Stress-Relief Tips for the Start of the School Year

Stress-Relief Tips for the Start of the School Year

By Amy WilliamsUniversity Relations – Communications
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Being aware of your breathing can help reduce stress, Pickering says.
Being aware of your breathing can help reduce stress, Pickering says.
Art is a good way to unwind and relieve stress. It can also help improve focus.
Art is a good way to unwind and relieve stress. It can also help improve focus.

It's 8 a.m. You're walking into work, already making to-do lists in your head. Before you know it, you're so busy you don't even have time to stop and take a break. Sound familiar?

With the start of a new academic year just around the corner, many UA employees may soon be experiencing days like this.

But even when things get busy, employees need to remember to stop and take a break from their workday to refocus on their well-being, says Susan Pickering, employee assistance counselor with Life & Work Connections.

As the fall semester rush grows nearer, Pickering offers the following five tips for how to slow down from your day, become aware of your feelings and manage stress to make sure you're taking care of yourself.

Practice Mindful Breathing

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose to the present moment without judgment, Pickering says. The best way to start being mindful is to pay attention to your breathing.

Start by acknowledging that you're breathing, Pickering suggests. Because breathing is something people do unconsciously, coming to the present moment can really help to bring a person out of "autopilot mode."

"What's really important is that we're trying to raise awareness of mindfulness as a tool for employees, and really campuswide, to decrease stress, increase productivity and – in the world of cell phones and technology – improve our ability to pay attention," Pickering says.

The best way to get into the mindful breathing habit is to close your eyes and breathe in and out for three to five minutes, paying attention to the fact that you're breathing, Pickering says. This experience can be soothing and help people restore themselves in the midst of a busy workday.

There are also free apps, like CALM, Smiling Mind, and Relax and Rest, that can help those who are just starting to get in the habit of mindful breathing.

Become Aware of the Five Senses

Another practice that helps relieve stress is acknowledging the senses. A good way to start on this is to use stress-relief lotions or essential oils, Pickering says.

She says that lavender and chamomile are good to stimulate the sense of smell. Scents can have calming effects and are especially helpful when practicing mindful breathing.

Using lotions also makes one become aware of their sense of touch.

"Aromatherapy is a great way to reduce stress," Pickering says. "Sleepy time tea is really popular for a lot of people to try to find a way to close down the day and begin to soothe and calm."

Restore the Mind With Art

Artistic activities are becoming more and more popular these days. And one of the reasons might be because of their calming effects, Pickering says. You can buy an adult coloring book at the UA BookStore in the Student Union Memorial Center, to start this calming exercise.  

Tools like art therapy can also improve focus and concentration in addition to relieving stress.  

"Just making it a daily practice of sitting in your office for 10 minutes and drawing can be a wonderful way to restore, rejuvenate and get ready for the rest of your day," Pickering says.

Take a Walk

Being out in nature has been proven to help those who are stressed, Pickering says, so just leaving the office for a quick walk can have benefits. But Pickering suggests taking that a step further and being mindful on the walk, still keeping in mind the five senses and noticing the surrounding scents and sounds.

Pickering says that getting into this mindset can take practice, though.

"It takes time and it takes diligence to really reap the benefits, but it's a wonderful tool," Pickering says. "It's like strengthening a muscle. It really does take practice."

Get a Good Night's Sleep

This seems like an obvious one, but most people don't know that sleep patterns can be directly correlated with stress control, Pickering says. The effects of missed sleep can accumulate from one day to the next and make it harder to keep stress levels low.

Without enough sleep, Pickering says, we are more apt to feel stress, react impulsively, struggle with focus and even eat more than our body needs.

"In our fast-paced culture, sleep is often cut short as a way of getting everything done within a limited amount of time," Pickering says. "However, our bodies are managing energy, not time. Sleeping seven to eight hours a night is essential to managing stress and being effective as a person."

For more information on how to relieve stress at work or to talk to someone regarding stress, contact Pickering at or at 621-2493.

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