Although summer is just around the corner, this is one of the most stressful time periods for students and educators alike. Exams, projects, and university applications all seem to pile up, while exercise, diet, and sleep tend to take a back seat. We understand how you feel, and we’re here to support you! The Canadian Safe School Network and YYoga encourage you to relax, breathe, and restore your mental health during Crunch Time!
The Crunch Time holistic resource is especially designed for teachers and students to de-stress, stay focused, and engage in practices that enhance wellness. Yoga in particular is an invaluable wellness practice. Yoga offers extraordinary benefits to both mind and body and can lead to a healthier, more balanced life. Because of its tremendous value and connection to various aspects of our lives, yoga is woven into each of the 6 main focus areas that comprise this resource.
Each focus area provides explanations, key definitions, fun facts, tips, and points for reflection. Also included are insights into the advantages of yoga as well as short videos to teach you postures and poses that will help guide your practice.
So don’t let Crunch Time get you down. Let the Canadian Safe School Network and YYoga help you feel great and perform your best!
Stress is your body’s way of responding to a challenge or demand.
Stress & Survival
When we experience stress, an automatic bodily reaction is triggered referred to as the “fight or flight” response. During this response, the body is flooded with hormones that elevate heart rate, increase blood pressure, and boost energy, which prepares us to deal with the problem. Depending on the circumstances, the individual may either run away from the perceived threat or tackle it head on.
This mechanism was crucial back when basic survival posed a greater challenge to humankind. But nowadays, we experience different types of stress that can’t be resolved by fighting or fleeing. We can’t attack our teacher or boss when they assign a major project or run away from final exams. Instead, we have to suppress that anxiety, anger, fear, or aggression we’re experiencing in that moment. Stressors today also don’t typically require us to expend and metabolize the stress-related energy we automatically store up in our body. For these reasons, our natural ‘fight or flight’ response can actually serve as a detriment to our wellbeing. When the hormones released during a stressful circumstance linger in our body, stress manifests in harmful, destructive ways.
What is burn out?
Burnout is a type of psychological stress that often occurs from working too hard (at your job, school, home, etc.) and not taking time to relax. It is characterized by:
o lack of enthusiasm and motivation
o frustration or cynicism
o feelings of ineffectiveness
o may actually lead to reduced efficacy within the workplace
Negative Ways of Managing Stress:
Managing stress with stress:
Internal Stress is the stress we create and perpetuate for ourselves. Worrying about things we can’t control or putting ourselves in stressful situations contributes to our level of internal stress.
Managing stress unhealthily/with negative behaviour:
– Using tobacco, alcohol, or other substances
– Withdrawing from friends, family, hobbies
– Excessive sleep
– Excessive engagement in unproductive activities (TV, computer)
– Lack of physical activity
– Anger, projection, lashing out at others
Positive Ways of Managing Stress
Employ the ‘4A’ Strategy:
Engage in Physical Activities
– Metabolize your stress by engaging in physical activities. Go for a power walk or a quick run to burn off stress.
Engage in Meditative Activities
– Meditation – Meditating can make you feel relaxed, focused, and in control. It can change your pattern of thinking and it can even help you to adjust your behaviour.
Random Acts of Kindness
– Integrating kind practices into your life can also reduce stress and enhance positive mood. By showing care for someone else, you innately show care for yourself too.
Tap into your senses
– Recognize the different things that appeal to your senses and make you feel calm. Some people like listening to relaxing music. Others like the feeling of sand between their fingers. Some prefer the scent of a candle. Determine what makes you feel at ease and make sure one of these things is readily available to you when you’re feeling stressed.
In order to prevent stress from building up, we must be able to detect when our “fight or flight” response has been activated. Awareness of the physiological symptoms of stress can help keep us in check. When we are able to recognize that we are experiencing stress, we can employ a set of stress management tools to keep our stress at bay and bring ourselves to a more calm and peaceful state. Awareness of both the body and the mind are essential to stress reduction.
