We are in it, y’all. That end of semester crunch of projects, papers and exams. Last week, we heard from Dr. Sarah Reives-Houston from the School of Social Work’s Behavioral Health Springboard. A few of our favorite tips that she shared:
Focus on things within your control: A big part of feeling healthy comes from agency, or feeling like we are able to control our situation.
Many of our stressors come from worrying about things outside of our control – the outcome of our efforts (e.g. grades), the future, the past, how others take care of themselves, what happens around us, and the opinions and actions of other people.
Acknowledging that these are out of our control can shift the meaning we attribute to that stressor. Acknowledgement doesn’t get rid of the impact – we may still feel upset by how others act, for example – but it can give those situations less power.
Be a thermostat. Thermometers react to the temperatures around them. Choose your own temperature! Be a thermostat – you select your temperature.
Remember the fairy and the lion: Imagine a situation where you are being chased by a lion who clearly wants to eat you, but a fairy arrives on the scene who magically makes the lion disappear. Your eyes would see that the lion is gone, but your body won’t respond as quickly – all of your stress responses will continue.
To build resilience, we have to mitigate the psychological and physiological responses to stressors, and that usually means activities that require paying attention to sensations and thoughts.
There are so many options – deep breathing, physical activity, laughing, being creative, doing a visualization exercise, spending time with loved ones or a pet. You want to find an activity that helps your body and mind recognize that you are safe and connected.
You and us: What happens on campus impacts you individually; what’s going on with you individually impacts how you engage with your family, campus, and community.
Resilience and wellness involves both personal accountability and collective responsibility.
As we all work towards slow progress of shifting the culture on campus, there are things you can do right now to support yourself and your friends. Study together and hold each other accountable. Celebrate each other’s efforts. Invite friends to be active with you. Share yummy food. Encourage sleep. Listen. Be authentic.
Using Intuitive Eating Strategies for End-of-Semester Success
As the end of the semester approaches, many of us become caught up in the stress of exams, papers, and deadlines. Amidst all the chaos, it’s important to take care of ourselves, especially when it comes to our eating habits.
Intuitive eating can be helpful all the time – and especially when stressed. Mindful eating involves paying attention to our bodies’ hunger and fullness cues, as well as our emotions and the physical sensations of eating.
Here are some tips for incorporating mindful eating into your routine during the end of semester crunch:
Listen to your body: When you’re hungry, eat. When you’re full, stop. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of things and forget to pay attention to our bodies’ signals. Try to take a few deep breaths before eating to help you tune in to your hunger and fullness levels.
Eat mindfully: Instead of scarfing down your meal, eating your snack while scrolling through your phone, or simultaneously eating and working on an assignment, take the time to savor each bite. Pay attention to the flavors, textures, and smells of your food. This can help you feel more satisfied and reduce the urge to overeat.
Embrace flexibility: Intuitive eating is all about listening to your body’s needs, so don’t be afraid to switch things up if your hunger levels or preferences change. If you’re craving something sweet or salty, honor that craving and enjoy it mindfully.
Check in: When you notice yourself reaching for food, ask yourself “What am I hungry for?” When physically hungry, food is ideal. When stressed, sad, bored or feeling some other emotion, there might be another strategy you can use such as physical movement, going outside, talking to a friend, or doing something creative. Food can be comforting, and using it in that capacity is also ok. Pay special attention to the comforting sensations of taste, smell, temperature, and texture in those moments.
The end of the semester is a busy time, but taking care of yourself is as important as acing that final exam. Try incorporating some mindful/intuitive eating practices into your routine, and notice how they make you feel.
One powerful tool for prioritize mental health and well-being is spending time in nature. The known benefits for college students are plentiful; being in nature…
Reduces stress and anxiety
Improves mood and cognitive function
Boosts the immune system
Improves sleep quality
Even brief periods of time outdoors can have big benefits. Here are some ideas to get more nature in your day-to-day life:
Take a walk in the arboretum or Battle Park.
Study or meditate outside.
Participate in outdoor recreational activities like biking, disc golf, hiking, or paddling.
Attend outdoor yoga classes or nature walks.
Learn more about our favorite nature spots on and near campus and then, go enjoy outside! (pro tip: Don’t feel comfortable adventuring on your own? Check out Carolina Adventures Expeditions! They provide gear, guides and routes for some epic outdoor adventures.)
