You would never know it by listening to Karen Hofmann’s calm voice that April is one of the busiest times on her calendar. As the director of UCF’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), she is mentally in the shoes of other people all year. Her staff of 50 counselors and support staff will experience the gamut, from homesickness to failed relationships to this: end-of-semester stress.
“There’s certainly a sharp increase in walk-ins this time of year,” Hofmann says gently on a busy Monday afternoon.
To someone as positive as Hofmann, the traffic at CAPS is a reason to be encouraged. It means students are opening up about what they perceive as a crisis. The counselors listen. And they listen. Only when there’s a long pause will they offer the following valuable tips.
(Here’s a bonus tip: Save these because you don’t have to be a student at the end of a semester to benefit from them. They might even change your life.)
It’s impossible to be relaxed and stressed at the same time. So one of the best things to do is to fatigue your body. Take a walk. Ride your bike. Work out. It will physically relieve your stress and, in recovery, replace it with relaxation.
- Eat colorful foods.
This does not mean pizza, gummy bears and 5-Hour Energy. Carrots and kale and fruits are examples of foods that are dense in nutrients. They actually help you focus properly. Junk foods only speed up a downward spiral.
- Write down your to-do’s.
A big factor with anxiety is the feeling “I’m going to forget to do something.” Putting it on paper is therapeutic. It eases your mind because you’re ensuring that you won’t forget, which allows you to relax. You’ll sleep better, too.
- Speaking of sleep …
It’s common for students to try and function on minimal sleep. This is one of the worst things you can do. Lack of sleep means everything else on this list suffers — exercise, nutrition, positive thinking, all of it falls apart. However, if you quiet your mind and commit to rest, you’ll be less prone to emotional swings.
- Be creative.
We all have an artistic side — it’s literally the right side of your brain. Sing. Dance. Paint. Play an instrument. Doing anything creative will mentally give a break to the analytical side of your brain — the left side. It needs rest, just like the rest of you does.
- Control your thoughts.
It’s easy for your thoughts to take over your mind. Fortunately, it isn’t as difficult as you think to take back control. You have to intentionally eliminate negative thoughts. Say “stop” to yourself, out loud, as many times as necessary. Replace those thoughts by purposefully thinking of what you’re grateful for — little things like comfortable shoes and butterflies to the bigger picture like a beautiful sunset and friends and family. You can also try prayer and meditation and calming music, which push negativity aside.
- Get organized.
By uncluttering your room and your head, you can think more clearly. Do not look at all of your responsibilities en masse. Take that to-do list you wrote down and complete tasks one bite at a time. The smaller the bites, the easier it will be to manage your entire plate.
- Connect with a friend or family member or a group.
It’s best to disconnect from social media and the inherent pressures that come with it, like the fear of missing out (FOMO). Instead, fully connect with people you can laugh with and who will share encouragement. We’re all wired for relationships, which are among the best antidotes to stress.
- Spend time with an animal.
There’s a reason why Paws-a-Tively Stress Free and Purrfectly Stress Free (hosted by CAPS at their office on campus) are such popular events. Dogs and cats are happy — and the mood is contagious.
- Communicate your concerns.
Be proactive when you feel stressed or, worse, at a dead end. Explain your situation. Ask what your professor suggests you do. He or she might appreciate you being honest and initiating the conversation. You never know what might result from it.
Above all, consider talking with a professional. Just make a call to CAPS. There’s even an after-hour crisis hotline. Call 407-823-2811 and press “5” or visit caps.sdes.ucf.edu.
Always remember this: if you feel anxiety in any way, you’re not alone.