Substance-Free Unwinding

The academic year is just starting and that means the stress is on. Lots of students unwind with alcohol or smoking weed, but both those things cost money ­– and if those are the only coping methods you’ve got, it’ll drain both your wallet and your energy. There are other ways to unwind.

First, I’ll state the obvious: yoga and meditation. There’s nothing better for easing tension and changing your mindset. I could write entire columns about the benefits of each; but I won’t. Instead, I’m throwing out a few ideas that probably won’t make it onto the pages of Prevention.

  1. Scream your freakin’ head off. When I was a student at RISD, during finals week a favorite stress relieving site was the bridge over the train tunnel. When we felt like our brains were going to explode, we’d go there and wait for a train. When it roared into the tunnel, we would scream our freakin’ heads off. Awesome. If you don’t have a train tunnel handy, I suggest cranking up Throbbing Gristle’s “Discipline” and shrieking along. Or simply put a big pillow over your mouth and let go.
  1. Dance ‘til you drop. Exercise is great for relieving tension, but dancing lets you go one step further – you can let loose, go wild and forget yourself in the rhythm. You can pretend for a moment, right where you are, that you’re free; and perhaps while you’re dancing, you are.
  2. Cry. It’s not just for babies and sentimental folks. We all feel better after a good cry, and now science knows why: Tears are a very efficient method for easing the effects of stress. There are three distinct types of tears: psychic tears are triggered by extreme emotions, basal tears are continuously released to keep your eyes lubricated, and reflex tears emerge in response to an irritant such as dust or onion fumes. Emotional psychic tears contain chemicals that neither basal nor reflex types do – each drop is saturated with stress hormones and other toxins that are released from your body when you cry. Crying also stimulates the production of endorphins, a natural painkiller and “feel-good” hormone.” Humans are the only creatures known to shed emotional tears. The phrase “crocodile tears” is quite apt, since these reptiles only “cry” while consuming their prey … or if their eyes happen to dry out.
  3. Talk. No, I don’t mean trying out your new pick-up lines or discussing your favorite music. Talk about the stuff that is getting under your skin and keeping you up at night. In school, and in life, there is tremendous pressure to be the best, to ace the job and to make the most money, but we all have a lot of failures and make mistakes along the way. The perfectly normal process of learning can be a painful emotional roller coaster. You want to already BE there; but you’re still stumbling along; you KNOW you could be great, but you aren’t quite there yet; you love yourself, you hate yourself, you’re up, you’re down and everyone who has experienced this cesspool of battling emotions thinks, “I’m the only one.” Oh, please! Maybe everyone is trying to act like they’ve totally got it together and couldn’t care less, but trust me: Unless they are certified psychopaths, we all care. So please – admit you are human. Admit that when you fall down it hurts and that sometimes you feel alone and unloved. If you can admit it, you can get on with your life. If you try to hide it, that’s like shoving leftovers under the rug instead of tossing them in the garbage where they belong. It all just piles up and starts to smell. Who needs that?
  4. Play Candy Crush or some other inane problem-solving game. Who needs morphine when you have game apps? When you have too many nebulous unsolvable problems to tackle, sitting down and solving those small, colorful puzzles can be as soothing as opium. Just don’t get sucked into it; I suggest setting a timer. It’s a little too easy to sit down “just for a minute,” then look up and realize the sun has set while you were trying to get to Level 742.
  5. Get out of your own head. If you don’t want to think about your own problems for one second more, think about someone else’s. It can give you a great sense of gratitude for what you have and make you feel good for helping someone else. A great place to start is with Good Night Lights. This program asks people to head to a spot in Providence or East Providence — anywhere that can be seen from Hasbro Children’s Hospital — at 8:30 pm and flash a light four times, “Good night, Has-bro,” toward the hospital where a little patient might see it. You’ll get some fresh air and put a smile on a sick child’s face. There’s no better way to unwind.
  6. Give up and go fishin’. No river nearby? No fishing gear? An adamant vegan? OK, try this – put on Taj Mahal’s Fishin’ Blues (, put your feet up and say the hell with it. Your cell phone needs recharging, so do you. All the crap will still be there tomorrow.

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