Consider these ideas to help alleviate the negative impact of stress:
1. Embrace the idea that stress is normal. Get comfortable with it being a part of daily life.
2. Visualize life in its enormity. College is only four years. It is a microcosm of your existence.
3. Know that stress is different from anxiety and anxiety disorders.
4. Start to understand and befriend the thoughts you have during moments of anxiety. No need to run from them. They are normal.
5. Breathe. Oxygen is the best calming agent for our bodies when anxious.
6. Find an action that satisfies the feelings of “flight”. Some people wiggle change in their pockets. Some keep a soft tissue in their reach to rub. Any soothing action can bring calm to most situations.
7. Find that place on campus you can go and collect the chaos in your mind.
8. Convince yourself that any risk you take to pull your mind out of the tumbling thoughts will bring reward. Keep the mind occupied. Remember that good stress is motivation.
9. Interrupt negative thinking processes with a visual, a mind’s eye of calm - may be a nature scene, a memory of security, a family picture.
10. Do a body scan to release tension from where it resides. Stretch it out.
11. If you are not good at multi-tasking, then STOP trying. Practice planning and accomplishing one small goal at a time.
12. Find nature. Green slows down your mind.
13. Seek support through friends, professors, wellness centers, groups, classmates, or a pastor.
14. Volunteer! Studies show that helping others occupies an anxious mind.
15. Smile when you pass other students on campus. On the days you cannot seems to muster a smile, force it!
16. Join one group at a time on campus. Gradually add another activity when you know you can handle your current obligations.
17. Pay close attention to sleep, eating, and exercising. We simply can’t exist without tending to these three important components of wellness.
18. Call someone on the phone. Hear a voice of compassion.
19. Sit on a bench, watch others. Converse with them. They will NOT think you are strange. Secretly, they want a friend, too.
20. Repeat number 2.
Last school year, I polled a small group of college students about what made them feel the most stressed in college. Mostly juniors, their answers varied but were all specifically related to not having enough time to do everything required of them. Unalarmed by their answer, I wanted to know more. Why did these students not elaborate with reports of disparaging feelings of overwhelm, doom, or stress? Did they know what stress looked like on themselves?
It turns out these kids are not only academically involved, but heavily socially involved through teams, Greek life, study groups, clubs, and volunteering. As if fifteen or eighteen credit hours is not enough, you would expect these college students to express feelings of overload and burnout, and to be concerned about their mental health and overall wellbeing, but a certain observation lead me to understand why these students did not allow stress to register as overwhelm or anxiety.
To them, stress was an integral part of their existence. It was analogous to being a college student. They accepted the possibility that stress was present and they tolerated its existence. They formed a vision of stress and all of its glory, and used this visual to help them regulate the negative impact of stress. This was more than a forced positive attitude about stress. This was tapping into their mental and emotional resources to cope. They became familiar with how stress felt on them, how it looked on them, and how to wear it successfully by staying busy, committing, and forming meaning relationships.
Even more remarkable? Not one of the ten students was willing to scale back on obligations despite sometimes feeling overwhelmed. They could not visualize their lives differently. They existed in this kind of whirlwind where stress became the energy behind the spin (eustress). Did they mention some healthy and not so healthy ways in which they de-stressed? Of course. Did they look sleep deprived? Yes. Were they craving a home cooked meal because they were tired of fast food? You bet, but these college students seemed inherently calm when talking about missing a deadline, accomplishing less than expected, and having to say “no”. They seemed to be masters at planning ahead, communicating needs, asking for support, and adapting. They had no issue with asking for extensions, payment plans, and even alternative options to attending a meeting or a class. They met with professors, arranged coffee with a friend, and even skipped meetings when needing to collect themselves mentally. They displayed very little fear of over involvement, failure, burnout, or even success. It was apparent that being involved proved to be the most effective stress management.
Aside from this (maybe) unusual group, every college student perceives stress and overwhelm differently. While academic pressures impact one student, another student feels isolated by social and emotional stressors. Finances worry certain students while fear of failure halts others. In addition, there are many factors that play in to how well a person senses, responds and maneuvers through stress. Personality, genetics, life experiences, and practice all determine how well one copes with stress or succumbs to its negative effects. Some people have to learn the skill of managing stress, while others have the inherent ability.
