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:

Disability Resource Center

At Your Fingertips: Disability Resource Center

man using sign language in front of camera
Clint Brockway signs during a Spring 2014 commencement ceremony at UALR.

“The failing is not on the part of the student with the disability,” Reed Claiborne, an access consultant with the Disability Resource Center, said. “The failing would be on not providing accessibility.”

The Disability Resource Center (DRC) is one of the many resources available to UALR students both on campus and at a distance. The DRC works with faculty and students to make sure facilities and resources are accessible to students who need them.

Claiborne said that the focus of the DRC is not so much the student’s disability but the barriers that a student may face as a result. For example, a student on campus may have mobility issues, and the elevator isn’t working. The elevator is the barrier. Of course, the DRC’s work spans further than infrastructure. If a student has difficulty hearing and the course requires lectures, then the DRC coordinates with interpreters to provide that student the access they need.

The DRC also works with online students. Reed said interpreters are sometimes needed for online lectures as well. If a video doesn’t have subtitles, the DRC can transcribe the video for that purpose. There are also instances of students with visual disabilities needing materials that would typically be put into a picture or .pdf format typed out for them, so their devices can appropriately read the materials to them.

Students are getting involved too. UALR has a “Students Beyond Barriers” Facebook group where students communicate and share technological innovations regarding disabilities. Claiborne mentioned a time when a student in the Facebook group shared a link about a watch that reads braille, for example.

The DRC is working diligently to provide accessibility to students who need it. However, Claiborne made it clear that the ultimate goal is to create a classroom environment, online or otherwise, that accommodates all students. “If the class is already designed where (students) don’t have to jump through hoops,” he said, “everyone has done their job.”

If you need assistance or would like to learn more, visit the DRC website at ualr.edu/disability.

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