By Ella Frazer
You’re halfway through the semester, and you’re probably pretty stressed at this point (I know I am). With a little help from Christopher Edwards, Psychologist and Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator at Counseling, Health and Wellness Services (CHWS), I’ve compiled a little list of tips to help you relax.
- Limit your screen time
I’m addicted to my phone. I get nervous just leaving the house without it, and sometimes, although I hate to admit it, I can’t even go a full class period without taking a look at my notifications. If this is also a problem for you, try leaving your phone at home or in your car for an hour or two, or limit screen time at a time during the day that is convenient for you — such as right when you wake up or for a few hours before you go to sleep. Just turning off your devices might give you the peace and quiet that you really need.
- Get your sleep schedule back on track
Have midterm exams and papers made you feel like four hours of sleep a night is healthy? Do you feel another stress cold coming on? Have you fallen asleep on accident at any point this semester? These might be an indication that you need more sleep, and, even if you didn’t answer any of the questions affirmatively, you probably still need more sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for adults age 18 to 25, but that means every night … and adding hours from naps doesn’t count. Of course, every body is different, but if you’ve been feeling out of it recently, try taking this break to get at least seven hours of good sleep each night. Your body will thank you after the break is over.
- Organize something
As students and young adults, it can sometimes feel like we don’t have very much control over anything. In my experience, it can help to focus on the small aspects of my life that I know I can change right away. Some ideas include cleaning your bathroom (you know it’s gross), organizing your makeup drawer/cabinet/bag, donating old clothes you don’t wear anymore, or cleaning out your section of the fridge.
- Get off of this campus
This might be easy for many of you who have plans to go home or vacation this break, but for those of us sticking around Tacoma, it is important to see something new. Whether your idea of getting off of campus is a trip to the coast, a walk down to the Sound, or anything in between, it’s important to get some fresh air. When I was a first-year, I would go full weeks without leaving campus and it was exhausting to always be surrounded by the same sights. Take an afternoon — or even just an hour — and find someplace else.
- Observe and Describe (This one is from CHWS!)
In this exercise, Edwards said, “The goal is to engage the senses and shift attention and focus outward. When stressed/anxious, we are often preoccupied with sensations in the body or stuck in our head. By increasing awareness to our external environment, we might be surprised to notice a decrease in distress, which helps to build a sense of efficacy and feel in greater control. 5,4,3,2,1 is a simple practice where an individual notices/observes 5 things around them (sight), listens for 4 things, feels 3 things, etc. You could also modify this and do 3,2,1 and leave out taste/smell if that’s easier.”
- Diaphragmatic breathing (Also from CHWS!)
“By focusing on the breath, slowing respiration and in turn, heart rate, we can help reduce the physiological effects of anxiety/stress.” Edwards said. “For students who have a smart watch or can track their heart rate this is an easy way of measuring change in just a few minutes. This might also be referred to as ‘belly breathing.’”
- Exercise … but in a way that makes you feel good
Exercise doesn’t mean throwing on $200 running shoes and signing up for a marathon. Although fitness is all the rage right now, you get to decide what you want to do with your time and don’t have to give in to the pressure of Fitgrams. Go for a nice, gentle walk in the evening (with or without a dog), do some Youtube yoga (Yoga With Adriene is a great channel to start with), or simply take some time to stretch your muscles. You don’t have to face the gym, but it’s never a bad idea to get your body moving.
- Focus on your food
Interpret this however you want — try your hand at making a vegan meal, grab some new ingredients to try from your local grocery store, try out a new restaurant or see how many burgers you can put down in one sitting. For me, food can be a really difficult part of my day, but it’s important to take time and eat food that makes you feel good.
- Cut back on caffeine … or just drink less coffee
“For some people,” Edwards said in an email to The Trail, “caffeine can make anxiety worse! Try cutting back or switching to tea.” I am one of those people that drinks way too much coffee (I even drink de-caf sometimes, so you know it’s bad), but this break is an awesome opportunity to get back to a normal coffee intake (I’ll be happy with anything less than four cups a day) — and it’ll save me a lot of money when I get back (sorry, Diversions).
- Get creative!
Doodle on a napkin, make a screamo album with your friends, learn a new song (even if you only sing it when you’re alone), learn how to sew or embroider — do something that lets you get your creative energy out there and gives you something tangible when you’re finished.
This one speaks for itself. ;-)
- Accomplish something you’ve been putting off for a long time
We all have long lists of things we need to get done for school, but take this break to get started on something you’ve wanted to do. Finish a book that you didn’t quite get through last semester, clean out your social media, get a cup of coffee with someone that you keep saying you will but never get to, or wrap up any other loose ends you have in your life.
- Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while
From high school friends to your grandparents, use some of the extra time you have this break to get together with someone you love. Use this break to focus on relaxing and getting back to your authentic self, and make time for people that help you do that.
- Explore nature
What is a list about relaxation without some point about getting back to nature? Best part — going outside is free. Even if you just walk around Tacoma and look at rose bushes, you’re still reconnecting.
- Spend some time with yourself
Finally, the most important part of a mid-semester break is getting ready to finish the rest of your classes. Don’t underestimate the importance of taking time to be alone. Especially if you live in the dorms, you probably don’t get to just be by yourself very often, but a little alone time can make a big difference. (See #11 for ideas on what to do!)
As next week comes to a close, remember that this list doesn’t just apply to spring break. Taking time to relax and re-center yourself is really important in the high-stress environment that is higher education. If you find yourself in need of a little extra help when you get back, Edwards suggests reaching out to see what CHWS can do for you. In addition to medical and counseling services, CHWS also offers group sessions that help students with anything from eating disorders to “stress management and building coping tools,” Edwards said. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 253.879.1555 (they’ll be around over break, too!).