WeLLness SkiLLs for Students

  • There are many easy skills you can practice to enhance your mental health. Here are a few that you can add to your toolkit! By the way, the GritX application created by UCSF is a great resource. Check it out!


    Skills to help you calm down, release tension & feel more grounded:


    Belly Breathing:

    Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Open your mouth and let out a big sigh of relief. Pause here for three seconds. Now, close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose. Take in as much air as you can. Pause here for as long as is comfortable.  Open your mouth and exhale slowly, while pulling your stomach in. Pause again. Repeat this for several minutes until you feel yourself beginning to calm down. Remember to focus on your breath and pay attention to the muscles you’re using. It may feel awkward at first but will become more natural as you practice. 


    Body Scan:

    Find a comfortable place away from distractions. Start by noticing your breath come in through your nose and out through your mouth, filling your lungs. Then feel your body exhale. Do this for a minute or two. On your next inward breath, imagine the air going through your body down to your feet. Keep breathing as you notice your feet. If they’re tense, try to ease the tension there. Relax the muscles. Move your awareness up through your ankles, calves, and thighs. If you notice tightness anywhere, try to loosen it. Keep breathing.


    Move your attention up your body, into your pelvis and abdomen. What do you notice? If there’s tension, let it go. Imagine your muscles becoming heavy and easy. Keep breathing as you go. Imagine giving air to the parts of you that are tense.  Now, move your attention to your chest and shoulders. Are your shoulders carrying tension?  Breathe and let go. Notice your arms and let them fall, imagining the tension melting away. Keep breathing. Move up to your neck, noticing and then releasing any tightness. Breathe.


    Next, your face and head. Imagine all the muscles in your face loosening, your jawbone releasing, and your head relaxing. Let go of any thoughts that are unsettling. Breathe. Notice the air coming into your body. As you exhale, imagine all your stress leaving your body. Now, bring your attention back from the body scan. Notice what might have shifted in your thoughts, sensations, and emotions.


    Take a Sensory Walk

    Leave your headphones behind and take a sensory walk. Listen to what you hear (birds, traffic, construction...). Pay attention to what’s happening in your body. How does it feel when your feet hit the ground. Can you feel the sun or the wind on your face? How is your posture? Are you standing tall, facing the world? 


    5-4-3-2-1- calming exercise:

    Focusing on each of your five senses one at a time helps you stay present. Here’s a way to do it:

    • Look at 5 things around you. What do you see? Say them out loud.
    • Feel Four things around you. How do they feel? Say them out loud.
    • Listen to three sounds around you. What do you hear? Say them out loud.
    • Smell two things around you. What do they smell like? Say them out loud.
    • Taste One thing. How does it taste? Say it out loud.


    Overhead Stretch 

    Stand up and take a deep breath as you reach your arms over your head. Stretch out and make your body as expansive as possible. As you exhale, gently float your arms to your side. Feel how the breath helps reset your nervous system. Practicing self care can be THAT easy!



    Skills to combat the blues.


    Behavioral Activation: Scheduling Activities

    When we're feeling down, we often lose interest in activities we enjoy. That’s what depression does.  It keeps us from doing the things that bring meaning to our life and encourages us to withdraw. It’s a vicious cycle: the less interested we are, the less we do, and the more depressed we feel.


    So, it’s important to break the cycle. When you push yourself to do even one activity, you may feel less depressed. How do you do this, though when you’re not motivated?  Scheduling activities makes us accountable and ensures we don’t forget.


    Start by listing at least three activities you enjoy. Then list at least three things you just have to get done (errands, assignments, etc.). Put each of these things on your calendar. Then, each day, do something you enjoy and something that’s a responsibility. Keep track of how you’re feeling before and after the activity. Keeping to this schedule should give you a sense of accomplishment and a mood boost.


    Practicing Gratitude: The "Starfish" Exercise

    The benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. Noticing and reflecting upon the things you're thankful for will help you improve your relationships, experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, improve your self esteem, sleep better, boost your resiliency, express more compassion and kindness, and strengthen your immune systems. It's truly miraculous! And it's easy!


    Try this simple gratitude exercise: close your eyes and spread out one hand like a starfish. With your other hand, gently touch each finger and think of one thing you’re grateful for. Spend some time with each thought, really appreciating the moment. Skills to foster an appreciation of yourself.


    Superhero Posture/Happy Face:

    Our posture and our facial expressions affect our moods. Try Superhero Posture and Happy Face together for a powerful mood boost! Standing (or sit) tall with your chin up, your chest out, and your shoulders back. Then smile, even if you’re feeling down. These actions can make us feel happier, more confident, and less stressed. By “tricking” our brains into thinking we’re happy, we actually BECOME happier. 


    Reach Out To A Friend, Family Member or Aquaintance 

    Reaching out to a friend, family member, or acquaintance has double benefits; fostering the relationship is good for both of you! In your exchanges, listen actively, be open, and work to repair any past hurts. Here are some ideas for conversation starters that go beyond “how are you:”

    • Tell them you miss them
    • Share a memory you have of them
    • Let them know you’re worried about them
    • Ask if they’d like to go for a walk 
    • Acknowledge something good they did
    • Send them a curated playlist
    • Acknowledge things haven’t been easy
    • Share a funny joke or meme
    • Ask for a book recommendation
    • Tell them why they’re important to you
    • Share a piece of news they might be interested in
    • Let them know you’re free to talk (and to listen!)
    • Tell them they’re enough even on their bad days
    • Thank them for being here
    • Remind them they’re loved.


    Write Yourself A Love Letter!

    Do you find yourself focusing on your faults and your failures? It's easy to do but guess what? You’re really pretty amazing! Why not remind yourself of this in a letter to you. Don’t scoff...writing yourself a love letter is a tried and true skill that helps foster self-appreciation and restore balance to your life. Here’s an effective way to do it:


    • Begin by writing down the things you like about yourself. (Pen/pencil & paper works best.) Try for 20 distinct things. They needn’t all be grand; in fact, it's important to recognize the small things as well. If it's challenging to think of anything you like about yourself, start with times when you liked where you were or what you were doing. For example, "I like being at my friend's home" or "I enjoy reading in bed." Then expand on that: "I appreciate that my body and mind allow me to do these things."


    •  Think of a moment you were proud of yourself. If this is difficult, try to think of moments when you held true to your values, or moments you did the right thing even when no one was watching. Draw a picture that represents that specific moment on the same page as the letter (No artistic skill are necessary; any simple drawing is great!)


    • Carry this note in a private but accessible place. Take it out and look at it when you need encouragement.


    • Each time you look at your love letter, try to add at least one item to your list or another drawing of a proud moment.


    See, you ARE awesome!


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