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12 Relaxation Techniques and Tips for When You Need to Relieve Stress

by South University
November 7, 2018
A photo of South University nursing students practicing patient care.

No one is immune to stress, no matter how well you take care of yourself or how much you plan ahead. Stress can be related to work, school, relationships, and the world around you. It’s bound to happen. So, what do you do when things go wrong and the stress is building? What relaxation techniques do you use that actually work? Here are some trusted methods you can use to relieve stress and calm the mind.

  1. Take a break
    Stop what you’re doing. Step away and shift your focus. Look out the window. Drink a cup of tea. Do something that’s creative or that requires focus—like doodling, knitting, or Sudoku—to take your mind off what’s worrying you.

  2. Breathe deep
  3. Breathe in slowly through nose. Feel your lungs expand and notice as your belly rises. Pause at the end of your inhale. Then slowly release your breath, trying to make your exhale slower than your inhale. Repeat this deep breathing three or four times. As you do so, your heart rate will slow, your parasympathetic nervous system will help you to relax, and your mind will begin to calm.

    Consider trying guided meditations that focus on your breathe with apps like Calm or Headspace. In addition to 10-minute and longer meditations, you’ll also find short 30-seconds, 1-minute, or 3-minute meditation options that fit even your busiest days.

  4. Listen to calming music or nature sounds
    Play slow quiet music to help you relax. Choose songs with little to no vocals and no loud instruments. Alternatively, you can try nature sounds—like that of an ocean, a creek, or birds in a field. Whether you’re working around the house or the office, these soothing sounds can slow your mind and boost your mood.

  5. Create a gratitude journal
    Write down 10 things you’re grateful for. Reread your list and think about each item. In doing so, you move your attention away from your stressors to the objects of your gratitude. Keep this list handy and add to it weekly. When you need to relieve your stress, revisit your list to remind yourself of all the good things in your life.

  6. Sing
    Need to reduce stress and anxiety? Like exercising, minus all that sweat, singing your favorite song has the power to produce endorphins that improve your mood and reduce cortisol, a hormone commonly associated with stress, to release tension. So, in your car, in the shower, or in your home, turn it up and belt it out. Maybe don’t try this one in a crowded office though.

  7. Go screen-free
    The constant influx of email. Your love-hate relationship with social media. The never-ending news cycle. Sometimes, it gets to be too much. Give yourself permission to disconnect. Turn off your phone. Read a book, go for a stroll, spend time with your family. Whatever it is, do something that makes you happy.

  8. Declutter
    That clutter at your desk or your kitchen table or even in your car could be contributing to your stress levels. Stop putting off the work of decluttering. Cleaning up and throwing things away can feel good in the moment and seeing a clear space in the future will help you continue to feel relaxed. Be sure to set up an organization system that helps you keep your space clutter-free. This may include reminders or scheduling time each week to sort and organize.

  9. Start small
    If you’re feeling stressed about your to-do list, pick one thing to focus on. Break that item down into small, manageable tasks. Set a realistic goal for which of those small tasks you plan to accomplish in the next hour, two hours, or day. Recognize and acknowledge your small wins as you complete each task.

  10. Be with friends and family
    Talking about how you feel with close friends or family can help you to process your emotions and find the clarity to deal with what’s going on. Your loved ones can also join you in brainstorming how to solve a problem and help you to see something from a new perspective. Spending time with loved ones can also help to distract you from your stressors and give you renewed energy to tackle any complex issues in your life.

  11. Laugh
    Find videos of your favorite comedian or maybe some adorable animals doing funny things. How about an episode of your favorite comedy show? Laughing is another great way to get your feel-good endorphins flowing and to lower your stress hormones.

  12. Move
    Stretch. Dance around the room even if it feels silly. Work out. Dig in your garden. Take your dog for a walk. Do what works for you; just get your energy flowing and your mind off the things that stress you out. (Get bonus points for going outside or spending time with a pet, as both have been shown to help relieve stress.)

  13. Ask for help
    Sometimes we feel stress because we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. If you need help, ask for it. Ask your boss, your instructor, or your family. Most people are willing to help if only they know how and when you need support.

