1/17/2018 0 Comments
Second Semester Survival Kit - How To Help Students Balance College Life
12/20/2017 0 Comments
So, you made it. The last scan tron is bubbled in. The last paragraph is written. The last "submit" button has been pushed. You are officially on break. Holiday cheer, sleeping in, and a few new gifts are among the things you have been looking forward to since final exam preparations began. The only problem is that the stress is lingering, your brain still hurts and you feel blah! You can barely put one foot in front of the other. You are dizzy from hours of studying, and those visions of sugar plum fairies you had dancing in your head several weeks ago have turned into dust. What you feel does not match the expected emotions of relief, excitement, and eagerness to be home.
You've spent the first few days at home worrying about grades. Your GPA is lower than you wanted. Your parents are still placing expectations on you and your friends The ones you thought would be there for you? They have disappeared. Throw in the mix relationship issues, financial worries, and...grades...again.
Life during "break" is not at all what you pictured. The spirit of the holidays is hard to find. You are finding it difficult to shake the Grinch -i- ness and the stress you've been holding for the last fourteen days. You are supposed to be in a jolly mood (because 'tis the season) and catching up with old friends, baking gingerbread cookies, and watching holiday movies. Instead you find your stress meter is far beyond a ten.
This is because the stress of college has created an imbalance in your mind and body. You are disillusioned, exhausted, and ready to sleep for days. You need a break, your brain needs a break, and your heart needs to be kissed under the mistletoe. You need some time to decompress and de-stress. Your mind and body have to align themselves as you begin several weeks of important self-care. It may be time to switch the "on" button to "off" and to listen to signals that justify the need to unwind.
How can you reach that level of deep relaxation like the one you had as a small child when you were lying on the ground staring at holiday lights, taking in the holiday smells of pine, cinnamon, and sugar cookies, and unwrapping in your mind those brightly wrapped gifts? The only care was if your parents would let you open a gift early. How can you reach this level of full alertness and mindfulness again? How is it possible to break out of the norm of stress that has been created in college?
Even at your age the ability to effectively manage the effects that college life and stress is a learned skill for some. Some teens and young adults clearly know what triggers their physiological responses to stress (headaches, shortness of breath, excessive sleep) and know what to do to keep it in check. Others have to be taught this unique skill. And, every college student responds differently to stress. Regardless, there are many effective strategies that help put the stress of college life into perspective.
Let's start with recognizing your stress. This is the first step in lessening the impact of stress. Observe yourself and your tendencies. Self-explore. This, too, is a skill and the more you practice recognizing how stress looks on you, the more control you will have over how it effects you. Do a body scan to see where your body is holding stress. Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders up by your ears? Are your fists tightened? Become aware of where stress sets in your body and what it feels like.
In addition to physical awareness, begin to identify the emotions that are causing your stress. For instance, "I am irritated at Sam for ditching me every time I ask him to do something and it is making me stress over our friendship." Identify the emotion causing the stress (irritation) and simply label it. Do not judge yourself for feeling irritable, just label that emotion, pause and plan an action. This shifts the brain from an emotional state of wanting to make a mad dash (and say something regretful to Sam) to a more thinking state of "I am in control here and need to take a walk outside to settle my thoughts." This can be a bit of a challenge because the brain tends to react more strongly to problems and than to good things like joy and pleasure. It is called "negative bias for you psychology majors.
It would be remiss to ignore how powerful mental thoughts affect your level of stress. Simply understand that when your mind is swirling with mental chaos, these bothersome, nagging thoughts are not always founded in fact, They can be fictitious and energy zapping. Remind yourself often that this stress induced thinking is the brain playing tricks. Also, know that the brain mimics the body, so when you are physically exhausted, your brain is as well. When your body is anxious and you find it hard to feel calm, your brain is swarming with excessive mental chatter - sometimes illogical and irrational. Know that you can actively create new thoughts and thinking patterns with practice and repetition and train the brain to disrupt negative thinking.
After you recognize stress physically, emotionally, and mentally, you can now manage it and tame it. There are plenty of strategies that you can use that will successfully lessen your stress level. Deep (diaphragmatic) breathing is one true way that gets your central nervous system into a relaxed state. Despite there being many ways to engage your body in deep breathing exercises, it is key to remember to use both the inhale and exhale for certain time frames to signal the brain to slow lower blood pressure, slow anxious breathing, and to drop heart rate.
Other holiday de-stressing strategies include:
1. Don't fight the stress by convincing yourself, "I'm fine." This only keeps the cycle going. Embrace stress and handle it with care.
