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Archive for the ‘Stress Management’ Category

Puppy and Play Therapy

December 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Mindfulness and stress reduction do not need to be hard.  Today we showed our Engineering students some simple ways to unwind, de-stress

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Puppy Therapy!!

and find some balance and calm during exam time.

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Colouring

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Puzzles and Lego

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Shifting from Distress to De-Stress

November 19, 2015 Leave a comment

EXAM-STRESS

As we move from the rush of midterms, labs, and assignments into final exams I see an increasing number of students that are suffering from acute anxiety, stress, and a full spectrum of other ailments and viruses. It breaks my heart to see such highly capable and accomplished young people struggling with sleep disorders, headaches, anxiety, panic, substance dependency, and other destructive symptoms and behaviours.

Working now in an Engineering Faculty, I remind my students that they are not here just to learn the technical and theoretical, but to learn how to function as professional adults in a world filled with deadlines, pressure and high expectations. Since our admissions criteria is so very high, there is no doubt that these students have the intellectual capacity to succeed; what ends up putting students at the greatest risk is how effectively or ineffectively they manage their stress response.

What happens with some students is constant worry, and pressure moves from being an acute stressor to a chronic way of being. Worry and anxiety become a constant thought pattern and the impact of that leads to low energy levels, sleep issues, over and under-eating, depression, and massive self-doubt. If these thoughts go unchecked the body responds as if it is at real risk of harm “fight or flight” and this causes the release of stress hormones, that result in a deepening of the problems. This cycle then repeats and repeats until the student starts to feel as though he/she can no longer function.

As final exams draw near, I want to remind students of the importance of recognizing this cycle and intentionally responding with simple actions to counter the bodies stress response. When you notice yourself feeling a stress response, take a moment to focus on your breathing. Just by bringing attention to your breathing and focusing on a slow out-breath you can reverse some of your body’s automatic responses to stress and feel calm again.

Rather than responding to the stress and pressure of exams by working longer and harder at studying, work smarter and shorter. Build into your exam routine time for play, exercise and sleep. To claim that you don’t have time for these activities will only contribute to your stress, will cause you to be less able to focus and will make it seem like you need to study longer, when really what you need most is a break. The impact of stress activation is that it shuts down your prefrontal cortex and makes it harder for you to think clearly. So take the time to engage in whatever activities help you to feel a sense of calm and well-being.

Lastly, if you are struggling to manage your stress reach out for help. Visit your academic counselling office and get referred to campus and community services that can help you.

The stress and anxiety that you are feeling is not a sign of weakness, if anything, the smartest and most capable people I know are often the ones that struggle the most with these things. We need to talk openly about it and realize that healthy mindfulness practices are as important as healthy eating, not smoking, exercise, and sleep.

So during this busy and stressful time of year make and take the time to care for yourself, body, mind, and soul.

Managing Stress During Critical Moments:

April 22, 2014 Leave a comment

examsAt exam time the tension and stress in the air is palatable.  I will walk down a hall lined with students waiting to enter the exam room and could hear a pin drop.  It is as if they are not even breathing.  Similarly, I have conducted numerous mock interviews, where the greatest obstacle that the student faces is his/her own nerves.  In these cases I tend to focus more on mindset and less on the content of the answers.

The reality is, if your mind is paralyzed with anxiety and stress, it will not matter how much you have prepared, you will not be relaxed and confident enough to access that information.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for those critical moments, to decrease your stress, and increase your focus and confidence:

Create a plan to study and prepare.  Do your research well in advance.  I have found that I cannot study effectively for more than about 6 hours a day.  Beyond that, I find that my eyes may be scanning the material, but my brain is not processing or storing any of the information.

Be sure to eat properly before you go in for the interview or exam.  This should include plenty of protein to provide a longer source of energy.

Get a good night’s sleep.  Don’t stay up preparing into the wee hours of the morning, what is most likely to set you up for success is rest.  Disconnect from the material a couple of hours before you head to bed, so that your mind can gear down and you can get some restorative sleep.