Yoga for Stress
As a mind-body practice, yoga is an excellent way to reduce and prevent stress. Yoga encourages us to quiet the mind, slow the body, and breathe. Yoga practice helps us to shift our attention to the present moment, and in doing so, it calms our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) and
activates our parasympathetic system (relaxation response). As you engage in this type of focused physical practice, the power of the mind-body connection becomes apparent, especially over time. Recognizing this connection can help you to manage stress and find greater joy and peace in your life.
What is time management?
Time management is the process of organizing and planning how much time you spend on specific activities.
• Create an Effective Agenda – Scheduling is critical for effective time management. Schedules serve as helpful remembers of meetings, appointments, events, and other commitments. They prevent you from overbooking yourself and provide a comprehensive view of the month, week, or day, depending on how you choose to schedule yourself.
• Create To Do Lists – To Do help us to outline tasks that require our attention. It is helpful not only to keep a to do list, but to put the list in order of priority. That doesn’t mean that the highest priority tasks must be dealt with first. Sometimes it helps to get a few easy-to-do, minor tasks out of the way before delving into a larger project. The act of crossing an item off of your To Do list is a gratifying reminder that you have achieved a task.
• Set Personal Goals – Goals give you a vision to work towards. When you know where you want to end up, it becomes much easier and more motivating to manage your time, priorities, and resources in order to get there. Creating SMART goals is particularly helpful as these goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Learn about how to create SMART Goals using the SMART Goals Handout. Use the SMART Goals Tracking Sheet to help keep you on track and working towards your goals.
• Manage Your Space – When your space feels disorganized, your focus tends to feel scattered too. A clean, organized space can help you to concentrate and stay on task. It is helpful to create filing systems and to designate a particular place for certain tasks or items. Knowing exactly where things belong is essential to keeping an organized work space.
• Keep a Routine – Routines provide us with a sense of rhythm. They allow us to schedule our time effectively, and they make it easy for us to anticipate and manage tasks throughout the day. When it comes to having a routine, a bit of structure goes a long way.
• Prepare the Night Before – Getting things done the night before can help save time and prevent you from being late. Making a healthy lunch, setting out clothes, and organizing your book bag or briefcase the night before are all helpful ways to ensure you are punctual and prepared for the next day.
• Chunk Big Tasks – Sometimes we avoid tasks because they feel too big and daunting. When it comes to larger projects, like studying for final exams, it’s helpful to break them down into smaller chunks. Rather than focusing on studying an entire year’s worth of material, focus first on one subject. Now break that subject down into units. Now within the first unit, look at the important concepts from specific lessons. If you start preparing early enough, you’ll be able to cover entire subjects one part at a time without having to cram at all.
• Take breaks – Humans weren’t designed to focus solely on one task for extended lengths of time. It is natural and necessary for us to redirect our focus from time to time. Breaks not only boost energy and morale, but they also help keep you on task. Going for a walk, talking to friends, eating a healthy snack, napping, daydreaming, doodling – these are all healthful ways to disengage. Research shows that taking breaks can enhance focus, creativity, and productivity.
• Make Time for Self-Care – No matter how busy we are, it is critical that we take care of ourselves. Good health is essential to every other aspect of our lives including our ability to manage our time. When you don’t take time to care for yourself, not only do you put your health at risk, but ultimately you end up losing that time anyway. You may end up getting sick and having to miss school or work, or you may have trouble focusing and getting work done because you haven’t slept or you aren’t eating well. Good nutrition, exercise, sleep, relaxation, mindfulness—these are all important ways of keeping our bodies and minds healthy and ensuring we are able to be our best selves so that we can make every moment count.
Don’t forget to make exercise and relaxation time a regular part of your daily schedule!
Yoga and time management are both about balance. Just as you must be stable and in control of your poses, you must similarly be able to take control of your schedule and create a sense of balance in your life. Yoga can help you to do that. It improves focus and concentration and helps you to remain poised and in control throughout the day. Yoga can help you to reinforce priorities and feel grounded. It can help you feel peaceful in a stressful situation, and it can invigorate you with energy when you need that extra boost. As a mind-body practice, it also offers numerous wellness benefits to keep you healthy and able to work towards your goals.