2. Minimize the going and doing. Multi-tasking, over-commitment, and perfectionism can create a surge in anxiety. Make yourself slow down or even say "no". Tell yourself it is okay to do nothing or to do less.
3. Do what brings you happiness. Ignite an old hobby. Be with friends. Try a new recipe. Read. Do things that do not involve technology a larger percentage of your time at home.
4. Go outdoors and soak up vitamin D through sun light (if you have it). This will improve sleep and mood. Appreciate the sights, smells and sounds outside.
5. Be mindful of what you put into your body, making an effort to limit caffeine, alcohol, and not to overeat. Most college students who drink both caffeine and alcohol do not realize the effects on nutrition, sleep and mood both have. Now is a good time to monitor your intake.
6. Sleep. Good quality, REM sleep. Lots of it, but try to stay on a regular day and night schedule. In other words, sleeping until two o'clock every day will throw you off when you head back to campus.
7. Boost your nutrition. Eat less processed foods and concentrate on vitamin and nutrient rich foods, every day, not just once a week. Use this chance to boost your immune system because stress has compromised it. Foods high in Vitamin B reduce stress.
8. Rid of self-sabotaging thoughts. If you've been crowding your mind with thoughts of imperfection or thoughts driven by low self-esteem or poor body image, it is a great time to clean it up. Your brain begs for clean thoughts just like it begs for clean foods. Look at your life position at this moment and fit it into the big picture of your life. Keep thoughts centered on what you have control over, and have your actions follow your clean thoughts. Self-belief with positive self images will increase your dopamine. This in turn helps you feel motivated and accomplished, taking your thoughts out of the negative loop.
9. Share. Volunteer. Place yourself in a restful, peaceful, and giving environment. Produce more of the "happy" hormone oxytocin.
10. Self-reflect. What will you do differently next semester? How will things change so that your stress level decreases? How will you better care for yourself? What thoughts do you need to nurture or eliminate? What will your expectations be? How will you better balance all aspects of college living?
Your energy goes where your thoughts are. Make your thoughts joyful, thankful, kind, and in the present moment. Be clear and honest with yourself and plop yourself under the holiday lights, staring at the brightly wrapped gifts once again.
Vick's Vapor Rub??? I'm going to try it!
Often times we walk through the day without taking notice of how mechanical we are in both our thoughts and our actions. We rush, we run late. We see the downside of situations, we wonder why we are drained of energy. We are concerned about every situation and decision being perfect, we snowball in stress.
It is always wise to become aware, every moment, of our responses to stressful triggers. Getting familiar with the internal emotions that lead the thoughts and actions is how we eventually tame stress.
TIP: The best way to respond to stressful triggers is to tap in to any or all of the 5 senses. Find one that both calms and energizes you and stick with it. It may be smelling a certain smell. I had someone tell me recently that Vick's Vapor Rub does the trick for the. Or, take yourself to a view that is soothing. Water is common. Use touch. Feeling sand or rice helps some people. Whatever sensory input works for you, stick with it to help manage your stress response. Also, resist perfectionism, use lists, and flip negative thinking.
l am already thinking about 2018, not because it's Friday or because it's December 1. I don't know about you, but I have had some pretty unusual and uncomfortable experiences this year that have taken me out of my comfort zone, enough so that I have to some degree been affected emotionally and keep thinking about the impact. I think often how "2017 has not been a good year for me personally", but what does this really mean? Is it the truth?
Normally when I hear people this time of year say, "This year has sucked. I can't wait for next year.", I laugh and think "Why will next year be any different? It's just a freakin' calendar!" BUT, I understand. We do have better years than others, just like some days are better than others. We tend to remember the bad more than the good. It's human nature. The feelings connected to certain events and situations are what we hang on to that cause us to think we've had a bad year. It's not the actual events. We tend to expect life to be what we know, our "story" and when this does not happen, we can't make sense out of the situation or out of the world.
Here's why we can say and feel, "this year has sucked."
It's all about separating the experiences from the emotions attached to those experiences. It's about taking a step out of our negative experiences this year and looking at them from a distance. It's about mental perspective. It's the lens through which we see our days and nights. It's how we have reacted to, responded to, and handled situations. It's how we've managed our ups and our downs. It's how much power we have given the things that have happened to us to reign OVER us. It is how we manage our feelings and thoughts about things, people, and choices. It's our "surface story" (what we really want life to be like") versus our "shadow story" (the REAL reason, the real underneath beliefs, the real silent assumptions) that form how we see our lives and how we attach meaning to our lives.
