Autumn Lee, Journalist

OK, not literally, at this moment am I “freaking out,” but I will admit to having said those words a few times in the past few weeks. It’s just that time of year. The end of the semester is in sight. We want it to be over, but we also feel like there’s no time to finish what we need to do. We have final exams to study for but we can’t study because teachers are giving us so many exams this week! What do they want from us?!

Deep breath. No, seriously, take a deep breath. Did you know that just taking a few minutes to focus on your breathing actually slows your heart rate and lowers blood pressure, leading to a feeling of calmness (at least temporarily)? Other quick and easy tips to calm yourself include chewing gum (it actually lowers cortisol levels), popping in your earbuds and listening to your favorite music, and getting a little exercise. Take your dog for a walk around the block… ten minutes is not going to make any difference in how much studying you get done, but the fresh air and movement will help you feel more focused.

“Why bother trying to reduce stress?” you might ask. “It’s unavoidable. I just have to get through it.” Actually, a lot of adults think this way as well, and, to be honest, they’re miserable. Life does not get easier after high school. We can practice techniques to calm ourselves now or we can practice being stressed all the time… and probably set ourselves up for a lifetime of this state of mind. Brene’ Brown, a professor from the University of Houston who has written many books on the subject of stress, says that especially with technology, it’s easy to feel like we are never caught up because our devices never stop. We get emails at 3 in the morning. People take their laptops on vacation so they can stay in touch with work.

Our measure of a “successful” life should not simply be “productivity.” Dr. Brown, in interviewing successful leaders says, “One of the things I found was the importance of rest and play and the willingness to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth… I see it even with teenagers who now have four and five hours of homework and go to bed at one in the morning. We don’t know who we are without productivity as a metric of our worth. We don’t know what we enjoy and we lose track of how tired we are.” Think about that. Exhaustion is not a status symbol. Productivity is not self-worth. Stressing yourself out is not helpful for anything you want to do.

In the midst of final exams, I challenge you to devote a full thirty minutes every day to doing something you really enjoy. I know it may seem hard when you can’t stop thinking about all the work you need to do. Do a silly yoga video with your mom. Catch up on a book you’re reading just for fun (not for school). Go for a jog. Start a new art project. Above all else, try to keep things in perspective. We’re not saving lives; we’re taking high school tests.