Battle Park – Located on the east side of campus and downhill from the Coker Arboretum with hiking and trail running options. The park symbolizes the important connection between nature and art at UNC. Download a trail map.
Mason Farm Biological Reserve – Hiking, trail running, and bird watching available. Located 2 miles (3 minutes by car) from UNC. It is south east of the Botanical Gardens and Totten Center.
Duke Forest – Hiking, trail running, fishing, horseback riding and mountain biking available. Located 10 miles or 20 minutes by car from UNC.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area – Hiking, trail running, fishing, camping and picknicking available. Located 15 miles or 25 minutes by car from UNC. The Occoneechee Mountain summit is the highest point in Orange Country with 190 acres of land and nearly 3 miles of trails.No fees are charged for the use of this park’s facilities.
William B. Umstead State Park – Boating, Fishing, Horseback Riding, Hiking, Trail Running, Camping, Picnicking, Cycling available. Located 20 miles or 25 minutes by car from UNC. Park includes shelters, campsites, canoes, and kayaks that can be reserved for a reasonable fee.
Eno River State Park – Hiking, Trail running, Camping, Fishing, and Canoeing available. Located 20 miles or 30 minutes from UNC. A great place to rock hop up the lovely river.
Haw River – Fishing, Canoeing, Swimming, Horseback riding, and Paddling available. Located 25 miles or 30 minutes driving from NC. Bonus – visit the Haw River Ballroom after a day of play for some live music.
Sleep is crucial to achieve academic success, improving memory and cognitive function, regulating mood and reducing stress levels. Adequate sleep also benefits physical health by reducing the risk of heart disease, allowing your body to fuel itself with more nutrient-dense foods (as opposed to quick energy foods craved by tired people), and boosting the immune system.
To get more restful sleep:
Set consistent bedtimes and wake-up times: Keeping a consistent sleep schedule helps regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, can help you feel more rested and alert throughout the day.
Create a sleep-conducive environment: Make your sleeping space comfortable and relaxing. Most of us benefit from comfortable bedding and a cool and dark room. Consider using earplugs, white noise machines, or blackout curtains to reduce noise and light disturbances.
Avoid substances: Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake, so it’s best to avoid it several hours before bed. Alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but it can disrupt your sleep later in the night, leading to poor quality sleep. Cannabis and cannabinoids may help you fall asleep faster, but can disrupt your REM sleep, leading to feelings of grogginess and fatigue the next day.1 It’s best to avoid using them as a sleep aid, especially on a regular basis, although more research is needed to fully understand their effects on sleep.
Manage stress: College can be a stressful time, and stress can disrupt your sleep patterns. Try to manage stress through exercise, meditation, or other relaxation techniques. Get support with underlying mental health concerns that may be contributing to your stress levels.
Prioritize sleep over other activities: It can be tempting to stay up late studying or socializing, but getting enough sleep should be a top priority. Naps aren’t nearly as effective as sleeping through the night. Make sure you have enough time for sleep; avoid staying up late to cram for exams, finish assignments, or hang with your friends.
Remember, if you snooze, you don’t lose – you win a higher-functioning brain and improved health.
The flowers are popping, the quad is full – it’s spring at Carolina. Use the energy of spring to do some spring cleaning of your space and your life.
“Clutter isn’t just the stuff on the floor. It’s anything that gets between you and the life you want to be living.” – Peter Walsh
The environment around us influences our ability to complete tasks and our overall mental health. One study from the University of Connecticut, showed that by removing or controlling clutter, you boost your mood, sharpen your focus, energize you to be productive, and relieve anxiety.
Start small. Think of one small area that you can go through today like your junk drawer or the back of your closet before moving to larger areas. This helps build momentum and prevents feeling overwhelmed.
Declutter it! Sort items into categories like “Keep,” “donate,” “sell,” and “discard.” Questions to ask yourself:Is this item useful or does it bring me joy? If you have multiple items that serve the same purpose, consider keeping only the one you use most or brings you the most joy. Have I used it or worn it in the past year? Would it be hard to replace if I needed it again? Does it fit with my vision for the life I want to lead?
Keep going. Write out a list of the areas you want to declutter and tackle one small space each day or once a week.
Consider various forms of clutter. Think about your calendar, the number of windows and tabs open on your laptop, and your phone notifications. Be ruthless! Close those tabs, turn off unnecessary notifications, and say no to (or postpone) commitments that just don’t fit.
