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Tips to reduce stress and encourage wellbeing
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Making time to talk to a person you trust is a very important factor in maintaining good mental health. This person could be a close friend, family member, parent, neighbour, work colleague or a health professional (GP, psychologist, counsellor, social worker, etc). Who you choose to talk to may depend on the situation as well as your connection to the person. Many helplines are also available 24/7
At University, there are lots of ways to talk to someone you may trust. You might talk to someone from your course, or a peer program. You could also talk to a friend from a university society or club. Alternatively, there are services such as counselling and welfare which are always available for you to have a chat with.
Talking to others about mental health can be a difficult and scary thing to do. You may worry about becoming a “burden” on the other person, or you may be concerned about what they’ll think of you. You’re not alone – almost two thirds of people experiencing mental distress or ill-health will not seek help because of reasons such as stigma or fear of discrimination. However, it’s important to consider this from the other perspective – how would you feel if a close friend came to you regarding troubles with their mental health? Chances are, your opinion of the person wouldn’t change and you would feel glad that you could help them in some way. Your close friends will feel the same way about you.
It’s up to you how much you want to share, but a good starting point can be describing how you’ve been feeling recently. You can also try writing down how you’ve been feeling – as this may help to clarify some information.
Talking to someone can help you to find solutions to a problem, view a situation with a new perspective, or simply vent your emotions in a healthy way. It can also help you feel less isolated by hearing others’ experiences and discovering you are not alone.
48% of students who were involved in the research project voted for this tip!
Listening to music can be a great way to relieve stress and improve wellbeing – whether it’s simply listening to your favourite artist on Spotify, or by going to a live concert or local gig. Although slow tempo and instrumental music have been more frequently associated greater levels of relaxation and stress reduction, the most important thing here is for you to listen to something that you enjoy.
As well as allowing us to explore and better understand our emotions, music has been shown to alleviate stress and reduce the brain’s perception of pain and anxiety. Not only does music help with relaxation and motivation, it also provides an opportunity to establish a sense of social connection, such as by sharing playlists with friends, or meeting new people at a live gig.
To make the most out of your music, it can be a good idea to organise it into playlists (such as “Happy Tunes” and “Music to Vent Frustration”) and to be aware of how different types of music affect you. At times, it can help to listen to sad music to help you explore your emotions. At other times, it may be better to sing along to upbeat, energetic tunes. Knowing this and organising music accordingly can help us to feel more in control of our emotions, and, in turn, positively support our mental health and wellbeing.
58% of students who were involved in the research project voted for this tip!
Spending time with family and loved ones can help us to unwind and relax. It can also help strengthen the emotional bonds and sense of connection we have to the important people in our lives.
Opportunities to spend time with loved ones can include activities such as coming together for a shared meal, taking a walk around the local neighbourhood together, or simply talking over the phone to catch up if they live far away.
Spending time with loved ones can support your mental wellbeing and provide you with people you trust who you can talk to when things get tough. Having this sense of social support has been shown to be to support mental health and wellbeing.
Mindfulness refers to being aware of the present moment and observing external events and internal sensations.
Mindfulness can be practised at any time in lots of ways. Some popular methods include mindful breathing, practising gratitude, mindful meditation, walking meditations, journaling, or mindful eating. There are many websites and apps designed to promote or facilitate mindfulness.
Many studies have shown that mindfulness has a range of health benefits including reducing distress and anxiety in university students.
You can practise mindfulness between classes through meditation or mindful breathing. When at lunch, you can try to practise mindful eating. Focusing on your senses is an easy way to start mindfulness, and a good starting exercise is to name 5 things you can see, 3 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel (touch), 2 things you can smell or like the smell of, and one thing you really enjoy the taste of. There may also be free or low-cost group meditations available at your campus.
36% of students who were involved in the research project voted for this tip!
Nourishing your body looks different for everyone – exploring the kinds of foods and hydration your body needs on your own terms and without judgement can have a beneficial impact on mental health.
During high-stress times it’s important to remember to eat regularly and unconditionally. Eating well – whatever that means for you – and drinking water can improve mood, improve sleep, and has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression.
If nourishing your body is something you find challenging, a good place to start is taking time where possible to slow down meals. Counting calories or tracking food can make us feel more stressed, especially during already stressful times. Shifting thoughts away from “eating healthy” to “nourishing your body” can help build a positive relationship to bodies and food.
You can try looking up new recipes to cook at home and meal-prepping, trying new foods available around campus, or starting a lunch club with friends. Often uni campuses will have free breakfast programs, and a range of student discounts. Some societies and clubs will have free food available as well. You can boost your water intake by carrying a water bottle, setting reminders to drink water and using the refill stations around campus.
Physical activity can involve anything that gets you moving and active.
Great ways to become more active on campus include using the gym facilities, joining a sport club or going for a walk between classes. You can also incorporate physical activity into your daily routine in simple ways like taking stretching breaks while studying or using exercise or resistance bands. Some people face physical or emotional barriers when it comes to increasing physical activity, such as mobility issues, chronic pain, or prior trauma. It’s important to find things that work for you, and especially things that you enjoy.
