Since last year, I have been experiencing recurring pain in my right shoulder. The joint moves smoothly, but by the end of the day, it feels like a rope is hooked to my trapezius muscle, pulling it toward the ground. Sometimes, the pain is dull and aching, but when I attempt a simple push-up, it can be sharp and quick.

I went to a chiropractor, thinking it was a muscle issue caused by slouching over my computer or lounging in chairs, but everything was fine. I went to physiotherapy because maybe I had strained the tendons, muscles, or heck, even joints, without realizing it — still nothing. Finally, I visited a massage therapist, and after several sessions together, they mentioned the unusually tight muscles in my back and shoulders. Nearing the end of the winter semester of 2023, they finally asked me, “How’s your stress?”

Coming into the winter semester of 2024, I noticed the pain coming back at times. The symptoms always had a habit of coming out, especially during exams, when my skin would break out, or my appetite seemed to change. My stress was almost always showing itself in physical manifestations. Finally, having had enough, I wanted to change how I handled my stress.

Tackling the issue head-on and signing up for some counselling sessions using my student union health benefits, I grabbed my first self-help book, The 5 Resets: Rewire Your Brain and Body for Less Stress and More Resilience, by Dr. Aditi Nerurkar. For the last 20 years, Nerurkar has been a Harvard journalist and physician specializing in stress management for thousands of patients. I am sharing this book first because I don't believe in gatekeeping, and second, it was extraordinarily insightful in isolating the habits leading to my stress. 

Realizing many other students could be in these self-destructive holes, I think most of us need a reset.

Before explaining the five resets, I think there is something I need to clarify: stress is an essential biological mechanism for survival. Good stress is the stress we feel during significant life events. Bad stress is when these biological functions overrun our lives and become overwhelming. When this happens, stress can consume us and make tasks seem more foreboding than they are. 

We are like computers; after a while, we can sometimes run into processing challenges and just need a quick reset. This is why Nerurkar created these steps. 

The primary resets in the book are summarized as follows:

  1. Narrow down the things that are most important to you.

Some university students prioritize the highest academic scores. However, this should be different for everyone. If you struggle to find this balance, Nerurkar suggests using the MOST strategy: 

M stands for motivating goals, O stands for objective and measurable goals, and S stands for "small enough to virtually guarantee your success virtually," explains Nerurkar. T is a timely goal that someone can reach in a few months. These actionable steps help make identifying those elements of your life easier.

  1. Find your quiet place.

Scrolling exposes us to constant stimuli that can spark episodic stress throughout the day. I have been working on breaking the habit of endlessly scrolling on Instagram reels. By taking time off social media, I have found my quiet place. But this peaceful place doesn't need to be related to social media. You may need a physical location to relax outside your home or school; that can be your quiet place. Figure out your peaceful place and implement it into your schedule every week or whenever your stress becomes unchecked.

  1. Find that mind-body connection.

Nerurkar explains that many of us are exposed to “toxic resistance” in school, sports, or home. This mindset conditions us to believe that we do not crack under pressure. Others might, but that’s not us. As you can guess, this mindset can cause a lot of trouble. If we don’t listen to our bodies' signs, they can worsen, just like my shoulder. 

When we prescribe to this toxic mindset, these issues become exacerbated. That is why creating a mind-body connection when feeling stressed is so important. Before any task spikes your stress, stop, put your hand on your abdomen, find your breath, and breathe heavily into your hand three times. Center yourself, and say, I am here before continuing. Combining your physicality and mental state makes it easier to ease your stress and slow down your thoughts.

  1. One task at a time.

Contrary to belief, multitasking is not a thing, Nerurkar writes. What does that mean? Instead of being able to focus on multiple tasks at once, our focus shifts rapidly from task to task, slowly building incremental stress because of the constant change. So, next time you have a list of functions, slowly complete each individually using the MOST method or your own to decrease your overwhelming stress before it crashes.

  1. Let the inner critic go.

Our self-criticism doesn’t reflect our successes, even when it wants to. When we are constantly stressed, we can create imaginary scenarios of tragedy. These scenarios can take the form of stress nightmares, keeping us up at night or making us afraid of trying new activities. To help yourself work through this inner criticism, Nerurkar suggests keeping a gratitude journal as a reminder of the good in your life and always looking at the aspects of your life that you do not need to stress about in those current moments.  

Managing your stress is an ongoing learning process. Feel free to experiment and adapt along the way. Nerurkar suggests only working on two of these steps at a time. After 90 days of continued practice, let the habitat form and tackle the next reset.