By Lorelei Poch
My guitar stares at the back of my head. I have not picked it up in three weeks, even though I depend on it for relaxation. At 11:30 p.m., I have neither showered nor completed enough work. I am too stressed to start assignments early on, then end up with too many to turn in quality work right before they are due. It is only the eighth week of school…How did I let myself get here, AGAIN?
Students often feel they are running on a treadmill from appointments to meetings, trying to eat and sleep AND trying to have a social life. On a quest to find ways to overcome stress and get a healthy life back, I talked to a few experts in the area and here’s what they had to say.
“Routines help you function better, and then things get a whole lot easier,” said Brooke Lockwood-Cole, a local therapist in Burlington with 30 years of experience as a licensed mental health counselor. She emphasized the holistic approach to self-care, and identified crucial activities like exercise, mindfulness, and getting quality sleep.
Exercise is “number one” to ensure students are in the correct mindset, feel healthy and capable, and take a break from worrying about their stressors, Lockwood-Cole said. “When students engage in physical activity there is a surge of serotonin and it makes you feel good about yourself, so it’s a centering thing,” Essentially exercise gets the juices in our brains flowing, thus promoting positive thoughts rather than lingering anxiety.
Some students use hobbies to reduce mental meltdowns. With a passion for dancing and contortionism, biology major Riley Sullivan ‘22 choreographs pieces using her six years of bending experience to uplift her spirits when academia drives her into overload. “I dance for class twice a week and I am getting credit for it. It’s so great,” said Sullivan.
Liam Galvin, mathematics major ‘20, often walks down to the Winooski dam, through the Gilbrooke reservation land, or around campus to escape from the academic environment. “I’ll start some homework and I’ll get kind of stressed because either it’s not going well or it’s just a lot of work, so I’ll take a break and clear my head to get some inspiration,” Galvin said.
Liam Galvin experienced sleep troubles his first year at college so he meditated before bed every night. Galvin reported, “I sit in the traditional meditation pose and count my breaths until I no longer focus on the numbers and let everything flow away,” he said.
Lockwood-Cole recommends meditation, breathing exercises, and counting because they are effective methods to calm the brain by focusing on the task at hand rather than the latter anxious, depressing or stressful thoughts. For example, when a student completes a breathing exercise of breathing in through the nose for four seconds, holding it for four, then breathing out through the mouth for four both the emotional and cognitive brain engage and tune into the activity of counting versus recurring thoughts.
Sullivan turns to friends when she needs to take a break. “Otherwise we’d burn out super quick,” she said. “We’ll put on a face mask or read a book.” She emphasized when she is less stressed the quality of her work goes up
“Seeing as I have had several years of sleep problems I will never underestimate how valuable sleep is,” said Galvin who, in order to get to sleep, meditates by counting. Lockwood-Cole recommends students should not only try to meditate to wind down, but also consider putting down phones and shutting off television, especially violent content, before bed to allow the brain to relax. She also suggests students try aromatherapy, making chamomile tea and using apps such as Calm or listening to guided Youtube meditations to establish a nightly bedtime routine. Exercise, mindfulness practices, and getting into a routine all allow the brain to turn off more efficiently.
Establishing a Routine
Galvin said his days are almost entirely scheduled which allows him free time to “say yes to almost anything on the weekends.” He ultimately reached this breakthrough by blocking out periods of time to complete his homework.
“It stresses me out not that I have a lot of work to do but that I am not organizing it as well as I could be,” Sullivan admitted. Where Galvin achieved his routine itinerary through repetition of his weekly events, Sullivan utilizes a written approach to create an agenda of her assignments. “I will sit down and make a list of everything I need to do and a timeline of when I should get things done. I’ll start by doing the easiest part so I will have motivation to do the harder parts,” she said.
Lockwood-Cole said the brain enters sleep more efficiently if students do just a few routine tasks. Her suggestions include planning ahead, going to places which prompt better study habits such as the library, and using an agenda book to write down assignments and their time commitment. She also advocates writing in a journal so the brain focus on sleeping rather than ponder ambiguous tasks. “Once students get into a routine they can feel centered and more in control,” said Lockwood-Cole. Not only can routines help students with physical health in the sense of losing less sleep, they can improve mental and emotional health by serving as a backbone of security and consistency in a college student’s life.