Instead of getting worked up and anxious counting down the hours and minutes, take yourself outside and go for a walk or a run.  I find that my clearest thoughts come when I am walking my dog.  The combination of increased blood flow, fresh air, and stress relief is great for increasing focus.

Finally, instead of standing silently holding your breath before you enter the exam or interview room, take yourself somewhere quiet and take a few deep breaths and focus on your breathing.  This is proven to slow your heart rate, decrease your blood pressure and enhance your memory.  Going into the room calm will enable you to focus and perform at your optimum.

Running on Empty?

March 31, 2014 Leave a comment
empty

Running on Empty

I read a blog post from the minister at the church I attend and what he wrote really resonated with me. We are at a time of year in the academic calendar when energy is low and demands are high. I can see it written all over everyone’s face: in the slow dragging of feet, the deep sighs and yawns and the expressionless way that people seem to be lumbering through their days. When there is so much to be done, I too find myself forgetting to even check my tank to see how much gas I have. I commonly find that I am running on fumes, focussed too much on what needs to be done and not enough on whether I have the energy to do it.

Whatever it is that you need to keep yourself going, to fuel your body, mind, and spirit, I encourage you to take the time to do it. The impact of time lost in stopping to refuel will be paid back exponentially in the revitalization of your energy and focus.

Thanks Kevin, for reminding me to stop and refuel and not let myself run on empty.

Kevin’s Post from Canon Kevin’s Corner

When I first got my driver’s license 26 years ago and was driving my father’s car it would perturb him to no end if I brought the vehicle back less than half a tank of gas. You see, he never really let his car get much below half a tank before he would fill it up. He could never understand why I would let my own cars get so low on gas. On the many trips he and Mom made to Ontario, right at about this time of year, he will be traveling with me in the car and always ask the obvious question, “Why do you let your car get so low on gas? There’s no need of it! You pass all these has stations every day and you still wait.” He would shake his head upward, lips pursed, and eyes closed as if to say – it’s no use telling you anything.
He knew me!

Dad was really on my mind today. I had pulled over to return an email on my cell phone when I noticed that the fuel light on my car was not just low, but was flashing. Then I remembered that it originally showed low fuel three days ago. O dear!!! I was about three-quarters of a kilometer from the Shell station. Thankfully it was downhill. As I pull back on the road the car actually sputtered but then gained some momentum as the car tipped downward. I pulled into the Shell station and literally sputtered up to the pumps on fumes and stalled out!!!!!!! Close call. The image of my father shaking his head, resigned to the fact that I do not listen, came right before me.

Not long after I first moved to London and purchased this car, I actually ran flat-out of gas and had to be rescued. That happened to me once in Windsor as well. One would think that I might learn from my mistakes. One would be so wrong. There is no need for me to run out of gas. As dad told me all those years ago, I pass gas stations all day long in this city. Bad habits are hard to break sometimes. But I commit there and now to not let my car get that low again.

Having fueled the car up and having avoided the embarrassment of being out of gas again, I began to think about the other ways that we run out of fuel. How often do we move through our days mindlessly, knowing full well that we are getting pretty low and our energy is at a place where it will be hard to imagine how we could keep going? We fail to take the necessary steps to make sure we have the energy to continue. Or how often do we spiritually feel that our tank is getting pretty low? There are times I am sure that most of us feel as though we may be drifting further away from God and not closer.

A couple of weeks ago I became aware of the fact that I was not taking the time to do things that replenish me. I cannot tell you how I got there – but I can tell you that I was feeling as though I was not as in touch with my Creator as I normally like to be. As I engaged in my Lenten reflections it became painfully obvious that in the busy day-to-day grind of life, that for a number of weeks I was not taking the time to do the things that were spiritually life-giving for me. As much as I needed to get to Shell today for petrol I needed to name what fuels me – and go get it. I love to read, and two weeks ago I came to the stark realization that I had gone a couple of months without reading a book at all. I also love to write. My writing had all but stopped. Again I could see my father saying to me why do you let your tank get so low? Just as I sputtered to the tanks today, I sputtered to the book store a couple of weeks ago and have been reading and writing in an attempt to keep things moving?

