Beat End-of-Semester Anxiety With These Tips

By Kylie (Xiping) Qiu, M.S., PLMHP

Our mind is like a wave. We can’t control the wave, but we can always learn how to surf.

No matter how busy we are, we all brush our teeth on average six minutes a day. We never question this routine, and yet when it comes to maintaining our mental health, many of us don’t do this until we are forced to because of a common reason — “I don’t have time.”

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But if we’re honest, this isn’t exactly true because we don’t skip brushing our teeth when we are busy. It all comes down to priorities.

We have to recognize that preventive care is just as important for our mental health as it is our physical health. Don’t wait until you have a mental break down to learn stress management!

How stress affects the body

Stress is our body’s response to a life-threatening situation, like suddenly stumbling across a venomous snack on a hike. On an abstract level, exams are the “life-threatening danger” for students.

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No one can avoid stress, but we can avoid anxiety. Our mind is like a wave. We can’t control the wave, but we can always learn how to surf.

To reduce our anxiety level while experiencing stress, we have to calm down first.

Be a bridge builder

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When “fighting” with finals, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is aroused by stress, anger or fear, which accelerates the heart rate, constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure — the physical feelings of anxiousness. When the sympathetic nervous system is working, our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is on leave. PSNS slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and glandular activity and relaxes the muscles.

SNS and PSNS are like two workers with their own shifts on duty. When one is always in charge and prohibits the other to work, it breaks the system’s balance. To make matters trickier, these two workers don’t talk to each other.

Don’t lose hope! The secret is that we were all born with the ability to manage and build bridges between those two workers. We do this by controlling our breathing and managing our judgmental thoughts.

Breathe to achieve mindfulness

Consider your natural breathing. Is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow? Stable or unstable? Breathing deeply and slowly can activate our PSNS. Intentionally do this whenever you can.

Manage your judgmental thoughts

Thoughts like “I need to skip this chapter because I don’t have time” or “I just couldn’t focus” help you make a decision, which is the type of thoughts we need. Judgmental thoughts like “I am stupid” or “it’s my fault that I didn’t study well enough throughout the semester, and see this is the consequence…” won’t help you manage stress because they hurt your self-esteem and confidence.

The three steps to thought management are:

  1. Recognize judgmental thoughts
  2. Observe your thoughts like a third party instead of reacting in your typical ways
  3. Let the thoughts go without reaction

You might say, “I couldn’t let it go.” That’s OK because you tried. You will build more skill and tolerance if you try it repeatedly.

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What else can I do?

  1. Educate yourself on stress management and take time to balance SNS and PSNS
  2. Evaluate yourself by scoring your anxiety or fear on a scale of one to 10 (10 being the most overwhelming) at least once a day
  3. Practice breathing skills instead of watching your cell phone during your study breaks. Intentionally slow down your breathing and make it as deep as you can, but don’t hold your breath. Follow these instructions:
    1. Sit comfortably. Devote 100 percent of your attention on your breathing. Breathe in all the air until your lungs are filled and then breathe out slowly until there is no air left. Repeat this five, 10 or 20 times.
  4. Repeat breathing skills until you feel much calmer or less stressed
  5. Manage your judgmental thoughts
  6. Plan six minutes in your daily schedule to focus on your mental health, just like brushing teeth
  7. Learn more stress management tips when you complete your final because you deserve to feel less stressed during your next finals preparation

If you need help managing your stress, talk with us. We can help. Make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services by calling 402.472.7450.

My friend was sexually assaulted. What do I do?

By Jamie Porter, health promotions analyst

Because one in five women and one in 16 men will be sexually assaulted in college, it’s highly likely you already know someone who has been sexually assaulted. If you don’t think you know anyone who has, they may not yet have told you about this very personal trauma they’ve experienced, or you will meet someone in the future.

If and when someone discloses to you that they’ve been sexually assaulted, it can be difficult to know what to do. Here’s how you can help a friend who has been sexually assaulted:

Believe them

It’s a myth that people often lie about being assaulted. Research shows reports of sexual assault are substantiated just as often as reports of any other crime. Since we don’t doubt someone when they say their car has been broken into, we shouldn’t doubt someone when they say they’ve been sexually assaulted.

