You’d think it would be redundant to write an article for MIT students about the effects of stress, yet here I am. I suppose I just can’t help inflicting my thoughts on all of you — sorry about that. As it happens, stress is much like physical illness, in that it can manifest itself in physiological symptoms like muscular tics and discomfort, which is why over the next few weeks, you’ll be seeing MIT undergraduates all over campus twitching and jerking like they were inventing a new dance style. In my particular case, my abdominal muscles keep contracting involuntarily, so on the bright side, my core should be a good bit stronger by the time finals are over. As a point of additional irony, other symptoms of stress include memory problems and insomnia, which cause our already stressed bodies to put on quite a dance. The obvious solution to stress is to relax, but when there are only so many hours between now and crunch time, that solution becomes less and less of a viable option.
From time to time, when things really have me down and out and I’m feeling really crappy, I think to myself, “it’s almost over — all I have to do is get through this week, and next week will be better.” Unfortunately, this happens just about every week. If you want to brag about seeing that punch line coming from light-years away, consider first for a moment what that says about your own workload. Yeah, it made me want to cry too, and I haven’t even started my major-related courses yet. I need a hug. Or perhaps an “I Need A Hug” T-shirt. You know, the whole “teach a man to fish” philosophy.
None of this disgruntlement, I imagine, is new to any of you. After all, most of you have been staring down the barrel of the fire hose long enough to know that it’s not an inherently comfortable experience, and besides, we does have a reputation of intensity to uphold. So what’s my point? I’m not entirely sure at this juncture (indecisiveness and an inability to concentrate are also among the symptoms of stress, which seems to indicate I’ve been stressed all my life), but I think it has something to do with my trying to dispense tips for condensing stress relief into a minimalist time frame.
Listening to the right music can often bring stress levels down very effectively. Alas, few have the time to dedicate thirty minutes to an hour to simply sit with soothing chick-flick soundtracks or nature sounds filling the room, much less the attention span to do so without having to check Facebook every ten minutes. Luckily, listening to music can be passive, and therefore may be compounded with any of a variety of more productive activities easily. I should probably offer the caveat, however, that blasting the Top Gun soundtrack can either speed up or slow down one’s psetting, depending on the severity of one’s chronic sing-along syndrome. If, for some reason, your neighbors don’t care for Kenny Loggins, it may also irritate them unnecessarily. The philistines.
There’s also the idea of seeking out spa and spa-like treatment at home, as opposed to the professional, nigh-unaffordable varieties. The most basic of these is the hot shower, one of the most relaxing times of the day (or fortnight, for some. You know who you are. And if you’re upwind, so do we). If properly enjoyed, which means not bringing your pset with you into the shower, it can be incredibly rejuvenating. Since showering is presumably a part of daily life anyway, chances are that making one’s shower as relaxing as possible should take relatively little out of your day. Asking your friends to give you a massage can sometimes be hit-and-miss, as the untrained or overzealous can end up doing nothing more than chafing your skin and making both of you feel extremely awkward. An important key to massage in particular, at least from an amateur standpoint, is that time spent on it should be dedicated. Even though receiving or giving a massage can use up a lot of time that can be spent studying, the net benefit can be substantial if it staves off the impending nervous breakdown for a day or two. Multitasking, however, can sometimes render a massage ineffectual even in trained hands.
Of course, how you relax best is something for you to figure out yourself, but considering that some of us haven’t properly relaxed since the third grade, I can only hope that a small refresher course was of some use. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go seek out a hot tub. I love writing this column, but I wouldn’t call it a de-stressing activity. I hope nobody’s using the kitchen sink for the next half an hour.