Month: April 2020

Building a Mindfulness Habit

By now, I’m guessing many of you have heard of, if not practiced, mindfulness, (also frequently referred to as mindfulness meditation). A good tutorial if you don’t know much about it can be found on Tech’s Wellness page. Just look under the Resources tab/Mental Health and Well-Being, and you’ll find some great videos and exercises to get you started.

While this blog will discuss how to build a regular mindfulness practice, let’s review some of the basics. Mindfulness is defined as a “state of nonjudgmental awareness of what’s happening in the present moment, including the awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and senses.” There are many proven benefits for those who practice it regularly, and that practice doesn’t even have to be long – 10 minutes per day has been shown to be beneficial. And many of the benefits align with what some clients hope to achieve, like anxiety reduction, improved memory and focus, ability to adapt to change better, greater satisfaction with relationships and improved emotional resilience.

Not only are the benefits great, but the practice is relatively simple. During a mindfulness practice many people are familiar with, meditation, you sit in a comfortable chair, eyes softly shut, and attend to the feeling of being in the chair, then to your breath, coming in and going out. The mind wanders, thoughts pop up, but the point is to simply notice them and return to feeling the breath. Repeatedly, attending to your present moment.

Simple, right? Yet, many people tell me they just “can’t” or “it won’t work for me,” and this has been puzzling to me. It was considering how people change habits and start new ones that gave me some insight into the puzzle.

So, if knowledge and intention aren’t enough for change, what can be helpful to begin and sustain a mindfulness habit? I’d like to introduce you to several concepts about habits that I hope will help. The overall concept is called Momentum, and then I’ll describe some related techniques you could apply today.

Momentum is a way of using existing habits to create new ones. Using momentum, people “tack” on a new habit to a healthy one they’re already doing. This is much easier than starting something brand new, as it eliminates “context switching” which often makes it hard to maintain something new, (our habits are automatic and happen without much awareness; when we start something new, it often feels awkward for awhile, as we’re not used to behaving in the new context, and we often won’t repeat the behavior due to these uncomfortable feelings).

A specific example of momentum is with a technique called Habit Bundling. Think of habit bundling as “Current Habit + New Habit = Habit Bundling”. With habit bundling, your current habit becomes an accountability buddy for your new habit, decreasing the amount of thought and effort required to perform a new habit.

So, if your intention is to increase your mindfulness moments per day, you could listen to a mindfulness meditation as you make dinner. Or, when you sit down for a meal, you take 3 deep breaths and sigh it out, paying attention to your breath. Another example of this I do twice a day when brushing my teeth – while attending to the action, I fully engage in the sensory experience, returning to it when my mind wanders into thinking about what I have to do later.

Habit Stacking is also related to momentum. Habit stacking is a way of developing a new habit by stacking the habit you want to develop right before a habit you have. You might think of the current habit as motivation or a reward for your new habit. For example, you might make a bargain with yourself, like agreeing to practice 5 minutes of mindfulness meditation before reading your instagram feed.

Temptation Bundling pairs something you want to do with something you should do, and can be another easy way to add mindfulness moments into your life. For example, if you’re a coffee drinker in the morning, you could add a mindfulness exercise to the experience. I often do this in reverse – doing a mindfulness meditation before getting started with my note-writing, (mindfulness becomes a way of making a transition into a more concentrated activity, and I like doing it more than writing).

Engaging in a few small changes to increase your practice adds up, building your comfort with the practice without disrupting your routine. And there are many apps these days that also help with habit development. Mindfulness apps such as Calm, Headspace and 10% Happier have reminder functions and offer rewards, (in the form of praise), that are vital in starting and maintaining a habit. Starting small, beginning again when you forget, (without negatively assessing yourself – everyone’s been there!), will lead you into the many wonderful benefits of mindfulness.

Strategies for Helping with Student Motivation

The end (of this semester) is in sight. Students are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. They might also be experiencing online learning burnout, trying to figure out how they’ll study for exams with a 10-year-old sister butting into their room every 20 minutes, and dealing with the emotional pain of losing a summer job or study abroad opportunity. 

