Stress Busters

Tania MacWilliam
Health & Wellness

Sept. 22, 2011

*Link to original article here

It’s 6 a.m. and you’re awakened by the blaring of your alarm clock. Ahead of you lies a day much like the previous one – filled with deadlines, long lectures and a string of text messages from your significant other reminding you that, “We need to talk.”

Being caught in this endless cycle of groundhog days can leave you stressed and unable to focus. So you rely on a steady supply of coffee and sheer willpower to get through your days.

Many people try to ignore what is causing them stress, hoping it will just go away. Avoidance is something Kanchan Kurichh, a counsellor at Sheridan’s Davis Campus, commonly sees among students who are experiencing stress.

“They try to forget about it,” she said. “Sleeping, trying to avoid the issues, using the Internet too much, or drinking or drugs, to escape from the issues, and just letting it build up.”

Whether you are student or a surgeon, stress is something that affects us all. It can come from trying to balance family life, relationships, workload and finances.

Eating well, staying active and getting enough sleep are the basic things we understand can ward off stress. But when these preventive measures fail, where do we turn?

In a guide for relief workers who help tsunami disaster affected communities, The World Health Organization suggests using meditation to cope with stress.

While most of us are not witnesses to constant devastation, we can still benefit from the same coping techniques.

What you can do
There are many ways to cope, Kurichh said. “It could be using stress management like progressive relaxation or deep breathing exercises.”

Mindfulness meditation, which means not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, will be discussed in a new support group that just began this past Tuesday at the Davis Campus.

“It’s a group for students who are experiencing feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxiety, depression, loneliness,” she said. “They talk with other students and they gain support, but we also go through and teach them some basics of mindfulness and meditation and how to challenge negative thinking.”

Students will learn to breathe with their diaphragm and become more aware of their thoughts, focusing on the present moment.

“That’s the basic skills of meditation, just being in the here and now.”

“All you have to do is take four breaths.”

Keeping things in perspective can help manage stress, says Anne Ferguson, a holistic therapist at Elemental Therapies in Burlington.

“It’s not what’s going on around you, it’s your perception of what’s going on around you,” she said.

How stress makes you sick
How we react to stress can make you sick so it’s important to learn to separate reality from perception. Then you can see clearly what the real issues are and do what you must to address them.

“Stress is one of the biggest causes of chronic illness so it’s very important that you deal with it,” she said. “Stress in the mind-body connection is interpreted by the body as fight or flight. Your body is not growing when it’s in the state of protection.”

This is true of Sara Bernard, a second-year advertising student who is plagued by stress.

One day after she had enough, she rolled up the windows of her car and screamed at the top of her lungs.

And her overwhelming stress is accompanied by a list of physical ailments.

“It [stress] makes me nauseous. It makes me tired. It gives me headaches,” said the 27-year-old.

Seeking alternative ways to manage her stress, she decided to check out the campus gym.

“They offer yoga and Zumba,” she said. “But some of the classes are at the most ridiculous times. They’re right smack in the middle of the day. And honestly, when you have assignments and you’re on a deadline you don’t really have time to leave for an hour to go do yoga.”

Still unsatisfied with her stress management, she tried meditation, but not knowing how to do it properly left her frustrated.

When people say they can’t meditate it usually means they are overwhelmed by all the thoughts going through their heads, said Anna Taneburgo, a former social services instructor at Sheridan, and now a holistic therapist with her own private practice, Whole Healing.

“They think it means shutting down the mind but that’s not what meditation is,” she said. “Meditation is just being aware of what is happening moment by moment. Both within you and around you.”

Taneburgo says the single most powerful thing a student can do is learn to meditate. A requirement of learning is being able to concentrate and pay attention. In this way, meditation can help you succeed in school.

“We’re not trained to listen to our bodies,” said Taneburgo. “We are taught to be very goal-oriented and to push on.” That is why it is so important to take breaks when spending long hours studying or working.

Taneburgo recommends applying psychotherapist and author of The 20 Minute Break, Ernest Rossi’s 90-20-90 minute productivity hypothesis which suggests that humans work more efficiently and experience less stress if they take a 20-minute break after every 90 minutes of productivity.

“Why do we give people coffee breaks at work?” said Taneburgo. “Why do we give them lunch breaks? Notice how coffee breaks are about 90 minutes from the beginning of the day and then lunch is about 90 minutes after a coffee break?”

It’s the downtime that we all really need to reduce stress. Recognizing when our necks start to tense and when we are beginning to lose focus, said Taneburgo.

If the idea of going into deep meditation doesn’t appeal to you, even taking a few slow breaths can help.

“That’s why meditation is so fantastic at helping people de-stress,” said Ferguson. “Because of the breathing down. All you have to do is take four breaths.”

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