Wellbeing and stress management – what support is out there?

5 November 2018

As 2018 draws closer to an end, it is no doubt a busy period for both staff and students.

If you're a student reading this, you're probably amidst exam study preparations. You could also be in the final semester of your degree (be it undergraduate OR postgraduate). You might also be slightly anxious about completing your studies, graduating and wondering what you'll be doing next.

Whatever part of the ANU community you belong to, you're a part of a supportive network of peers.

We caught up with representatives from the Postgraduate and Research Students Association's (PARSA) incoming President Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope and PARSA's Equity Officer Bernard Cielo II to find out more about what PARSA offers those who may need some support.

We also asked them about what they do to de-stress.

"Institutionally, what we do in support of our members is provide self-care activities and opportunities related to stressful periods such as exams," Zyl says.

"For this month, what we did was generally give people time to relax, take a breather from studying, and play some board games at one of the restaurants in Civic," Bernard says.

During peak times where stress might be high, PARSA ramps up some of its activities for students.

"But we also recognise that wellness and well-being is something we need to be working on and supporting our members, to manage, throughout the year. That's why we have a number of activities such as the monthly meet up, we have an on-res event that's quite regular, we have a fortnightly unwind and a monthly movie," Zyl says.

"We recently held our Wellness Week where we held some self-care activities."

PARSA also recently hosted a wellness seminar called AWAKE, a mindfulness session on Fellows Oval delivered by the acting head of the ANU Counselling Service, Andrew Staniforth. Other self-care activities activities they hosted included a women's self-care activity with nourishing food, pampering goodies and painting, as well as a men's self-care activity at Truefitt and Hill for haircuts, scalp massage, or shave.

The Association also hosts monthly meetups for postgraduate students.

All of these activities are intended to foster a sense of community and connectedness, recognising the importance of friendship and having the opportunity to speak out with friends, he says.

Some activities such as the monthly movie provide students with the chance to be with others without feeling as if they have to engage in 'small talk' or conversation.

"For many people, they enjoy being around people and participating in an activity but it might be that they don't actually want to have an active conversation to participate in that, so that is one of the reasons we put on the movies," Zyl says.

Many of the activities also provide a break from the everyday stresses of life, whether they be study-related or related to finances.

PARSA's coffee vouchers program is also back for exam week.

"The main advantage of that is for PARSA to reach out to the whole postgraduate community and also make them feel supported during the gruelling two-week exam period," Bernard says.

"It also gives the students a nudge to come out of their rooms and take time studying, grab a coffee and take a few moments to relax for themselves. I think that's a very important endeavour in itself."

To get involved with PARSA's social and wellness activities, or reach out, follow their facebook page.

What other activities can we do to de-stress?

According to Zyl:

  1. Board games help take the stress off of things. "You're socialising but it's not too extreme," Zyl says.
  2. Watch TV with friends or partners. "We've got a series we go through, one of us makes dinner and we hop into bed and watch television while we eat dinner."
  3. "I like playing video games, that's a soothing activity for me. I can be a bit of an anxious person sometimes so video games is something that helps me forget some of the complexities of things going on."
  4. Playing a musical instrument helps him to relax also.

Bernard:

  1. Plan your day. "Make some time for work and set aside time for recreational activities."
  2. Barnard is a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working for 25 minutes at a time, followed by a short break before returning to another 25 minute block of work time.
  3. The Pomodoro Technique, mixed with using PARSA's 'Shut up and write' program sessions, makes for productive work sessions. "If you're writing a lot of things, it's a really effective way to go around that."

Being in a role that requires a lot of front-facing interaction with lots of people, Zyl admits that there are times where he needs to take time out.

"The reality is for me, sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed. Having met so many people and having to be in such a gregarious position. So often for me, it's recognising days when I'm feeling not so great and just accepting that maybe I need to go home and have a little bit of time for myself."

Undergraduate students

For undergraduate students, the ANU Students' Association and their various departments run regular events throughout the yearas well as specific events for marginalised groups within the community.

ANUSA recently held Less Stresstival, a once a semester event designed to provide stress relieving activities such as yoga, alpaca visits, free fruit, craft sessions and free lunches.

The Association also has ways to help students, for example, who can't afford to buy a healthy lunch or are too busy to cook.

The Brian Kenyon Student Space in Melville Hall, which is open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, provides free board games, couches and space to relax. A free breakfast is provided between 8-10am weekdays. Free tea and coffee are also provided.

To find out about ANUSA's upcoming events that promote wellbeing, social interaction and avenues to de-stress, check out the events on their facebook page.