Mindfulness Group Aims to Abate Student Stress

“In the past, as a child, we used to breathe better. We didn’t worry about the future. We stayed in the present—playing and enjoying life. So, maybe it’s time to go back.” – Cai Carvalhaes

We’re halfway through the semester, and this time of the year can often be stressful for students. Luckily, there’s a way to defuse some of that tension and anxiety through UALR’s “Mindfulness Group.”

Cai Carvalhaes with UALR Counseling Services demonstrates a mindfulness exercise.
Cai Carvalhaes with UALR Counseling Services demonstrates a mindfulness exercise.
What is “mindfulness,” you might ask. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

Cai Carvalhaes, a clinical social worker intern with UALR Counseling Services, leads the Mindfulness Group once a week. She says mindfulness is the ability to live in the present moment, and practicing mindfulness is useful for those who frequently experience stress and anxiety. In her group, she teaches exercises that focus on breathing and body movements. You are guided to concentrate on certain parts of your body—from head to feet— and become aware of what you’re feeling. When this awareness is achieved, she says, you’re able to release your emotions and feel more in control of the challenges that life presents you.

Carvalhaes, who is also a yoga instructor, began to feel anxious and experience panic attacks about eight years ago. Knowing she needed to do something about it, but not wanting to take medicine, she began to study mindfulness.

The idea of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School as a means to complement traditional treatments for a number of ailments ranging from anxiety to cancer.

Carvalhaes combines her experience with yoga and mindfulness in her teachings for the group.

Carvalhaes began the Mindfulness Group at UALR in January 2016, and says the student feedback has been positive so far. She uses psychometric scales to measure a student’s level of stress before and after the exercises. The results show that after the group meets, most students show a reduced level of stress and anxiety. Carvalhaes recognizes that students may develop symptoms of stress even after going through the mindfulness exercises, but regular practice can help reduce these symptoms over time.

“It’s necessary to practice,” she said. “If you don’t practice you won’t feel the effects. It takes a while sometimes, but anyone can do it.”

Carvalhaes said she tells her students to breathe in and out while they relax their minds, and the participants often feel better while in this state, even though they may not understand why.

“In the past, as a child, we used to breathe better. We didn’t worry about the future. We stayed in the present—playing and enjoying life. So, maybe it’s time to go back,” Carvalhaes said.

The UALR Mindfulness Group meets at noon every Wednesday in the Donaghey Student Center room 201T. It’s open to all UALR students, faculty, and staff.

Can’t make it to campus? Cai demonstrates one mindfulness exercise you can practice at home:

Watch the video below for more from our interview with Cai:

Time-Management Tips for Student Success

Cartoon about time management with kidsBetween school, work, family and social obligations, finding time to get everything done can be a challenge. This is especially true for students taking online courses that have a lot of work-at-your-own-pace assignments. However, with a time-management plan this doesn’t have to be an obstacle. The following tips can help you develop a basic strategy for completing your online courses (and other tasks!), reduce stress and work more efficiently.

Get a planner or calendar.

Calendars are a great way to keep track of tests and assignment due dates. iStudiez Pro is one of many great digital options (you can also try the lite version for free), or you can order a traditional planner online through the UALR Bookstore when you order your textbooks.
Blackboard also has a built-in calendar feature that allows you to create date reminders. Read our Calendar tutorial for more information about the Blackboard Calendar.

Write things down.

You may want to get a dedicated notebook or a planner with a “notes” section for assignments. Whenever a new task or assignment comes up—like studying for a test or picking a paper topic—write it down. Not only will you have a physical reminder of the things that need to be done, but each new task will also encourage you to look over the other tasks that need to be completed.

Schedule your day.

Writing in her diaryThis is where you make the most use of the calendar and notebook mentioned above. Whenever you have a free moment, schedule a set time to complete each task. Be realistic about the amount of time needed to complete each task and schedule additional days if needed.

Some things to consider when scheduling your day to reduce information overload:

• Work in short, concentrated bursts spread out over the day or week rather than one long marathon session. Try to limit working on coursework to three hours or less as retention rapidly deteriorates after more than three hours of intense focus.

• Plan to start major projects the same week they are assigned and assignments the same day if possible and avoid the stress of getting things done at the last minute.

• Schedule breaks as well as study sessions. For every hour of intense focus, plan to take at least a one ten-minute break. This will reduce study fatigue.

• Plan your focused study around the time you feel most alert instead of most convenient. We are more alert in the mornings and afternoons and less so at night.
Block times for regular assignments.

• For assignments and tasks that occur daily or weekly, schedule a set block of time that you will complete these tasks every week. For example, you might decide to read your weekly journal article at 10 a.m. every Monday.

Break projects into manageable portions.

For big assignments and projects, think about the steps to complete the project and make those individual tasks. So instead of facing one insurmountable project, you can deal with several smaller tasks over a period of time.

Leave some wiggle room.

Plan to finish assignments at least a couple of days before the due date. This will give you some wiggle room should unforeseen circumstances arise.
wiggle