6 Ways to De-Stress Before the Test

By: Maddie Potter, UMD RecWell Group Fitness Instructor

When was the last time you didn’t have that knot in your stomach, tightness in your shoulders, teeth clenching, racing thoughts throughout your head?

I know it’s probably been awhile especially since we coming upon the homestretch of the semester. Stress is something I feel too often as I, like many of you, persevere through hours of studying, ten-page papers, lack of sleep, poor eating habits and lack of movement/exercise.

Ever since I started teaching yoga at RecWell last spring I’ve noticed how even just simple things like deep breathing, stretching and, lying on the floor at the end of the yoga practice as I go around with lavender oil, can put a huge smile on just about anyone’s face.

I’ve learned from personal experience and from studies I’ve read online that letting stress build up inside you will only lead to bad things; you can’t focus, you can’t sleep, and your mood is out of whack.

But remember: health and wellness come first before getting a good grade on that one English paper.

Back in high school biology class, I learned the craziest thing about stress.  We learned that stress can actually lead to the unraveling of our DNA through the deterioration of these things called telomeres at the end of the DNA helixes. In other words, imagine that plastic thing on the end of your shoelace falling apart and resulting in your shoelace unraveling.

So, when it feels like you’re falling apart, you actually kind of are – at the molecular level, that is.

Now, enough with the biology lesson. Let’s get on with ways I’ve found have helped me de-stress being any of my tests.

  1. Smell something good.

    Think: essential oils, candles (as long as you’re not living in campus residence hall!), incense, scented lotion, or event scented hand sanitizer. Smelling something like lavender essential oil or a cake-batter scented candle can calm your nervous system and activate pleasure sensors in the brain.

  2. Watch something cute or funny.

    In addition to classic cute animal compilations videos on YouTube, Netflix also has some great standup comedy specials! Just go to Browse on Netflix and look under the “Stand-up & Talk Show” category. But be warned: if you’re prone to binge-watching Netflix (like me), maybe stick with short YouTube videos.

  3. Savor a unique snack.

    Now you may be wondering, why unique and why has it taken me this long to mention food?  Well, I mention unique because mindlessly eating something is not going to help you de-stress, but eating something that will capture your attention will help you be more mindful and present. Unique can mean many things, including something with a unique flavor, a snack that requires some effort (e.g., dipping, cutting, peeling), unique texture (crunchy), something with unique appearance (colorful), or something new that you’ve never tasted before. Use all of your senses to “experience” your snack break. Some suggestions: flavored popcorn, sliced apple with peanut butter, clementines, rainbow goldfish, spicy wasabi peas, trail mix.

  4. Warm up.

    When we get stressed, our muscles tighten up, especially the muscles in our shoulders. The cold weather this time of year doesn’t help either. To loosen up: take a hot shower or bath, drink a hot cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, or take an active study break. RecWell makes it easy to take an active study break with RecWell fitness and play equipment available for checkout and yoga classes – both right in McKeldin Library.

  5. Listen to calming music.

    Singing along to my favorite tune always puts a smile on my face. I like to jam out during my study breaks, but I also like to keep the stress levels down by listening to calming music. Spotify and Youtube already have some great playlists made which I have used to get me through countless hours of studying and writing. I especially like the Spotify playlists Study Time Starts Now! and Studying Music for Reading and Concentration, as well as this YouTube compilation of music for stress relief. Bonus: this kind of music can make you feel like reading those ten chapters from your Biology book will save the world.

  6. Doodle or craft.

    Art is a great way to not only express creativity, emotions, and ideas – but also a great way to use up nervous or tense energy. Art can be as simple as doodling, sketching, and coloring (adult coloring books are totally a thing!). Just let your creativity flow – even if it’s just some smiley faces here and there in the margins of your notes to keep you motivated when studying.

So what are you waiting for?! Do yourself a favor and try one or more of these simple ways to take a moment and calm those nerves. Your mind and body will thank you.

What have you found helps you de-stress? Share in the comments below!

Good luck on your exams, Terps!

p.s. – I hope to see you at one of my yoga classes. Essential oils are involved. 😉