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Tom Sherson: Breathe in. Breathe out. If you’re stressed and can’t seem to find the off switch, should you fill your mind with something or nothing at all? Fill your ears with today’s podcast as we discuss the trend of mindfulness and whether it actually works. As well as what you can do to unwind at the end of a busy Semester.

Hello and welcome to How would you know, the podcast where we ask the big questions of the people who actually know. I’d like to begin today’s podcast by acknowledging the traditional owners of these lands. The  Jagera, Yuggera and Ugarapul peoples of Ipswich and Springfield where this podcast is recorded as keepers of ancient knowledge and who’s customs and cultures continue to nurture this land. I also pay respect to Elders – past, present and future.

Today I am kicking my feet up, making a cup of tea and taking it easy as I talk to my guest Dianna Coggilfrom USQ’s Health and Wellness team. Dianna, so we can recap, what is stress?

Dianna Coggil: Yeah, Thomas that is really interesting question. So first off, stress is a completely normal reaction that our mind and body makes in response to the demands and things that we face in our life. In fact there’s what’s called good and bad stress. It’s interesting to look at Yerkes’ and Dodson’s model of stress because they consider that there is a direct relationship between our performance at doing things and our stress levels. So by that I mean, if we use a scale of 1 to 10. On that scale if 1 is a little bit and 5 is moderate and 10 is extremely stressed it can help us to measure our own levels of stress. 

So I would ask you at the moment to have a think about what are my current levels of stress. Okay have a think about that and where you are on that 1 to 10 basis. Because the research has found that when we are at our highest or optimal level of when we’re working at our best using our pre-frontal cortex to do things it’s in the range of 3 to 6. So that’s what good stress is. When our stress levels rise above 6 into that 7 to 10 then that’s what is referred to as our bad stress. That’s when our performance at doing anything drops off. So this model shows that we need a certain amount of stress to do anything, so that’s what’s called using our fight, flight and freeze response and it’s a completely normal reaction that helps our mind and body work together so that we are producing the required amount of adrenaline and cortisol that we need to do things. These are hormones that we need in order to do anything. So stress is when our perception that our demands outweigh our ability to cope. So, we start thinking, okay I’m doing alright I’m at level 6 but then I’m going into that level of 7 to 10 and I’m in the bad stress. 

So, yes, students are really busy people, however, it’s not automatic that everyone is stressed out. To experience some stress is completely normal and so sometimes I think stress can get a bit of a bad name. So managing our stress is very important. If you’re spending a lot of time in that 7 to 10 in that bad stress zone then this isn’t good for your long term health and wellbeing. Our breathing and our style of breathing can lower our stress levels. We will talk some more about styles of breathing very soon. That background on what is stress and that there is good and bad stress is very important. Thinking about what is my perception of my level of stress.

Tom Sherson: It’s really interesting that you say that, I think that perception is something that obviously people do go through stress every day, do you find your job as a wellness educator is to help students who are having trouble dealing with that stress, do you find people find it tough to acknowledge when they’ve moved from say a 5 or 6 to a 7 or a 10. 

Dianna Coggil: Yeah I think so because we like to be in control of things and no one likes to feel really out of control because when we are in that out of control state we can be very impulsive, angry, frustrated and it’s a time when we can possibly not make the best decisions. If you’re sitting down to an exams and your stress levels go up into a 7 to 10, you start feeling stressed and our ability to concentrate and answer a question may go out the window. So we need to bring our stress levels back down into that 3 to 6 range so that you can concentrate on what the question is asking and breaking it down. After we’ve been doing that sort of thing for a long time we can build up a lot of stress and agitation in our body. It’s very important to be aware of those stress levels. Something that I would ask you all to think about at the moment is to reflect and think about what is important to me as a strategy for managing stress. That could be a very individual thing.

