Now that the income tax deadline is finally behind us, it’s time to celebrate an altogether appropriate holiday: National Stress Awareness Day. Since college students are now getting ready for the last few months before summer, it’s also a good time to take a moment to learn how to recognize the causes of stress, and just how troublesome its effects can become if ignored. Medical studies have shown that the physical and mental effects of anxiety has repercussions beyond the occasional headache; high levels of stress have been linked to weight gain, a weakened immune system, and depression. So here’s some tips on how to relax and keep stress at bay.

Spotting Stress

Stress is more than just simple anxiety. While a little stress can keep you motivated, too much can be considered to be a physical or psychological risk when it begins to impair day-to-day functions. Recognizing when stress has begun to overpower you is key to keeping it under control, so learn to spot when stress has become too much to handle. Some common warning signs are:

  •  Constantly thinking about work or school, and often feeling guilty over your performance.
  • Inability to enjoy yourself, or a decreased sense of humor.
  • Lack of focus in your work.
  •  Increased irritability.
  • Body aches, headaches, muscle tension, and soreness.
  • Fluctuations in appetite; over or under-eating.
  • Feeling as if you can never take a moment to relax.
  • Abornmal sleep habits.

Taking Breaks

If you feel as if stress has become overly-troublesome, the first step is to simply take a moment and clear a few minutes out of your schedule to relax. But while it’s good to just give your eyes a break from studying, its also important to clear your head and let go of the feelings of anxiety that are overpowering you. To best utilize your breaks, try the following:

  • Plan for breaks, and recognize how long you can go working before it becomes too much. Most people can only work for about 90 minutes at full productivity before their performance starts to decline, so learn to make regular stops to help keep you sharp before stress takes over.
  • Try relaxation breathing techniques, such as those used in yoga or meditation. By slowing down your rate of breath and concentrating on nothing else, you can give your brain a break by letting go of what’s bothering you.
  • Stand up and stretch. Studying means sitting, and sitting for too long can cause a build-up of muscle tension in your neck and back that can make it all the more taxing.
  • Turn-off digital distractions and find a quiet place to lie down, meditate, or read a book.
  • Think positive and logically, and after you’ve to calm yourself, approach any problems with objectivity and without emotional bias. From there, you can dismantle the problems in front of you, better prioritize tasks and work more confidently and efficiently.

Staying Relaxed

Learning how to take breaks is and abating stress on a moment-by-moment basis is important, but to maximize your efforts, a vital step is to improve your overall lifestyle. In recent years, psychologists and physicians have recommended incorporating healthier living routines into their life in order to help better your mental and emotional state. Here are some steps to take that will keep your body healthy and your mind relaxed:

  • Sleep is absolutely vital to managing anxiety, so never sacrifice it, especially the night before a test. Lack of sleep is often the biggest contributor to decreased levels of concentration and can make it harder to remember what you were cramming during that all-night studying session.
  • Exercise has been directly linked to decreasing high levels of stress, so get some in daily, if only for a little. Thirty minutes of exercise every day can help stimulate the release of endorphins and improve your mood.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables, and cut out refined sugar. A bad diet and high stress go hand in hand, and one can only make the other worse. Junk food and sugary snacks can cause spikes and drops in blood sugar that keep anxiety high and productivity low.
  • Moderate your caffeine intake. Caffeinated drinks can keep your sleep schedule erratic if consumed too late in the day, so try to avoid any coffee or soda after mid-day.
  • Take vitamins. It’s always a challenge to get all the nutrients you need, and many, such as Vitamin D and Vitamin B, have been shown to help relieve stress.