Niagara University offers tips on taking ‘brain breaks’

By Kaylee Brennan

NU students work on homework.

Finals week is approaching and the students at Niagara University are stressed. From term papers to upcoming exams, this is the most popular time for students to contemplate dropping out (just kidding). Niagara University students are prepared and confident and they know when it is time to take a “time-out.” It is important to remember that study-breaks are necessary during these tough college times.

Stephanie Toohey, an academic coach who works in the Academic Success Center on campus, said that, first of all, students should map out and plan their studies to reduce stress during exams week. In her office, students can find schedule templates to plan their study times to coordinate with their exam times. She also provides stress balls, coffee, herbal teas, snacks, a yoga mat and other things students can take advantage of when they need to rest and relax their brain.

“If anyone is in the office and they are stressed, I tell them to ‘come in, I have space! Put the yoga mat down; I’ll close the door and you can have whatever time you need to relax!’ ”

The Academic Success Center.

Some students like to simply put their pen down and their books away for a moment and take some time to scroll through the never-ending feed of social media in order to rest their brain. Many students find that anything that distracts them from work suffices.

“When I need a mental break, I usually go on my phone and aimlessly scroll through things to distract myself,” said senior Emily Augello.

“Honestly, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I like to completely remove myself from the environment I am working in and go for a walk or something,” said junior Hannah Enzinna.

Senior Ben Hayes said he listens to music when he is stressed (“which is basically all the time”).

The University of Nevada discusses how stress can be released through “the power of music.” Music helps relax the body and, once you have a clear and calm brain, you can get back to work!

On the contrary, this method may not work for some students and social media can be just as stress-inducing as school work. The University of South Florida elaborates on “7 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress for College Students” and one includes unplugging from social media. “Limiting screen time can help reduce anxiety.” It can be nice to do some screen-free activities such as going for a walk or reading a book.

Toohey noted, “Going for a walk helps. Students can take advantage of all of the nature surrounding campus. There are walking trails, the reservoir, the gorge and other parks that are very close to campus where students can go and relax. The university has also offered trips to the woods to teach students how to meditate in nature, so that’s kind of cool.”

Serena Leatherbarrow and Cristyn Williams, both juniors at NU who also tackled the responsibilities of being community advisers this year, said getting off campus is a great way to relieve stress. According to Williams, “It is necessary in order to make it through school.”

Leatherbarrow said, “What helps me is going somewhere that feels like home. It feels nice to go to a friend’s house off-campus to have a homecooked meal or something that is a little more normal feeling.”

Williams, on the other hand, takes advantage of NU’s unique location. With one of the wonders of the world only a little over 4 miles away from the campus, students can take a quick trip to Niagara Falls. Williams said that “checking out the falls and seeing the pretty colors at night” is something you can do to take a break from school, along with hiking the Niagara Gorge trails.

She also mentioned the Orange Cat Coffee Co. is a great spot in Lewiston where you can grab a coffee with friends. Lewiston is a town only 3 miles away from campus filled with restaurants and many small shops.

Even if students do not have their own method of transportation, the NU Campus Activities office provides many off-campus trips monthly. It provides bus trips to shopping centers frequently and offers other fun and unique trips to things like football games, shows, local holiday events and more.

Students can also utilize the on-campus stress-reducing activities. Counseling services often hosts “brain break” events to allow students to come, receive massages, make stress balls, take stress-relieving goodie bags and participate in other activities.

Counseling services offer a lot of resources for stressed NU students as well. Any NU student can visit the office to talk, relax and destress.

Maria DiNardo, one of the licensed mental health counselors in the office, said “self-care, self-compassion and self-accountability” are the three things students should practice to not get overwhelmed.

“Take those breaks as necessary to recalibrate, and then go back to work. Students are going to be much more effective at problem-solving when they give themselves a little break. Honor what works for you. Allow yourself to be human and to be frustrated,” DiNardo said.

More general ways to give yourself a “brain break” include exercising, journaling or meditating. Luckily for NU students, they can head to the Kiernan Center on campus. Purdue University has noted exercising helps produce endorphins, which are “feel-good chemicals that act as natural painkillers.”

Tayne Swanick, a sophomore nursing major at NU, said, “When the homework and tests start to build up, I’ll go hit the gym. It helps me burn off energy and sleep better at night.”

It ultimately depends on the individual’s work ethic, but in some cases, lectures and work outside of class takes up the majority of an individual’s day. It can be difficult to stay motivated and might even be overwhelming to an extent. Purdue University’s “The College Student’s Guide to Stress Management” gives advice to students on how they can “alleviate stress, succeed in college and live healthy, balanced lives.” It is a topic that colleges across the world discuss, because it is common for students to be stressed, especially during exam weeks.

Senior Tricia Lazatin explained how, on some weekdays, she is on campus from 9 in the morning until 10 or 11 at night.

“I honestly just try to take small breaks throughout the day, especially when I am on campus all day. Usually, I’ll just go on my phone for a few minutes or I’ll go to Gally and just sit and people watch. I do anything that takes my focus away from school and work,” Lazatin said.

Any college student will tell you that the final weeks of a semester are the toughest times. Work piles up and students are working harder than ever. The best tips NU abides by are to relax, prioritize yourself, have a plan, get off campus and take breaks. Relieving stress is vital to success.

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