College students throughout the country will graduate this month, and with that rite of passage comes a new source of stress: paying off student loans. According to the Project on Student Debt, 2010 graduates with student loans owed an average of $25,250—quite a significant sum, especially at such a young age.
Financial issues are a common source of stress, which can affect your physical and psychological health. "Money is one of the biggest sources of stress for Americans. And when you're young, it's really easy to want to spend your money on pleasurable things and not commit to the things that aren't as fun, like paying back student loans,"says Eve Adamson, author of 365 Ways to Reduce Stress.
U.S. News spoke to Adamson and other experts to identify ways to de-stress from student loans.
Breathe deep. "When people get anxious, the first thing they do is cut off their breath," says Kathleen Hall, founder of the Stress Institute, based in Atlanta. Hall says shallow breathing means less oxygen is flowing to your brain. So remember to breathe slowly. "The exhalation should be longer than the inhalation," Adamson says. "That signals to your system that there's no emergency."
Watch the caffeine. While a second coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up might seem like a good idea, it can actually increase your stress level. "Caffeine revs up your adrenal glands, so you have more of an exaggerated stress response," Adamson says.
Meditate with your iPhone. The Insight Timer app is one of Hall's favorites. It lets you choose from eight different bells of varying size and metal compositions, so you can pick the sound most soothing for you. You can also select a relaxing background image from your photo library to run with the app.
Listen to music. Pleasant music can increase the levels of endorphins and serotonin in the body, Hall says. Adamson adds that music with a fast beat is stimulating, and music with a beat similar to a heartbeat can be very calming. "A lot of it is also personal, since music can trigger good and bad memories," Adamson says.
Exercise. "Exercise relieves depression, insomnia, and reduces stress almost immediately," Hall says. You don't have to overdo it at the gym; just be sure to get the blood flowing. A study from Harvard's Men's Health Watch recommends that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, if possible. An easy way to get some cardio in: When you're at work, take the stairs instead of the elevator. "People don't move as much as they think they do during the day," Hall says. She recommends downloading the Nike+ GPS app, which tracks how much you walk throughout the day.
Learn what you can control. A big part of stress management is separating the things you can control and things you can't. Try not to worry about the fact that you have student-loan debt. "That's a really unproductive way to stress," Adamson says. Instead, focus on what you can do to pay off your debt over time, since that's in your realm of control.
Friends and family. Healthy relationships decrease stress, Hall says, and can also boost your brain activity and overall happiness. "Make sure at least once or twice a week you share a meal with somebody," Hall says. "Friends are critical, because when you're stressed, being able to share that with someone is key."
Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less, says you should "deal with the stressors in your life by talking through them with a friend." Babauta says confiding in a friend and working through your debt problems is a good way to relieve stress.
Smell the peppermint. Peppermint's scent can reduce stress. Hall recommends showering with peppermint soap, or chewing peppermint-flavored gum.
Don't skip breakfast. "It increases your metabolism by as much as 25 percent and it helps with mood swings," Hall says, so be sure to have a hearty morning meal.