Respond carefully

You may be the first person that your friend has told about this. How you respond may determine if and how they get help. Some good things to say are “I’m sorry this happened to you,” “It’s not your fault,” and “I believe you.”

Listen

When you hear that something so traumatic has happened to your friend, it can be easy to want to jump in and start making suggestions or asking specific questions. Instead, sit back and thank them for trusting you with this information. Don’t ask overly intrusive questions about the assault unless they tell you themselves. Some good open ended questions that will require you to listen more are “how are you feeling?”, “how can I help?”, “how would you like to go forward?”.

Familiarize yourself with resources available

No one expects to be sexually assaulted. However, knowing the resources available to survivors can be extremely helpful in a time of crisis. You can learn about resources available to survivors through the Victim Advocate. Don’t forget to check out reporting options and confidential support available on campus.

Offer them resources and options, but let them make the final decision

Someone who has experienced a sexual assault wasn’t allowed to make decisions about their body and their lives when they were assaulted. By following your friend’s lead, you’re helping to give them control over their lives.

Support them in their decisions

If they choose to speak with a Victim Advocate, offer to walk with them to the appointment. Drive them to the emergency room if they want a Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE) kit completed to collect forensic evidence. Let them know that you are here to talk if they need.

Take care of yourself.

While you’re trying to address your friend’s needs, it can be easy to forget your own. Hearing the details of an assault can bring up lots of different feelings and reactions. Counseling and Psychological Services at the University Health Center is great resource to support you through this.

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There are some situations that may make knowing what to do more difficult or complex. Keep reading for some additional guidance in tricky situations: 

If you know the accused…

This is more likely than you think as 90 percent of sexual assaults in college are committed by someone that the victim knows. When you know both the victim and the perpetrator, strong and conflicting feelings can arise. It might help to speak with someone in CAPS or a victim advocate to help process these feelings and create a plan for moving forward. When responding to your friend who has disclosed this to you, recognize what your role is. It’s your job to support your friend in a time of need by offering options and a listening ear, not to confront another person or to investigate what has “really” happened.

If your role or position on campus requires you report the assault to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance or a supervisor…

Let your friend know about this limit to confidentiality as soon as possible. When following your reporting procedures, give your friend as much control over the situation as possible. Ask if they would like to report themselves, with you as a support person, or if there is another option that works better for them.

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These tips are just some general ideas to help you help a friend. Every situation is different. If you’re unsure of what to do or the best way to proceed, the Victim Advocate also meets with people who are trying to support their friends who have experienced sexual assault. Email the Victim Advocate or call 402.472.0203.

Remember, you won’t be able to fix everything or maybe even anything, but you will be able to let your friend know you are there for them and will be with them through their journey of healing — however that may look.

Race Day Prep Tips to Help You Finish Strong

By Jenny Meints, physical therapist assistant

If you are signed up for a marathon or race this season, congratulations and good luck! Signing up was the easy part, training came next, and now it’s time to gear up for race day.

The days leading up to the race may be very fun and exciting, but remember to make final preparations. Here’s some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along my marathon journey.

Week of the race:

  • Gradually increase your carbs in the days leading up to the race.
  • Electrolyte chews or honey sticks work great during the race, so test them for flavor and texture during a long run before the actual race. Running belts are nice for holding these items. During the race, it’s a good idea to take these as a water station is approaching.
  • Take one last short run two days before the race.
  • Look over the race map; visualize starting the race, running the race and crossing the finish line. Practice nice slow breaths and keeping your shoulders and arms relaxed.
  • Enjoy the expo, the city you are visiting or spend time with family and friends if you are local.

Day of the race:

  • Breakfast is important. Bananas and nut butters on either bread or rolled in a whole wheat tortilla are a great option. Honey can be added as well.
  • Stay hydrated before and during the race, and listen to your body; urine is a great indicator of dehydration. Remember, there is such a thing as too much water!
  • Dress cooler than you think you’ll need to; add at least 10 degrees to the temperature. Your body heats up during the race, and the temperature tends to warm up as the race progresses.
  • Double knot your shoes and make sure the laces aren’t too tight either, you don’t want toes going numb during the race.

