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Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Philosophy of Education: Stress Relief

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all the things you have to do: classes, homework, papers, labs, work, etc.? Has stress made you feel exhausted, frustrated, irritable or angry? If so, you aren’t alone.

Chronic stress causes mental symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, decreased awareness (which results in many bike accidents) or depression. Ultimately, it affects us physically by weakening our immune systems or causing symptoms like an upset stomach or headaches.

To deal with stress, many of us distract ourselves with activities such as video games, the internet or alcohol. However, the best way to reduce stress is to take a break from constantly doing things. When we step back from our frantic lives, we can think clearly and see the root of our stress. By distracting ourselves, we temporarily forget our pain, but it will return stronger.

When our minds are still, we can think clearly and realize that most stress is illusory. For example, we may be stressed about a paper. However, with a clear mind, we realize that if we just wrote the paper, we would finish in a few hours and no longer be stressed about it. Instead, we worry about and distract ourselves from it, lengthening those hours to a miserable day.

Put away the phone, turn off Facebook and try to quiet your mind. Even 10 minutes a day of tranquility helps if it is a habit. We must each find what works for us; each person may use a different method.

For example, some use music; however, they play music and lose themselves in it, not merely listen to it. If you have an instrument, play it, even if you “do not know how.” If you do not have one, you can clap or improvise with objects like spoons. You could also sing, perhaps with your favorite song. When doing so, feel the harmony inside you and let all other thoughts dissolve away.

Others spend time in nature, such as the Arboretum. There, they feel the gentle breeze, observe the gurgling river and see the squirrels’ carefree frolicking. They focus on the beautiful sights and sounds around them. Just like the musicians, they lose themselves in the present moment. In this state, their worries and thoughts fade away.

Some use silence. Those people go somewhere alone, sit or lie still in a comfortable position, and close their eyes. Some focus on internal rhythms, such as the breath or the heartbeat. Others focus on something dear to them, such as an image, a person or a phrase. Some focus on background sounds. They lose themselves in what they focus on. In that tranquil state, awareness comes.

The method is not important as long as it calms your mind. If you find a method that works for you and practice it daily, your life will change.

For example, many inner city San Francisco schools now practice “Quiet Time,” where students close their eyes, sit still, and try to clear their minds twice a day. In the first year, suspensions fell 45 percent. Twice as many students in these schools perform proficiently on standardized tests in English compared to schools without “Quiet Time.” In addition, practicing students report higher self-esteem and happiness.

By quieting the mind, we gain control of it. With this control, we can focus entirely on a task, greatly improving our performance. For example, we will study for less time yet learn more if we are not distracted by things like Facebook or fear of the test.

Most importantly, we become happier. How can you enjoy partying while worried about homework? If we can control our minds, we can focus on the party when we are there and on the homework when we are doing it.

If you think you do not have time to relax and clear your mind, remember, even 10 minutes a day is enough. However, change does not occur overnight. Taking this time must become a habit. One of the best ways to make it a habit is to do it at the same time daily, such as by setting the alarm 15 minutes earlier and putting a reminder note on the alarm clock.

Practicing any meditation technique, such as the three mentioned, will improve your life and increase your happiness, as it has done for millions of people for thousands of years. Anyone can do it without training. It’s never too late to learn how; just start doing it, make it a habit and watch your life change.

 

To share your stress relief techniques with WILLIAM CONNER, contact him at wrconner@ucdavis.edu.

 

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