Thankfully, during our conversations about how we keep ourselves motivated, last week’s IDEA Hub attendees also discussed ways to help motivate our students. 

  • Help give students a sense of control. Offer multiple ways to demonstrate mastery of content – written, bullet points, video, etc. 
  • Watch out for students regressing to old behaviors, living at home with parents can do this in a matter of minutes (who doesn’t want mom to cook, clean and comfort them – especially during a pandemic). Point it out when you notice ‘helplessness’ and praise examples of students making it through this tough time!
  • Try competency-based grading (for an assignment or two, or your whole course)
  • Help students break down assignments into shorter ‘chunks’ – this is one tip that I can’t stress enough! So many students struggle to figure out how long an assignment will take, and they aren’t always great at judging how to break larger assignments down into pieces. It’s human instinct to turn away from overwhelming tasks, ensure that your assignments come with a roadmap through the ‘overwhelmingness.’
  • Give social incentives to show up and create community – have #crazy hat day Tuesdays, add quick team-based competitions, or host a live Kahoot session to help prep for exams. 
  • Pass out some praise! As my friend and colleague says “throw that praise like confetti!” Shout out to those of you who shared that you’re seeing students who are normally shy in class finally speaking up, noticing students who are helping each other (and sometimes their profs.), and their amazing ability to adapt to online learning even though this isn’t what any of us signed up for!
  • Encourage students to find a healthy life balance – remember that list of tips for ourselves? Remember yourself at age 20? I know I certainly would have needed a little extra help staying on track at that point in my life. Share your own experiences with staying motivated and give students an opportunity to share what’s working for them. 

For more tips and tricks to help with motivation, student mental health and wellness, check out the Counseling Services blog:

Motivation Blog Post: Insert Witty Title Here… Later…

What’s the deal with motivation? Why do we sometimes seem to have it and other times it mysteriously retreats far beyond our reaches? How do we keep up the motivation to get up, perform and repeat day after – – wait, hold on, I need to go check my email, order dog food, stare blankly at a scuff on my ceiling, and eat 30 snacks. 

Ok, I’m back. What was I working on again? The motivation fairy didn’t show up, but, thanks to all of you who showed up for last Friday’s IDEA Hub Online Education Session – Staying Well, I’ve got a list of tips to share for motivating ourselves and our students. 

Research tells us that change (or motivation) needs some key ingredients: social incentives, progress monitoring, and immediate rewards. Here are some of the ideas we came up with to help with these 3 ingredients:

For You:

  • Keep a regular workday routine. Get up at the normal time, shower, and get dressed (from head to toe – skip the pajama bottoms). Don’t forget to put the work away at the end of the day!
  • Exercise! From Zoom Crossfit to a 30 day yoga challenge to outdoor hobbies and walks, y’all are really moving. Let’s keep at it – and don’t forget to put those positive social incentives out there for others. My challenge to you: can you start a department challenge, join Strava to track your time at Tech Trails, or post a pic on Instagram?
  • Spend time learning something new (or picking up an old hobby)! You’re going to feel old and crusty and cooped up if you let yourself live in stagnation. While I might not be picking up Python anytime soon (like my IDEAhub compadres), I’ve found reinvention in … well, nothing yet, but this sounds really nice, and I should totally do this. 
  • Practice Mindfulness. I love this tip! Someone in our group shared that they’ve spent time “finding pleasure in the differences compared to life before.” Yes, yes, and yes! It’s too easy to get bogged down with the bad. Take a deep breath, right now. Feel that immediate reward!
  • Find your silver linings – shout out to the IDEApub discussion on silver linings – connections with old friends, home refinancing, precious time with adult children back in the home, increase in awareness of teaching tools and methods. Talk about amazing rewards!

Check in tomorrow for part II of tips from last Friday’s IDEA Hub – how to help with student motivation.

