Disclaimer: This article is meant to offer ways to relieve stress and improve your mood if you’re feeling down on a particular day. However, if you’re having extended periods of sadness and have lost interest in things that you once enjoyed, please reach out to a professional for help.
The semester always starts off with so much potential. You have new notebooks, you have a new set of classes and professors, you get to see your friends again, and most importantly, the mistakes and worries of the previous semester are in the past.
The first month of the semester is fairly manageable, as there are usually no exams yet, and you actually have time for a social life. But then, things change quickly. Suddenly, the exams and papers start flying at you, and you struggle to manage it all and still maintain your sanity. These are the days of long hours in the library, worries about doing well in a class, and general anxiety about the future. You think that you’ll never come out from under it, but then you emerge on that last day of finals, tired but hopefully victorious. And for that moment, it’s all worth it.
But let’s backtrack a bit. What do you do on those days when you feel down and completely stressed out? Ignore it? Tell yourself it will go away? Resort to bad habits?
Here are some things that you can do to lift your mood in those moments when you just want to quit it all.
1. Look at PostSecret and Humans of New York.
PostSecret, an art project started by Frank Warren in 2005, allows people from around the globe to send in anonymous secrets on the back of a postcard. Some of these thousands of secrets are then posted on this website every Sunday and/or published in books. People reveal incredibly funny or painful or just downright shocking secrets on these postcards and in turn, release themselves from the hold that their secrets have on them. I think it’s incredibly therapeutic to read these postcards because it will remind you of the difficulties of being human but also the absolute wonders. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired to send in a postcard of your own.
Humans of New York is a blog started by Brandon Stanton in 2010 that chronicles the lives of New Yorkers (and the people that Brandon sees on his trips around the world) through photographs and the accompanying captions that feature excerpts from the conversations he has with them. The photos are a beautiful glimpse into the fabric of this city, and the captions can be uplifting, funny, tragic, or philosophical. After flipping through a few photos, you’ll find yourself newly hopeful about life and newly sensitive about the struggles of those around you.
Exercise is incredibly rewarding both mentally and physically.
Go to the gym, and burn a few hundred calories. Or stretch out your muscles while doing some relaxing yoga. Or put on a Zumba video, and shake your stress away. Putting all of your energy into some kind of physical activity will take your mind off that exam that you’re stressing over.
I like to do yoga, and what I like about it is that there’s no way that I’ll be able to do the poses if I don’t focus my attention on my body and to the present moment. After just a few minutes, my mind already feels less scattered, and my mood improves significantly.
3. Clean and/or organize something.
Cleaning and organizing are the last two things people would think to do when they’re stressed. In fact, for most people, the thought of cleaning makes them miserable. But think about how good you feel after you’ve cleaned your room or reorganized your files.
I’m not the kind of person who likes to clean everyday, but I have days when I just have the urge to attack the pile of things that need organizing that I have been avoiding for days or weeks. I usually do this when I feel an organized space will lift my mood and also when I just want to get up, move around, and feel productive. If I don’t have the motivation to finish a paper, I’ll clean instead. It feels way better than sitting at my desk and staring at a blinking cursor. Afterwards, I feel newly motivated because I’ve accomplished something. Then, writing that paper doesn’t feel so painful anymore.
4. Talk to someone.
Talking to someone about whatever is bothering you can do wonders. It’s hard to walk around with a burden on your back that you have to carry alone. Reach out to a friend, a family member, your boyfriend/girlfriend, a counselor, a professor, or anybody that you trust.
When I’m anxious about an exam that I’m studying for, I’ll take a short break, and go talk to my mom in the next room. Five minutes of talking to her, even if it’s just to complain about studying or to exchange celebrity gossip, makes me feel so much better. I go back to my room ready to tackle my notes again.
I also like to have long conversations with friends because a lot of us have the same worries. Afterwards, I feel less alone in whatever I’m going through at the moment.
5. Listen to music.
Grab some headphones and your choice of music, and just shut the world out for a while. Or put the volume up on your stereo, and fill your room with music. Lie back, and focus on the lyrics or the little notes that you may have not noticed before in your favorite songs. Focusing on the small details in the music will force you to stop thinking about whatever is going on in your life so you’re not distracted as you try to relax. You can also let the music help you drift away, and take you (at least mentally) away from your stressors.
And you can choose any kind of music. Jazz, pop, rock, classical, or a mix of styles.
I have a sign outside of the door to my room that says “CREATE.” The process of making something is therapeutic. Whether you bake a cake, paint a self-portrait, compose a song, or write a poem, activating your creative side will help you focus your attention on a more positive activity than moping around your room.
And don’t worry if you’re not the next da Vinci. You don’t have to create some kind of masterpiece. Doodling or free writing or making up a recipe as you go along will all do the job just fine. This activity is not so much about the product as much as it is about the process of creating it. There is a real joy in building something even if it doesn’t look perfect and doesn’t make sense to anyone else. There’s also a great joy in the feeling of accomplishment when you’re done with it.
7. Take a walk.
Sometimes getting some fresh air into your system, and seeing other people will get you feeling better about whatever is stressing you out. You can take a walk around the block or one that goes on for an hour. Parks and boardwalks are great to walk on, but even crowded midtown streets will do the job. The quiet places will give you some time to reflect and breathe some good air, and those midtown streets will take you out of your cluttered mind and remind you that there’s a whole beautiful city right outside of your campus.
Whenever I’m stressed about anything, I like to take a walk down Madison Avenue (it’s right by Hunter), and look at all of the pretty clothes. It gets my mind off of school and lets me just focus on some beautiful things. I like to do this about 30 minutes to an hour before class starts so that by the time I have to go to class, I’m feeling refreshed and newly optimistic.
8. Take a nap.
Sometimes you need to just get away from real life from a bit, and lose yourself in sleep. Can’t stand to think about the pressure surrounding that semester long project? Take a nap, and dream about bunnies and rainbows (or whatever else makes you happy) for a while. Just need to recharge your brain after a long morning? Take a quick nap so you can be more alert during the rest of the day.
Keep your naps to 30 minutes or less. Anything more than that might leave you groggy and/or disrupt your sleep later that night.
9. Read inspirational words.
Have you ever read a really awesome quote that made you think differently about the world? Whenever I need some words of encouragement, I remember quotes from some of my favorite people, and I recite them back to myself like a mantra.
Like this one:
“Happiness, not in another place but this place… not for another hour, but this hour.”
~ Walt Whitman
Or this one:
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, he turned into a butterfly.”
Human touch has been proven to make us feel better about a whole host of things. So go ahead, and hug your friend extra tight (just don’t be creepy about it) next time you see her. Schedule cuddle time with your significant other where you just hole up on the sofa, and talk about whatever is on your mind. If a friend or SO isn’t available, hug your pet. Instant relaxation and peace for the two of you.
And lastly, if no other living thing is around, take a cue from little kids, and hug a stuffed animal. Sound weird? Not as much as you might think. Whenever someone in the family is upset, we like to hug the family teddy bear (his name is Richard). He can’t talk to us or hug us back, but it feels good to just hug him, and feel like a little kid again.
11. And maybe the most important thing you can do…
Whatever is stressing you this semester or at any time in your life, never give up on yourself or your dreams.
And like Dory says: Just keep swimming.
For those of you who might not know, the title of this article is a line from the 90’s song “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by Eiffel 65. Ironically, listening to this song will actually make you feel better because of the catchy chorus. So Tip #12: Listen to this song!