Keep things tidy. Set up systems for yourself to regularly declutter. If you bring something new into your space, get rid of something to help prevent clutter from building up over time. Use storage solutions to keep remaining items organized and easily accessible.
Life is stressful enough without spending hours cleaning and straightening. Work to keep clutter manageable and do what works best for you! By decluttering regularly and intentionally, you can create a more peaceful and organized space for yourself.
There’s no magic potion to health and well-being, but if there was, meditation would be in it. Meditation is a powerful tool that improves both physical and mental health. It reduces stress and anxiety, calms the mind, improves focus and brain power, increases productivity and efficiency, increases relaxation, improves sleep quality, increases self-awareness, improves emotional regulation, increases resilience, positively impacts the immune system, and increases compassion and empathy. Talk about magic, right?
Here’s a quick guide to start meditating:
Be patient with yourself. There is no “right” way to meditate. Simply focus on being present in the moment and cultivating calm awareness.
Find a comfortable and quiet space, ideally one free of distractions, where you can sit comfortably for a few minutes. UNC Diversity and Inclusion has a list of campus meditation spaces.
Focus on your breath. Notice the sensations of air moving in and out of your body.
Let thoughts pass by like leaves floating down a stream. Notice them, and let them drift away.
Start with a few minutes of time, and increase the length of time with practice.
Don’t worry if your mind wanders, that’s normal! Just bring your thoughts back to your breath or the stream.
Practice a few minutes a day. You can meditate while you brush your teeth, do the dishes, or walk in nature. You can meditate before you go to bed at night, or after you eat breakfast in the morning.
With the known benefits of meditation, we should all be doing it more! Consider joining a meditation group or club to support yourself in practicing more.
The recurring well-being days allow for our campus to have a break from classes to focus on mental health and overall wellness. The first of the spring semester are Monday and Tuesday 2/13 and 2/14. For some, these days may add more stress – the typical rhythm of your week is disrupted, you may fear that you’re missing out on fun activities, or you might just not know what to do with the extra time. Use this time for YOU! Some ideas:
Take some time to calm your mind, draw inward, and think deeply about your health and well-being. Be honest with yourself – it’s not about how you should feel. Consider what currently is feeding you, creating stress, pushing you past your comfort zone, getting you where you want to go, and connecting you with warm relationships. You could meditate, journal, go for a reflective walk or run – just take time to slow down and focus on your needs.
Do Self Care
Sleep. Go to sleep a bit earlier and wake up when your body is ready.
Eat. Use your extra time during the long weekend to focus on eating yummy, nutrient-dense foods. Cook yourself (and your friends?) an amazing meal or gather people you adore at a favorite place to eat.
Move Your Body. Spend time doing an activity that you like. Choose something that feels just right for today – you don’t have to push yourself hard, but take the time to do something active that you love.
Relax. Read something for fun. Watch a show you enjoy. Snuggle under a blanket. Do something that lets your body and mind rest and recharge.
Set Up Your Environment for Success
How can you improve the environment of your space to better support your health and well-being for the rest of the semester?
Bring in more sunlight. Move your workspace as close to the window as possible, strategically place mirrors, pull open curtains during the day.
Remove clutter. Get rid of what no longer serves you and keep things that bring you joy. Start small – pick one drawer to clean out today.
Incorporate your senses. Plants, art, photos of people or places you love, good smells, calming sounds – all of these can help you feel grounded, connected, and less stressed.
Help Someone Else
If you have the capacity for it, the well-being days are also a great time to support the people around you and strategize for broader impact.
Support a friend. Do you know someone who has had a tough time recently? Reach out to them to check in. Invite them to do something you both enjoy.
Serve others. Choosing to help others also benefits the helper! Volunteering is an act of self-care and offers many benefits for your health including finding a sense of purpose and passion. And of course it also helps an organization or another individual! Seek out service opportunities on a well-being day if you can.
Learn and advocate. Use some of your long weekend by learning to be a better mental health supporter and advocate. Visit the Heels Care Network and explore to better understand the mental health resources available and how you can help. Consider connecting with an organization or training to be a better advocate.
The well-being days next week are a time for you to meet your needs, and if you have the capacity – to help address the well-being of all community members. We are in this together here at Carolina. Thank you for being a part of our community of care!
Sleep can be elusive on campus. We are all still adjusting after winter break, but whether you have 8 am’s or all afternoon classes, improving your sleep gives you the energy to better perform in most aspects of your life.