Gaining Control in a Chaotic World

By: Sarah Woodruff

During this pandemic, it can become easy to feel like things are out of control. The switch to online classes and the stay at home orders are just a couple of the things we cannot control. It is natural to feel the need to control something when everything around you seems out of control. But what can we control in these uncertain times? When things are out of control, one of the best things we can do is focus on what we can control in our own little worlds. Here are a few ideas:

  • Clean up an area of your living space or complete a project you have been putting off
  • Come up with a plan on how you will spend your day and make sure to include time for self-care
  • Look for opportunities, maybe it is time to pick up a hobby you once loved again
  • Put a limit on how much mental space, focus, and energy that you allow COVID-19 to hold
  • Practice small gestures of kindness for others and yourself while practicing social distancing
  • Work on broadening your perspective – it can victimize you or empower you. Once you realize that you have a choice of how to perceive and respond to challenges, you can start to focus your mind more on what is possible and build upon it.

The fact is, we as humans have always needed other humans to survive. This situation is no different now, even though we are practicing social distancing. We all need to work together to solve our problems, both big and small. We have the choice to either accept things or problem solve depending on the situation. We can either react to the pandemic with fear, or we can respond with kindness both to ourselves and others. How we respond to the situation, ourselves, and others is where our control lies.

It’s important to recognize that you are doing many productive things in your life while possibly feeling the gamut of emotions such as fear and distress. Work on accepting yourself, your current situation, and your life without judgement or blame. We don’t have a clear path right now on what the future holds, and actually, we never do. We can all find comfort in taking things one day at a time, reaching out to those we hold dear via electronic means, focusing on the things we can control, and most of all be compassionate with yourself. We are all doing the best that we can in a difficult situation.

Understanding Grief and Loss in the Midst of a Pandemic

By: Kerri Gilbertson

Grief and loss are a normal part of life, but 2020 seems to have brought on a tsunami wave of losses. Grief is traditionally associated with the death of a loved one, which may be part of your grief, but grief can be broadened to encompass all losses someone may experience. At the start of 2020, people wrote out New Year’s resolutions and had expectations of what the year would look like. Unfortunately, many of those hopes have been sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic and focus has turned toward survival rather than personal growth. 

Now is the time to explore and understand how the current situation may actually be triggering feelings of grief and loss. The grief experience is more complex than the widely known 5-stages of grief and is actually a unique, non-linear experience. Common signs of grief may include, but are not limited to: sadness, difficulty concentrating, guilt, anxiety, numbness, loss of control over thoughts and feelings, fatigue, aimlessness, a desire for social isolation, and irritability. 

Grief is not just about death, but also the loss of something. There are many losses happening right now, such as; loss of social support (the ability to physically socialize with friends); not completing the semester like planned (for some, their final semester at MTU); not attending a graduation to celebrate years of hard work; packing and moving out with no closure; potential financial or health loss; and in general, the loss of the assumptive world we live in. Everything we thought was a safety net feels like it isn’t there to catch us. 

Although it may be scary and overwhelming to think about loss, it is important to recognize that these feelings are okay, you are not facing this alone. Even though it does not feel good, grief is normal and healthy, especially during this time. If you are struggling with any of these signs of grief, I want to give some tips on how to handle your experience: 

  1. Acknowledging or recognizing that you are grieving is an important first step.
  2. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to what you are feeling, so be patient with yourself as things may be a little overwhelming for the time being. 
  3. Connect with your social supports through video chats, phone calls or other physically distancing activities. Hearing another person’s voice is important and not just the communication, so make sure you are actually talking with someone else. 
  4. If you are struggling and it is impacting your day-to-day life you may want to consider professional support, either through Counseling Services or a counselor near you. 

