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How to: Relax without Screens


Instead of turning to their phones as a way to de-stress, creative hobbies – even simple ones – can provide students relief from boredom and spark their curiosity and intellectual growth at the same time.

The idea of jumping into a hobby may sound like a huge commitment — something that too much requires time or money. Even for these students, there is something that they can do: practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is “focusing on what is going on in this moment around you,” guidance counselor Carla Bader said. “And you can do that anywhere.” The key to mindfulness is to focus on everything that is happening in the now, not later. This helps students relax; instead of focusing on all sorts of things that need to be done in the future, students can ground themselves in the here and now. “Focusing on where you’re at in the moment can reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety because we are not focusing on all the things that are going to be happening in the next day or two, or ruminating on all the things that happened in the past that didn’t really go so great,” Bader said. Although practicing mindfulness is an easy and straightforward way to de-stress without technology, there is another way to relax that focuses on the opposite of mindfulness, journaling.

“It’s just a way to take things that are going on in your mind, get them out of that brain, and down on paper,” Bader said. Journaling, in contrast to mindfulness, has students focusing on and remembering everything or the highlights of their day instead of focusing on the present moment, with the goal of detaching from stressful events and opening up opportunities for relaxation. “The habit of taking things that are concerning you, worrying you, stressing you out, and externalizing them in written form often times allows your brain some time to rest,” Bader said. And although there are no real rules to journaling, there are still tried and true methods of relaxing and dealing with stress through journaling. “When we can’t get out of that loop and fall asleep, one thing you can do is keep a notebook by your bed and write down all those things that you have to do the next day and the things that happened that day, so that you don’t have to think about that anymore,” Bader noted. “And in the morning, you can pick it up, remind yourself of what you have to do that day, and move on.”

Playing music can liberate the mind from boredom, too, and learning an instrument doesn’t have to be intimidating. Creating music uses “the expressive side of your brain, not necessarily the factual analytical side of your brain,” music teacher and band director Bernie Gerstmayr said.
Although students can readily learn to play a musical instrument in classes at Maine West, the knowledge that can be accessed through the internet cannot be ignored. Whether it be from simple YouTube tutorials or complex, advanced lessons, the internet provides readily available instructions on how to play a whole host of instruments for students who don’t have the time in their school life to learn. Stores and online merchants sell beginner ukuleles for about $50, and YouTube has thousands of play-along videos for learning basic chords on a weekend afternoon.

As for another popular choice, guitar, “they sell starter packs. You can spend a hundred bucks and get a good, decent student guitar with an amplifier, cords, some picks, and sometimes a book,” Gerstmayr said. Playing a musical instrument does not have to be a large commitment either; dozens of well-known songs can be played by =mastering five or six basic chords. Learning an instrument for fun is a chance to “make healthy mistakes” that are low risk in a way that doesn’t often happen at school.

Unlike mindfulness and journaling, a musical instrument isn’t something that can be learned and mastered in a day, though. “Talk to any athlete; they’ll tell you they don’t play football or basketball immediately, it’s hours of free throws, hours of drilling,” Gerstmayr said. For students who would prefer more guidance, “they can start a class here. We have a band, orchestra, or choir beginning class where they can learn the instrument a little bit on their own with a teacher,” Gerstmayr noted.

If reaching for your phone is your default choice during your down time, Bader advises being proactive by keeping a list of options you’d enjoy. By writing them down, you’ll be more likely to actually do them when you’re looking for a diversion.“I think every student needs to build their own list of what we would call activities and actions that work to minimize stress, and that’s going to be different for everybody,” Bader said. “Some people find reading very relaxing, other people go stir-crazy sitting while reading makes them very uncomfortable, they need to move. For somebody else, those activities that are relaxing and healthy for them might be more active.”

Physical activities help clear the mind, too, by raising your endorphins, according to the Mayo Clinic. “If you want to get yourself distracted, do something fun, and do something good for you, why don’t you go work out with a friend in the fitness center?” World Languagues teacher Jesus Vallejo-Godinez suggested. The Fitness Center at Maine West provides students with top of the line gym equipment to keep in shape and power through the stress of their daily lives. And for those that want more than a casual gym experience, Maine West is host to a vast array of sports teams, with spring tryouts coming up at the end of this month. Some sports are no-cut, offering up more chances to as many students as want to participate.



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