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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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Faculty Tips for Reducing Stress as a Student

by South University
April 11, 2018

Often, we think of individual events or issues as the cause of our stress. The stress of completing our coursework, paying a bill, or a problem at work is seen as unique. In reality, stress can be cumulative, crossing over from your job to your personal life and even to your classes. In this blog, we'll look closely at cumulative stress and explore several techniques you can use for managing stress.

What is Cumulative Stress?

Stress is the body's response to any demand made on it, and light stress—when you believe that you can cope with the demands you currently face—can actually be motivating and energizing.

However, as various causes of stress start adding up, the total cumulative stress you feel increases. Such causes might include:

  • Deadlines and commitments (like assignment due dates)
  • Financial problems
  • Relationship troubles
  • Health problems
  • Work problems

So, what happens when cumulative stress is left unchecked and the stressors in your life remain? While we may hope to let stress roll off our backs, it's more likely you're piling on the stress and carrying it everywhere you go. Over time, cumulative stress can lead to health and psychological problems such as:

  • Headaches
  • Indigestion/nausea
  • Sleep problems
  • Irritability
  • Poor judgement and memory problems
  • Nervousness/anxiousness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem

Tips for Managing Stress

Now for the good news: stress can be managed. Beginning right now, here's what you can do to significantly reduce your cumulative stress.

  1. Be healthy: Start by looking at your daily life. Track how much physical activity you get, what you eat, and how much you drink alcohol or smoke. Most of us speed through the day so fast that we don’t realize what our day actually includes. After taking a good look at ourselves, we can see how to become healthier. It could be as simple as eating more vegetables or a bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Even a daily walk will help.
  2. Have fun: Laughing is good for you, so find time to have fun and to laugh. It's also important to stay positive. Finding the good in the world, even when faced with significant challenges, will lead to reduced stress.
  3. Relax: To relax and reset, you need to take breaks, not just from work but also in your personal life and your school work. We don’t mean a 6-month vacation, just a few breaks during the day, where you leave behind life's problems for a time, possibly by doing one of the following:
    • Read a book (other than your text). There is nothing like diving into a good mystery, fantasy, or romance novel—or even your favorite magazine—to separate you from daily stress.
    • Play a game. (Remember, there is a difference between taking a break and procrastinating, so don’t use your breaks as a way to delay work.)
    • Exercise. Take a short walk, stretch, or do light aerobic exercises to revitalize your body. During the exercise, let your mind think about things other than what is causing your stress.
  4. Use your time wisely. Everyone talks about time management as if it's some complicated process that only high-priced consultants can figure out. That's simply not true. Start by keeping a journal for a few days on what you do throughout the day. You’ll be amazed how much time is spent on things like looking for clothes in the morning, finding the kids' library book, or playing your favorite video game.

    From there, find ways to streamline or cut back on things that take too much time. An hourly schedule might not be needed, but a calendar of daily chores or appointments could likely help you organize your time at home and work. Within your schedule, prioritize your coursework by putting aside time, not just for the assignments, but also to study and complete your readings.

The More You Know...

Improving your ability to deal with stress and knowing that stress be carried from one environment to another (i.e. job to home) may have a long-term impact on improving your resilience and your health. If, before or after trying these tips, you'd like to talk with someone about your stress, contact your Academic Counselor or Student Affairs to ask about the resources available through the South University Counseling Center.

About the Author

Mark Fabbri Ph.D. is the Chair for Psychology Online at South University. Dr. Fabbri has been teaching for South University since 2006 and lives in Michigan.

by South University
April 11, 2018
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10 Ways to Be Happier in Your Everyday Life

by South University
February 1, 2015

Feeling a bit of the winter blues? Or, maybe the weight of juggling your Herculean schedule has started to catch up with you. Either way, it's time to fight back with these proactive methods that will make every day a little happier.

1. Work Out

Even a short workout can boost your mood, and it'll boost your creativity, too.