Stress Happens

One important thing to remember is to never stress about being stressed. Stress happens and worrying about your stress levels never helps. The best course of action is to find a way to reduce anxiety and alleviate stress. Over time, you’ll learn what relaxation techniques work for you.

If you’re interested in helping other people cope with stress and other complex issues in their lives, you may want to consider a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program or Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at South University.

by South University
November 7, 2018
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A Simple Guide to Self-Care for Busy Students

by South University
October 24, 2018
A photo of an individual get a check-up by South University nursing students.

The word self-care gets thrown around a lot, so that it can feel like self-care is just one more thing to add to the bottom of your long to-do list. But staying mentally healthy and physically healthy is important, even if you are a busy student juggling your college classes with your personal and professional life. Good self-care routines can have many benefits, including helping you move through life energized and happy.

Below is a list of mental and physical health tips for hardworking students and anyone else ready to take better care of themselves with a few minor changes to their days.

Rejuvenate with a relaxing bedtime ritual and a full night’s sleep

One in three adults don’t get enough sleep. Too little sleep can slow down your reaction times, decrease your ability to focus, and negatively impact your health and energy. If you have trouble falling asleep, follow a consistent sleep schedule. Keep your room dark and quiet with phones on alarm-only mode. A relaxing bedtime ritual—like reading, drinking caffeine-free herbal tea, or taking a soothing bath—can help. At a minimum, let your brain wind down by avoiding tv shows, computers, and exercise for 30 minutes before bedtime.

Eat food that gives you energy for your day

Eating well is among the most important self-care activities. Start with a high-protein breakfast, and then avoid high sugar foods that will result in a crash that will leave you feeling exhausted. If you’re on the go, bring easy-to-eat snacks with you for the day ahead, like nuts, yogurt, or pre-cut veggies. If you know you get too busy during the week to make healthy meals, prep meals over the weekend that you can simply heat up and eat. You can even do breakfast this way, by pre-making and freezing breakfast wraps.

Spend time in nature at least once a week

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, fresh air could help. Being in nature is scientifically shown to lower stress hormones, reduce mental fatigue, and increase emotional well-being, including boosting the serotonin in our brain. Time in nature has also been linked to improved attention span, creativity, and short-term memory. (Studies even suggest that walks in in the woods can lower blood pressure, boost your immune system, and decrease cancer risk.) If you don’t consider yourself the outdoorsy type, don’t worry—weekend hiking excursions aren’t required. Even sitting under the trees in a local park can do you good.

Get moving

Daily physical activity can help you feel more alert, productive, and happier. Of course, when you’re busy, it’s hard to put exercise at the top of your list. To change that, find something you actually like doing. If running or lifting weights is not your thing, try turning up your music and having a daily dance session before the kids come home. Or maybe yoga or kickboxing classes will do the trick. With the many YouTube videos online, you may not even have to leave the house. Your exercise doesn’t need to be intense; just moving and stretching can lower stress and help you stay mentally healthy.

If you need to, get creative and find ways to combine activities. Do you have any one-on-one meetings at work that could be held while walking instead of sitting? Could you do some exercises while watching the evening news? Maybe you could get family time in by going for walks or biking around the neighborhood together. Or plan to go hiking or canoeing with friends to get the triple benefit of exercise, nature, and time spent with people who make you smile.

Quit a bad habit

A photo of an individual talking with a therapist. Self-care doesn’t have to be about starting something new. Sometimes, it’s about quitting what is bad for you. What habits should you stop? Do you feel guilty for eating the junk food in your pantry? Don’t buy it anymore. Get burnt out from sitting so long in front of the computer? Stop doing that and take breaks every 30 minutes instead. From how often we check social media to the way we talk to ourselves, we all have things we should stop doing. Think about it. What’s getting in your way? What can you do to simplify the process of quitting that habit?

Make your self-care routine stick

Remember, a good self-care routine doesn’t have to be fancy. Self-care starts with getting enough sleep, eating well, and moving your body. It involves building some new habits and dropping others. If reading about these self-care activities feels overwhelming, take a step back. Pick one self-care activity to focus on and start there. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so give yourself some grace and aim for progress, not perfection, as you work toward a physically and mentally healthier you.

by South University
October 24, 2018
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Meet Claire Stigler: An Instructor Passionate about the Art of Teaching and Healing

by South University
June 18, 2018
A photo of Dr. Claire Stigler.