Take control of your sleep with these simple (but sometimes difficult!) strategies:
Plan your schedule around your internal body clock. There are those who are early risers and those who are night owls. Learn when your body and brain are most energized and reserve that time for your highest priority tasks.
Try starting a consistent sleep routine. Maintain the same sleep schedule every night. Eventually your body will earn to become tired and wake up at specific times. You make it harder for your body to adjust and when to get energy by switching up your schedule. Make the time when you get up for the day as consistent as possible.
Be active in the morning. A quick stretch or morning walk will give you a boost of energy to get started with the day. Studies also show that you will tend stay more alert. Heart-pumping exercise right before you try to sleep can get in the way of relaxation.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. For most college students this is the range of time you need. Daytime napping weakens sleep drive, making it more difficult to fall asleep at night, so avoid naps if you can. If you just can’t keep your eyes open, set an alarm for a 20 minute nap – short enough to recharge you but not long enough to disrupt evening sleep.
Unplug before bed. Try putting away electronics and do something that relaxes you during the hour before bed, such as listening to music, doing gentle yoga or meditation, or reading a book.
Recognize your patterns. If you are sleeping through your lecture it may be time for a change! It is a sure sign you are not getting enough sleep in class. Find a way to switch up your routine.
Starting is easy; continuing is much more difficult.
Change does get easier as you keep going. Remember there are no magic pills for change and that the science of habits shows that change is possible:
Reflect on your routine. Reflect on tasks you need to accomplish, your feelings towards them, what you need to accomplish them, and how you feel when you’re done. Consider how your routine is working so far and what habits have begun. Write out hurdles and find ways to overcome them.
Adjust as needed. Be thoughtful, analytic and strategic in adjusting your routine. Consider the results you seek. Structure healthy habits like meals, sleep, exercise, showers, nutrition and study times into your daily schedule.
Turn routines into habits. Routines can eventually becomes habits, tasks that you’ve done so often, that you brain finds them rewarding in themselves. Habits are set into motion by triggers, context clues that signal your brain to start. Outsourcing repeated tasks to habits allows you brain to more easily manage your daily life and more complex challenges.
Create a habit. Start by convincing yourself that the change isn’t a big deal. Break down big tasks (get through the semester, for example) into smaller and specific actions (a daily study time). Create triggers – like visual cues or certain times of day. Then stick with it! Remember most behaviors you want to turn into habits aren’t as gratifying as activities like mindless scrolling, so try to make the behavior more pleasurable. Not through rewards afterwards, but while doing the thing. Studying with friends, perhaps? Moving your body while listening to your favorite music or podcast? Find what’s going to motivate you.
Ask for help. Everyone needs help sometimes. Start a conversation now with classmates, your TA or professors, a tutor, learning center advisor, or writing coach to help you with your classroom success.Share your goals with someone in your life and ask them to help you be accountable. Check in with them regularly.
Make time for self-care. Take time each day to relax and care for yourself. Do something every day for something you enjoy. Take a day off when your body or mind needs it. Use your weekends to recharge!
Even if you only end up doing a few more healthy behaviors, or making your academics a bit easier for yourself this semester – that’s still success. Being a little bit more healthy or knowledgeable is a million times better than being frustrated and changing nothing. Change is a direction – not a destination!
Everyone’s journey looks a little different. Explore yours.
Congratulations on surviving week one, whether you are a new transfer student, a first year who survived their first semester at Carolina, or a senior who just made it through their last first week of classes. Remember that your path may not look like your peers’. Look below for strategies to make your personal experience at Carolina your best experience.
Find Your Network!
Find groups of peers who are going the same direction that you are. Find people that you want to be associated with in terms of your field of study, organizations, and networks. These people will often influence path in terms of your goals.
Find people to match your pace.
Once you find your network, find individuals or groups within that network who match your pace. Carolina is an ambitious environment to be surrounded by. Competitive or not, it may pay off to find a group of peers or individuals around you that match your pace! Whether as study friends, accountability partners or for social vibes, it will pay off to be around other. Collaborate Network. Brainstorm. Support each other.
Take the Long View!
You have already fought half the battle by choosing to your own path. Now it’s up to you to maintain it. It is very easy to fall into the clutches of imposter syndrome and comparison. However, looking forward and focusing on your own goals (whether that is joining a certain organization, finding an internship, achieving high honors, or securing a job), your plan to get there and your own pace will give you much more peace in the long run. Reassess as needed.