It's that time. There is no turning back. You are four months in and you knew final exams were "a thing". You just didn't know how much of a "thing" they were.
College kids are in the throws of Fall break, enjoying a small frame of time to take a mental break and regroup. The real work begins once back on campus. Between now and the first part of December, students (especially freshmen) will face overwhelming responsibilities, academic pressures, and daily tasks that bring on stress and high anxiety.
One way to reduce academic stress and to get ready for final exams is to mind map each class, starting as soon as you get back to campus. Use the maps to plan for and guide you to the end of the semester.
Mind mapping is a highly effective strategy to organize information. It is a technique that is used in the corporate world, industry, education, therapy, and many other fields. Mind mapping lets information get in and out of your brain for the better cause of planning, organizing, or goal setting. It is a way to visualize, plan, create small steps and remember ideas. The hierarchical relationship between the main ideas and secondary ideas is accentuated in a diagram that resembles a spider. The flow of the process starts from the center where a central theme, idea, or concept is identified and recorded (the belly of the spider). Radiating from this main idea (or college class for purposes of this publication) outward in the form of "legs" or branches, are secondary ideas or concepts that are specifically detailed. The process allows for random information to be logically connected in an order of importance or association, or as a means to plan.
If you were going to create a mind map for Geology 101, you would place the name of the class in the center (body of the spider) and draw at least four legs extending from that body, each leg representing a key word or concept related to the center idea (class). Try to use single key words to make the flow of the chart easy and memorable. For instance, on one leg you want to write "quiz Nov.4". On another you may want to include "group project due Nov.20".
From each of these four main legs, draw three "veins" with even more specific details like "study chapters 9-11, or work on Power Point. These will be your specific tasks. Keep branching off of the main four spider legs with as many vein systems as you need to get down all important and related information and actionable steps for completing Geology 101 assignments by exam time.
Mind mapping is not only fun and powerful, but it is a way for you to use both sides of the brain integrating the words, logic and lists of the left brain and the color, imagination, and the seeing the whole picture of the right side of the brain.
There are computer programs, apps, trainings, Ted talks, You Tube videos, and various other ways to teach you to mind map, but simple paper and color utensils will do the trick. Google how to create a mind map and practice over Fall break. You will be head back to campus feeling prepared and clear on how you will spend your mental energies between now and December.
10/11/2018 0 Comments
"I'm doing okay" are my favorite words. One might think something along the lines of "I'm doing AMAZING" would make me happier as a professional stress and anxiety management coach, but "doing okay" are the sweetest words I could hear. Let me explain...
Anxiety is a life long struggle. Some call it a condition. Some say it is a disorder. I say it is a state of being. It is state that is on a continuum, some days on the high side, some of the low depending on how the symptoms register in us at any particular time, but anxiety is always there. It is almost as if it has a dormant state and an active state and how or when or why it gets activated is sometimes known and sometimes a mystery.
Take for instance panic attacks. Some people describe feeling different all of a sudden before the panic sets it. They can tell you that they are about to have full blown panic. Others only feel the bodily response to the anxiety when it comes on without noticeable warning. A thought, a perception, or even an old experience that lies within our subconscious minds can present to us at any time as a threat. It can be fear, the need to protect, or a memory. We have no choice but to respond to that perceived threat, and out of nowhere, our bodies become flooded with stress hormones that make us feel panicked.
When one has true anxiety, they know the good days and the bad days. Some even know moment to moment when "it" will strike. Most remember about when anxiety registered with them and how their bodies react. And there are those who are still trying to piece it all together.
So, hearing that a client is "doing okay" sounds like a counterproductive response when in actuality it is reasonable response for someone who has a condition that needs managing, not curing. Anxiety is not curable. It can be controlled to a certain degree, but it is definitely managed with certain attained skills, strategies, and tools. This is why "okay" is actually a good thing.
When I end contracted sessions with a client, we part ways. Clients have tools and strategies to use for their anxiety ridden moments and they have some knowledge about how they personally live day to day with its effects. Once they are out of professional coaching, the real work begins. The majority of the time, this is when that magical lightbulb goes off that they have to put in the work and manage their states of being.
