A Taoist response to college stress.

College is stressful. Hell, college can be downright traumatic.

Friendships are made and lost. Classes are passed and failed. Career opportunities come and go.

To top it all off, just over one-half of college students graduate in six years.

It’s no wonder that one in every four college students suffers from a diagnosable mental condition. Or that more than 40 percent of students report symptoms of depression during college.

The myriad stressors, from grades to romance to jobs to existential crises, are enough to make anyone break down.

To avoid imminent collapse, students self-medicate in the literal and figurative sense. Some turn to drugs or alcohol to soften the bitter edge of quasi-adulthood. Others spend all their time studying, working, and generally over-scheduling so that they have no time to worry about their nagging concerns. Others, still, rely constantly on others to reinforce their sense of value, entrenching themselves among a security network of peers.

None of these responses eliminate stress. Instead, they mask it, make it easier to forget. Moderation is a state of flux, and flux is uncomfortable. On the other hand, there seems to be a certainty to drunkenness, to perpetual busyness, to constant socialization.

But in the end, this certainty, like all certainty beyond death itself, is false, and the stress inevitably returns.

The good news is that there may be an incredibly simple solution to the inherent stress of college (and, as some might say, of existence itself).

The solution is to breathe.



And frequently.

Although such a “mindless” act wouldn’t seem to warrant instruction, the truth is that few people really breathe as they should. Singers, athletes, and Eastern philosophers all understand the importance of proper breathing, but somehow the secret was lost on the average college student.

Here’s a walk-through:

  1. Stand up, sit or lie down, ensuring that your back is straight and your muscles are relaxed.
  2. Inhale fully through your nose, engaging your abdominal muscles outward. Imagine that you filling your body with air, all the way to the ground.
  3. In a smooth, controlled motion, exhale through your mouth.
  4. Repeat as needed (ten repetitions is a good start).

Throughout this process, your focus should be on each breath. Don’t try to keep your mind from wandering. Instead, let thoughts come and go, as if they don’t concern you. With practice, you should be able to recreate this relaxed mind-body state anywhere, and under any condition. It’s a great way to find solace from the incessant whirlwind of anxiety that fills the minds of so many people.

Remember: just breathe.

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