There are just as many students who walk through each day on campus emotionally fragile, inexperienced, and heavily impacted by life’s stressors. Not having enough time to do everything leaves them feeling exhausted, impaired with anxiety, and unable to push forward. There is no internal regulation device and there is minimal emotional and mental resources to cope. With these students, accepting stress as normal is as difficult as asking for help, seeking professional guidance, or using available resources. Daily stressors become most challenging and often paralyzing. The unfortunate result of not being unable to regulate stress appropriately is that the stress can turn into anxiety, two very different things. To be clear, anxiety means:
· sleeping through classes
· skipping meals
· lacking proper personal hygiene
· experiencing panic
· using substances and food to self-soothe
· experiencing sleep disturbances that affect mood and performance.
As anxiety manifests differently in everyone, it prevents the movement and motion needed to get through four years of college.
During true anxiety, the prefrontal cortex is put on hold while the emotional brain dominates, so logical thinking is halted. Negative, irrational thoughts prevent the needed action to persevere. If you are unable to break this thinking with “mind training” exercises, your physical and emotional feelings surface and can become unmanageable. For some, simply surviving a day presents a real challenge because every sensation registers as a threat - “the stress response is hardwired into our nervous system as a protective mechanism devised to enact the Flight or Fight reaction to threats.” Once that false alarm is set off, chemicals begin to flow and thinking becomes skewed. The body is simply responding to the mind. (Jain, Renee. “5 Things You Should Never Say to an Anxious Child.” GoZen!, GoZen.com, 1 Aug. 2017, www.gozen.com/5-things-you-should-never-say-to-an-anxious-child/.)
From this discussion with college students, it was obvious that the ability to accept stress as a normal part of college life helps manage and regulate the impact of it. The students who are better at handling demands of daily life had the foresight to not only expect stress, but to weave it into their psyche. If there were negative thought processes these students were able to interrupt them and channel their energies into actions: participating, volunteering, exercising, socializing, and persevering.
This is insightful knowledge that college kids need to know. Being emotionally and mentally ready to accept stress as normal, eliminating the fears and being prepared to protect one’s self from stresses’ negative influences will determine if stress makes or breaks a person.
Consider these tips for managing college stress:
One of the things I life the most is straight talk. I wish I had no filter sometimes and sometimes, I wish I would use the filter I do have, a little more.
I created a little fun meme-like wall for posts to use on various social media sites, mainly to invoke self-fulfilling thought, to instill humor, and to provoke change. So often we are scared to think. We are afraid to be silly. And, we have no idea how to handle change.
Check it out on Instagram: carolina_coaching.
Here's "writing on the wall."
I was streamlining some areas of the business today and found myself mainly reading over old articles and notes from coaching school. It is always good to look back as you plan for the future, I suppose.
I came across this quote about wellness and thought about how critical it's meaning is when it comes to putting in to practice caring for ourselves:
"Our lifeline is in paying attention to our doing and our being; the artistry is in maintaining the balance."
There are so many areas in our lives that are interconnected and we don't acknowledge this. For instance, caring for our emotional needs helps our physical needs. Nurturing our physical needs helps our mental state. Reaching deeply into our souls (spiritual and other) fulfills us with the type of energy needed to heal other hurting areas in life (relationships, jobs, stress).
When we truly care for the self, we sustain our health and our wellness on a level that carves out a balance. BALANCE. We may feel depleted in the support we get from family. This may increase our stress and anxiety enough for us to ignore our physical needs. It may cause us to eat poorly and to skip out of social function. By tending to the things that mold who we are and that keep us well, we create a self that betters resists stress, connects successfully with others, and that feels inner strength beyond measure.
So this quote..."paying attention to our doing and our being", speaks wellness to me unlike any book, author, or doctor. The benefits we gain from learning and feeling the connection between mind/body/soul are unlimited. Therefore, our attention to this connection will be our long-term reminder to nurture every part of our existence, every day.
I know several people who have joined Weight Watchers this week alone. I really stand behind WW's philosophy. Their premise is "A healthy body results from a healthy lifestyle." They also make you 100% accountable for the change you desire. THIS, THIS, THIS is why WW works! They give you knowledge and tools, but real change occurs with YOUR efforts.
ANY lifestyle change (relationship, career, nutrition, making time for yourself, exercise) comes about and is successful ONLY when you put forth effort, commit, and persevere. Here's the kicker: in effort to change, you will experience PAIN, uncomfortable FEELINGS and EMOTIONS, and the desire to RUN.
Do you typically FIGHT or FLIGHT when things get hard and threaten your homeostasis, your comfort zone?
If you tend to run every time pain surfaces and pulls you back in to the very thing you want to change, how will you stay and fight for your cause, your true desire, and your goals?