Finally, I want to leave you with hope and a reminder of how resilient you are and can be when faced with all these losses. As you have adapted to your new normal, you have demonstrated your personal ability for resilience. Resilience is the ability to face adversity and do your best to adapt and move forward. It can show through in the midst of the chaos and when the dust has settled. It may be a challenge right now, but taking one step at a time and doing what you can is all that you can do and all that you need to do for the time being. As a last reminder of the power of human resilience, I will leave you with this quote by Bernard Williams:  “Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.”

Mental Health Wellness Tips for Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Sarah Woodruff

I recently came across a post “Mental Health Wellness Tips for Quarantine” by Dr. Eileen Feliciano, a Psychologist in New York. She has put together an extensive list of tips to help us all cope with the isolation and fear that we all may be feeling regarding the pandemic. She says, “I can’t control a lot of what is going on right now, but I can contribute this.” That is true for all of us, we cannot control a lot of what is going on in the world right now, but we all have things that we can contribute and accomplish, no matter how small. I’ve adapted her tips for MTU students, check them out below: 

1. Stick to a routine

Go to sleep and wake up at a reasonable time, write a schedule that is varied and includes time for classes, homework as well as self-care.

2. Dress for the social life you want, not the social life you have

Get showered and dressed in comfortable clothes, wash your face, brush your teeth. Take the time to do a bath or a facial.  Put on some bright colors.  It is amazing how our dress can impact our mood.

3. Get out at least once a day, for at least 30 minutes

If you are concerned of contact, try first thing in the morning, or later in the evening, and try less travelled streets and avenues.  If you are high risk or living with those who are high risk, open the windows and blast the fan.  It is amazing how much fresh air can do for spirits.

4. Find some time to move, again daily for at least 30 minutes

If you do not feel comfortable going outside, there are many YouTube videos that offer free movement classes, and if all else fails, turn on the music and have a dance party!

5. Reach out to others, you guessed it, at least once daily for 30 minutes

Try to do FaceTime, Skype, phone calls, texting—connect with other people to seek and provide support.  

6. Stay hydrated and eat well

This one may seem obvious, but stress and eating often do not mix well, and we find ourselves over-indulging, forgetting to eat, and avoiding food.  Drink plenty of water, eat some good and nutritious foods, and challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new!

7. Develop a self-care toolkit

This can look different for everyone.  A lot of successful self-care strategies involve a sensory component (seven senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell, vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (comforting pressure).  An idea for each: a soft blanket or stuffed animal, a hot chocolate, photos of vacations, comforting music, lavender or eucalyptus oil, a small swing or rocking chair, a weighted blanket.  A journal, an inspirational book, or a mandala coloring book is wonderful, bubbles to blow or blowing watercolor on paper through a straw are visually appealing as well as work on controlled breath.  Mint gum, Listerine strips, ginger ale, frozen Starburst, ice packs, and cold are also good for anxiety regulation. 

8. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and a wide berth

A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone.  Each person will have moments when they will not be at their best.  It is important to move with grace through blowups, to not show up to every argument you are invited to, and to not hold grudges and continue disagreements.  Everyone is doing the best they can to make it through this.

9. Everyone find their own retreat space

Space is at a premium.  It is important that people think through their own separate space for work and for relaxation.  Identify a place where you can go to retreat when stressed.  You can make this place cozy by using blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, or beanbags.  It is good to know that even when we are on top of each other, we have our own special place to go to be alone.

10. Lower expectations and practice radical self-acceptance

We are doing too many things in this moment, under fear and stress.  This does not make a formula for excellence.  Instead, give yourself what psychologists call “radical self-acceptance”: accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback.  You cannot fail at this—there is no roadmap, no precedent for this, and we are all truly doing the best we can in an impossible situation. 

11. Limit social media and COVID conversations

One can find tons of information on COVID-19 to consume, and it changes minute to minute. The information is often sensationalized, negatively skewed, and alarmist.  Find a few trusted sources that you can check in with consistently, limit it to a few times a day, and set a time limit for yourself on how much you consume (again 30 minutes tops, 2-3 times daily).  

