the space you stay in with smells you like. Spend an extra dollar or two on a big candle and keep it on your desk. When you are on the go, bring scent extracts with you. I have a small bottle of sandalwood perfume that I carry in my backpack to smell when I am at school. It’ll calm your emotions. Stress can be very hard to deal with because it makes you unhappy. I know it sounds obvious, but being unhappy about a stressful situation causes more stress. A whiff your favorite scent can quickly calm your senses and make you feel better.

These strategies are made to help you get to the point where you can confidently tell yourself that everything will be OK. Stress is what makes the path to success and clarity very dark. Methods that tackle physical and mental stressors can lighten the way and help you see the path more clearly.