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.

Faculty Spotlight: What is Wellness?

As faculty and staff you are in a unique position to both promote your own wellness and promote the wellness of students. Promoting your own wellness is important in order to have a high quality of life, reduce the risk of illness, and help you perform your job duties to the best of your ability. Likewise, helping students promote their wellness is important because it will help them engage in the community more, perform to their best academically, and reduce stress.

According to the World Health Organization, wellness is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Simply put, wellness is the state of being in good physical and mental health. Wellness includes many facets:

  • Physical Wellness: maintaining a healthy body and seeking care when needed or when ill
  • Emotional Wellness: understanding your feelings and coping effectively with stress, seeking help for distress or mental illness when needed
  • Spiritual Wellness: developing a set of values that help you seek meaning and purpose, including spirituality and religion
  • Social Wellness: developing healthy relationships, performing social roles effectively, building a social support network
  • Intellectual Wellness: engaging with new ideas openly, continuing to expand your knowledge, participating in academic activities
  • Environmental Wellness: respecting the earth and nature, maintaining a lifestyle that minimizes harm to the environment
  • Occupational Wellness: finding a good fit between you and what you are called to do, appreciating your own contributions, and satisfaction with your work

All of these facets together comprise wellness, and striking a balance between them all can be difficult. Many people find that they focus on one or two facets and neglect the rest. For example, faculty and staff may tend to prioritize intellectual or occupational wellness over physical, emotional, or spiritual wellness. More information on the different facets of wellness and how to nurture each can be found here.

 

Welcome back to Wellness!

A new school year means new classes, new friends, new housing, new opportunities, and new challenges. It can be difficult to balance all of these new opportunities and stay healthy. The Wellness Initiative is here to help. This blog will provide weekly posts on various wellness topics to help you stay well, cope with challenges, and provide resources for help throughout the year.

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One way to start the year with thoughts about your own wellness is to reflect about upcoming year and challenges you may face. Research shows that anticipating and planning for challenges is helpful in reducing stress when you do encounter those challenges. Here are some self-reflection questions that can help you plan for the upcoming year:

  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What upcoming challenges can I plan for?
  • How do I handle negative situations? When these situations occur, how do I typically manage them?
  • What resources (people, activities, or things) could assist me in handling challenging situations?
  • How will I plan to focus on my strengths during challenging situations?

These questions can help you think about what challenges you may face this upcoming year. Thinking about challenging situations ahead of time will help you deal with them when they do come up. Welcome back to school and welcome back to wellness!

Faculty Spotlight: Students in Distress: Recognizing the Signs

Students show signs of distress in many different ways. Some common indicators of distress include:

Signs of Distress

Faculty and staff may feel concerned about students who exhibit any of these common signs of distress. Current research further suggests that students from different cultures may show other signs of distress. Among undergraduates at Seattle Pacific University, 34% are students of color and students come from 43 states and 17 countries. It is important for faculty and staff to be familiar with signs of distress among other cultures, in order to be able to help students who come from different backgrounds.

Some subtle signs of distress that may be demonstrated more often by students of color or students from marginalized groups include:

  • Somatization: Some individuals express distress through reporting physical symptoms rather than emotional symptoms; this may be particularly prevalent among cultures that emphasize a strong mind-body connection. Common somatic symptoms that may be reported are aches and pains, fatigue, and weakness.
  • Sleep Disturbance: Problems with sleep can be indicative of mental health problems and can exacerbate distress. Distress may be demonstrated through reporting difficulties with falling asleep, insomnia, or sleeping too much. Sleep disturbance can also impair students’ ability to stay alert and focus during class.
  • Fainting: Dizziness, fainting, or collapsing is typically thought to indicate a medical problem. However, in some cultures, fainting may be related to mental health problems and distress.

It’s important to remember that each student is unique and may show signs of distress that are congruent with their culture or in another way. If you notice that a student may be showing signs of distress, talk to them to provide support and determine if more services are needed. More on talking with students can be found here.

 

 

Faculty Spotlight: Sunshine and Mood: Does Vitamin D Boost Mood?

Summer is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. People tend to have elevations in mood during the summer, too. In fact, getting sun exposure has been linked to reductions in anxiety, depression, and seasonal affective disorder. Urban lore suggests that Vitamin D is the active ingredient in the relationship between sun exposure and elevated mood. Many researchers have investigated this connection and here’s what they found:

 

  • Vitamin D and mental health problems: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression, seasonal affective disorder, and schizophrenia.
    • Vitamin D may improve your brain’s ability to produce serotonin, which has been implicated in a number of different mental health conditions, including mood disorders.
  • Vitamin D and sunlight: Sunlight produces both UVA and UVB radiation and is a natural source of Vitamin D. Specifically, the skin is able to synthesize Vitamin D in response to UVB radiation exposure. Due to the risk of skin cancer, many people where sunscreen, which blocks UVB radiation from the skin. This prevents the skin from being able to produce Vitamin D.
    • The World Health Organization recommends 5-15 minutes of sunlight, two to three times a week in order to keep your Vitamin D levels up.
    • Others prefer to take Vitamin D supplements, which can be found at local grocery stores.
  • Does increasing Vitamin D lead to decreases in mental health problems? Research shows mixed results about the relationship between Vitamin D and mood disorders.
    • Some studies show that people with mood disorders have benefited from taking Vitamin D supplements, while others found no evidence of a connection between Vitamin D levels and depression symptoms.
    • Others have shown that taking Vitamin D supplements is more effective in alleviating seasonal affective disorder than increasing light exposure.
    • The Mayo Clinic gave the evidence supporting Vitamin D supplements as a treatment for depression a “C” grade, indicating that the scientific evidence supporting this use is unclear.
    • Aside from Vitamin D’s effect on mental health problems, it serves important functions in your body, like maintaining normal levels of calcium and promoting strong bones.