Why is exercise important?
There are countless physical benefits to exercise, some of which include:
• Boosts immune function
• Fights off chronic diseases
• Helps to control blood sugar levels
• Increases red blood cell count
• Increases good cholesterol
• Improves respiration
• Helps us to maintain healthy weight
• Fights bad cholesterol
• Improves heart health
• Improves energy and stamina
• Enhances flexibility
• Strengthens and tones muscles
• Increases bone strength and density
There are also numerous mental and emotional benefits to exercise, including:
• Increases happiness
• Enhances intelligence
• Reduces aggression
• Reduces fatigue
• Boosts memory
• Reduces addiction
• Boosts energy
• Improves sleep
• Improves alertness and concentration
• Alleviates stress
Physical activity can help reduce stress levels and improve your quality of life!
Types of Exercise
Aerobic exercise involves continuous activity that increases the heart rate and breathing. Aerobic means, ‘with oxygen’ and refers to the use of oxygen in the body’s metabolic process. There are numerous benefits associated with aerobic exercise, perhaps most notably enhanced cardiovascular health. Types of aerobic exercise include:
– Walking, running, hiking, swimming, cycling, skating, skiing, rowing
– Playing soccer, hockey,
– Dancing, kickboxing, aerobic classes, and more
Anaerobic exercise involves short bursts of high intensity activity. Anaerobic means ‘without oxygen’ and refers to your body’s reliance on energy stored in the muscles instead of the lungs. This occurs when the body’s demand for oxygen exceeds the oxygen supply available. Because our bodies depend on oxygen, we can only exert this level of intensity for short periods of time. Examples of anaerobic exercise include:
– High intensity interval training
– Hill climbing
– Jumping rope
– Playing basketball, football, tennis, racquetball and baseball
– Calisthenics – ie. push-ups, crunches, dips, lunges, etc.
Flexibility exercises such as stretching improve the range of motion of muscles and joints. This type of exercise decreases risk of injury and gets blood flowing to key muscle groups. Stretching may also improve general movement and athletic performance. There are two basic categories of stretching:
– Static stretching – involves holding muscles and joints in one position for several seconds. For example, sitting with your legs straight out, reaching forward, and touching your toes for eight seconds is a static stretch.
– Dynamic stretching – involves moving muscles and joints through their full range of motion in repetition. Standing up and swinging one leg
Mind-body practices engage the whole person – mind, body, and sense of being. These exercises promote inner and outer reflection, awareness of the whole self, and awareness of one’s surroundings. They support recognition of the harmony between our physical fitness, cognitive health, and emotional wellbeing. Through mind-body fitness practices you can improve balance, posture, strength, flexibility, and general physical health while also enhancing memory, cognitive abilities, and mental, social, and emotional health. Examples of mind-body exercise practices include:
– Qi Gong
– Tai Chi
Don’t forget to stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water before and after exercising!
How much exercise should I get?
Experts tell us that the optimal amount of exercise per week is at least:
• 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise/75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise
• anaerobic exercise at least 2 days a week (no specific amount of time)
• daily stretching
• frequent mind-body exercise
Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day
Yoga as Exercise
There are numerous physical benefits associated with yoga as exercise specifically. Some benefits include:
• Increases flexibility
• Improves balance
• Builds muscle strength and tone
• Improves respiration
• Protects from injury
• Boosts energy
• Improves/prevents digestive problems
• Improves cardio and circulatory health
• Improves posture
• Enhances athletic performance
Why is a proper diet important?
• Sharpens the brain
• Fuels the body
• Can prevent illness
• Can reduce stress
• Can improve mood
• Keeps us healthy
Nutrition & Stress
Stress can inhibit healthy digestion and can worsen digestive diseases.
