Jain: How to slow down in life for stressed-out students

Priyanka Jain, Staff Writer

Speaking from experience, following the capitalistic motto “busy is better” has not improved my life in the areas that truly matter—self-love, relationships and enjoyment of life. I can attest to the idea that always being busy is not better, but instead, it is a toxin that poisons our mindset, relationships and the ability to live a deep and enriching life.

Especially living in America—a nation that prides itself on productivity—I have become accustomed to living life at breakneck speed and producing results as if I’m a machine that can efficiently work at all times. But all that incessant busyness has only allowed my life to pass by in a blur, each day appraised on the number of tasks I get done. Life is not a race that only leads to death; it’s an adventure that we have to experience and enjoy each step of the way. The way to truly appreciate life is to slow down. Once we slow down, we are able to ground ourselves in the moment, enjoy the vistas of life and absorb memorable moments.

As such, for all the ambitious people out there, frazzled students or people who are dissatisfied with their lives, I have compiled a list of techniques that can aid you in your process of reforming your hectic life into one of balance and freedom.

As a disclaimer, you do not need to adopt all the practices I will mention to achieve a slow-paced life. Instead, you can choose the ones that fit your lifestyle, practice it one at a time and add another one when you are ready. Soon your life will become habitually threaded with these restorative practices such that you cannot help but slow down.

Go outdoors and absorb as much nature as you can
This is a method I often use, and I can speak from experience that nature has this inexplicable power in subduing us humans. Especially when you are overwhelmed about the extent of work you have or anxious about upcoming events, I suggest you take a walk outside, sit in a local park or even look out at the vibrant, viridescent trees outside your window. Breathe the freshly-made air, see the calming greenery around you, hear the thrills of the birds and insects, and feel the soft blades of grass beneath your feet. Through numerous studies, going outdoors has multiple benefits: it improves short-term memory, eliminates mental fatigue, fights depression and anxiety, preserves eyesight, improves focus and even incites creativity. So with all these upsides, what more do I need to say in persuading you to go outdoors.

Listen to your breath—the voice of your heart
When you feel your heart is pounding too fast, screaming at you for working it too hard, take a moment to pause and listen to its steady beat. I think this is especially effective in truly slowing down and listening to our bodies. When we consistently move from one task to the next, we accustom ourselves to ignore the physiological and mental toll our body endures. Speeding through life while ignoring our body can lead to sleepiness, migraines, anxiety, burnout, etc. That is why next time you feel breathless from working yourself to the bone, spend one to five minutes focusing on steadying your breaths.

Take three DEEP, restorative breaths
For people who chronically live a speedy life, that lifestyle can end up permeating every cell in the body, making your heart constantly race and your body function at breakneck speed. Thus, to remind ourselves and our bodies that life is not a race, take three enriching belly breaths. To feel even calmer, try to pause for a few seconds between inhales and exhales. Exhale slightly longer than your inhale. You will thank me after you do this.

Savor every morsel of food
Often when we eat a meal—a time of nourishment—we frequently distract ourselves by browsing our phones or squeezing in more work. But instead, use mealtime, a consistent and reliable practice of the day, to be mindful of the self-care you are giving your body. Smell the aroma of the food, feel the contrasting textures of each morsel and glimpse the various colors of the ingredients. Converting eating to a meditative practice is an excellent way to slow down in life without cutting extra time from your day for those productivity nerds out there.

Start your day intentionally slower
When I learned about this advice, I was astonished at how a concept that is so frustratingly obvious is not known by many: If you start your day slower, the rest of your day is inclined to be slower. On the other hand, if you start your day frazzled, scrambling through your morning routine, that anxious energy will fuel you through the day. That is why I recommend waking up five to fifteen minutes earlier to have more time to slow your pace when going through your morning routine. Or you can even start your day with some healing practices like meditation, journaling, reading or light exercise.

Cross something off your mile-long to-do list
Coming from someone who continually overestimates how much can be done in a day and is left dissatisfied with the number of tasks left over, I realized it’s essential to cut down the long to-do list, which I know we all have. First, reassess your to-do list and strictly prioritize what actually needs to be done and cross out others that are not too important or can be completed later. We give ourselves more time to slow down and fully engage in the few assigned tasks by reprioritizing. We can then end our day with a sense of achievement, rather than bitter regret for not fastening our pace.

Give your ears a break and turn off the noise
This one is sweetly simple yet deeply impactful. In our capitalistic society, noise is consistently in our periphery, from listening to music while working to digesting a podcast on the commute to even just watching TV after a long day of work. But I advise, for at least a minute, to just turn off all the noise and sit in the silence. Even if your surroundings still create noise, intentionally disengaging from all the active noise in your control can assist in you taking a pause, recognizing where you are and what you are doing.

Declutter and add white space to your home
I wholeheartedly agree with the phrase “a messy room leads to a messy mind.” When we declutter and preserve things that truly benefit us in our living space, we have a clearer space, therefore a clearer mind. Do not try to guilt-trip yourself into keeping frivolous things that I know you may not need.

Thank life instead of cursing it
I know many of us have fallen into the bad habit of complaining. Our brain tends only to highlight the negative aspects of life, but it is crucial to look at the positive parts. This simple mental shift can allow one to think about what they are given in life and thank the universe for providing. It can be effective for us to pause in the moment and enjoy the view we have been granted.

Connect yourself to the present with the senses
If you feel uncomfortably overwhelmed, frantic or anxious, try to connect your body to the present moment. Your senses are the stepping stones that can ground you in the present moment. A good way to activate the senses is taking the time to name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

Do one thing at a time and pour your heart and soul into that ONE task
When we embark on completing our tasks as college students, some may have fallen into the trap of seeing the formidable and towering mountain of tasks from afar. Instead, look at your feet on the ground in front of you, focus on a single task and step by step, you will eventually conquer that daunting mountain. Do not think about what needs to be done, but simply pour all your attention into the task that is in front of you. This will help you focus better and produce higher-quality results.

If you have reached this point, it means you may have already perused the various tips and tricks to living a more mindful, vibrant and slower life. Most importantly you will be able to make more connections with the things and people around you. Life is not a bullet train zooming at turbo speed, it is a meandering, Venetian canoe in which you can enjoy the view. In the words of Gandhi, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”