Posted on: December 5, 2020 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Carolyn A. Thill, Editor-in-Chief & COM 152 Student

Take a bow to the universe, with a long, slow exhale, releasing your daily stresses.  Next, inhale slowly and steadily, taking in peace and harmony.  Namaste.  Now repeat two to three times. 

”If you are highly stressed and becoming overwhelmed, it is important to do something that soothes you at this point,” states Ann Shillinglaw, a communications professor at Moraine Valley.  Shillinglaw also is a qualified mindfulness-based stress reduction teacher.  She teaches an 8-week class that will start again once Moraine classes are back to meeting in person.   

A survey by TimelyMD finds college students’ mental health is suffering due to COVID-19.

Preparing for finals can be a very stressful time for students–not to mention juggling fears of the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19 while also trying to move past the 2020 election frenzy.  The number of college students receiving mental health treatment has grown by 35 percent in the last five years, according to an article in Bestcolleges.com, reporting on a survey by the American College Health Association and independent researchers. 

Multiple problems are taking their toll on students–everything from unreliable access to WiFi, to feeling they don’t get enough academic attention when they’re not understanding their courses, to depression over severe social isolation, to lost motivation from having to pace themselves, to being laid off or working more hours to make ends meet. 

A survey conducted by TimelyMD found 85 percent of U.S. college students are experiencing higher levels of anxiety and/or stress due to the coronavirus outbreak. All of this can explode in our minds and push us into needing an escape. Ultimately, we all need to have a personal moment within ourselves.

Techniques to relax the mind and soothe the soul include mindfulness exercises, meditation, one-on-one sessions with a counselor, exercise regimens, yoga practices, receiving a massage, or even getting more sleep.

 “Research shows that bringing mindfulness into your daily life has physical health benefits, slowing down the body’s stress reactivity and even contributing to lowering blood pressure,” says Shillinglaw.  “Another key benefit is to your mental health. If you pause to meditate, this can lessen the grip that the anxiety or stress has on your mind. This can allow you to see things with a new perspective.”

If we can exercise, if we can sleep well, if we can connect with our inner world, and have a healthier relationship with what’s going on in the world outside of us, it makes everything else go easier.”

Teresa Hannon, MVCC Counselor

When we start thinking we are flawed or stuck, mindfulness and meditation can pull us out of that and bring us into the present. Teresa Hannon, counselor and associate professor at Moraine Valley, feels strongly that mindfulness plays an important role in education.

“It gives you the space to discern,” says Hannon. “It’s not only for stress relief, it also allows you to be a better student. It helps you create critical thinking.”

Hannon recites a favorite quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “The definition of mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention–on purpose–in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

When we are born, we start out curious and enthusiastic. As we grow older, we sometimes become judgmental of ourselves and develop a voice in the back of our minds that whispers doubt and distrust. This inner voice prevents us from reaching and exceeding our potential.

“We have a lot of negative views of ourselves,” says Hannon.  “Mindfulness can help you to pull that apart a little bit.  Be present, in the moment.”

MV Counselor Teresa Hannon recommends videos by meditation guru and psychologist Tara Brock.

Mindfulness and meditation is not a task; it’s an experience.  However, mindfulness and meditation can be tricky for those not familiar with them.  While some people close their eyes, sit and listen to dialogue or music, others feel this only brings their minds to think more about their stresses.

“But just sitting and thinking about the thing that is causing your stress is not meditating,” says Shillinglaw.  “Ruminating over it can actually increase your stress. Meditation is not getting caught up in the thoughts themselves, but involves seeing them and then working with your thoughts through different techniques.”

Mindfulness

How to become more mindful

Often, when we try to escape feeling overwhelmed, we end up trading one busy task for another or move away from one stressful platform only to jump right into some other one. 

“The trick of mindfulness is becoming aware when that is happening,” says Hannon.

Mindfulness and meditation should take your mind away from chaos and stress and allow you to focus on one specific thing. That in itself is the calming mechanism. Practice this experience daily, starting off for 5 or 10 minutes each session, and then reconnect with the world, feeling fresh and renewed.