Thomas may like doing some things and I may like doing other things or there may be some things that we share but it’s really an individual thing about what we like to do to manage our stress. 
Think about what do you enjoy? What helps you chill? What helps you wind down and feel calm? Because our own health and wellbeing is important at all times. You need to be recharging your batteries all the time even when you’re busy. Because you count. If you break down then there’s flow on effects to others, so your own self care is important. Things like healthy eating, adequate hydration, sleep, exercise, connecting with others and your local community and the environment, socialising with your friends, spending some quality time with family and doing those other life activities and some other things that you like are really important for us to be doing all of the time.

I would also like to recognise some of our students are still studying, doing the summer semester courses and of course a lot of our students might have finished their academic studies for the year but they may have work, family or other commitments to do and they may not be getting any time off. I think it is important no matter what we are doing that we monitor our stress levels and that we include some activities for ourselves in that time period. 

Tom Sherson: Talking about the topic of this podcast, we are talking about students who get to the end of the semester and they need a break but some students don’t get that ability to do that and including tiny little bits of things you enjoy and the things that do actually calm you down along the way will help not make it such a big stopping point once you hit the end of semester before you’ve got to start back up again. 

I find the perception very interesting too, I often when we are recording these podcasts that I have a good level amount of stress when I come in and I talk on the podcast and some guests hit a much larger 7 to 10 amount of stress when their behind a microphone. And that’s one clear example of those differences in stress and how something that’s stressful for one student might not be for another. 

Dianna Coggil: Exactly. And that experiencing a level of challenge and feeling a level of stress is okay. It’s when you spend too much time in the 7 to 10 area that it is not good for you. Doing a podcast my stress levels would probably be on the 6 to maybe 7. Where are you Thomas?

Tom Sherson: Let’s call it a solid 5. 

Dianna Coggil: Great. And as Tom is making me laugh my stress levels are coming down.

Tom Sherson: Brilliant, well I’m doing my job right then.

Let’s chat a little bit about some activities and things that people can do. I’m really keen to hear about those breathing exercises and also about mindfulness the big trend of 2017 that came through. I’m keen to hear does mindfulness work in your experience and how can students use that?

Dianna Coggil: There is a couple of things there, I guess first off I think organising your time so that you have a daily routine which is going to include whatever activities you have to do whether it’s work or study and then scheduling in some time to do some other things that you like is really important. Challenge yourself to think what some of those sorts of things are. I don’t want to be prescriptive but some ideas are might be hanging out with friends or family, reading for pleasure rather than for your academic studies. They don’t have to be things that are expensive or cost a lot of money or long to do. Go for walks, swim, run, exercise or garden. Students talk about doing or starting a hobby or something that they have always thought about or wanting to do. Some people like to volunteer so check out the volunteer Queensland website. Just sit and savour a cup of tea. Thomas is here having a cup of tea. Have a think about something that is not about work and not about writing an assignment. It can be doing things like doing some stretching exercises, watching a movie or series, documentary, cartoons, recordings, view social media, go to a concert, watch a concert, play an enjoyable game, play on the computer, whatever you like doing. Have a conversation with someone about things that are not about study. Talk with your friends and family about things that have been happening. Listen to music, tell some jokes, watch some comedy or learn some new jokes. Do something that you have wanted to but you haven’t had time to do it. Do some activities. It could be daytime or overnight or going away. It could be camping or bush walking. Doing some games or riding. Look into the free stuff, you may want to visit the art gallery or museum, the botanic gardens. Look online for activities in your local area for somewhere you want to go. Enjoy the weather, the park, the gardens. If you are studying make time to do activities without having to worry about assignments due in. 

Tom Sherson: If you don’t have something out of that list to do. Geez. 