2. Eat

Happy mug

Low blood sugar can wreak havoc with your moods, but so can an unhealthy diet. Eat regular meals, even if they're just quick snacks of vegetables or fruit. Choose brightly colored, minimally processed foods when you can, and don't skip breakfast.

3. Breathe

Stress will sap your energy, your motivation and your mood. A few minutes of deep breathing or meditation can drastically improve your day.

4. Prioritize Sleep

Sleeping poorly, or not getting enough sleep, is a sure recipe for feeling down. If you can't get a full night's sleep, schedule short naps into your day. They'll improve your mood, too.

5. Go Toward the Light

Make a point to get out in the sun, or at least sit by a window with natural light, as much as possible. Invest in full-spectrum light bulbs or a SAD light if you don't get enough natural light exposure.

6. Spend Time Outside

Spending time in green spaces is a great way to boost your mood. Head straight for your favorite park when it's warm outside, and visit a nearby greenhouse in the winter.

7. De-Clutter

Being surrounded by clutter robs you of time, energy and motivation. Clear out the mess to boost your mood immediately.

8. Focus on the Positive

A gratitude journal can help you find the silver lining when you feeling things start to feeling like they’re falling to pieces.

9. Unplug

Spending time in front of a brightly lit computer screen can throw off your sleep cycle. Get away from the computer or at least turn it off a few hours before bedtime.

10. Connect With Friends

Spending time with friends and like-minded acquaintances is one of the surest, fastest ways to boost your mood.

If you're juggling school life with work or a family (or both), it's perfectly natural to feel stressed out on occasion. But remember, you undertook this challenge for a reason. Keep up your hard work, stay focused on your end goal, and graduation could be here before you know it!

by South University
February 1, 2015
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How to Reduce Stress in Your Life

by South University
January 22, 2014

Juggling work, a busy personal life and your college courses can be a lot to handle. Between pressure to ace your tests, financial obligations, daily work requirements and family needs, you might feel pulled in many directions. These tips may be able to help you feel a little more relaxed.

Relax

Set aside time for being social—and for relaxing. There’s no need to always keep your nose to the grindstone! Devote at least one night a week to being with family, going on a date, catching up with friends, or perhaps watching your favorite movie. You’ll be happier, and it’ll be easier to focus when you return to your studies.

Add study time to your calendar. On the other hand, if you’re always busy with family and social obligations, be sure to pencil in time for studying. Try to find a nice park or a quiet corner at the library where you can focus. You’ll accomplish more this way and be able to give your full attention to your family when you’re home.

If scheduling alone time is out of the question, your family or friends could help you study. Maybe your significant other can quiz you before a test. Alternatively, you could ask each of your kids to take on an extra chore so that you have more time to study.

Accept that not everything will go as planned. A long day at work, a car that won't start, or a child having a temper tantrum -- there’s no real way to avoid these situations, but you can take few preventive steps to reduce your overall stress level and face these occasions with more composure.

Get a full night’s sleep. Aim for at least six to eight hours nightly and plan a schedule that allows you to do just that. You’ll be surprised how much clearer your mind is and how well you function when you get enough sleep.

Eat right. With all that’s going on, you may find yourself skipping meals or grabbing something quick and unhealthy. Do yourself a favor and avoid excess caffeine and sugar, and instead stick to healthy and fresh foods that give you the energy you need.

Exercise. Kickboxing or running, biking or lifting weights, yoga or Pilates—whatever your workout of choice, exercise can help you to reduce your stress. Exercise at least three to four days a week for optimal mental and physical fitness.

The next time you feel stressed, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can do this! Imagine what you’re working toward in your life. Never stress about being stressed; this will only compound the problem. Instead, it’s important to have strategies in place to avoid stress where possible and to keep calm, despite how much you have going on. Learning how to manage your stress will serve you well, even long after you complete your studies.

Sources
How To Reduce Stress While in College
How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress 
23 Scientifically-Backed Ways To Reduce Stress Right Now

by South University
January 22, 2014
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