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Kyle Cushman

Stress and Spaghetti: Tips for Wellness

By Kyle Cushman, Vermont College of Union Institute and University

One inescapable aspect of student life or the life of a learning support professional is, of course, stress. Not so long ago I was a full-time student in an MFA program and balancing that with my full-time work as an Academic Support Specialist. I was complaining to a friend because I didn’t feel I was getting enough support from friends and family. She said, “Well, you have to remember that even though they all want you to succeed, they still want their spaghetti.” She was reminding me that outside responsibilities weren’t going to vanish just because I had a lot on my plate, and the implication was that my main support had to come from within rather than from others. I was the best person to take care of myself in the face of school and work stress. Fortunately, students and learning support professionals can self-nurture by reminding themselves of these wellness tips:

  1. Set beneficial personal boundaries. It’s okay to respect your own need for study time, solitude, and nourishing activities. Saying “no, I can’t do that tonight” is not only okay, it’s healthy.
  2. Say “yes” to only activities and social engagements that will recharge your batteries. Will going to that concert help to reduce tension and bring renewed energy? Or will it leave you depleted? Will a weekend camping trip provide a much needed break, or will the preparation and travel involved create unneeded stress and lead to exhaustion? Do you recharge through social interaction or solitude? Which friendships cultivate positivity?
  3. You are what you eat. Often stressful feelings lead to poor food choices like sugar, simple carbs, coffee, and alcohol. These foods fuel the “fight or flight” stress response. Slow down stress in the body by eating more whole grains, protein, fruits, and vegetables.
  4. Stay hydrated. Water and herbal teas are good choices to help the body maintain optimal hydration. The better your body feels, the more it can help mitigate stress.
  5. Establish priorities. Prioritize daily tasks by identifying essential tasks which must be completed, important tasks which you would like to get to if essential tasks are done, and optional tasks which only get addressed if there is extra time.
  6. Sign up for a dance class or a kick boxing course. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Even better if you are learning a new kinesthetic activity because learning something new takes concentration. Thus, cares and worries fade away.
  7. Don’t skimp on sleep. The benefits of a good night’s slip are immeasurable. Brain power, resiliency, and emotional stability are fueled by sufficient shut-eye.
  8. Take mini-relaxation breaks. During your busy day, take 3-5 minutes to walk outside in the sun, or to do deep breathing exercise, or even to jump rope!
  9. Try to sit it out. During periods of heavy commitment and stress, meditation can be a great way to quiet the mind. There are numerous resources on mediation, and many universities and towns have meditation classes. The mind works very hard and always appreciates a break.
  10. See challenges rather than obstacles. Turn difficulties into meaningful challenges by asking, “What can I learn from this experience?” “How can I grow as I deal with this issue?”
  11. Write it down. Try keeping a journal where you record all of your fears, frustrations, observations, successes, and joys. Letting it all out on the page helps to empty the mind and restore calm.
  12. Keep an open mind. New experiences, new activities, and risk-taking are all part of student and work life. Sometimes it helps to just stay open and see what comes out of unfamiliar or difficult experiences. You might be pleasantly surprised!

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