Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Inhale and exhale. Stretch out your arms and legs, then open your eyes.
November is the one month of the year where students think about how grateful they are for the little things in life: cozy sweaters, family dinners and friends to complain about those dinners to. Some writers out there might even be grateful about it being Academic Writing Month or NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Overall, November is a month where students are grateful for anything besides the ever-looming doom of finals week and the stress that can come with producing perfect final papers and exams. This type of stress can be detrimental to one’s mental health, not only during finals week, but also in the long-run.
A good way to distract yourself from the stress of upcoming finals week is to write. Write a poem about your feelings or about combating those feelings. Maybe even write a simple list of all your current troubles. Write about anything you want and in any form you want. However, don’t think about how good or bad your writing is; just go for it. Don’t omit something because you think someone else will find it stupid. Don’t think about how others will perceive your writing skills, because you’re the only one who’s ever going to read it.
“When people are excessively anxious, they’re usually caught up in circular thinking. At times, they cannot see solutions or other ways to handle their problems,” said Dr. Joel Cohen, a psychology professor at Oakland Community College and licensed clinical psychologist of nearly sixty years. “If this person were to write out how they feel and then look at what they wrote, this might break their narrow focus and allow them to see healthy solutions to their problems.”
A junior at Michigan State University told us how writing poetry helps him in a manner that’s very similar to what Dr. Cohen described above: “I write poetry mostly when I’m stressed out and need to get my feelings down on the page … It usually helps to calm me down so that I won’t do anything drastic or destructive. It gives me something to focus on, instead of what’s happening inside my head.”
It’s not enough to write out your feelings and throw the paper away. Take a break from writing and come back to what you’ve written at a later time. Dr. Cohen advised that, “It is also helpful to look at this writing at another time … because this would give [the stressed individual] an even [greater] perspective on their problem and how to solve [it].”
Holly Bronson, a Michigan State University senior, spends much of her scarce free time writing for stress relief. “I absolutely love all types of writing, but as a [professional writing] student, I spend a lot of time doing technical writing. This often leads to me doing creative writing in my free time as kind of an interlude.” If you’d prefer to write in a group setting with support from fellow de-stressers, Bronson co-leads the Roial Writers, which meets every Sunday in 303 Snyder Hall from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
In short, jot down all of your feelings when you’re overwhelmed with stress. Don’t hold back – otherwise this exercise will not be as helpful as it could be. If you’re angry, write it down. If you’re overwhelmed, write it down. If you want to punch someone in the face, write it down. Any and all writing is acceptable when it comes to relieving stress.
Stefani Chudnow is a junior double majoring in professional writing and the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. In addition to ing, she is a stagehand at the RCAH Theatre as well as a devoted Broadway and television enthusiast.