Just this week I checked up on several post coaching clients. One in particular stated that they have been "doing okay" and that they were working on ___. Music to my ears! Why? Because anxiety doesn't leave (usually). Just like a chronic health condition, anxiety is managed. It is that dose of insulin. It is that exercise and diet for heart disease. And, it is just like having a best friend that never leaves you, through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Anxiety takes up residence.
Checking up on former clients for progress, maintenance, and slides backwards is a part of this whole process. I check up while the client checks in - on themselves - every minute of every day. It sounds like a difficult life to live, but anxiety is difficult. It far too often becomes deeply rooted in who we are as a person. It can in essence define who we are and who we become. Checking in with yourself is the most beneficial way to own and grapple with your anxiety.
Here are some ways you can do this:
Make anxiety your own by strengthening self-regulatory skills, designing the best calming and grounding techniques for you, and by avoiding triggers. Check in with your mental flexibility, your resilience, and your ability to refocus your thoughts. Adopt stress management strategies that are effective for you, build on your social and emotional skills, and constantly monitor unreasonable thoughts about the need to be perfect. Focus on the things that make you tick and do these things more often. Check in with how you compare yourself to the world in which you live. Water that one tree (you) in that huge proverbial forest (your environment). Nurture it for growth and expansion.
And finally, accept that you have a new best friend in anxiety. You will be "okay" and okay is good. Check in, but never check out.
Even as adults we may not be the best of planners. We may wait a day too late to pay a bill or have our kids screaming that they have no food before we drive to the grocery store. We can't all be on top of things at all times. Procrastination is a part of life.
Procrastination, however, can be chronic. It is a learned habit with counterproductive behaviors and somewhat painful natural consequences.
Our students struggle with procrastination a little more than we do because they do not fully internalize that the "clean up and recovery" efforts from waiting, excusing, and blaming are more painful than just following through with a task at a constant pace. Those natural consequences of procrastination at a younger age do not involve something as severe as losing a job or losing a home. So, the pattern continues, despite something like failing a course.
Procrastination for teens can be the beginning to an end. It has the power to undermine an entire college experience. Some research proves that as much as 60% of college students claim procrastination is their most pressing problem. It may be the sole reason that 31 million people in our country who start college never finish.
Overcoming procrastination is essentially learning a new skill. It is the skill of self-mastery which means you have to teach your brain new ways of doing things so that "doing things now" becomes routine and automatic.
Here are 10 ways that you can teach yourself to "un-procrastinate":
There are various published tools and resources that you can use as a guide to lessen procrastination. Your success depends on your commitment and your discipline. It is not possible to snap your fingers and poof!, suddenly be procrastination-free. This is about dedicating yourself to sustainable change and constant focus. Academic probation or repeating a class is not as fun as being able to binge on Netflix because you've earned this reward. Work hard (first). Play hard (secondly). (Knaus, Overcoming Procrastination for Teens, 2016).
I can remember lying on the ground when I was a little girl and making shapes out of the clouds. Sometimes the rabbit would morph into a teacup, depending on how quickly they floated by. The puffy whites and cotton candy skies were always a favorite.
Some would say I had not a care in the world, and I probably didn’t. The clock ticked as usual, my bills were being paid, and dinner would be on the table at some point that evening.
I could take a break from trampoline jumping, bike riding or watching Gilligan’s Island and just lay in the grass and imagine what world those clouds were a part of. Sometimes I would even look past the clouds at “heaven” and wonder what was going up there. Was Jesus giving a speech? Was everything truly white and joyful?
My brain was creating space. It was slightly working to be inventive and imaginative, but for the most part my mind was in the moment, present, and my body didn’t feel the need to keep up. Feeling like mental Jell-O, I had no worries. A state of ultimate relaxation, simply just “being”. In touch with no one and nothing other than my breathing.
A new age of information. A new age of technology. New illnesses. Relationships. Experiences, memories, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, expectations. My brain, like many of yours is tired. It gets stressed. I get anxious. I worry. I overthink. I ruminate. Perhaps it goes along with being a parent or perhaps it’s just what we do because we don’t allow ourselves to look at clouds anymore.
