I’m not one to sit still. When I was young, I was always getting in trouble for playing under the table at restaurants, hiding on the playground at recess after it was over and, of course, never staying seated in school, but instead running around and leaving the wreckage of a tornado in my wake.

At the age of 6, my family nicknamed me “the cannon ball” because I would throw myself down the ski hills of Vermont in my bright, all-red snowsuit, crouching as low as I could in order to gain as much speed as possible before inevitably crashing into something (or someone) near the bottom. Starting in first grade, my parents tried 4 a.m. figure skating lessons to “tire me out” before going to school, hoping to give my teachers some relief. Needless to say, it didn’t do much.

Still, to this day, it’s unlikely for me to walk down an empty hall without doing a few cartwheels along the way. Studying in locations such as the UGLi and the Reference Room physically pains me because they’re too quiet, and I can’t move around as I would like. My friend Noah likes to joke that I do my best studying upside down: in a handstand or hanging off my chair. If I’m not physically moving at the gym or elsewhere, you can almost guarantee I’m busy somewhere else: in a meeting, running errands, practically anything but sitting still.

Business is what keeps me going, which is why sometimes I forget to take the time to relax. To be completely honest, if I had a night with absolutely nothing to do — no classes to attend, obligations to fulfill, exams to study for, papers to write or events to plan — I wouldn’t have a clue how to spend it. Fortunately for me, and the countless other college students who I expect may feel the same, there are actually studies on this.

What exactly is the correct method of relaxation?

If you took a poll of the ways in which college students choose to unwind, I have no doubt that the words “going out” (two words that seem overwhelmingly normal when in reality they describe a very abnormal drinking culture) and “Netflix” would be high on the list. Though I’m not opposed to spending nights with friends or binge watching my latest TV-series obsession, Netflix and chilling are not very effective methods of relaxation (technically speaking). College students turn to late nights of one or the other in order to unwind, when in reality, nights of staring at a blue-light ridden screen and binge drinking are doing more harm than good. Nope. Not relaxation.

Sports psychologists and other scientists have done endless research on “the perfect relaxation method,” usually ending with the promotion of some 10-letter-acronym recuperation technique that can be used to put the mind at ease and prepare for the task at hand. Some practices include “staring at your own eyebrows in the mirror and telling yourself ‘I can do this,’ ” or the lesser known yet just as effective “downloading-a-yoga-app-onto-my-phone-and-bruising-myself-on-my-dorm-room-furniture-to-the-sound-of-chirping-crickets.”

I’ll pass for now.

Assuming I come out of finals week alive and with my sanity, I hope to take what relaxation time I have and put it to better use. It will be tempting over Winter Break to do nothing but hibernate in my bed, catching up on sleep and TV shows. It will be even more difficult when three weeks later, the whole cycle repeats: school will resume, and my free time will dwindle to nothing.

Though some relaxation techniques are time consuming — exercise, yoga or that weird eyebrow-staring method — there are also a number of smaller things that can be done on a regular basis to promote relaxation, most of which revolve around increasing a sense of presence.

Focused-attention meditation, which may benefit college students in particular, simply encourages individuals to pay close attention to one’s activities in the moment with undivided attention. Observing without judgment is easier said than done, and includes not just inhibiting judgment of others, but self-judgment as well.

Personally, I can’t remember the last time I ate, and just ate, without my phone, computer, homework or with another person to talk to. As I said, slowing down isn’t my specialty.

Countless other methods have been experimentally proven to benefit individuals who partake in meditative activities. With the implementation of transcendental meditation in schools, the David Lynch Foundation found a 21-percent increase in high school graduation rate, 10-percent improvement on test scores and GPA, increased attendance, decreased suspensions and a “40-percent reduction in psychological distress, including stress, anxiety and depression.”

Additionally, the foundation reports benefits to veterans, including a 40- to 55-percent decrease in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, 42-percent decrease in insomnia, a 47-percent reduced risk of cardiovascular-related mortality and a 30-percent increase in satisfaction with quality of life. In an interesting study on telomerase activity, individuals who attended a meditation retreat expressed higher concentration of telomerase (an enzyme that repairs the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes; shortening of these caps is associated with old-age) than those who didn’t attend the retreat. 

For someone who can barely find time to eat and sleep, let alone go on a week-long retreat, smaller, more consistent doses of meditation and mindfulness may be a more effective way to relax. Though I’ve grown out of my bright-red ski snowsuit, I know I’ll continue to cannonball through my time here at Michigan, and probably even accelerate wherever I end up after. The proof is in the research. But practicing mindfulness and relaxation can be more difficult in stressful situations. The irony is that the busier I get, the more desperately I need the time to relax.

Finals week, anyone?

Grace Carey can be reached at gecarey@umich.edu. 

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