Fitting in Exercise

Unless you’re a student athlete, it can be hard to find the time and motivation to exercise. On top of juggling your academic responsibilities and deadlines, it’s starting to get colder and darker outside. While it might seem like extra work, exercise comes with many benefits – making it worthwhile!

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to help yourself manage stress. Stress is everywhere in college. Stress can contribute to feeling anxious and low. Stress can worsen physical symptoms too, leading to problems like shoulder tension, stomach upset, or headaches.

Exercise can help treat symptoms of anxiety, depression, and help boost overall mood. Research has found that exercise can not only reduce stress but improve alertness and concentration. Exercise can alleviate some of these problems by relieving tension, both physical and mental.  When you feel better, you can perform better – in and outside of the classroom.

What can you do to add or increase your exercise routine?

  • Set small goals to exercise a few times a week. The success of meeting small goals can motivate you to go after bigger goals, like longer and more frequent workouts. Check out these dorm-friendly workouts that only require a chair and a wall!
  • Attend a Be Well: Mindful Yoga class – these classes are every Monday night from 7pm – 8pm and FREE for undergraduates.
  • Make it fun! Going for a walk, a bike ride, a fall hike, or playing outdoor games with friends can be fun ways to squeeze in exercise, especially on the weekends.
  • Lastly, you can visit SPU’s fitness center to get a cardio workout or visit the weight room – open from 7am to 11pm!

Sleep & Diet Management

As Fall quarter starts, maintaining a healthy sleep and diet routine can be difficult. Academics and extracurriculars start to take priority. All-nighters and late-night snack runs start happening, and sometimes you even skip breakfast – all which can impact your success as a college student!

Your goal for sleep? Seven to nine hours a night. Here are a few tips to help you get that full night of rest:

  • You’ve definitely heard this before but limit screen time. Put your cell phone away 30 minutes before bed (crazy, I know) and try reading if you’re having a hard time sleeping.
  • Be careful of trying to “catch up” on sleep on the weekends. Unfortunately, this isn’t how sleep works, you can’t stock up on it for later.
  • If you’re having trouble sleeping try taking a hot shower before bed. Research has shown that this may trigger sleep.
  • Lastly, if you’re exercising (hopefully you are!) and you’re having difficulties falling asleep, try moving your work-out to earlier in the day.

According to Google, the top foods college students consume are pizza, fries, ramen, chips, and hamburgers. Considering you may be away from home for the first time or you’re in a dorm room, this diet makes sense and it’s tasty. What can you do to eat healthier?

Faculty Spotlight: Mentorship

Adjusting to the college lifestyle, whether students are freshmen or seniors, can be complicated and at times, overwhelming. Mental health problems are commonly associated with chronic problems, such as depression, anxiety, and stress, but it’s also important to consider the mental well-being of all college students through this transition. Aside from a change in academic responsibilities, students are shifting away from parental role models. As students continue to form their adult identity in college, faculty and staff mentorship may be of increasing importance.

Mentorship ranges from informal mentoring, which occurs more naturally and organically, or formal mentoring, where the mentorship relationship is established with a clear and communicated goal.1 Regardless of how formal the relationship is, mentorship can provide students with emotional, instrumental, and learning benefits. One of the unique aspects to mentorship is that the relationship ideally strengthens overtime, increasing the longevity of the benefits for the student.1 Research has found decreases in unexcused absences and tardiness among undergraduates who received out-of-class mentoring and increases in academic performance.1 One of the most important aspects to faculty/staff-student mentorship is the opportunity for students to have an older role model to talk to about mental health issues as some students may avoid utilizing mental health services for fear of stigma.

On the flip-side, student mentorship of other students or community members has also shown an increase in mental health benefits. Researchers found that through participating in Campus Corps, a youth-to-youth mentoring program, college students experienced higher self-esteem, and had stronger interpersonal and problem-solving skills.2 The mentorship relationship may also provide students the opportunity to expand their world-view.2

Mentoring for and by undergraduates have several benefits for both performance and mental health. As faculty and staff, it may serve students well to facilitate mentoring opportunities to provide services to the community as a mentor. Seattle has a number of opportunities for students to become active in the community, such as SPU’s own Center for Career and Calling, the Boys and Girls Club and the Empowering Mentor Program. Finally, as faculty and staff, it’s important to recognize the intrinsic value and benefit to mentoring undergraduates – a positive relationship with one adult role model can go a long way!