I came across this saying by Osho recently that made me want to dash to the nearest shade tree and plop on my back:
"Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars…and if you
have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful…Look at the flowers
---for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are.”
Tell me THIS won’t take your mental state back to one of “just being”.
All we have to do sometimes is allow ourselves to do nothing. To be nothing. To owe no one a thing. To merely make friends with the happy flowers.
To just be in touch with that other imaginative world out there - the world of puffy whites and hues of blues and gray. The world of no electronics, no people, no noise, no expectations, and no worries.
There is nothing stopping us from creating the habit of doing nothing. There is no one telling us to feel guilty for just being. Mindful moments are cathartic. They are healing. They give us power and encourage us to feel complete and present. We just need to allow them.
Anxiety struggles to exist when we are attentive to the here and now.
So practice....be alone with yourself. Drop the “shoulds, woulds, and oughts”. Connect to who you are at your core. No judging, no stresses, no pressures. Practice being a little girl (or boy) and watch the clouds float by. What shapes do you see? Take in the smells. Listen to the sounds. Touch the grass.
And remember, you always have permission to.... "just be".
8/9/2018 0 Comments
1. We’re all in this together:
Remember you are surrounded by peers who are in your same position. You are all new to this. This life transition is not unique to you. Everyone shares your same excitement and fears. Everyone will adjust to college living differently. Remember that everyone has a different personality and you will not mesh with each individual. Just do you but be welcoming to others.
2. A smile goes a long way:
Extend yourself beyond your comfort zone. Smile. If you see someone sitting alone in the dining hall (“caf”), sit close to them. Start with making eye contact and simply ask how their semester is going. Do not bury your head in your cellular devices while on campus. Open your eyes and ears to what is around you. Engage. Ask questions. Ask about dorm living. Ask about classes. Ask about summer. Making new friends takes effort and stepping beyond what feels comfortable. Nine times out of ten, you will be received positively. That tenth one? Let it be.
3. Get it together now:
Get organized and develop a routine right away. Decide which method you will respond best to when it comes to prioritizing and planning your studies and activities. Do not get fooled by all of your extra time. Time in college has to be managed. It is not the same as in high school because college requires you to be productive with your time. Waiting to study will come back to haunt you. You should spend 2 hours studying or reviewing for every one hour class. It is wise to switch subjects every two hours while studying. Quickly decide how and where you best study and stick with this method (group versus alone, isolated or high traffic). Choose your most effective study space. Make use of cubicles if easily distracted. Avoid distractions and time wasters. Procrastination is your enemy. Study when you are most alert and rested. Put cell phones on airplane mode. Take deep breathing breaks every hours to refresh the brain and body.
4. Just something you gotta do:
Reach out to professors, advisors, and TAs immediately. Go to their office hours and introduce yourself. Invite a classmate to go with you – a buddy system. Make yourself known, especially at a large university. Being visible and available is a great way to meet people. Make good use of the library and other campus spaces. Make good use of managing time in between classes.
5. Listen to your parents:
You’ve heard it a million times. Keep close tabs on sleep, diet, and wasted time. Don’t let these important wellness aspects fall to the wayside. Too many things can happen. Research shows that teens spend something like 4-6 hours a day on their cell phones, playing video games and watching TV. You should be getting 8 hours of sleep a night. Naps can interfere with night sleep but may be necessary. Diet is always your backbone to health. Pay close attention to your health and happiness.
6. Don’t wait to be found:
Make yourself known on your hallway, in your dorm. Go room to room and introduce yourself even if it scares you. Keep your dorm door open. Make the effort to do something fun, silly and engaging for your hall mates (movie night, art in the common space, Frisbee hour, coffee in the room). Acquaintances and friendships will be your support for the next year. Reach out. Find others who have similar class schedules and invite them to eat with you. Keep the bond.
BONUS TIP: Make sure you self-regulate. This means be able to read your mind and body and being able to adjust, change, and adapt to what is happening in and around you. When you feel overwhelmed, act. Seek help. Talk to someone - anyone. Chose a decompression activity. Put everything down and walk outside. Go to the wellness center. Ask someone to get a smoothie. When you feel sad, make a plan to work through the emotion. When you experience anxiety, engage your logical brain by telling yourself what you’re thinking and feeling is most likely not true. Do not engage in anxious thoughts. Celebrate small wins. Smile. Be patient. It will all be okay. You are right where you need to be.