 

Should I be focusing on increasing my Vitamin D levels by being out in the sun?  Maybe.  Increasing your Vitamin D level won’t help everyone. For some people helping your body produce Vitamin D will help boost mood. For other people, being outside and being active through sports, hiking, or exercise will likely help boost your mood through other means, such as generating endorphins.  As you enjoy the rest of summer, make sure you keep track of how much time you spend in the sun, and wear sunscreen if you’re out for more than 5-15 minutes to protect against the risks of skin cancer.

 

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Faculty Spotlight: Self-Care

Working at a university carries many stressors: feeling overworked, dealing with high expectations, isolation, and pressure to perform. In addition, faculty and staff have stressors related to their personal lives to balance as well. All this stress can lead to serious mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and burnout. Some even turn to harmful coping strategies like abusing alcohol, overeating, or isolation and avoidance.

Developing your own self-care plan can provide you with strategies to keep your stress level manageable. Self-care refers to a wide range of tools and activities that you engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress, and maintain and enhance health and wellbeing. Sometimes self-care involves taking a break from work. There are a wide range of tools that can help you feel better and have been shown to reduce mental health symptoms. Here’s a brief list of ideas:

  • Exercise elicits the release of endorphins in the brain, boosting your mood. It can also help you build your social support network outside of work. Exercise has been linked to reducing depression, stress, and anxiety. If exercise is new to you, start slow and choose activities that you enjoy. Too much, too fast can lead to feelings of frustration and exercise burnout.
  • Religion and spirituality can help reduce stress by increasing your sense of purpose, your connection to the world, and expanding your social network. Religion and spirituality have also been linked to reductions in anxiety and depression. Take time in your schedule to incorporate a religious or spiritual practice, like prayer, meditation, or attending a church service.
  • Sleep management helps boost mood and improves memory. Make a plan to regularly get enough sleep (7-8 hours) by scheduling it based on what works for you. Night owls may consider avoiding early morning commitments, while early birds may consider avoiding late night commitments.
  • Healthy eating is an important way to maintain physical health, but it also improves energy, mood, and brain health. Eating a balanced diet has been linked to decreasing depression, anxiety, and ADHD symptoms. Regular consumption of food throughout the day can also prevent dips in mood. Scheduling meals and snack can help you get consistent nutrition throughout your day and can prevent overeating.
  • Hobbies, like crafting, cooking, music, or other interests, can help take your mind of the stresses of work. Participating regularly in a hobby has been shown to decrease risk for depression and dementia. Hobbies can be a great way to connect with others or take time for yourself. Find something you love to do.

These self-care strategies are just a suggested list of activities that may or may not work for you. Choose what works best for you and try to fit it into your schedule on a regular basis. This will help you maintain a balance – your life is more than your work. Neglecting your self-care can impair optimal functioning, so taking care of yourself will have a rippling effect in improving your work, too. Take time this summer to develop your own self-care plan! Tools and tips for developing your plan can be found at:

https://socialwork.buffalo.edu/resources/self-care-starter-kit/developing-your-self-care-plan.html

Faculty Spotlight: Emerging Adulthood

College students are at an interesting stage in their lives, in that they have surpassed their teen years but haven’t quite reached adulthood yet. To capture the uniqueness of this stage, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett called the time between ages 18 to approximately 25 “emerging adulthood.” During this time, college students face decisions regarding education, vocation, moving into the workforce, moving away from the family, and possibly, future marriage and parenting. Arnett defines emerging adulthood by five features: age of identity exploration, age of instability, age of self-focus, age of feeling in between, and the age of possibilities.

  • Age of identity exploration: individuals are trying to figure out who they are, what they want to do in life, and what their future looks like.
  • Age of instability: students are constantly moving around, with many changes in residence, employment, and relationships.
  • Age of self-focus: college students are also taking this time to focus on themselves, as they are no longer under parent or government direction, especially regarding school. They are focusing on their own knowledge and skills that they will need for adulthood.
  • Age of feeling in between: this new freedom is one of the reasons emerging adulthood is the age of feeling in between: individuals must start taking responsibility for certain aspects of their life but are not completely “adults.” Many will report the subjective feeling of being in a transitional period of life.
  • Age of possibilities: emerging adults are in a time of possibilities- they are optimistic about their futures even though not a lot as been decided for certain at this point in time.

These five features separate emerging adulthood from all other phases of life. There are both negative and positives to this life stage. It seems as if emerging adults are relying on their parents for a longer period of time, meaning it will take longer for them to become working members of society. Moreover, the many possibilities of this age makes it difficult for emerging adults to sort out all their opportunities, which may lead to increased rates of depression and anxiety. On the positive side, waiting to take on adult responsibilities allows emerging adults to focus on gaining knowledge and experience. Waiting to marry or make crucial decisions regarding work is also a positive, as judgment regarding such decisions will be more mature. To read more about this time period and the struggles emerging adults face, check out this excellent article:

http://www.acsd.org/article/helping-students-transition-into-adulthood/