Spring fever is definitely in the air! It’s the end of March, the end of the semester is near, and nervous energy is creeping up for students planning on graduating in less than two months. Here are some things I have found effective over the years for dealing with stressful times such as these. May they help lighten the gloom, spread sunshine in your world and offer some peace of mind during challenging times.
1. Box Breathing. Author Brene Brown introduced me to the box breathing technique several years ago and since then I have seen many others utilize it. It’s a particularly good tool because it can be done anywhere at any time and does not require any type of equipment. I have recommended this technique to individuals who are nervous about an upcoming meeting as well as employees in high intensity work environments. According to Ana Gotter at healthline.com and medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, “it (box breathing) can heighten performance and concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever.” In the simplest of terms, box breathing repeats the following pattern:
Slowly exhale through mouth for a count of 4 → Hold for a count of 4 → Slowly inhale deeply through your nose for a count of 4 → Hold for a count of 4 → Repeat.
To see a demonstration of Box Breathing, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1g5Ol25y9Xs
2. Go Outside. A Zen saying which resonates with me with me states, “You should sit in nature for 20 minutes a day . . . unless you’re busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” In a 2011 study entitled Preventive Medical Effects of Nature Therapy researchers discovered that participants who spent time in nature compared to those in the city had decreases in heart rates as well as levels of cortisol (a hormone commonly used as a marker for stress). The researchers concluded that “Stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy.” Based on numerous studies, doctors are now prescribing time out in nature to patients to address depression, stress, anxiety and blood pressure concerns through such formats as the Nature Prescriptions Project in the UK Shetland Islands (CNN. UK Doctors Are Prescribing Nature; 10/05/2018).
Here are three simple ways to enjoy the outdoors:
- Eat your lunch outside rather than at your desk.
- Take a walk around campus as part of your lunch break.
- Open your windows (minimal, yes, but better than nothing!)
3. Spend Time With Friends. In a 2018 article from the Mayo Clinic entitled Friendships: Enrich Your Life and Improve Your Health the benefits of spending time with friends is extensively explored. Among other benefits including an increase in belonging, the author shares that friendships not only increase the feeling of happiness but also help to reduce stress, high blood pressure and depression. In addition, according to Everyday Health writer Madeline R. Vann, MPH in her article The Importance of Friendships, spending time with friends can actually boost your immune system as well as reduce stress.
Here are three ways to stay connected with friends:
- Prioritize time with friends by planning ahead and organizing a gathering. If it’s in your calendar as a scheduled event you are much more likely to make it happen.
- Too tired in the evenings to go out? Meet someone for an early morning coffee or workout session/walk around the park.
- If you can drive safely while talking on your Bluetooth, make the most of your drive time and reach out to someone important in your life. On a personal note, my best friend since elementary school and I have remained close for many, many years even though we live thousands of miles apart simply because we find time to talk to one another at least once a week.
I hope these techniques are useful during the next few weeks as well as during stressful times in your life. And remember, spring IS just around the corner!
By Melissa Connell, Ombuds Director, University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus