NWACUHO
Northwest Association of College & University Housing Officers

Self-Care Through Mindfulness

By Rebecca Jo Schaffeld

As student affairs professionals, the nature of our work is to often be available for students at hours that are outside the typical 9am-5pm job. This can make finding work-life balance difficult. However, our students are experiencing just as much stress and as many challenges (if not more) balancing their school work, part-time jobs, activities, internships, etc. An important part of our work is teaching students how to manage these competing responsibilities and needs successfully. In order to be good teachers of this balance, we need to be good role models. Self-care, wellness, well-being, work-life-balance, healthy lifestyles. These are all words that we in student affairs hear often and talk about often. But I have found that for myself and for students, this can feel like another impossible task to accomplish in the little free-time we have available. Making pie charts that point out the huge amount of time that I spend on work and the sad amount of time that I spend on myself and other things and people I value, can feel disheartening. I know that the goals of these exercises are to help us spend more intentional time in those areas.

However, the problem with trying to implement self-care into the lives of student affairs professionals and students, is that our worlds are not built for it. The system of education is not set up in a way that allows us to find time in our schedules to take care of ourselves consistently. Times leading up to exams and deadlines do not allow us to exercise, spend time with family, sleep, eat healthy, etc. So what happens when all that stress hits us and we have no time to spend on healthy habits for fear of adding more stress into our lives through missed deadlines, financial concerns, or poor work? As a professional who manages crisis, I have found that it tends to be the breaking point for students. How can we learn to help ourselves and our students find ways to cope in these moments of stress that is truly doable with the scheduled obligations we have in our lives? Mindfulness.

You may have heard this term or read about it. Mindfulness is a new big trend in mental health and self-care. Here is why I think that Mindfulness has come to popularity, works for U.S. culture, and is perfect for student affairs professionals and students. Mindfulness is all about bite-sized self-care that you can take 5 minutes out of your day to do. I think many of us have that continuous

loop in our heads of things we need to get done today, things we should have said differently in a previous conversation, what we want for lunch, etc. Mindfulness asks us to stop that loop for a moment, to notice the world around us and acknowledge ourselves.

 

Research shows that Mindfulness creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events, improves focus, helps relieve stress, improves sleep, reduces chronic pain, can help in the treatment of depression, substance abuse, anxiety, etc.  You may not be able to fix your fast approaching deadline for a project you haven’t started on, but you can be mindful of how it is making your feel and take some time to breathe.

My personal journey into the world of Mindfulness, began with meditation. Meditation is one of many tools through which you can practice Mindfulness. I began meditating at night before I went to bed because I was having a hard time turning off my endless mind loop before going to sleep at night. I downloaded an app called “Breathe” in which you can select your mood and feelings, and it will generate a guided meditation for you based on how you are feeling. I was amazed at how quickly I would fall asleep. The meditations are short, 15 minutes at most, and the majority of the time, I would fall asleep before it was over. Since then, I have been using my Breathe app for other times when I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious to help calm my nerves. The app also lead me to wanting to learn more about Mindfulness in general and other tools for Mindfulness practice.

Some other common tools I have come across for meditation include: coloring, journaling, reflection, and gratitude. I truly believe that in the world of academics, students need an accessible way to manage stress that feels simple enough for anybody to accomplish. Everybody has 10 minutes to stop and breathe. Here are some Mindfulness tools to consider for yourself and your students:

1. Breathe: As I said, this is a free app that you can download onto your smart device. The app also encourages Mindfulness around your emotions in the moment. https://app.stopbreathethink.org/

2. Grid Diary: Another free app for your smart device. This app is a guided Mindfulness practice of keeping a diary or journal of your day and can include reflection and gratitude. The thing I like about this app is that it really helps you to be mindful of the amount of things you accomplish every day. In my everyday grind I can feel like my work never ends, but this app forces me to reflect on what I accomplished every day and it gives me a sense of peace, knowing that I am more productive than I give myself credit for. http://griddiaryapp.com/en/

3. I am Here Now: For those of you who want to take technology out of your Mindfulness equation, this journal is a great option. The journal is full of of guided activities for Mindfulness. I really enjoy it because I have never been one to come up with interesting daily journal topics or activities for myself, but this journal does it for you, like the example below. http://www.iamherenow.com/

4.Whatever You Want: The great thing about Mindfulness is that it can be practiced whenever you want and however you want. You could have a mindful lunch, a mindful walk to your next meeting, a mindful sit on your couch, a mindful run, etc. Again, this is just about taking some time in your day to acknowledge yourself, the world around you, and to take a break from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life.

I know some of you are feeling like this blog feels a little too hokey for you to try. Can a 10 minute focus on your breathing a day really make you feel that much better? You will never know unless you give it a try. I hope that we can all do a better job taking care of ourselves and teaching our students how to do the same. Mindfulness provides small changes that we can make to our everyday life that can give us some tools to manage stress and take care of ourselves.

Rebecca Schaffeld is a native Oregonian from Hermiston, OR. She is currently a Resident Director at Oregon State University where she received her Masters degree in College Student Services and Administration in 2015.

 

 

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