1The role of mentoring and college access and success (2011). Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP).
2 Weiler, L., Haddock, S., Zimmerman, T. S., Krafchick, J., Henry, K., & Rudisill, S. (2013). Benefits derived by college students from mentoring at-risk youth in service learning. American Journal of Community Psychology, 52, 236-248. doi: 10.1007/s10464-013-9589-z

Faculty Spotlight: Perfectionism

As students begin the new school year, it is important to foster positive approaches to academics and the demands of college. Perfectionism, the tendency to set and hold unrealistically high expectations, is a prevalent phenomenon.1,2 Undergraduate students may be especially susceptible to perfectionism due to an increase in responsibilities and demands of college, such as new social, academic and financial stressors.2 These new responsibilities may contribute to the onset of distress in students, such as symptoms of anxiety or depression.2 Students may attempt to alleviate the distress of these new responsibilities through increasing their control of the demands placed on them. One way to assert control over various domains and responsibilities is through perfectionism.

While there are benefits to perfectionism, such as a high level of performance and an increased attention to detail, maladaptive perfectionism can result in excessive self-criticism and a general sense of inadequacy.1 Distressed college students may place too much emphasis on earning straight A’s or may spend too much time worrying about small details. This may increase their distress and the amount of time they are spending on assignments, thus creating a cycle of stress leading to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

How can we combat perfectionism, while still helping students to be successful?  Self-compassion, defined as the awareness that disappointments and flaws are an inevitable part of the human experience and everyone deserves kindness, even the self, may provide a new perspective for students struggling to meet their own high demands.1 Self-compassion has specifically been identified as a possible mediator between maladaptive perfectionism and symptoms of depression in undergraduates.1 As a mediator, self-compassion may be able to help explain the relationship between perfectionism and depressive symptoms, suggesting that among perfectionistic students, as self-compassion scores are higher, depressive symptoms are lower. Similarly, increased resiliency-related behaviors, such as seeking social support when needed, has been linked to decreased distress among college students who exhibit maladaptive perfectionistic cognitions and behaviors.2 Social pressures related to perfectionism had the strongest relations between low levels of resiliency and high levels of symptoms of depression and anxiety.2

Among undergraduates, especially those considering graduate or professional school, academic performance is a constant concern. As we know perfectionism can have negative consequences on the wellness of students, it is important that faculty and staff try to promote an environment where academic success is supported, but constructs, such as self-compassion, are also facilitated. Modeling and discussing self-care with students, such as reminding students to reach out when feeling distressed, may aid in a more balanced approach to the demands of academics, preventing maladaptive perfectionistic consequences (symptoms of depression and anxiety). Lastly, recognizing that all students begin the college experience with varying expectations and emotional health can be beneficial in faculty and staff expectations of students.

1Mehr, K. E., & Adams, A. C. (2016). Self-compassion as a mediator of maladaptive perfectionism and depressive symptoms in college students. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 30(2), 132-145. doi: 1.1080/87.568225.2016.1140991

2 Kilbert, J., Lamis, D. A., Collins, W., Smalley, K. B., Warren, J. C., Yancy, C. T., & Winterowd, C. (2014). Resilience mediates the relations between perfectionism and college student distress. Journal of Counseling & Development, 92, 75-92. doi: 10.1002/j.556-6676.2014.00132.x

What is Wellness?

It's almost a new school year! You’ve jumped through the hurdles of getting into college, figuring out financial aid, where you’re going to live, and you may have already signed up for your fall classes. You’ve taken care of all the logistics of getting yourself to college and this stage of your life – but are you taking care of you?

The SPU Wellness Initiative is here to provide you with information and resources to help you succeed at SPU. Wellness includes physical, emotional, spiritual, social, intellectual, environmental and occupational wellness. From helping you figure out how to navigate mental health, academic stress, and how to maintain healthy eating habits to managing procrastination and planning for the future. Throughout the school year there are weekly posts on various topics posted here and on our Facebook for you to check out.

As September gets closer you may be feeling the upcoming stress as you transition into the identity of a college student. You’re going to start new relationships, take on responsibilities, and navigate many new experiences. What are some ways you can manage this transition?

  1. Set realistic expectations while you transition
    • Yes, you will want to get straight A’s, be involved in on-campus activities and attend social events. Try to set realistic expectations and goals. You don’t have to be perfect and we all know FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real thing.
  1. Be kind and treat yourself
    • Try to take an hour a day to unwind – close your laptop, put away that heavy textbook and do an activity you enjoy. You might feel selfish for not spending 24/7 studying, but your brain will thank you later.
  1. Plan ahead and be mindful of your time
    • One of the simplest ways to combat academic stress is to plan ahead. Jotting down when your next test is coming up or when the next social event is will save you a lot of time and worry later on. Being mindful of how you’re spending your time will also help prevent the dreaded phenomenon of procrastination.