Dr. Claire Stigler is an Assistant Professor in the Public Health Department at South University, Austin.

She holds an MS in Human Biology from the University of Indianapolis, where she studied paleopathology and trauma in historic skeletal populations in the Archeology and Forensics Laboratory and the Indiana Prehistory Laboratory. Fascinated by the elegance and resilience of the human form, she pursued her Doctorate in Chiropractic medicine at National University of Health Sciences and earned her degree in 2013.

Dr. Stigler has been teaching anatomy and physiology courses to Public Health and Physical Therapy Assistant students at South University, Austin since 2015. She is passionate about science and medicine and strives to share the beauty and complexity of human anatomy with each of her students. She believes that, living in a global community, we all have a responsibility to leave things in better condition than when we found then. Working in education allows her to do exactly that, as she takes every opportunity to act with compassion and lead with a generous heart to provide a positive role model for her students.

Outside of teaching, Dr. Stigler maintains a private chiropractic practice in Austin and is currently completing her Applied Clinical Nutrition certification. In all things, Dr. Stigler aims to help others create the happiest, healthiest version of their lives and achieve their optimum level of wellness in mind, body, and spirit.

Learn more about South University, Austin and our program offerings today!

by South University
June 18, 2018
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Meet Nicole Cross: Austin Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program Director

by South University
May 14, 2018
An image of several South University nursing students.  The image has the National Nurses Week 2018 logo in the right corner.  It reads nurses inspire, innovate, influence.

Dr. Nicole Cross is the type of person whose positivity, excitement, and passion for her work is immediately apparent and contagious from the minute you meet her.

"I love any opportunity that allows me to communicate with and educate others, whether it is public or motivational speaking, counseling, consulting, coaching, teaching, or journalism," she says. "When I can talk with other people, when I can help someone and support them in making important life decisions, that is when I'm the happiest."

Establishing a Successful Career & Expertise in Counseling

Today an accomplished journalist, educator, and mental health professional, Dr. Cross initially began her career focused on counseling. After earning a bachelor's in psychology and speech communications, a master’s in behavioral sciences, and a PhD in counselor education, Dr. Cross practiced in both private clinics and various public health agencies. Her career highlights include serving as the Texas Southern University Director of the Office of University Counseling, Career, and Disability Services and later as the Director of Counseling and Behavioral Health for The Potter's House of Dallas (a 30,000 member megachurch led by Pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes).

On the side, Dr. Cross served as a relationship expert for a Houston radio show and, in time, became an in-demand speaker at conferences, seminars, and events on effective communication practices, self-improvement, and relationships. She even found time to teach college courses online and in person.

Bridging Psychology, Health, & Journalism

By 30, Dr. Cross was happy with her success, yet was unsure of her next move up in counseling. Instead, she decided to recommit to her interest in journalism—something she first remembers exploring as part of her middle school newspaper. "You've got Dr. Oz and you've got Dr. Phil," she says. "Why not Dr. Cross?"

After studying broadcast journalism at the New York Film Academy, which later named her a distinguished alumni, Dr. Cross began working as a news anchor and health reporter. She started a “Healthy Living with Dr. Nicole” show and later hosted a personal health program featuring local health professionals. Most recently, in Austin, she led the popular Wellness Wednesday segment, educating viewers on how to talk to children about topics like friendships, relationships, and cyberbullying.

Since becoming a journalist in 2013, Dr. Cross has earned awards that include four Associated Press awards and an Emmy nomination for Breaking News Coverage. “I took a major risk trying something new, not knowing if I would sink or swim,” she says. “Those awards bring to life my philosophy that all things are possible. I use it as a testimonial to anyone willing to risk trying something new. The same rules apply: if you work hard, it will pay off.”

Returning to the Classroom

While anchoring in Austin, Dr. Cross began teaching at South University and soon found herself wanting to get more involved in the program; education is something Dr. Cross has always felt strongly about.