During the race:

  • Don’t stop during a race or try not to. It’s always harder to get moving again. Keep the adrenaline going and take a bathroom break before the race.
  • Frequently partake in the water stations for at least a sip. Once you’re further into the race, stop at a few “Gatorade” stations, too. Remember not to actually stop; you’ll get good at slowing down and keep moving.
  • Please thank the great volunteers who are handing out water, wet sponges, snacks or even the medal at the end. They are a huge instrumental part of the race.
  • When things get hard, if you don’t already have one, find a buddy or a pacer.
  • Try not to look at your watch or pacer bracelet too often. If you’ve put in the time, you know your pace, and you’ll tend to run quicker on race day.
  • Find a favorite inspirational quote to recite in your head for motivation. Read the spectators signs — they will give you a good laugh.
  • After the race, you will never regret giving it a great effort but you may regret not giving it your all. You got this!

After the race:

  • Keep moving after the race with walking, stretching and even some light jogging. Later in the day feel free to take a nap.
  • Eat something within 30 minutes after the race, even if you don’t feel like it. Chocolate milk, bagels or fruit are usually offered after the race.

All in all, have fun and enjoy the crowd, the day, the experience and the sites.  You can’t control the weather, race day jitters or simply having an off day. Keep your head up, stay relaxed and good luck!

The University Health Center Physical Therapy team offers the evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and conditions affecting the muscles, bones and joints. All UNL students, faculty and staff are eligible. For more information or to make an appointment, call 402.472.5000.

Whooping Cough: What You Need to Know

Although pertussis, or whooping cough, is most commonly associated with babies, college students are just as susceptible.

Pertussis causes intense fits or spells of coughing and is known for the whooping sound made as air is inhaled. Thousands of new cases are reported each year in the U.S. Symptoms can last for weeks, and in some cases, the coughing can be so intense that eating, drinking or even breathing is difficult.

Although many have been vaccinated for whooping cough, these vaccinations aren’t 100 percent effective. The vaccine wears off over time, so those without a booster may spread the illness. Even those who have had a booster could catch it during intense local outbreaks.

How do I know if I have it?

Whooping cough is caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis and is spread through droplets in the air caused by sneezing and coughing. Once the bacterium is present in the airways, they begin to swell and the body produces mucus. What starts like a common cold eventually evolves into a severe cough.

Symptoms are grouped into three stages

  • Stage one: Mild cough, low-grade fever, runny nose
  • Stage two: Worsening cough that is dry, harsh and ends with a whoop sound; cough that may cause vomiting; coughing started by many different actions (eating, talking, etc.)
  • Stage three: Vomiting and whooping sound cease, cough decreases after six weeks

How can I get better?

Because whooping cough symptoms look like other medical conditions, it’s important you visit a health care provider for diagnosis. Whooping cough can be confirmed with a culture taken from the nose.

Your age, medical history and severity of the condition can determine treatment. Hospitalization may be ordered for sever cases. Antibiotics likely will be given to prevent the spread of infection to others. Rest, fluids and fever control are recommended.

How can I prevent it?

If you didn’t have a booster, called Tdap, as a pre-teen, get one now. When it’s time for you to get your regular tetanus booster (recommended every 10 years), get a Tdap instead.

When you have a cough, remember to cover it with your sleeve or a tissue to prevent spreading germs and wash your hands often.

If you suspect your symptoms are worsening, see a medical provider. Early treatment prevents the spread of whooping cough, so don’t put off scheduling an appointment. Call 402.472.5000 to be seen at the University Health Center.

Shedding Light on Suicide Ideation

by Heather Patterson Meyer, PsyD, MAT, clinical psychologist

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people 15 to 24, and more than 1,000 suicide deaths occur on college campuses annually, according to the Jed Foundation. White males under 21 and LGBTQ youth are the highest risk groups for suicidal ideation (thoughts about suicide), but anyone can experience those types of thoughts, regardless of race, religion, class or sexual orientation.