I know this sounds too psychology-ish, but it's simple why we can say "2017 has sucked." It has sucked because this is the story we have created that fits our internal model of how the world should be. All stories have to have a beginning, middle and an end with a plot thrown in. The plot of your story is created by what you believe is truth, what you assume and what you value, all of which are unknowingly held in our subconscious. We don't regularly access these. Most of us do not even know what we truly value, what our core belief systems are, or what our hidden assumptions about life are?
Here is a short-cut to figure these things out and once you do you will see how you view every life experience, event, and situation based on your underlying beliefs and assumptions: Your mind forms mental patterns and fits incidents and events into your plot- the way you see the world. The plot defines you and orients you into the present and shapes meaning of current life and reality.
This way of viewing 2017 ('sucks") fits in perfectly with the belief system that "bad things shouldn't happen to good people who work hard and do good things."
Listen, we view our daily, weekly and yearly life in terms of how and what we believe and these beliefs determine how we see, register, and process the world around us. Our way is 100% correct (sadly) because "our way" of defining what happens in our lives is determined by what we've been taught, told, mentored, associated with, what we value, what we assume, and our attitudes. After all, this "way", this story, has been programmed into our brains as have the emotions attached to the stories.
I've been sad this year, angry this year, publically humiliated this year; frustrated; disappointed, defeated, and the list goes on..."bad" things have happened. New experiences have happened that I have given the label "bad".
But why does this make me feel that 2017 has been ugly? The answer? Because my mind believes that all of these negative things aren't supposed to happen when you are a good person. I'm not supposed to experience these things because I have been a good girl. This is the pair of glasses through which I see life and live life. All of my current experiences, feelings, senses of accomplishments and failures, disappointments are all molded by this particular shadow and subconscious story of which I am the author. "I have not enjoyed 2017" is my way of saying bad things shouldn't happen to good people who work hard, give hard, and see good in others". It is my reality, my truth, my inevitable and it's how I see the world.
"Your life is the self-statement, the mirror, of what exists inside you." (D. Krueger, New Life Story, 2013)
I know my 2017 didn't suck. Okay? Sucks means really bad things according to my internal compass of how the world should work. "Sucks" means diseased, homeless, and hopeless. Just because I experienced some very unusual events this year does not mean I will allow them to mold to my existence and become a story with it's own reality that isn't true. My 2017 didn't really suck. Yes, it was not fun at times. There were sleepless nights. There was worry, but I am able to separate fact from emotion here. I can create a new story out of bad experiences. I don't have to let this theme of "2017 sucked" become a truth in all of my future stories or underline how I register future discomforts.
So as you reflect and unwind the events of your 2017, what story will you tell? Will your current reality be based on core beliefs and assumptions about the world or will it be what it truly is, a day in the life of ___(insert name)? Will you own your story or have it happen to you? Will your story (which holds underlying emotional themes and assumptions) take over and hold you hostage from growth, change, and personal development because you see your story as truth? Do not let experiences and situations validate your faulty beliefs and themes about how life should be. Please do not let uncomfortable moments (sadness, losses, negativities) define your upcoming year and be your self-statement.
Bring on 2018!
When in an anxious state, our minds are chaotic. We negative think, we self-doubt, we jump from one thought to another, and we believe every word that is "spoken". Anxiety plays the role of a second brain. It has a mind of its own - one that is deceiving, behaving like the enemy.
The most effective way to get out of the anxious mind chatter is to self-talk and convince your brain that you are none of the things that your mind is telling you you are, like "I'm not important." Or, "no one will like me if I go to that new group." None of these statements swirling in your mind are backed by facts, but, your brain needs you believe this because training it to believe the TRUTH is hard work. The brain is lazy and likes to operate on autopilot. It doesn't like to form new neuronal paths and new cellular activity if it can use the path of least resistance.
Teaching your brain to work to your advantage both cognitively and behaviorally takes practice and consistency. Self-talking yourself out of an anxious moment or even a panic attack is almost like an exhausting workout. To be successful in lifting that new stack of weights, you tell yourself to stay calm, keep at it, and it's okay if it doesn't happen this time. Once the mind chatter starts and the anxiety is in full swing, it becomes our job to manage the anxiety - to control it with true statements that counter the false ones; to steadfastly repeat supportive (not defeating) thoughts; and to believe that you are in control of your mind and the tricks it is playing on your at the moment.
This Anxiety Prayer is a simply mind calming reminder that your worries may have a mind of their own, but that they are temporary and will pass in time. Remembering the lines of this prayer will help you find calm in the midst of anxious moments. Telling yourself that the worries are not a part of your reality and believing this is key to how well you manage your anxiety.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.