"The moments in my life that helped me and motivated me, as much as it was my family, it was also those educators who went the extra mile to keep me on the right path," she says. "I want to be that for someone. I want to be the reason someone works that much harder. Gets that extra degree or challenges themselves to go further than they expected or further than they've been exposed to in their personal lives."

In 2018, Dr. Cross became the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program Director at South University, Austin and is enjoying educating a new generation of counselors. "I'm at this stage in life when it's about significance and meaningfulness and purpose," she says. "It's about me being a change agent for others, and as Program Director I can do that."

Discover Our Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MA) Program

Interested in a career in Clinical Mental Health Counseling? This Master of Arts degree program can help you prepare, allowing you to explore the theories, principles, and dynamic applications in the field, get training in effective assessment and treatment practices, study the significance of research in the field, and gain competence in ethical, legal, and professional standards. Request information or learn more today.

by South University
May 14, 2018
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A Nurse and Healthcare Professional’s Guide to Better Sleep

by South University
March 9, 2018
A photo of a nursing holding a sign that says sleep well.

From March 11 to 17, 2018, the National Sleep Foundation is celebrating Sleep Awareness Week, highlighting how good sleep habits help individuals perform their best. Yet, at South University--where over 65% of our students are in nursing and other health professions--we see firsthand how getting quality sleep is particularly difficult for many healthcare professionals. In this field, professionals regularly work nights and long, demanding shifts that make getting a normal night’s sleep challenging, even throwing off the body’s natural rhythms.

As a healthcare professional, you provide essential services to patients who count on you to be alert and at your best. Fatigue is a serious issue in healthcare and can lead to a decline in your own health and an increased risk of errors in your patient care work. So what can you do when you’re working odd or long hours and find yourself struggling to sleep? Below are tips that can help you sleep better, so that you’ll be healthy and ready for the day ahead.

1. Create a wind down ritual and sleep schedule.

Begin to relax at least an hour before going to sleep, and keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule, even when you’re not working. During that hour, avoid your tv or phone as the bright light can stimulate your brain. If you want to read, choose something relaxing that you’ll be able to set aside at bedtime.

A pre-bedtime routine can also be beneficial. Ease any tension with a warm bath or shower, and treat yourself to soothing lavender scents or calming essential oils. Then, clean your face, brush your teeth, and play relaxing music or white noise to signal to your brain that it’s time for sleep. If you’re often anxious at bedtime, keep a notepad nearby where you can jot down thoughts and reminders and consider learning a relaxation technique to help you fall asleep.

2. Improve your sleeping environment.

For starters, use your bedroom for sleeping only, keeping it clean of clutter and anything that might stress you out. You should also minimize light and noise. Light tells your brain to wake up; darkness does the opposite. Invest in room darkening curtains, cover illuminated clocks, and consider an eye mask.

Set your phone to alarm-only mode, leaving it upside down to damper any light it emits. If you worry about waking up on time, set multiple alarms to ease your concerns. If you live on a noisy street, use ear plugs if you can still hear your alarm, or try a white noise machine or a sleep sound smartphone app. Finally, lower your thermostat before bedtime; the best temperature for sleeping is around 65 degrees.

3. Ask others to respect your schedule.

Get your friends and family on board with the importance of your sleep. If you have children, explain why you sleep when you do and ask that they only disturb you in an emergency. Request that your housemates avoid loud noisy activities or use headphones while you’re sleeping, and place a Do Not Disturb sign on your door to avoid being wakened by the doorbell.

4. Follow a healthy diet & exercise routine during waking hours.

Regular exercise can lower your stress levels and improve your sleep, so aim for at least 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise, ideally before your shift. Working out within a few hours of your bedtime can lead to trouble falling asleep. Don’t indulge on a huge meal before sleeping, but also avoid an empty stomach. Either one could wake you up in the middle of your sleep cycle. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can also all disrupt your sleep, so avoid these items in the hours before you sleep. (See more of our tips for staying healthy here.)

Are you working in nursing or another healthcare profession? How do you balance your schedule so that you get the sleep you need? Join the conversation and share your advice with the South University community on Facebook.

by South University
March 9, 2018
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