Wednesday, November 14

Stress Less: Puppy therapy, crying can help to alleviate stress as finals approach


Columnist Alissa Evans took a trip to Westwoof, the new dog park in Westwood, in hopes of alleviating the stress of finals week. Studies have shown that interacting with animals can increase the production of oxytocin in the brain. (Bilial Ismail Ahmed/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Columnist Alissa Evans took a trip to Westwoof, the new dog park in Westwood, in hopes of alleviating the stress of finals week. Studies have shown that interacting with animals can increase the production of oxytocin in the brain. (Bilial Ismail Ahmed/Daily Bruin senior staff)


Alissa Evans’ experience with stress stems primarily from her inability to definitively choose a major, a recently received D that taints her otherwise mediocre GPA and her complete and utter confusion regarding the abstract concept commonly referred to as her “future.” In the midst of a mid-college crisis, the Daily Bruin columnist decided to try a different stress-relieving activity every other week of winter quarter and chronicled her quest for mental homeostasis in Stress Less.

If my academic career is the Titanic, final exams are the iceberg and I am Leonardo DiCaprio.

As I cling to that floating door in the freezing water, my last semblance of hope for survival, I hear Kate Winslet whisper, “The final is cumulative and worth 60% of your grade.” A debilitating shiver shoots down my spine as my frigid body begins to sink, along with my GPA.

The end of the quarter introduces an inundation of essays, projects and exams that make my fantasy of moving to New Zealand to live among the sheep all the more appealing. Because of the record high stress levels of finals week, it seemed appropriate to try a variety of stress relieving activities including aromatherapy, puppy therapy and just flat out crying in the hopes of making it through relatively unscathed.

Aromatherapy

Inhaling natural fumes to induce healing effects sounds like something straight out of Hogwarts.

And in practice, my assessment proved to be relatively accurate. Aromatherapy refers to the practice of utilizing volatile plant oils to promote bodily health with benefits such as improving sleep, fighting anxiety, alleviating nausea and increasing alertness.

My biggest qualm with aromatherapy is rooted in my often dysfunctional nose. As those who are close to me can attest to, my smelling abilities are subpar at best, and the probability of me detecting any given scent is about 50%.

Despite my olfactory challenges, one careless whiff of my recently procured bottle of lavender oil, known for its calming effects, almost made me pass out. Witnessing the struggle, my friend directed my attention to her portable diffuser, a device that combines a few drops of scented oil with water to create a vapor that is safe to inhale.

I prepared the diffuser – nearly electrocuting myself twice – and positioned it so the vapor was shooting directly up my nostrils. Despite my friend’s gentle explanation that the close proximity was not necessary, I insisted that I needed to get the full effect.

Like lighting candles in lieu of turning on the lights, the flowery scent added a peaceful component to my homework environment, but it did not produce any obvious physical results. That being said, the lavender oil created an aura of calm that was enjoyable enough to warrant multiple uses.

Crying

Not to brag, but I consider myself somewhat of an expert at bottling up my emotions until my next inevitable meltdown.

I see my own tears as a sign of weakness, and I would rather be perceived as emotionally inept than weak. The act of crying, however, has been known to reduce stress by ridding the body of chemicals that increase the production of cortisol and providing an outlet for emotional catharsis.

Oftentimes, all it takes is a simple “How’re you doing, honey?” from my mom to prompt a good, old-fashioned ugly cry à la Kim Kardashian.

Although merely the thought of all the work I have to do this week would likely induce sobs, I decided the best way to make myself cry would be to watch sad movie scenes on YouTube.

I searched the web for the most heart-wrenching scenes that came to mind: Rue dying in “The Hunger Games”, Forrest Gump asking if his son is smart, Robin Williams telling Matt Damon that the abuse he experienced is not his fault and the last 25 minutes of “Bridge to Terabithia” – a movie that truly traumatized me as a child and is responsible for at least half of my trust issues today.

The tears came quickly and persisted long after I closed my laptop. But when the mental image of Simba cuddled up to Mufasa’s dead body finally faded, I felt cleansed and recharged. As silly as it might sound, crying produced some of the most powerful and long lasting effects out of any of the stress relievers I have tried up to this point.

Puppy therapy

In my professional opinion, puppies could put all psychologists out of business.

Studies have shown that petting or playing with animals can decrease the production of cortisol and increase the production of oxytocin in the brain. Dogs, one of the purest species humans are lucky enough to share this Earth with, are the perfect candidates to test out this theory.

The highlight of my week was easily my trip to Westwoof, the new dog park in Westwood.

I tentatively entered the enclosed area – pretending I forgot my own dog at home so as to avoid suspicion – found myself overwhelmed by the petting options: pitbulls, golden retrievers, chihuahuas and big, fluffy guys whose breed I could not identify.

I went from dog to dog, offering my very best belly rubs and receiving love and acceptance in return. As if the dogs could sense my intense need for physical affection, they gladly and wholeheartedly accepted their roles as cuddlers.

Not only did the experience alleviate my stress in the moment, but it improved my mood and my outlook on my studies for days to come.

I left the park with dog hair on my leggings and pure, unadulterated joy in my heart, daydreaming about going home after finals and witnessing the euphoric expression on my dog’s face when I tell him he’s a good boy.

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