Challenging the pull to retreat and hide from the pain associated with new changes is difficult, for sure. This may mean no drinks with your best friend this weekend. This many mean putting off family members because you need to retreat and regroup. This may mean saying NO to shopping and YES to walking. This many mean setting out breakfast for everyone else so you can sleep and extra 30 minutes. This many mean tweaking the usual Sunday lunch menu (habit) and trying a new recipe that is healthier.
The point is change requires effort! It requires planning. It requires thinking about what you want at all times so the brain gets used to a new way of thinking. Our brains don't like change. The brain likes to sit back and operate on auto pilot, using the least amount of energy possible. So any time we change how we think, our actions, or what new information we put into our brains, our brains have to actually WORK so that new habits are formed and old habits become obsolete. This is neuroscience at its finest, but the idea is to repeat new behaviors, practice new thoughts and behaviors every day, and persevere.
Make yourself consciously aware of new habits, behaviors and ways of thinking. Write post-its. Stick them everywhere, even in your car. Talk about it to those you are around. Have the courage to say NO to temptations. Ask for support. You are molding change. It takes time.
Ten Ways to Step Out of the Spin and Enter Zero Time Zone
Our minds are never still. We race our bodies to get from one demand to the other. Subconsciously, we allow our surroundings to influence our thoughts and actions. We do not take time to just “be”. Our worlds are so caught up in the spin that chaos and craze is the norm. Overload, stress, and anxiety, without us even knowing, becomes our existence.
An appropriate visual analogy is the old-fashioned wooden top spinning out of control. This motion is comparable to our minds and bodies, when affected by life’s demands, priorities, expectations, and commitment (don’t forget the lists, appointments, and obligations). The endless opportunities for distraction, most of which we can’t even identify, collectively keep us from entering a place we can call zero time zone- a space in time to connect with and ground ourselves. It is the base camp of sorts for our inner peace, contentment, and true relaxation, where we do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. We are just there, breathing and existing. We consciously ignore our environments full of opportunities, and we just decompress. We unwind, unload and release ourselves from the “spin”. When is that last time you woke up and realized you had to entire day to do nothing? Did you consciously ignore opportunities for distraction? Were you able to join the zero time zone even for just an hour?
We push and pull, give and take, without knowing that we are choosing this lifestyle. We chose to participate in the race that has no finish line or in the spin effect that becomes dizzying. Or, once we are in it, we have no knowledge of how to exit. So, in order to enter the time zone where we allow zero influence on our minds and behaviors, we have to concentrate on choice. We have to consciously choose to step out of the spin of life. We have to know we have options, and we have to keep familiar mind-driving thoughts from leading our actions:
“How is this going to feel? I’m terrified to say “no” to my boss.”
“I can’t stop now. I have not checked off every item on my “to do” list.”
“What will they think if I can’t make the deadline? I am letting them down.”
“My workout can wait. There is always tomorrow.”
Daily thoughts such as these are not only easy to believe, but they keep us focused more on how we are perceived by others than how we perceive ourselves. So choice is key. By choosing to center our thinking and to stop self-sabotaging thoughts, we are exiting internal and external chaos and gaining perspective on balance.
Having a personal centering routine is critical for juggling life’s demands. Some of us have a morning routine that we use to help achieve daily balance. Some of us meditate, deeply breathe, or journal. Some of us rely on our night time recap of the day to bring us closure and contentment. Here are some other suggestions for entering the zero time zone:
1. Give each day a personal purpose. “Today I will _____.” Will you be kind to your body? Will you say “no” to another obligation? Will you intentionally spend time with your spouse?
2. Chose a small amount of time to do nothing. Find a bench and sit up straight. Take in the smells and sounds. Pay attention to how your body feels. Do not allow thoughts to swirl in your head. Just be.
3. Be aware of the mind’s tricks. Don’t believe the thoughts that tell you to keep pushing. They are not reality.
4. Become friends with your physical and emotional limits. No longer ignore them. Put sleep, proper nutrition or spirituality first. Prioritize the components in life that make you feel truly balanced.
5. Learn how to calm your mind. Have gentle conversations with it and disallow its power of immediacy.
6. Ignore pressures and needs especially ones that pull you toward proving your self-worth: the pressure to perform, the pressure to belong, the desire to compete, and the need to be approved of. The reality is that no one has your best interest in mind except for yourself.
7. Develop a centered point of reference to visit when overloaded. This place should be your ultimate feel of rest.
8. Practice being alone, noting how you feel with just yourself. Then demand it and make it a daily occurrence.
9. Pay attention to deep breathing. It is needed for overall wellbeing.
10. Remind yourself that you are in charge of you.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.