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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a vision. It seeks "to increase the public's awareness of the importance of good nutrition and position registered dietician nutritionists as the authorities in nutrition." Each year (since the 1970s) the Academy emphasizes and celebrates food and nutrition through education and the promotion of scientifically based and credibly sourced information...and they share it with us each March.
Social anxiety seems to be a term that is lightly tossed around these days and used often to express shyness, social awkwardness, and having unpracticed social skills. In particular young adults describe this anxiety when meeting new friends with phrases such as “I don't fit in.”, or “I feel alone most of the time.” Some college students describe college social life as awkward and uncomfortable. An entire semester may pass without there being any solid connections made. Even hall mates and roommates may not register on the social scale.
Is this expressed anxiety and sadness around not making peer connections true social anxiety or is this truly the case of...perhaps….underdeveloped social skills making life difficult?
Let’s look closer.
With college students, often times peers, mentors, parents, and advisors will say to the kid who struggles with anxiety when meeting new people (especially on large campuses), "Just go make friends", as if this is an easy solution. They forget to insert the HOW part.
The first feeling that presents itself is...you guessed it....anxiety! “How do I ‘just go make friends’”? The mere echo of these words brings about extreme feelings of "I can't do this". "I'm terrified". It is much easier for someone to give advice about something with which they have no emotional connection, so these words of “helpful advice” can be paralyzing. They only accentuate the already felt inadequacies.
However, these feelings of being inadequate in the social department and feeling out of place, unfit, disconnected and awkward at college do not equate to having diagnosed social anxiety. [Read that statement again]. If you don’t know how to meet people, whether you are on a large campus, small campus or in high school, strengthening this life skill will help lessen the attached anxiety, but this does not mean you have diagnosable social anxiety. It CAN mean you have a form of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but it can often mean you have social skills that need to be worked on.
Meeting friends can be difficult and can cause feelings of overwhelm, but after learning simple ways to build social skills, the task becomes less daunting.
As a professional lifestyle coach who works specifically with college students and anxiety, I am told often, "I just stay in my room because everyone else already had their group". Or, I will hear "It's so hard to meet people in class". There is a lack of awareness about the "how to" and the "what" - meaning: "How can I feel more comfortable when I am around new people"? "What can I do to extend myself"? "How can I feel vulnerable and still share that I'd like to be friends"?
This is when having social skills versus not having polished social skills is apparent. Laying aside any feelings of angst, if you have not been taught, modeled or had the opportunity to extend yourself in social situations (groups, dates, church, clubs, neighborhoods, family gatherings) making friends will be hard; so is learning to ride a bicycle if you've never had a bike or no one has taken the time to practice with you. Golf. Same thing.
Be clear though that clinical social anxiety is much more than being shy or not knowing how to make friends. With about 7% of our population struggling with social anxiety, notice the keystone characteristics stated in the DSM-5 which are more far more pronounced than lacking proper social skills:
According the DSM-5 Social Anxiety Disorder is:
"A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating)."
"Exposure to the feared situation almost invariably provokes anxiety, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally predisposed Panic Attack".
"The person recognizes that this fear is unreasonable or excessive".
"The feared situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety and distress".
"The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance situation(s) interferes significantly with the person's normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia".
"The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting 6 or more months".
"The fear or avoidance is not due to direct physiological effects of a substance or a general medical condition not better accounted for by another mental disorder".
While both social anxiety and less-than-desired social skills can be the cause of worry, angst, and sometimes sadness, strengthening social skills will help lessen the pain and discomfort you feel when wanting to extend yourself. Remember these 4 key points:
1. We are social beings. It is a fundamental need to want to be accepted and liked. Biologically we need to feel a part of others.
2. The acknowledgment of fear and avoidance has to be focused on in order to make progress when building socially interacting skills. Whether you struggle with true SA (and all of the intense interruptions it causes) or underutilized social skills, running away from that which makes you uncomfortable is counterproductive in your progress.
3. Make baby steps in the formation of basic social skills. Attempt to make simple personal connections with a new face every day. This will be the foundation of managing the discomfort. Visualize a pyramid. Start at the bottom by practicing at the grocery store or the coffee shop. Make eye contact. Next trip in, smile. Next trip ask about their day. Build, build, build because as you revisit the same clerk each time you are facing the fear of rejection or the fear of saying something "dumb". You are actually strengthening your social awareness -just like you lift weights to build muscle. Attempting social connections builds social skills. Consistent effort and practice is the only action that will "advance" your feelings on uneasiness and elevate your level of comfort.
4. Change faulty thoughts of "not being accepted" or "not being right for some groups". This is critical to managing social anxieties. How do you do this? Consciously remind yourself that feeling anxious in social settings does not mean you have clinical social anxiety or social phobia, as it is sometimes referred to. It may mean your are shy. It may mean you are truly most content when alone. Try to focus externally on another person in the new situation instead of internally focusing on yourself. Resist the instinct to "flee" when in the midst of an anxious encounter. Allow the fear and breathe through it. Roleplay in your head, or in the mirror. Listen after someone speaks and make a simple statement or observation, or ask a question. Compliment. Take more deep breaths. Do not allow a rejection to reinforce negative thoughts about yourself. Look approachable, not scared. [Safe topics for conversation are food, music, animals, and weather]. Ask about interests. Accept invitations and follow through even though the fear will creep back up before going. Self-talk your way through an anxious social situation.
Exposure, practice, and correcting and challenging the irrational thoughts centered around your anxiety will be the most helpful and effective actions you will take to build your comfort in social settings. Building social skills takes time, and there are endless opportunities each day to practice. Remind yourself every step of the way that positive, self-talking and reinforcing statements speak the ultimate truth. Here are some to use:
"I like myself and am proud of myself for trying to meet a new friend."
"Even though this attempt didn't work, I am willing to try again."
"I am taking risks and this is how I will progress in life."
"How can 'no one like me' when I haven't let them get to know me?"
"As hard as this is, this is the only way I will make connections."
"They won’t seek me out. I have to seek them out."
"This is only one minute, in one day, in one month, in one year, in one lifetime that I may not get accepted. There will be others and I am learning how to accept this without the attached feelings of rejection."
"Practice will make 'perfect'."
"So what. I am shy, but I still can smile at someone I am interested in getting to know."
"No one knows how painful this is for me so I will not dwell on in either, I will act."
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.