The summer college preparation check list is all marked. Sheets, towels, and shower caddies are in the process of getting packed. Meal plans have been decided. Orientation has been attended. And, class schedules are in place. Parents have just a few weeks to finish setting up their freshman not only for comfort, but for individual success.
Whether it is your first or last child to send to college, the thought has crossed your mind at least once, “if my child is happy at school, then I’m happy.” This is why so much energy is spent on preparing and purchasing things- things that will make your student feel at home as they navigate their new life.
There is perhaps one thing that still needs attention that parents cannot buy, but it will provide comfort and secure individual success more than anything you have checked off your list thus far.
Creating a self-care routine and healthy habits will build the foundation for individual success in college both now and later. There are many components to self- care.
Emotional health, physical health, spiritual health, and mental health are all important for living a balanced and productive life while away from home. Learning to take control of and nurture all of the components can be overwhelming. Up to this point in time, most kids have not had be the executor of their own lives. Parents, teachers, and mentors have helped make decisions about time management, sleep, diet and nutrition, social and peer pressures and academics. Successfully caring for yourself is the greatest personal insurance for both a successful transition from high school and for future life adjustments.
Mental health is potentially one of the most concerning aspect of sending your child to college. The latest statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health state that approximately 31.9% of teens have diagnosed anxiety and seemingly even more have been diagnosed with depression. So parents are paying attention.
In order for college freshmen to adjust to living alone, making independent decisions, and learning resiliency in life, they will need to prioritize and enforce a self-care ritual with a focus on emotional and mental wellness. This involves first of all, mentally creating a grounded foundation in knowing who they are as a person and what they value in life. This is also called having a “core sense of self”. It is knowing what drives you, what bring you joy, what you will and won’t tolerate or compromise and essentially what allows you to walk each day with your head held high and your eyes and mind set on yourself and the world around you.
Secondly, in college terms “caring for yourself” translates to tending to sleep, exercise, diet, and how best to spend your time. These are all common sense approaches to insuring optimal wellness. Five years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics were beginning to notice signs of social media interference with child and teen development. In October 2013 the AAP reported that teenagers were
spending more than eleven hours on social media. Naturally this effects sleep and The National Sleep Foundation agrees this is a problem with reports of only 15% of teenagers sleeping over eight hours on school nights. This is evidence that not all teens know how to self-regulate by the time they leave for fall semester.
The importance of attending to self-care is one of the things parents can still discuss in the next few weeks. Highlight the mind- body-stress connection so as to prevent poor self-care habits that can contribute to stress and anxiety.
Managing stress is managing life. This is a skill that has to be learned quickly upon entering college if not before. We are not born with this skill set many have not been taught how to self-regulate emotions that register as worry and anxiety. Sure, the easy skills like laundry, money management and time management are important, but most crucial is learning how to recognize three key components of stress: What things trigger feelings of stress (thoughts, events, people, situations, lack of sleep)? How does stress register in your body and mind (physical, overthinking, isolating from friends, moods, overeating)? What methods of stress relief and management will you practice?
Parents can play a key role in preparing their freshman for mental and emotional health in the next thirty days. Prompt discussions. Teach awareness of how stress can show up in the body. Role play how to manage bothersome symptoms.
Use these 8 guidelines to secure a firm mental health and wellness foundation before campus drop off.
1. Talk about time wasters (social media, video games). 2. Talk about sleep and nutrition deficiencies. 3. Discuss planning ahead and organizing. 4. Roleplay peer pressures situations. This includes how to meet new people. 5. Highlight the importance of being involved. 6. Set into place ways to decompress. 7. Decide if you best study in groups or alone. 8. Secure professional help if needed.