“Mindfulness techniques can bring back the spark to life, if you’ve been overwhelmed,” says Shillinglaw.  “You can get more comfortable with the fact that life will always include challenges, but that these challenges don’t need to make everything fall apart.”

As you give your mind a neutral and non-threatening place of focus, your heart rate slows down, your nerves begin to calm, and you reconnect with your inner-self, letting go of the what-ifs and daily stresses.

5-Minute Mindfulness Exercise

Go for a walk. Focus on the movement. See your feet touching the floor while moving. Notice how your legs feel. Think about the softness of your scarf. Feel the breeze pass your ears and through your hair. Think about your breath. Feel yourself inhaling; hear yourself exhaling. See the leaves falling from the trees. Notice the sun setting. Imagine how many stars will come out tonight. Do this for 5 minutes a day.  Then after a while, extend the time longer, maybe 10 minutes a day.

Another Mindfulness Exercise

Sit in the park. Stare at a tree. See the branches; watch the leaves fluttering and the birds flying. Notice the clouds floating past, changing shapes. Hear the ducks as they fly over the pond. See the ripples trickle in the pond. Watch the children play on the swings or go down the slide. Hear their laughter. Feel the warmth of the sun. Smell the grass.

Counseling

Moraine offers free counseling and resources via Canvas

“Students may not always think about this, but reaching out to our counselors can be a huge benefit in helping to identify anxiety and/or depression, as well as providing helpful techniques and resources,” says Peter W. Porter, associate professor of anatomy and physiology at Moraine Valley.  “I don´t think people are always aware, but we have an awesome counseling department.”

Counselors are professionals trained to help students deal with mental health struggles.  The Counseling and Career Development Center at Moraine is available to talk with you for free Monday through Friday. Set it up by calling (708) 974-5722 or emailing counseling@morainevalley.edu.

Other resources at Moraine include a Canvas course shell that students can enroll in for free. The Canvas shell includes resources for financial, personal, and academic support, as well as drop-in groups and information on self-care during isolation.

Exercise & Massage

FitRec, massages, yoga offer free or inexpensive relief

Exercise is also a method well known for de-stressing individuals.  Full-time students can use Moraine Valley’s FitRec free of charge.  Part-time students only pay $48 per semester, $24 during summer.

“Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms,” says Porter.  ”Although it may be harder in this environment to exercise, simple things like walking, hiking, or running can be done safely following distancing guidelines.  For in-home workouts, YouTube has tons of videos using normal household items.” 

Yoga can benefit you through the comforts and privacy of your home.  Hannon highly recommends the website Yoga with Adriene.  Moraine also offers a one-credit course over both semesters called Yoga Basics and Beyond.

Therapeutic massage is another method to consider. Moraine Valley offers massages to the public for $20 for a 50-minute session. You can call (708) 608-4460 to set up an appointment.

“Massage therapy in short increments such as 25-30 minutes has been proven in studies to lower not only our heart rates but cortisol levels in just one session,” says Kathleen Wellman, therapeutic massage program coordinator at Moraine Valley. “This trickle effect then helps our body to maintain its homeostasis by keeping our hearts healthy and happy. Regular massage sessions not only help our muscular tension but our ability to manage our non-physical stressors that wreak just as much, if not more havoc on us psychologically.” 


Sleep, Pets & Art

Pandemic pets put pause on stress

Sleep is also an important factor toward managing stress. Hannon describes that often students don’t realize just how sleep deprived they are until they find themselves falling asleep during a meditation session, or while in the middle of studying. 

Pet Therapy can offer big joy in small packages. Shillinglaw suggests that even playing with your pet, taking time to visit someone you are fond of, or even enjoying art and music can relieve anxiety. As reported by NPR, surveys conducted by three colleges showed that many people received relief from their pets that reduced feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation and loneliness.

“If we can exercise, if we can sleep well, if we can connect with our inner world and have a healthier relationship with what’s going on in the world outside of us,” says Hannon, “it makes everything else go easier.”