These statistics show that this issue cannot be ignored, especially on a college campus like Nebraska. It’s time to commit to learning more so we can help prevent suicide.

Know the warning signs

While there’s no surefire way to predict when or if someone will attempt suicide, there are warning signs that could indicate someone is struggling and needs help or support. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these signs include:

  • Acting recklessly
  • Anxiousness and agitation
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Hopelessness
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Intense anger or seeking revenge
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Talking about being a burden to others or having no sense of purpose
  • Talking about death
  • Withdrawal and isolation

What to do if you are having thoughts of suicide

Get help immediately:

  • Call 911
  • Go to the nearest emergency room, Bryan West (2300 S. 16th St.)
  • Text “START” to 741-741 or call 1.800.273.TALK
  • Call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 402.472.7450 or stop by the office at the University Health Center between 8 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday
  • Call UNL Police at 402.472.2222

You may feel hopeless and that you are beyond help, but it’s important to know that you are not alone. With some support, you can find ways to cope with your problems and the pain can subside.

If you aren’t immediately considering attempting suicide but have had thoughts of death or suicidal ideation, reach out to a friend or family member — someone you can trust. Talking about your feelings can help you feel less overwhelmed and isolated. Make an appointment at CAPS (402.472.7450) as soon as possible, even if you feel it isn’t an emergency. The sooner you find support, the better you may feel.

Remember, even if you no longer have these thoughts or if they come and go, it’s important to seek help as it may be a signal of a more serious underlying issue.

What to do if you are worried about a friend or family member

If you notice someone exhibiting the signs mentioned above, don’t be a silent observer. Your support can be really meaningful to someone struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Here are a few ways you can help them get support and help as soon as possible.

  • Express your concern and ask directly if they have current, recent, or past thoughts of suicide. Bringing up your concern does not give them morbid ideas. In fact, it’s one of the most helpful actions you can take. Bringing it up can help them know they are not alone and that you care about them. It also can help you determine how urgent the need is for help. If they have a specific plan and means to carry out that plan, call 911 and stay with them until help arrives. Not sure how to get the conversation started? Visit helpguide.org for sample questions you can ask.
  • Listen to them and don’t try to problem-solve. People who struggle with suicidal thoughts are often frightened by what they feel. Simply being there for them and comforting them with your presence can make a huge impact. Don’t judge them for what they tell you.
  • Remind them of the truth. Reassure them that treatment can help and that these feelings can get better. Connect them to resources on campus, such as CAPS, or in their community.
  • Get support and guidance. Talk to an RA, RD, academic advisor or someone in CAPS about your concerns. If the need is urgent, call 911 and stay with them until help arrives. Speaking up and taking action is always appropriate because keeping your friend or family member safe is more important than losing their trust or friendship.

CAPS is here to support you, whether you are currently experiencing suicidal ideation, are depressed or anxious, have lost a loved one to suicide, are concerned about a friend or family member’s suicidal ideation, or need to talk for any reason. Call 402.472.7450 to make an appointment with one of our counselors or psychologists.

If you want to be more involved, participate in and/or donate to the UNL Out of the Darkness Campus Walk April 23 from 2 to 4 p.m. Out of the Darkness Walks like this and others across the country promote fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and promote healing to the local community to those who have lost someone or struggled. Join us on the UNL greenspace for activities, speakers, and, of course, the walk. Pre-registration is free at afsp.donordrive.com/event/unl.

Take Control of Your Sexual Health by Getting Tested

By Jamie Porter, health promotions analyst

Not getting tested for STIs because you’re worried what will happen if you have one is like not checking your bank account because you’re scared you have no money.

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It doesn’t solve any of your issues, buries your anxiety and can potentially make the problem worse.