When we hear the words stress, worry and anxiety we tend to picture sleepless nights, shakiness, shortness of breath, and the inability to think clearly. Indeed these symptoms and others are prominent in all three states of emotional distress, making it confusing to describe both our feelings and the extent of impact. It turns out that there are differences between stress, worry and anxiety and professionals agree that while everyone responds differently to life's challenges, it is how we react to stressful events, triggers, and situations that determine the level of discomfort and disruption we experience in our minds and bodies. Let's start with stress.
Stress is the body's reaction to some sort of perceived threat. It is a physical response to a usually harmless situation. Stress can be thought of as our body's built-in alarm system that temporarily protects us. Does this mean that stress is automatically full blown diagnosable anxiety? No. In fact, most of the time stress is short-lived and is a short-term response to remove us from "danger". When the event causing the stress disappears, so do the feelings of angst. Keep in mind that stress can also be eustress where it acts as a catalyst for motivation and productivity.
Prolonged stress, such as a difficult divorce or emotional abuse, however, can lead to extreme emotional and mental exhaustion and diagnosed anxiety. Stress that goes unattended contributes to the anxiety that causes 60 % of human illness and disease and plagues over 40 million Americans 18 and older (as reported by the American Institute of Stress).
Worry is also a form of protection. It has been around for as long as the human brain. The brain is designed to detect threats when we feel unsafe, scared, or in danger. In fact, a little worry is good. It keeps us from getting hit by a car when we are riding our bicycles on a freeway. Excessive worry is not good as it interferes with our daily lives.
Both stress and worry can mimic true anxiety in terms of symptoms.
Clearly stress responses to daily pressures and obstacles and worry involve irrational and illogical thoughts, making anxiety a reality if not managed properly. Being able to visualize what occurs in the brain when our response to a perceived threat sets off our internal stress alarm can help us minimize our reactions to stress provoking events and situations.
It is said that the brain's limbic system (thinking center) is fully activated upon perceiving immediate danger or worry. This puts the frontal lobe (the "new brain"- the one in charge of logic, reason, creative thinking, language, problem-solving, and compassion) - on pause. Be mindful that sometimes a simple thought can trigger this response because the new brain is sensitive to stress.
When the frontal lobe is not functioning properly and on pause, we react irrationally, illogically, with emotion, and without reason. When we can't "fix" these brain activations that we can sustain true, long-lasting anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the most severe form of angst and has to be diagnosed by a professional. GAD is a long-standing state of being. Yes, it can be triggered by stress. The main difference from stress is that anxiety does not tend to leave once the precipitating trigger or event dissipates.
For someone who suffers with GAD, the act of worrying is not typically in short doses. GAD sufferers worry about an array of things for most of their day, some to the point of being unable to carry out daily activities. True anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically paralyzing.
It all begins when our ears, eyes, noses, and other senses pick up on something potentially dangerous or harmful. The senses send the information to a tiny part in the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala runs the "fight or flight" response and is in control of our emotions, behaviors, and our self-soothing systems. The amygdala is responsible for our survival and safety, but it also does something else.
The amygdala takes this information, interprets it's meaning, and sends an alerting message to other parts of the brain that control the nervous systems. Neurons start firing and messaging and neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and adrenalin tell our bodies to be on alert. In turn our bodies presenting increased heart rate, shallow breathing, tightness in the chest, sweaty palms, and even panic. Hormones like cortisol are also released to increase our sugar production for quick energy.
This process is all in efforts to survive!
What does this all mean?
Besides there being a difference between stress, worry and anxiety, it means that because we are human and have a brain, we are complicated. Secondly, it means that we are normal because we DO experience anxious feelings. And, it also means that some of us experience stress and worry at a higher degree, and more than just occasionally, making our lives more challenging.
If you are one of the 6.8 million Americans who are affected by GAD, you have unrealistic fears, you don't sleep well, you persistently worry, overthink, panic, or have phobias. Anxieties in these form have taken on a life of their own and affect everything one does, says and feels. This is not stress. This is not worry. This is anxiety in its finest form operating as an internal and external cycle of fear and discomfort.
Despite our individual brains chemistries, genetic predispositions, and environmental experiences, what we do with uncomfortable feelings and thoughts is what matters. How we manage the symptoms and control the degree of interference will determine how persistent stress, worry and anxiety becomes.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.