Dianna Coggil: Now the other part to your question. There are also students who will be working or needing to find a job so check out the accesshub.usq.edu.au website for vacancies and some job search tips. I think if we are looking after ourselves and ensuring that we have a balanced lifestyle then there’s no set time. It’s a very individual thing which will take you to get over a higher pressured time. In terms of mindfulness. We can spend our time thinking about our past or I should’ve done this during this semester, more study whatever or there’s what’s called the present moment. We are focused and in the present moment I’m talking to Thomas or I can worry about the future and what if this happens, what if I don’t pass and all those sorts of worries can go on in your head. Mindfulness is about acknowledging that worrying about the past and the future is actually being mindless of the present moment. Because you are worrying about the past and future and you’re not allowing yourself in the present moment, the here and now to focus on what you need to do. 

Through the use of mindfulness techniques you can anchor yourself in the present moment. In the here and now and being aware of what’s going on. You can do this by focusing your attention on your breath. You bring your focus onto your breathing, so you notice yourself breathing in and breathing out. At the moment I would invite you to focus on your breath. In and then out. We can count as we take a breath in. 1 -2 -3. And on the breath out. Let’s count 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, making the breath out longer. Let’s do that a couple of times. Breathing in 1 – 2 – 3. And then out 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. In 1 – 2 – 3. And out 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. Now I would invite you to ask yourself some questions, making use of our five senses. This is a mindfulness exercise as well. I would ask you to concentrate on at the moment, 2 things that you can see, fear, smell, taste and touch. So we will go back over those. Have a think about, what are two things I can see at the moment that I haven’t really taken notice of in the room. What are two things that I haven’t really noticed that I can hear at the moment? What are two smells that I haven’t necessarily been aware of? What are two tastes? What are two things that you’re touching that you haven’t been that aware of? It could just be the shirt on your skin or the socks on your feet or the feet touching the floor. By asking yourself those questions you are in the current moment. You are being mindful and available to focus on the present moment. Mindfulness is about being able to anchor yourself in the present moment and bringing the attention away from all past worries, future worries and just being present and focusing then on what would I like to do. It maybe to do another relaxation exercise or it may be to think about what are the tasks today, what do I need to do, how do I break those down? If you can feel your stress levels rising above the 6 use those breathing exercises and the use of the five senses to bring your stress levels back down.

Tom Sherson: Brilliant. Well hopefully listening has been able to join with those breathing techniques and obviously noticed all the things that they notice around the place. What I have noticed in the studio is the time and we are flat out of it. Before you go I would love to hear where students can get more support. Say they are having a little bit of trouble winding down whether it be during the semester or at the end of a busy semester. Where should they go?

Dianna Coggil: Well you can chat with any of the wellness educators, we will be here over the summer holiday period and semester 3. You can ring or email to set up a time, we can talk over the phone or face to face or over Zoom and our services are free. We have lots of great online resources that are available in the USQ website, so if you head on to the USQ website and put in the search for the counselling or health and wellbeing or careers and employment then you can find out information about our services. The university will only be closed between Christmas and New Year, otherwise there will be staff here to help you with those things. There are some great other online resources. There is a website called The Desk, which is a great one for university students to access and use your USQ username and password to get in there. There’s great resources at The Reach Out website and Smiling Mind has some great free mindfulness exercises that you can download as well.  

Tom Sherson: Brilliant, well I am certainly feeling a lot less stressed. The only other one that I will plug from my end is of course The Headstrong online program. Current students who pay the student amenities fee are able to register for free. That is a program that does touch a little bit more on some of those things including the presence of mind and of course mindfulness as well. Do make sure you head to social.usq.edu.au/headstrong to register or to learn more about that one.  Well look we are flat out of time but I really appreciate you coming in Dianna and sharing those tips and hopefully the rest of our students are feeling a lot less stressed out.

Dianna Coggil: Thanks very much Thomas and goodbye. 

Tom Sherson: Well for those who are now convinced that Mindfulness could work for you, we have some great resources you can use. Search for mindfulness when you head to Social Hub. It’s been a pleasure bringing you this podcast and if there are any other myths you would like us to bust be sure to let us know by using hashtag #usqpodcast on social media or emailing social.media@usq.edu.au. My name is Tom and now you know.