7 wellness-focused, stress-busting tips from first-year Psychiatric Nursing students
Psychiatric Nursing diploma students Harpreet, Lilian and Matilda with wellness dog Hoover at an event held on April 4. First-year students in the program spent the morning sharing what they learned about mental and physical health and wellbeing with other MacEwan students.
When it comes to preparing for the challenges that come with exams, first-year Psychiatric Nursing diploma students have lots of great advice to share. They spent the Winter semester in Assistant Professor Melissa Watkins’s Foundations of Nursing Practice course researching and preparing to teach their fellow MacEwan University students about topics connected to mental and physical health and wellbeing—everything from exam stress to hand hygiene. We stopped by their event on April 4 to gather some of their best advice.
1. Wash your hands
Wondering how a bit of soap and water can affect your performance during exams? Students Marko, Thy and Joseph say that breaking the chain of infection could just help keep you from coughing and sneezing (or worse) through your finals. Using black light, the trio showed students just how many creepy crawlies were hitching a ride on their hands.
“We all learned about hand washing in kindergarten, and then probably stopped thinking about it,” says Thy. “Washing your hands properly—with soap, for at least 15 seconds—can help prevent the spread of infections, including colds, flus and others, that can be pretty awful.”
2. Just breathe
Sometimes reading that first exam question is enough to send your blood pressure skyrocketing. “When I’m anxious during an exam, I make silly mistakes,” says Matilda. “So I started doing deep breathing to calm myself down and I found it really helped.”
She’s not talking about the automatic in-and-out that keeps you alive. Instead, Matilda says you need to dig a bit deeper.
“Most people make the mistake of just breathing into the top of the chest, but you need to inhale all the way down to your stomach,” she explains. “If you put your hand on your stomach, you should feel your stomach pop out when you inhale and out when you exhale. Breathe in through your nose, hold it for at least four seconds and then exhale out through your mouth for eight seconds.”
3. Take a mini mental holiday
“When I’m feeling anxious, I like to meditate,” says Harpreet. “I close my eyes and think of somewhere I’d like to be—for me, that’s usually sitting on a warm beach in Hawaii drinking a coconut water. It calms my nerves and slows my mind down.”
4. Pet your pet
While you can’t invite Hoover, the pet therapy dog who joined students at their event, to help calm you down during a dreaded final, spending time with your pet while you study can help calm you down.
And if you don’t have a cat or dog handy, watch for information on an exciting new on-campus initiative starting this Fall. The Pets Assisting with Student Stress (PAWSS) program will offer one-hour bookable time slots with a wellness animal. Exciting, right?
5. Change the conversation
“We want to encourage people to have a conversation about mental health,” says Erin. “If students see a classmate struggling or if they are having a hard time themselves, there are resources and services that can help.”
The group combed the university’s website collecting resources to share with students, including a section that looks at how to support someone you’re concerned about.
“There are a lot of services available to students that many people don’t realize we have,” says Bailey. “There is great information on the website, and resources like counselling and the medical clinic are free and confidential.”
6. Get physical
Exercising is probably the last thing on your mind when cramming for exams, but according to Chelsea, a little physical activity can actually ease your stress. “People think of exercise as something that takes a lot of time, so they don’t want to do it,” she says. “But actually it has a lot of benefits on your mental health.”
Don’t have time to hit the gym? Not a problem. “It’s recommended that you do 150 minutes of physical activity a week,” explains Chelsea. “It sounds like a lot, but if you break it down, it’s only three 10-minute bursts a day. It’s actually easy to make the time to go for a 10-minute walk just to get your mind refocused.”
7. Rethink your study snacks
During stressful times, it’s tempting to reach for fast food and sugary sweets for comfort. But according to Ara, you might want to choose a more effective way to cope. “Eating healthy foods contributes to mental health, so it’s important to get your nutrients,” she says. “When you’re stressed about finals, instead of going to Tim Horton’s for a bagel or going for comfort food to feel better, go for healthier alternatives. Choose healthy snacks, go for a walk, pet some dogs—just something else that takes your stress away from finals.”
The final word goes to Harpreet.
“Stress is part of life as a student, but there are things you can do to help you overcome it,” she says. “We hope that students can take some of the things we’ve shared and use them when exams start next week.”
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This story is part of Changing Minds: Creating a healthy campus – an initiative that makes mental health a priority. The program connects training opportunities, support services, resources and stories from real people across the MacEwan University community.