Taking time to think about how you can better take care of yourself will pay off in the future and will make your college experience more enjoyable. Here's to a new academic year and one with a focus on wellness!

 

Faculty Spotlight: Natural Environment Benefits

As technology has increasingly become a prominent part of everyday life, outdoor activities often take a backseat. Arguably, students spend more time viewing other’s experiences on Facebook, Instagram and other social media than they do creating their own. It’s been documented that heavy use of technology and social media are linked to increased depressive and anxiety symptoms. Taking a break from technology and spending time indoors may have mental health benefits as spending time participating in outdoor activities and natural environments have been linked to increased self-efficacy, mindfulness and concentration.1,2

Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief that they can complete a task or succeed. Unsurprisingly, a higher sense of self-efficacy may be a preventative factor against the negative mental health impact of stress and other stressors students may face over the summer. As students are accustomed to their performance being measured by academics throughout the school year, students may find increased self-efficacy from physical and leisurely activities, such as hiking, camping, swimming, volleyball, and other outdoor experiences and sports.

Similarly, mindfulness, which refers to an individual’s ability to be present in the moment, may also see a boost when in natural environments. The college environment requires constant multi-tasking and can keep students in a perpetual state of heightened arousal due to the flexibility required to perform well in multiple classes and extracurriculars.1 In comparison, natural environments allow for more sustained attention and self-directed attention to the individual’s own thoughts and feelings.1

Attentional restoration theory (ART) suggests that urban environments, such as college campuses, may induce cognitive fatigue, impacting students’ ability to concentrate.2 As natural environments are considered restorative due to the decrease in executive-based attention that they require, it is beneficial for students to take time away from technology and urban environments to explore the outdoors, with summer being the prime time for outdoor experiences.

Summer is the ideal time for students to reset, relax, and prepare for the next year of school. Some students will utilize this time to plan outdoor adventures and immerse themselves in restorative environments. However, it is important to reach out and promote the mental health benefits of outdoor activities and environments to students that either reside in urban environments or may not realize the mental health benefits of the outdoors. Fortunately, reaping the benefits of natural environments can be as easy as reading a book outdoors instead of indoors. For students and faculty residing in Seattle over the summer, although SPU is in an urban environment, Seattle has a natural abundance of outdoor opportunities with easy access to parks and water. Lastly, it’s important to benefit from the sunshine in Seattle while it lasts!

1Mutz, M. & Müller, J. (2016). Mental health benefits of outdoor adventures: Results from two pilot studies. Journal of Adolescence, 49, 105-114. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.03.009

2 Pearson, D. G. & Craig, T. (2014). The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(1178), 1-4. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01178

Faculty Spotlight: Summer Mental Health

Summer is the three months out of the year that, for many college students, is a time for fun recreational activities and a breather from the stress of classes. However, moving away from campus for the summer, leaving the productive academic environment, and changing relationships due to distance may actually be stressful. With approximately one-third of U.S. college students experiencing depressive symptoms (2013 National College Health Assessment), it is important to be aware of the potential mental health challenges college students will face over the summer.

Depression is a mental health condition, prevalent among college students. Symptoms of depression range from persistently sad, anxious, or "empty" mood, feelings of hopelessness, decreased energy, difficulty sleeping and changes in appetite. The transition from the routine and high-stress environment of college life to a less structured summer, can be stressful. The link between stress and depression can be seen through a shift from healthy and adaptive coping strategies during stressful events or transitions, allowing depressive symptoms to persist. The stress, coping, and depressive symptom cycle can be reoccurring, having a detrimental impact on mood, life satisfaction and productivity.

However, there are strategies students can employ prior to and during summer break to mitigate the potential negative consequences of the summer transition. Planning for activities, such as an internship or job, can stave off the anxiety-producing feeling of unproductivity. Additionally, students should be encouraged to take the summer break to explore and do the things they are unable to during the school year, such as camping, physical exercise, or making their way through a fun book list. Summer goals may be especially helpful for those students who are involved in multiple on campus activities and perform best under college stress.

Anticipating changing relationships due to summer break may also be beneficial for students. Students living on campus will be accustomed to living and being surrounded by peers. The transition from this stimulating social environment may be stressful for some, producing feelings of loneliness. Similarly, as relationships become strained due to distance, it’s important for students to be aware of the potential for relationships to change in intensity and closeness. Technology and social media may be helpful in staving off some of the feelings of loneliness, however, social media can also be anxiety producing as students view and see their friends having fun without them. Open discussions and realistic social expectations for summer may better prepare students for the shift from school to summer.

