Reducing Stress – Improving Wellness

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Stress can have many negative effects of your overall wellness. Luckily, there are many effective ways to reduce stress:

  • Deep Breathing 
    • How it works: stress is a physical reaction in your body. Taking a few deep breaths can calm your body and deal with the stressful situation more effectively.
  • Exercise
    • How it works: exercise can help you burn off some energy generated by your stress response and produce endorphins to improve your mood.
  • Establish a sleep routine
    • How it works: as students, many of us are not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation itself can be a source of stress. Getting to bed at the same time each week can help your body maintain its internal clock, making falling asleep easier.
  • Make a schedule
    • How it works: setting priorities and scheduling in tasks can help you feel a greater sense of control and manage your time effectively.
  • Socialize
    • How it works: research shows that spending time with increases levels of a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us relax. And, its fun!

Everyone is different, so try some of these techniques out to find what works for you. It can seem overwhelming to add another thing to your already busy schedule, especially as we approach midterms. However, trying even one of these strategies may actually help you reduce your stress and improve your wellness!

Stress and Wellness

As students, we experience stress from many different sources:

  • New independence
  • Classes and exams
  • Social obligations
  • Roommate negotiations
  • Financial commitments
  • Family turmoil

Not all stress is bad; in fact, some stress can keep you out of the way of danger or even help you express your talents and perform well. Chronic stress, or stress that is experienced repeatedly over time, can actually change how your brain functions and lead to physical and emotional problems. Simply put, high levels of stress can have a seriously negative impact on your overall wellness.

One of the first things to do to decrease your stress is to become aware that you are experiencing it. This can be difficult to do because most of us tend to focus on work for classes, plans for the weekend, or even the weather. Our bodies and emotions can help us increase awareness of our stress level and can signal to us that we are feeling stressed. How do you experience stress?

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Next week, we will talk about simple and effective ways to help you reduce stress!

Be Well: Mindful Yoga

The Wellness Initiative is offering a free series of yoga and mindfulness classes to undergraduate students this quarter!

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Wednesdays | 6:30am - 8:00am | Hill Hall Lounge

Thursdays | 7:30pm - 9:00pm | FFMC Gym

Be Well is an 8-week series of yoga classes that integrate mindfulness meditation. Each week, students will learn about mindfulness, and be led in an hour-long yoga class followed by a mindfulness practice. Students will also be provided with information about stress management and resources to develop a mindfulness meditation practice. Be sure to bring a yoga mat if you have one! We hope to see you there.

Mind-Body Connection

The idea of the connection between the mind and the body is far from new. This idea goes all the way back to Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, and is also still prominent in Eastern medicine traditions. The mind-body connection refers to how your mind affects your body and how your body affects your mind. Your mind doesn’t just refer to your brain; your mind includes all of your mental states including thoughts, emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and images.

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The mind affects the body through a chain reaction of processes in the body. Mental states can trigger changes in blood chemistry, heart rate, and the activity of cells and organs in the body, including the stomach, digestive tract, and immune system. This can range from feelings of anxiety causing your heart to race or even lead to ulcers, to the feeling of falling in love leading to the sensation of butterflies in your stomach.

Similarly, the body can impact your mental states. When you get sick or injured, your mind can interpret the situation in many different ways. Some people may tend to become depressed, anxious, or stressed in response to an illness. These reactions could, in turn, impact how you manage or cope with your illness. Other people may tend to have a more positive attitude and be better able to handle the stress that accompanies illness. At times, our body can even show us how we are feeling. Noticing tension in your shoulders or having frequent headaches can be signals that you are feeling stressed.

Research shows that becoming more aware of the connection between your mind and body can lead to better outcomes, like managing stress better, improving immune function, and having overall better health and wellness. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, practices like meditation, prayer, tai chi, massage therapy, relaxation techniques, and yoga can be used to improve awareness of the connection between your mind and body. Read more here.

The Types of Wellness

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Balancing all of the different aspects of your life and your wellness can be difficult. Many of us tend to prioritize certain things in our lives and neglect others. For example, students can tend to prioritize their schoolwork, and put exercise, socializing, and emotional needs on the back burner. What areas of your life do you tend to neglect?

Here are some ways that you can improve the various aspects of your wellness:

Physical Wellness: add exercise to your routine or join an intramural, get enough sleep (about 7 hours for most people), eat healthy foods, recognize the signs when you feel sick

Emotional Wellness: seek support when you need it, cultivate awareness of your thoughts and feelings, accept mistakes as learning opportunities, visit the counseling center

Spiritual Wellness: engage with your spirituality or religious practices, volunteer, explore meaning and purpose in your life, understand your values

Social Wellness: cultivate healthy relationships, build a strong social support network, get involved in clubs, sports, or other student organizations

Intellectual Wellness: seek out intellectually challenging courses or other opportunities, take a course outside your major, learn a new skill or language, read for fun

Environmental Wellness: live sustainably by recycling, conserving water and other resources, car-pooling when you can, and turning lights off when they are not in use

Occupational Wellness: explore career options, visit the Center for Career and Calling, explore jobs that match your personality, interests, or talents

 

Balancing the different aspects of wellness has been shown to reduce stress, increase performance, and contribute to a higher quality of life. As you enter into this school year, try picking a couple things to incorporate into your schedule in order to move towards striking a balance.