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.
You may be asking, “What is mindfulness?” 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:

Mindfulness Exercise – UALR Online

Cai Carvalhaes, a clinical social worker intern with UALR Counseling Services, demonstrates a typical mindfulness exercise she might perform in her weekly Mindfulness Group.

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

Mindfulness – UALR Online

Cai Carvalhaes, a clinical social worker intern with UALR Counseling Services, talks about how practicing mindfulness can help students deal with every-day stress.

Top 5 Tips to Prepare for Finals

woman studyingPreparing for final exams can be stressful for any student, but it doesn’t have to be. These practical study tips will help you get through even the toughest exams calmly and confidently every time.

Choose a time and place

In today’s world, distractions are easy to come by. If you want to make the most of your study time, first you need to schedule some time for studying. You’ll want to choose a time when you’re most alert and least distracted. If this is in the morning, try waking up an hour earlier to study before school or work. If it’s in the evening, make sure to pick a time when you’re not too tired or have other responsibilities to worry about.

Once you’ve determined the best time to study, find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted, such as a home office, library or coffee shop. If silence is too distracting to you, try listening to white noise (like a fan) or soothing instrumental music. Avoid TV and social media websites, and silence and put away your cell phone.

Start early

Most of the anxiety you might feel in the days before finals is often a result of procrastination. If you dedicate an hour every day to review your course materials throughout the semester and start studying for finals several days in advance, you’ll feel much more confident come test time.
Keep track of your old tests and quizzes and use them as your study guides, as those topics will likely reappear on your final exams.

Break it up

Cramming a lot of subjects into several hours at a time will overload your brain and cause fatigue, which will make it difficult for you to to retain and recall important information during your tests. If you start studying early, you’ll have time to break up your study sessions into manageable chunks.
Work on one subject for 45 minutes to an hour, then take a short break. Allow your mind to recover during your breaks — grab a healthy snack, do light exercises, or rest your eyes and listen to music. However, try not to watch TV or surf the Internet during this time. Not only will this overstimulate your mind, but it may make it more difficult for you to start studying again.

Use study methods that work for you

People learn in different ways, and therefore should study in a way that works best with their learning style. Visual learners may benefit more from using color-coded flash cards, rewriting notes, or drawing pictures to illustrate ideas, while auditory learners may prefer listening to recordings of their lectures and reciting word associations. Take this short quiz to find out your learning style and related study tactics. Once you find the study method that works for you, test preparation will be a lot easier.

Healthy body=healthy mind

After all the time you’ve spent preparing for your exams, you don’t want to let physical factors like fatigue or illness keep you from doing your best.
• Go to bed early and try to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, especially on the nights before your exams.
• Try to exercise for 30 minutes a day, and maintain physical activity while you study. Even light cardio and calisthenics will keep your blood circulating, delivering important nutrients to your brain.
• Eat balanced meals and take vitamins, if you can. Don’t skip breakfast! Avoid alcohol and “junk foods.”

What study tactics work best for you? Share your ideas in the comments!

Study tips for this article were contributed by Alyssa C. and Jeffrey Townley in the UALR Writing Center; Leah Jackson with the UALR TRIO Program; Aaron Jones with the Charles W. Donaldson Scholars Academy; Rachel Hook and Charles Bryant of UALR eLearning.

5 Myths About Online Classes

You don’t need to have any experience with computers to take an online course.

While you don’t have to be a computer expert to take an online course, you will need to have a basic knowledge of computers. If you are considering taking a course online, first ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you comfortable using a computer on a daily basis?
  • Do you have regular, reliable access to a computer? How about to an alternate computer should something happen to your primary?
  • Do you have good written communication skills?
  • Do you know how to open your UALR email? Can you compose an email message and upload/download attachments?
  • How are your word processing skills? Do you know how to format a document including font sizing, line spacing, and adding footnotes, headers and footers? Do you know how to cut, copy and paste text within a single file and from one document to another?
  • How much do you know about file formats and saving files in different formats?
  • Do you know how to install and uninstall software on your computer?
  • Do you know how to find out which operating system you are using? Which Internet browser?
  • Do you know how to use the Internet? Do you know how to find online resources appropriate for research purposes?
  • Are you comfortable troubleshooting your computer when errors arise?

The good news is most of these skills can easily be learned online or on campus through the IT Services Student Computer Lab located on the first floor of the Ottenheimer Library in room LIB 104. Also see the additional resources section at the end of this article for a list of helpful websites.

Online courses are easier (or harder) than traditional courses.

The truth is online courses are really no different than courses held on campus. The only difference is the environment in which the course material is delivered. Once you understand how to navigate the Blackboard environment, the rest is just a matter of time management. If you are considering taking an online course for the first time, it might be helpful to talk with someone that has already taken an online class.

For more information about navigating UALR’s Blackboard system, please visit the tutorials section.

It’s less time intensive than a traditional course.

A lot of students have the misconception that because a course is online, they can complete their online assignments whenever they have some free time. Unfortunately, this approach leaves a lot of students struggling at the last minute to get assignments completed. Online courses are the same as traditional courses in that they require time spent “outside of class” to get everything done.

The best way to approach on online course is to schedule time like you would a face-to-face course. If you schedule several hours throughout the week dedicated to completing assignments for your online courses, you’ll find that the work is done in a timely manner without becoming overwhelming.

Online courses are just online textbooks.

Online courses are more than just text. There are a variety of tools in Blackboard that encourage peer-to-peer and student/teacher interactions including discussion boards, journals, blogs and wikis. Also, a lot of instructors use audio, video and web conferencing tools to engage and communicate with students.

It’s okay to be casual or informal in an online course.

Whether you are attending a class on campus or online, you must remember that you are communicating in an academic setting and should conduct yourself in a professional manner. This applies to all online correspondences related to your course from papers to emails and discussion postings.

It is inappropriate to communicate in your online course the same way you may communicate other places online. Avoid the use of text speak, poor grammar and/or spelling, and foul language.

Helpful Resources