Summer mental health and prevention are important for college students as they will not have access to college campus mental health services, such as the counseling center. Fortunately, students can employ strategies such as summer goal planning and facilitating conversations around changing relationships to circumvent depressive symptoms.

Technology-Based Mental Health Resources

Mental health problems are prevalent on college campuses. As technology continues to expand into almost every corner of our culture, the mental health field has also began to embrace technology as a method to reach those in need of support for mental health problems. Technology-based mental health services can be a helpful option for students who need support and are not ready to try traditional counseling, may be on a waitlist for counseling services, or may prefer getting support via their smartphone.

Research suggests that technology-based interventions for mental health show promise among college students for improving depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress. A brief search in your App Store can quickly show that there are many different kinds of resources aimed at helping with a wide range of mental health problems. There are Apps that allow you to text with a therapist and others that provide mood tracking or relaxation services.

If you are interested in trying out some of these services, here are some resources to get you started:

Faculty Spotlight: Technology and Mental Health

There’s no denying the ubiquity of technology in students’ daily lives. We are already beginning to see how technology, especially social networking sites, impacts how we live, work, and communicate with each other. Given that technology impacts many other parts of our lives, it makes sense that technology also has an impact on students’ mental health.

Emerging research suggests that technology has both positive and negative impacts on mental health. Technology use has been linked to depression, anxiety, and lower self-esteem. Sleep can also ben impacted by technology use. Using a smartphone or tablet right before bed can make it harder to get to sleep. Technology has also been related to addictive qualities both with games and checking your devices.

Technology and social media also impact how students communicate by allowing 24/7 access to their peers. Rates of cyberbullying in college students are lower than those among high school-ers, but research suggests that almost 1 in 5 college students experiences cyberbullying. Social media has also been related to isolation from others because rather than connecting with others in person, students are spending more time online. Associated with isolation, social media has been related to the phenomenon of “Fear of Missing Out” or FOMO. FOMO is when it appears that others are having fun without you, and your worry about being left out.

On the other hand, technology can also have positive effects in students’ lives. Many students use technology to stay connected with friends and family. Technology also offers students the ability to access information quickly and can be a source of support. The mental health field is in the nascent stages of embracing technology as a means to provide services to more people. Students can use their smartphone for a wide range of supportive activities, like using a relaxation app, engaging with an online support network, or talking to their therapist. Technology can also encourage students to be active or get involved in their community through activity trackers and events promoted on their social networking sites.

As technology continues to change and grow, we will likely see different effects on how students use technology and how it impacts mental health. The bottom line is that technology and social media can be both positive, providing support and connection, and negative, a platform for cyberbullying and FOMO – it comes down to how it’s being used.

Mental Health Awareness Month: Spotlight on Stigma

Stigma against mental health can lead college students who are struggling with mental health problems to feel ashamed and prevent them from seeking the help they need. Stigma refers to negative attitudes toward, and misperceptions or stereotypes about people with mental health problems. Research shows that about 50% of students with mental illness do not talk about their mental health problems. One of the top reasons they cite for not disclosing their struggles is fear of stigma or that it would change how they were perceived and treated by others.

There are many different types of stigma that students encounter. Self-stigma is the self-blame and negative beliefs about oneself due to mental health problems. Public stigma are the myths and misinformation about people with mental health problems that leads to negative attitudes in the general population. Label stigma is when a person’s whole identity is assigned to a diagnostic label. An example of label stigma is saying, “She’s bipolar” because it is equating someone’s identity with a mental health problem. Stigma by association is the experience of feeling stigmatized because you are close to someone who has a mental health problem.

Since stigma against mental illness can negatively impact students who are struggling, their loved ones, and the larger community, it’s important to think about different ways we can combat the stigma. Here are some ways that you can lessen the stigma of mental illness:

  • Talk openly about mental health – mental health problems are widespread, and keeping them a secret contributes to feelings of shame
  • Educate yourself and others about mental health
  • Be conscious of language – many people get labeled as “crazy” or “psycho,” which can be hurtful for people struggling with mental illness
  • Show empathy and compassion towards those who are struggling
  • See the person, not the illness
  • Get involved in advocacy efforts to end stigma and promote mental health

You can make a big difference towards ending stigma and promoting a healthier community!