As every high school and college student in the country is highly aware of, final exams are looming on the horizon. This is one of the most stressful times of the year for America's youth, so it's important to stress (pun intended) quick and simple relaxation methods. Inspired by my college's De-Stress Fest that's been going on all week, here are a few of my favorite tips to calm down and keep truckin' on:

1. Dogs Are A Girl's Best Friend

There's something intrinsically relaxing about animals. They don't remind you of how many tests you need to study for or how many papers you haven't written, or judge you for bombing a class, or even care about the trials and tribulations of academia. Dogs just wanna play. Cats just wanna be petted. Life is simple, happiness is black and white, and love is unconditional. 

If you're feeling the pressures of school and life, just take a break and find an animal to play with. It could be your own, a friend's, a professor's, one down at the local shelter — or if you're really hurting for some puppy-lovin', or suffer from severe allergies, go to the local drugstore and buy a cheap stuffed animal. Having something to cuddle and play with, as childish as it seems, can improve your mood almost immediately, and the break from studying will help your brain relax and retain the information you've been cramming it with. 

2. Say "Ommm"

When I went to Japan a few summers back, I was lucky enough to have the experience of being taught the art of meditation by a Buddhist monk. Of course, it was hard to relax when he was pacing the room, ready to hit the first person who moved or wasn't concentrating (lightly, of course; we were just kids). 

Granted, I never actually mastered meditation -- I'm too squirmy and my attention span is that of a fifteen-year-old-boy's — but just the act of attempting it is incredibly relaxing. 

Start off by shutting down your TV, computer, cell phone, whatever electronics may interrupt your peace, and make sure you're completely alone (or, as alone as you can get). Sit cross-legged on the ground or your bed, rest your hands on your knees, and lower your gaze until your eyes are almost closed. Once you get comfortable in that position, find a spot on the ground in front of you and don't lose sight of it. Breathe slowly and deeply, and clear your mind of everything.

Now, if you're like me, clearing your mind is probably close to impossible, but just think of something soothing — a sea-side sunset, the color blue, the restful tunes of Bon Iver, whatever — and forget about your worries for an hour. 

3. Sweat Your Troubles Away

You've heard it before, but endorphins are the ultimate stress-killer. Whether you get them by walking, running, swimming, cycling, or the ever-classy Jazzercise, it's important to keep up some kind of cardio exercise when life gets tense. Just thirty minutes a day can keep up your mood and your energy, and I find that a long stretch of working out is a good time to outline my essays or go over mental flashcards.

Besides, cardio is a great way to burn off the excess calories from stress-eating!

4. One Lump, or Two?

In high school, I suffered from anxiety attacks. Though I took pills to curb the intensity of these attacks, they weren't the best for spontaneous bouts of extreme anxiety. My mom and I read up on relaxation techniques, and we found a ton of people  on the internet recommending tea. 

Though it sounds like an old-wives tale, I have found that a cup tea can be incredibly soothing. And it's an fairly easy remedy, too! All you need is one tea bag, — I suggest chamomile or peppermint — one microwave-safe cup, some tap-water, a microwave, and voila! A soothing treat in seconds.

Tea not your thing? Try adding honey or lemon — chamomile is mild enough in taste that you can overpower it with any kind of additive, but the effects will be the same.

5. Hugs, Not Drugs

There are very few problems that can't be solved — or soothed — by a hug. When the stress becomes overwhelming, put down your book and go find someone to hug — your mom, your roommate, your best friend, your cat, anyone! Don't have friends? Well, that sucks. But no fear! Take a leaf out of the Hamilton College De-Stress Fest book, don a "FREE HUGS" t-shirt, and take a walk. Even hugging strangers can be fun, and you'll probably make some new friends on the way. 

In the end, though, it's important to remember that grades, while important, are not everything, and these final exams do not define who you are as a person. Soon enough the tests will be over and summer break will be here, and that week of misery will be a thing in the past.

But in the meantime, grab some tea, take a few deep breaths, and go find a puppy to hug.

How do you de-stress?