The brain and the digestive tract are more closely linked than you might think. In fact, some experts actually refer to the digestive system as a “mini brain”. The brain and gut communicate via a highway of nerves in which messages are sent in both directions – from brain to gut and from gut to brain. Stress can be communicated in different ways across this highway. For example, test anxiety can send a signal from the brain to the gut alerting it to release certain hormones and to respond in ways that can lead to heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, or other symptoms. Inversely, changes in the gut can affect mental health. Foods that are bad for the gut can cause us to become sluggish, distracted, and fatigued. Over time, a poor diet may not only cause us physical issues but can also lead to anxiety and depression and exacerbate other mental health concerns.
When we experience stress, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, and more energy is spent eliciting responses in certain parts of the body over others such as the digestive tract. As a result, we may experience:
Additionally, after a stressful period, our bodies may experience an increase in appetite and food cravings. This is one contributing reason why stress is associated with weight gain.
When we are relaxed, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated which relaxes the digestive system and promotes healthful digestion.
Food Groups for Stress Reduction
• Complex Carbohydrates & Whole Grains – boost energy and cause the brain to produce more serotonin, a hormone in our brain that relaxes us and makes us happy. Examples of healthy carbohydrates include:
– Squash, Brown rice, Whole wheat pasta, Quinoa, Kamut, Oats, Barley, Bulgur, Farro, Rye, Spelt
• Fruits & Vegetables – different fruits and veggies fight stress and sooth the central nervous system. Some of the best stress-fighting produce includes:
– Apples, Bananas, Melon, Berries, Celery, Spinach, Kale, Chard, Onions, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage
• Proteins- stress can actually make it difficult to digest protein rich foods. That said, proteins are still essential to our diet, and certain proteins including eggs, fish, and chicken are high in nutrients that can help stabilize mood. Some healthy proteins include:
– Beans, legumes, eggs, fish, nuts, poultry, meat
• Snacks – some snacks are good for reducing stress. It’s okay to snack during the day so long as you’ve chosen healthy snacks such as:
– Fruits & Veggies, Nuts, Fortified Cereal, Dark Chocolate
For students, talk to whoever does the food shopping in your home, and offer to help with healthy meal planning.
Important Vitamins & Minerals
• Vitamin B – Different B vitamins serve a variety of essential functions. They protect the nervous system, help convert food into energy, assist in the secretion of serotonin to calm our nerves, and fight chronic stress. Vitamin B is also excellent for memory and memory recall as it protects the brain’s neurons. These vitamins can promote positive mental health and can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Food sources: Green leafy vegetables, legumes, fruit, eggs, fish, poultry, bananas, carrots, spinach, peas, and potatoes.
• Vitamin C – When the body experiences stress, the immune system is put at risk. Vitamin C, which can be found in many fruits (especially citrus fruits) and vegetables, can strengthen the body’s immune system and prevent the harm associated with stress. A potent antioxidant vitamin, vitamin C is also linked to improved memory as it helps prevent damage and degeneration to the brain. Additionally, it increases serotonin which is a natural antidepressant.
Food sources: all citrus fruits, berries, pineapple, peppers, tomatoes, white and sweet potatoes, cruciferous vegetables, green leafy vegetables, winter squash
• Magnesium & Calcium – These minerals calm and nourish the nervous system, send messages to the brain, and help prevent and alleviate anxiety, nervousness, and irritability. Both minerals also aid in sleep. Magnesium can also enhance working memory, boost long-term memory formation, and improve learning. Calcium too plays an important role in the areas of the brain responsible for storing and retrieving memory.
Food Sources Mg: dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit, dark chocolate
Food Sources Ca: dark leafy greens, cheese, low fat milk and yogurt, bok choy, fortified tofu, okra, broccoli, green beans, almonds, and fish canned bony fish like anchovies or sardines.