Getting tested regularly is one of the best things you can do for your sexual health. Here’s why:

  • You won’t necessarily know if you have one without getting tested. The majority of people with STIs experience little to no symptoms and often attribute these symptoms to other causes like UTIs.
  • Your partners won’t necessarily know if they have one, either. One in six people with HIV in the U.S. don’t know they are infected (CDC, 2015).
  • You can get treatment. Many STIs are curable, and all are manageable with treatment. Untreated STIs can lead to complications including pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and chronic pelvic pain (CDC, 2015). When you get tested regularly, you increase the chances of being able to catch infections early on.
  • STIs are on the rise. National rates for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis rose 6 percent, 13 percent, and 19 percent, respectively, from 2014-2015 (CDC, 2015).
  • STDs disproportionately affect young people. Chlamydia and gonorrhea rates are highest among 15-24 year olds (CDC, 2015).
  • Even if you practice safer sex (including but not limited to using condoms or other forms of barrier protection), there are STIs that are spread from skin to skin contact alone (e.g., herpes).

Getting tested gives you peace of mind and helps you tackle any issues head-on. With resources available at the University Health Center, you can take control of your sexual health. HIV, gonorrhea and chlamydia tests are offered at no additional charge at the UHC when ordered by a provider. And, for Get Yourself Tested (GYT) month, if you refer a friend to get tested at the Rapid HIV Test Site, you both can receive $5 Scooter’s gift cards!

Let’s Talk About Depression

“You say you’re ‘depressed’—all I see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective—it just means you’re human.” – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Tomorrow is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is Depression: Let’s Talk.

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. and yet it’s still considered somewhat of a taboo topic to discuss. There’s a perception that depression doesn’t exist or that it’s nothing more than a personal problem or sign of weakness. This stigmatization surrounding depression stems from a misunderstanding of what depression is and is not.

So let’s debunk a few depression myths, shall we?

  1. Depression isn’t a feeling or reality that a person brought on themselves and isn’t something you can “just get over.” It’s a serious illness, not a character flaw. You wouldn’t accuse someone with brain cancer for being lazy and causing their own illness, so why treat people with depression this way?
  1. Depression isn’t simply being sad. Some moments in life—the loss of a loved one, moving away from home or failing an exam—warrant grieving. Depression and grief share some of the same features, but they are not one in the same. For example, grief is often fleeting, whereas depression lasts for weeks. Grief doesn’t typically affect self-esteem, but with depression, it’s common to loathe oneself and feel hopeless. Grief can lead to depression in some cases, but it’s important to distinguish the two.
  1. Depression isn’t just a woman’s disease. While it’s true that women suffer from depression twice as often as men, no one is immune from depression; it’s an equal-opportunity illness. All ages, genders, races and economic statuses can be affected.
  1. Depression doesn’t just affect the mind, but the entire body as well. It can negatively impact your immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infections and illnesses. It affects appetite, which can cause serious weight loss or gain. Headaches, stomach pain and other physical symptoms can occur if depression is left untreated. Unipolar major depression is the leading cause of disability, and only heart disease tops depression in causes of lost work days in the U.S.
  1. Depression won’t usually disappear if the sufferer ignores it for long enough and refuses to seek help. If treated, depression symptoms can decrease or even disappear. If left untreated, it could lead to failing health or even suicide.

About one in five people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. With those odds, it’s likely you already interact with someone who currently deals with from depression. Here are a few ways you can help support them and end the stigma surrounding depression:

  • Be the example. Take an online mental health screening at least once a year and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you are worried you might be struggling with depression, make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services by calling 402.472.7450.
  • Educate yourself. The more you know, the better stigma buster you’ll be. Take time to research depression and other mental illnesses. A good place to start would be the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
  • Watch your language. Expressions like “get over it” or “just relax” can minimize how a person feels. Instead use supportive language like “I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well” and ask what you can do to help.
  • Listen and be supportive. People who are depressed often feel isolated, so check in on them and ask them how they’re doing. Spend time with them when you can and know it’s OK to not know what to say. Showing them you care may motivate them to seek treatment if they haven’t already.
  • Be kind. Small acts of kindness can go a long way, whether it’s a simple smile to your fellow classmate who passes you on campus or inviting that friend you haven’t talked to in a while out for coffee to chat.
  • Share your story. Talking about your struggle with depression can help you recover and challenge stereotypes. It may even encourage others to get help if they need it.

For more information on mental wellness and CAPS services, visit health.unl.edu/caps