Exercise, movies among stress-relieving activities for freshmen


By Sarah Foster

I’ve always been a bit of a worrier. Whether it’s school, jobs or relationships, my mind always seems to drift from the present to the future — and throughout my first year of college, when I was far from my support groups and systems, stress seemed to take a much larger toll. 

Though my first year of college was tough, I also learned a valuable lesson: You can’t do good work when you’re stressed. You have to take breaks — you have to be happy and healthy yourself if you’re going to learn and prosper.

Here are some of my favorite stress-relieving activities. They’re the reason why I survived.

Physical exercise

I tried everything from distance running to Zumba when I couldn’t stare at my Microsoft Word document or Atmospheric Sciences textbook anymore. The simple process of turning up my music, shutting everything else out, and focusing on the pavement or dance floor in front of me helped me immensely. You’ve heard it before, and it’s true: When you’re physically active, endorphins are released, and they help you think more positively and happily. 

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Maybe you need some time to yourself — a run outside while you watch the sun go down is perfect. Maybe you need to be active socially and physically — a class at the ARC is perfect. I met so many people through a one-hour, one-day-a-week course, and getting to know their lives, as well as learning some new dance moves, was a great distraction. 

Do your favorite activity

I’ve always been a passionate musician. I love playing music — I turn into a different person when I’m pressing on my piano keys or plucking a note on my bass guitar. I would reserve a practice room for 20 minutes and learn a new song when I was feeling stressed. And I was never happier. 

Even if you’re not a musician, do your favorite activity. Maybe that’s knitting or crocheting. Maybe it’s writing. Something that occupies your brain and keeps you busy, so you’re not thinking about your responsibilities.


My first year of college, I read six books. They weren’t good ones, but they distracted me, and that got the job done. From the “Divergent” series, to the “Hunger Games,” I forced myself to read something action-packed, so I was always mentally occupied. 

In college, however, it can be hard to actually enjoy reading. Maybe escapism for you is watching a movie or an episode of a TV show. I started “Grey’s Anatomy” my first year; I watched “Orange is the New Black.” I watched so many John Hughes movies it was ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong; I needed to know when to close out. I didn’t want to procrastinate. But sometimes, I think we underestimate the mental health and clarity a simple TV show or movie can give us. 

When you can find balance, don’t be afraid to hit play.


Just simply go where other people are — get to know them and fall in love with the diversity that makes this University great. Go to Espresso and try one of their Caramel Vanilla Lattes. Go to the Illini Union and watch one of the many shows and performances in their Courtyard Cafe. Just putting yourself out there and being around other people, who have different lives and responsibilities that can make yours seem small, helped me tremendously. It also helps with making new friends, too!

Overall, what helped me the most was to face the facts. Don’t let people fool you. College isn’t supposed to be all fun and games. It’s a rough, stressful time, when you’re more likely to cry and eat too much ice cream than any other time in your life. I thought something was wrong with me when I was stressed. I was told by so many people that college was amazing — the best time of your life. When I felt worse than the dirt on the ground, I thought I wasn’t doing this “college thing” right. 

Don’t worry. Nothing’s wrong with you.

But, at the same time, college isn’t supposed to be the worst years of your life either. Figure yourself out. Find what makes you happy, even though that’s easier said than done. 

If not these stress-relieving activities, pursue some of your own. 

Make time for yourself. Your health is just as important as your grades. Trust me.

Sarah is a sophomore in Media. 

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