Being active can improve overall mood, increase sleep quality, and help build emotional resilience – that is, the ability to cope with stressful or distressing situations. Many studies also show physical activity to be an effective way of combatting stress.
45% of students who were involved in the research project voted for this tip!
Making time for yourself means setting aside time to do things that are important to you and your wellbeing.
At uni it can feel like you’re always doing something for others, or that you feel pressure about. Making time to do things that you enjoy can help you feel less stressed, as well as more connected and purposeful. This could involve making time for hobbies such as playing an instrument, going to the gym, playing a game or cooking. This could also involve you taking time to relax, such as by watching a movie, practicing mindfulness, reading a book or listening to music.
It is important to make sure you have time for yourself as evidence suggests engaging in hobbies is linked to lower stress levels and increased happiness. Relaxation is also important because it can reduce stress, fatigue, blood pressure, and improve mood and concentration.
39% of students who were involved in the research project voted for this tip!
Breaks can come in many shapes and sizes. Taking a break can mean a 10-minute break from study, a lunch break at work or taking a weekend off from work and/or study. Changing your environment can involve simple things like going for a walk around campus or your neighbourhood, going to a park or beach, or simply moving away from your computer. It can also involve changing your study location like studying at the library, instead of at home.
Examples of things to do during a break include doing some exercise, watching your favourite TV show or spending time with friends. Break time is also a fantastic opportunity to practice mindfulness!
Study breaks are especially important to prevent fatigue and maintain your concentration, and not taking a vacation or break is linked with higher levels of stress in university students. Taking breaks in nature (for example, by going to a park or backyard) may make you feel more relaxed than an indoor break.
If you struggle to take breaks, planning them in advance can help – for example scheduling a 10 minute break every hour of studying and setting a timer; or planning a day in nature with a friend.
55% of students who were involved in the research project voted for this tip!
Getting enough sleep can be a great way to combat stress!
Sleep plays an important role in your mental health because it helps in regulating mood and managing stress. It has been shown that students who sleep for shorter amounts of time may have higher levels of stress and tension.
The amount of sleep needed varies from person to person. However, the Sleep Health Foundation recommends that adults from the ages of 18 and 64 get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
If getting enough sleep is difficult for you, there are a few things you can try. Improving your “sleep hygiene” can help you get a better night’s sleep. This means things like waking up and going to bed at the same time every night; and reducing or avoiding things like caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol before bed. Reducing screen use before sleeping can also ensure you sleep for longer and wake up more refreshed.
71% of students who were involved in the research project voted for this tip!
Connecting with friends and socialising, as a university student, can help you destress.
Sometimes at uni it’s easy to get caught up in reading, essays, exams, and studying, which can become stressful. Social support has been shown to positively impact university students’ mental health.
Socialising with friends can take place in many ways – from meeting up for lunch, to watching a movie together, to organising a picnic or a games night. It can be hard socialise sometimes. Roughly 1 in 3 Australians feel that they are not involved in a social or community group. However, university provides great opportunities to new friends! You can make new friends by playing a group sport, volunteering or joining a university society.
57% of students who were involved in the research project voted for this tip!
Talking to someone can help to sort through your feelings and provide perspective. Even just the act of airing your concerns can have an positive effect. You might like to check out Lifeline’s barriers and benefits to asking for help.
Volunteering doesn’t only help others, it helps us as well. Benefits can include social connections, creating meaning in your life and increasing gratitude. See Go Volunteer for current volunteering opportunities in a range of causes.
Even a couple of minutes a day focusing on the present can help to put things in perspective and reduce anxiety levels. There are many apps out there that can help you practice mindfulness, including the free app, Smiling Mind, developed by a team of Australian psychologists.
Recognising the joy in both small and large achievements can make us feel better and encourage positive changes in our lives. See Psychologies Magazine’s article for some ideas on how to celebrate your achievements.
Creating an ordered list of tasks you need to complete, breaking down large tasks into smaller components, and focusing solely on what you are doing in the moment can help put things in perspective and minimise stress. You might like to check this guide to single-tasking for more information.
Endorphins, which your body creates during activity, have been clinically proven to improve your mood. Start a new sport or look for ways to introduce more activity into your everyday life. For inspiration on what you could be doing see Queensland Health’s 20 fun ways to get active.
Whatever you choose to do, taking a break is a great way to decrease your stress levels and increase your productivity. Need a reminder? No problem. Take a look at this list of 5 free reminder apps.
Eating healthy and not overdoing the sugar and caffeine can help you feel happy and well. There is increasing information now available on how our diet affects not just our bodies, but also our minds. Check out Head to Health’s look into food and good mental health.
Check in every so often to make sure that the things you spend most time on are in line with your goals and values. If they are, time flies and we feel a greater sense of accomplishment. To work out what’s most important to you and take a look at Action for Happiness’s guide to figuring out what’s important to you.
Giving someone a gift, cooking them dinner, or even just letting them know why you appreciate them goes a long way towards improving our wellbeing and promoting a positive relationship. You might like to learn more or get some inspiration for something small you could do for someone today.