• Iron – iron helps oxygen flow through our bodies. It allows B vitamins to act, it stimulates the immune system, and it enhances stamina throughout the day. Iron deficiency is not only linked with mind-body fatigue, but also poorer memory and cognitive skills, and reduced performance in school or work
Food Sources: meat, poultry, liver, seafood, beans, lentils, spinach
• Omega 3 – although Omega 3 is a fat and not a vitamin or mineral, it is an essential ingredient for both stress reduction and memory. Omega 3 improves mood and prevents mental health concerns such as depression. It also sharpens the mind and helps with concentration and learning.
Food Sources: oily fish, walnuts, avocado, anchovies, egg yolks, and seeds including flax, chia, and hemp.
Generally speaking, a well-balanced meal includes a plate of 50% vegetables and fruits, 25% protein, and 25% grains as well as a few cups of dairy a day.
Yoga and Nutrition
As a philosophy and way of life, yoga can help guide the nutritional choices we make day to day. Yoga encourages us to slow down and pay attention to what we’re doing including the foods we eat. Rather than choose our meals mindlessly, yoga reminds us to make intentional, healthy, and self-compassionate choices. It helps to recognize food as nourishment so that we feel more connected to the choices we make and more aware of the benefits that these nutrients can have on our minds and bodies. Eating is a sensorial experience. Through self-observation we should take the time to truly enjoy the food we eat and to pay attention to how it makes us feel.
As a physical exercise, yoga also has numerous benefits. Since yoga helps combat stress, it can alleviate the digestive ailments associated with stress. Yoga practice and certain poses in particular can help aid in digestion, reduce bloating, release toxins, and curb your appetite.
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is essential to health and wellbeing for numerous reasons. Some of the benefits of sleep include:
• Reduced stress levels
• Memory consolidation
• More focused attention
• Improved learning and grades
• Reduced mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
• Healthy organs, improved cardiovascular health
• Healthy, balanced hormones
• Regulated metabolism, healthy weight
• Healthy immune system
• Improved control of blood pressure
• Healthy growth and development
• Longer life
Chronic sleep deficiency is linked to several concerns including
– Increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and stroke
– Mental health concerns including mood difficulties, decreased patience, increased irritability, anger, and hostility, symptoms of depression
– Poor effects on memory, judgement, and reaction time
– General fatigue and premature aging
Sleep and Performance
When it comes to studying, staying up all night actually has the opposite effect on learning. Our brains need to sleep in order to consolidate information and to be able to recall what we’ve studied. Additionally, sleep helps reduce stress and keep you calm, focused, and better able to perform your best. If you have to choose between cramming all night and getting enough sleep, sleep is the way to go!
• Give yourself time to wind down before bed. Try listening to music or reading to help you decompress.
• Avoid bright lights before bed, keep your room dark.
• Put your phone away – not only will chatting with friends keep you awake before bed, but the bright light of the screen will too.
• Avoid large meals and avoid exercising at least 2 hours before bed.
• Caffeine is a stimulant; try to avoid having caffeinated beverages up to 6 hours before bed.
• Keep noise to a minimum.
• Don’t do work/homework in bed—leave work for your desk and your bed for sleeping.
• Keep your room temperature slightly cool – a cooler room allows for cooler body temperature which helps you to get a better night’s sleep.
Studies show that sleep deficiency harms your driving ability as much as, or more than, being drunk.
Yoga for sleep
Regular yoga practice can assist in improving sleep patterns by decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep, increasing the number of hours slept, and improving the overall feeling of restfulness in the morning. Yoga can also relieve stress and other issues associated with insomnia.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness involves paying attention on purpose, without judgement, and in the present moment to the unfolding of experiences. It may be considered a mental state of being, a personal trait, or a self-regulatory skill, and just like any other practice, your ability to be mindful can be strengthened over time.
The key to mindfulness is in focusing on one thing at a time. As you focus on that one thing, pay close attention to your senses and try not to dwell on the past or worry about the future. In that moment, be open to your experience and curious about your feelings. Observe your reaction, but don’t make assumptions about the experience itself or your feelings towards it. Through intentional inner focus, you can enhance your overall sense of awareness and your connection to yourself, to others, and to your surroundings.