12. Notice the good in the world, the helpers

There is a lot of scary, negative, and overwhelming information to take in regarding this pandemic.  There are also a ton of stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways.  It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information. 

13. Help others

Find ways, big and small, to give back to others.  Support restaurants, offer to grocery shop, check in with neighbors, write psychological wellness tips for others—helping others gives us a sense of agency when things seem out of control. 

14. Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it

In moments of big uncertainty and overwhelm, control your little corner of the world.  Organize your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture.  It helps to anchor and ground us when the bigger things are chaotic.

15. Find a long-term project to dive into

Now is the time to learn how to play the keyboard, put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, start a 15 hour game of Risk, paint a picture, read the Harry Potter series, binge watch an 8-season show, crochet a blanket, solve a Rubix cube, or develop a new town in Animal Crossing.  Find something that will keep you busy, distracted, and engaged to take breaks from what is going on in the outside world.

16. Engage in repetitive movements and left-right movements

Research has shown that repetitive movement (knitting, coloring, painting, clay sculpting, jump roping etc) especially left-right movement (running, drumming, skating, hopping) can be effective at self-soothing and maintaining self-regulation in moments of distress.

17. Find an expressive art and go for it

Our emotional brain is very receptive to the creative arts, and it is a direct portal for release of feeling.  Find something that is creative (sculpting, drawing, dancing, music, singing, playing) and give it your all.  See how relieved you can feel.  It is a very effective way of helping kids to emote and communicate as well!

18. Find lightness and humor in each day

There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason.  Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day: cat videos on YouTube, a stand-up show on Netflix, a funny movie—we all need a little comedic relief in our day, every day.

19. Reach out for help – your team is there for you

If you have a therapist or psychiatrist, they are available to you, even at a distance.  Keep up your medications and your therapy sessions the best you can.  If you are having difficulty coping, seek out help for the first time.  There are mental health people on the ready to help you through this crisis.  There is help and support out there, any time of the day—although we are physically distant, we can always connect virtually.

20. “Chunk” your quarantine, take it moment by moment

We have no road map for this.  We don’t know what this will look like in 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month from now.  Often, when I work with patients who have anxiety around overwhelming issues, I suggest that they engage in a strategy called “chunking”—focusing on whatever bite-sized piece of a challenge that feels manageable.  Whether that be 5 minutes, a day, or a week at a time—find what feels doable for you, and set a time stamp for how far ahead in the future you will let yourself worry.  Take each chunk one at a time, and move through stress in pieces.

21. Remind yourself daily that this is temporary

It seems in the midst of this quarantine that it will never end.  It is terrifying to think of the road stretching ahead of us.  Please take time to remind yourself that although this is very scary and difficult, and will go on for an undetermined amount of time, it is a season of life and it will pass.  We will return to feeling free, safe, busy, and connected in the days ahead.

22. Find the lesson

This whole crisis can seem sad, senseless, and at times, avoidable.  When psychologists work with trauma, a key feature to helping someone work through said trauma is to help them find their agency, the potential positive outcomes they can affect, the meaning and construction that can come out of destruction.  What can each of us learn here, in big and small ways, from this crisis?  What needs to change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world?

Article credit: Eileen Feliciano, NYS Psychologist. Original article can be found here:

Stress Less

By: Eric Arundel

Hello everyone! I hope you’re doing well and trying to find the joy in your daily life of physical isolation. I am intentionally calling it physical isolation instead of social isolation because I believe we still need to try our best to be social and connected with those around us. This is why I wanted to try and connect with our campus even when we aren’t seeing each other face to face daily.

Typically I share this talk on stress and coping once a semester during Husky Hour. It’s intended to be a starting place for how stress works and how to manage it. Normally this talk is pretty interactive because I think it’s beneficial to have people talk to each other and share what works for them. In the place of that I’ve tried to leave spots for you to pause the video and really think about the answer to the question I’m posing. Ultimately change only happens when we are intentional.

With that said, here’s the link to the video:

I hope it helps you deal with the stressors of your day!