Flower Breathing to Relieve Stress

During times of stress, make sure to take care of your yourself – your mind, heart, and soul. Deep breathing is a good way to start and will enable you to increase relaxation. Remember to breathe deep to the bottom of your lungs and release your stress as you exhale. Take a look at this post from the Association of University and College Counseling Center Outreach (AUCCCO).

Breathe along with this animation! Art by @colormehappii
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Personal Growth Goals

Continuous self-improvement and self-development are likely things we all strive for as members of the Michigan Tech community. As you go through this summer, I encourage you to come up with some specific ways that you can become a better version of yourself. Summer is often a time of renewal and it can also be a time to reflect on what you may want to improve upon. Take a look at this article for some great tips. “21 Examples of Personal Development Goals for a Better You.”

Keeping Healthy Habits During the Summer

Summer can be a time to let loose and relax. It can be a time to let out all that stress that has been building up over the school year and take some time to unwind. For most of us, there is definitely a change of pace and rhythm in the summer months. But how do you feel like you are making the most out of your summer, while still taking the time to have fun?

Maybe you created some goals that you want to accomplish over the summer, but you are finding that the time is just getting away from you. Or maybe you are wanting to make some healthy changes in your life, but are finding yourself staying up late playing video games with friends consistently. Whatever your plans are for the summer, you can take the time to relax and rejuvenate, while still making time to meet your goals before the summer flies by. The trick is to be intentional with your time. Here are some tips to be that happier, healthier version of yourself. 

  1. Find new passions and incorporate them into your summer routine
  2. Stay social and keep connected with friends and family
  3. Take the time to disconnect from social media and other things that can eat up your time
  4. Stay on a consistent sleep schedule, eat healthy consistent meals, and exercise regularly
  5. Make time for self-care in your routine as well as setting aside time toward meeting your summer goals – Often these can be goals that you are more invested in personally and will give you a sense of accomplishment.

Staying Connected While Social Distancing

The term “Social Distancing” seems to be in our daily vocabulary these days. I prefer to use the term “Physical Distancing.” Although we must stay physically distanced from each other, we can still stay socially connected to our friends and family. It may take a little extra effort to reach out, but it is so important for both ourselves and others!

Ourselves and others – we all share our common humanity, which is one of the 3 elements of Self-Compassion. This is a difficult time for all of us, and we can all acknowledge that suffering is present. Take a moment and say to yourself “This is really hard right now.” “It is hard to not be able to give a loved one a hug right now.” It is important to acknowledge your feelings; how you are feeling is valid no matter your situation. Try not to place judgement on your feelings. You may have seen the meme about how we are all in different ships, but are in the same storm. No matter what your individual circumstances, anxiety and stress are a common occurrence during these difficult times. Whether you are an introvert or an extravert, you have likely experienced some disappointments since the pandemic started affecting all of our lives. We can cultivate optimism and hope by sharing in our situations.

We as humans like to have control over our situation. By reaching out to our friends and loved ones, staying in contact can be something we can control in our lives. By coming up with creative solutions to stay connected, we are making a conscious effort to maintain control in our lives and continue in our shared experience as humans – even if we are not physically together. Take a look at this article from Cleveland Clinic for some more ideas on how to stay connected: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-stay-connected-to-loved-ones-despite-social-distancing/

Incorporating Self-Care into Your Summer Schedule

You have just completed the semester. Congratulations! You made it! You overcame life’s uncertainties and pushed through while giving it your best! How did you do it? Well, I would guess that many of you had to implement self-care into your schedule whether you realize it or not. Did you take the time to take a break from your studies and go for a walk? Or maybe you really enjoy art and made time to draw or paint. 

There are two times when self-care seems to become most difficult – when we are really busy or when we have a lot of unstructured free time.  You have just made it through finals week, and I am sure many of you pushed yourself to your limits, studying late or working double time to finish that big project. Maybe you skipped that reinvigorating walk or told yourself that you did not have time to draw anything that week. It happens to all of us, but how do we overcome this competition for our time? Now summer break is upon us and it can be hard to keep a routine. It’s great to have a break, but how do we use this time for both relaxation and rejuvenation while still utilizing the self-care strategies that work for us even when most of our schedules aren’t booked with studying and classes?

Now is the time to make the most of your self-care routine, whether you are just getting started or are well-versed in your self-care needs. Make a self-care plan and implement it over the summer so that it will become second nature to you when the fall semester starts. We’ve all heard that it takes a while to form a habit, so coming up with a plan now when your academic stress may lower is a good idea. In addition, it is important to train your brain to recognize that sleep, exercise, eating habits, and other self-care activities are just as important as the time you put in studying for your classes. Take a look at this article from Psychology Today on Self-Care: 12 Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself.

Self-Compassion Through the Pandemic

In American culture, it has always been easier for us to be compassionate towards others than it is to ourselves, whether it be a close friend or someone we don’t even know. We feel immense compassion even for people that we do not know that we see on the news that are suffering from this horrible virus.  It is important that we don’t forget to be compassionate towards ourselves as we go through this crisis. You might be saying to yourself, “Well, that sounds selfish, I don’t have it as bad as some people…think of the people in New York or Detroit.” Actually, being compassionate to ourselves is the opposite of selfishness. Self-compassion is the antidote to self-pity and while self-pity says “poor me,” self-compassion recognizes that life is hard for everyone. While it is true that certain people and places will be more harshly affected by this virus and we feel terrible about what they are going through, it is important to remember our common humanity.

Common humanity involves recognizing that suffering is part of the shared human experience and is something that we all go through rather than something that just happens to “you” or “them.” You may experience a sense of isolation through this crisis, such as thinking that you are the only one having a hard time in Calculus during online classes. When a family member is at home and not able to see their loved one in the hospital, they may feel a sense of pervasive isolation and worry. No matter the situation, try not to judge our situations as “It’s not that bad compared to others” or “Wow, things are terrible for me.” Instead, we need to recognize that we are all in this together – as Michigan Tech students, faculty and staff, as Americans, and as a world full of humans. The good news is that we are not alone even if we are not together in person in this day in age. All emotions are real to each and every one of us. We can all relate to the emotions of fear, happiness, anger, and the list goes on. This is something we all share as humans no matter what our situation is.

Take the time to focus on a person, pet, thought or object that stirs up some positivity within you. FaceTime a friend or family member. Our sense of hope, happiness, fun and creativity can continue on even through the pandemic because we are all in this together.

Be kind to yourself. Say to yourself “May I be kind to myself in this moment” and support bringing kindness to yourself. Talk to yourself as you would talk to a friend in a compassionate voice, saying “It’s going to be okay,” “I can get through this,” and “I am doing the best I can given the circumstances.” It is okay to be just as you are in this moment. Mindfully allow your thoughts, emotions, and sensations enter your awareness without resistance or avoidance. It is common to feel anxious, confused, overwhelmed, and powerless about this pandemic.

Research shows that people who practice self-compassion are more likely to engage in broadening their perspectives instead of focusing on their distress. Practicing self-compassion by using mindfulness, being kind to ourselves, and recognizing our common humanity makes us less likely to ruminate on “how bad things are.” This is why self-compassionate people generally have better mental health.

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: https://blogs.mtu.edu/counseling/.