The opposite of mindfulness is ‘mindlessness’. Most of us live day to day in a sort of mindless state. This is when our minds and bodies are on autopilot and we’re not necessarily aware of our feelings, actions, or behaviours. Our responses to situations, events, or people can often feel engrained. Mindfulness forces us to reconsider our ‘automatic’ selves and to open ourselves up to experiences in new ways.
Mindfulness practice can help you stay focused and relaxed. It can also enhance your creativity, self-awareness, and self-compassion. By engaging in mindfulness practices and employing mindful strategies, you can feel better able to stay cool under pressure and to perform your best.
Mindfulness practices involve directing one’s attention to a specific focus such as the breath, a sensation, a feeling such as loving-kindness, or another attentional “anchor.” Paying attention in this way can be tricky; it’s natural for the mind to wander. When a thought spontaneously arises, don’t judge yourself! Accept the lapse in attention, and redirect your focus back to the attentional anchor.
When practicing mindfulness meditation, it’s okay to feel distracted. Notice distracting thoughts when they enter your mind and don’t judge yourself for having them– just don’t invite them for dinner either!
Types of Mindfulness Practices
Meditation – Click here to learn about 4 Ways to Meditate
Yoga – a practice that involves breathing, meditation, and bodily postures
Tai chi – a type of martial art that has been considered a form of meditation in motion
Qi gong – an ancient Chinese health care system that integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention
Pilates – a system of exercises designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness
PMR – a relaxation technique in which you systematically tense and relax particular muscle groups in your body
Body Scanning – a systematic way to bring attention to the sensations that appear in your body
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness for Cognitive Health & Learning:
– Mindfulness can restructure the circuitry of the brain and patterns of brain activity.
– It can allow the brain to shift from top down processing where the brain uses past experiences and future expectations to create meaning to bottom-up processing where present awareness of sensations, thoughts, and feelings guides responses and creates new neurons and neural connections.
– Over time, practices can result in the thickening of cerebral cortical structures of the brain which enable learning and memory development.
– Increases in grey matter density may also be seen in the hippocampus, an area of the brain considered central to learning and memory, as well as structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection, working memory, processing sensory input, executive function, self-reflection, empathy, and affective regulation.
– Mindfulness can also reduce the density of areas of the brain associated with anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness for Stress Reduction & Positive Mental Health
– Awareness of the body helps inhibit the body’s sympathetic response to stress and keep the mind and body calm, relaxed, and ready to manage the situation.
– Practice can enhance one’s ability to cope with stressors and manage stress-related incidents while enhancing overall resilience.
– It can open creative pathways for dealing with circumstances rather than reacting in engrained, negative ways.
– For those chronically exposed to stress, mindfulness can enhance self-regulation by providing youth with skills to reduce stress and disengage from persistent or troubling thoughts
– It can help prevent rumination – over-analyzing one’s thoughts and emotions or dwelling on a situation or event – as well as emotional arousal and intrusive thoughts.
– Certain practices can help individuals cope with physical pain and illness
– Mindfulness is an effective mechanism for protecting and serving as a buffer for mental health issues. It can reduce anxiety, depression, substance use, and psychological distress.
– When practiced at a young age, mindfulness can reduce the likelihood of mental health concerns from arising later in life.
– When considering mental health concerns, mindfulness encourages that such concerns be addressed positively with an emphasis on health and wellbeing rather than a focus on illness and problems.
– Enhance mood
In addition to all the personal benefits, mindfulness can nurture compassion, empathy and connection among individuals.
Yoga as a mindfulness practice
Yoga is an example of a physical mindful practice. It engages both mind and body, and encourages focus and close attention to the self in the present moment. With each pose, yoga encourages you to be fully aware of your body and to avoid inviting distractions into your practice. You are asked not to judge yourself or to compare yourself to others, but to accept yourself and to feel a sense of balance, stability, and inner peace.