Dad was right! We have no need to let our tank get so very low. The car and our spirits need ‘regular’ attention in order to keep running smoothly.
I would be interested in hearing what fuels you. What do you need, to keep you moving forward. If you feel comfortable, comment on this blog and share the things that are life-giving for you. When you feel a little low, or lacking energy spiritually or otherwise, where do you go to fill up as it were?

Nothing Comes From Nothing

December 16, 2013 1 comment

HardWork_Header

At this time of year we are bombarded with advertisements trying to entice us to buy more, get this, give that . . . My favourite marketing strategy is the ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘buy two get two free’.  “Come listen to this presentation and get your free paring knife.”  We are led to believe that there is such a thing as free.

The reality is that nothing in life is free.  Someone is paying – whether it be the workers who are paid a pittance, the environment, or perhaps you are not paying with money but with your time listening to a marketing ploy. “Nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever could” (yes, I just watched the Sound of Music).  I have found that if I allow myself to accept this as a fact, I am much less easily manipulated.  If something seems too easy, if someone is telling me that something is free, I should be sceptical.

As a society we are constantly looking for the easy out, how we can get something for nothing.  We want to lose weight without exercising or solve financial hardship by winning the lottery.  The reality is, as Thomas Edison stated, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

When it comes to finding your ideal career, it is an upward climb; it is, indeed, hard work.  Just pulling together a decent resume can take days.  To be successful in a career search, you have to simultaneously be uncomfortably introspective and outgoing.  You need to take the time to understand yourself, your needs, skills, values, and passions, and then look for where those align with a company or a career.  You can get advice and tips, but ultimately no one can do the work for you.  You have to be willing to put yourself out there time and again and risk being knocked down.  Then you need to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and do it all over again.

Sound terrible?  Yes, indeed it may be.  There will be moments where you feel like you are a failure, like you have wasted your time, like you have done everything right and yet everything is going wrong.  You will feel that you deserve it this time around – and you might.  But still you don’t get the job.  And then, just when you think you can’t get up again, you can’t stand submitting another application or preparing for another interview, just when you are ready to quit, you try again because you remember those cheesy quotes that “nothing worth having is free.”

And in that moment between overwhelming exhaustion and opportunity is when things start to look up.  That is when you realize how hard it is to beat someone who never gives up.  (Babe Ruth)

So, in this New Year that is filled with cheap promises of easy comforts – do not be misled for nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever could.

Advice on Giving Advice

October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

communication roadblocksI am sure that you have experienced a time when you turned to a friend, family member, or colleague when you were upset or frustrated hoping that you could share with him/her what was bothering you only to receive an earful of unwanted advice in return.  Rather than feeling heard, you felt irritated and disengaged.

I was at a course called Leader Effectiveness Training (LET) just a couple of weeks ago and we were learning about how we can avoid these common communication roadblocks.

The first step, which we so often get wrong, is to identify who actually owns the problem.  For many of us, our first instinct is to jump in and try to solve the problem for the other person.  When we care about someone or about the outcome of a situation, we want to take ownership of that problem.  In doing this we are not taking the time to actively listen and are not empowering the other to come up with a solution.

I find that this is most common with people in a position of authority such as, organizational leaders and parents.  There is a deep investment in finding a suitable resolution, so the leader/parent steps in, takes over, and solves the problem.  The difficulty with this scenario is that even if the issue is resolved, the person who originally experienced the problem has no further insight or ability to deal with similar situations when they arise in the future.  If we, instead, engage in active listening, avoid some of our strong natural instincts to advise, reassure, or analyze, then we send the message that we are here to support and listen and empower the other to find an approach to the problem that is his/her own.

Taking this approach can be both liberating and rewarding.  Instead of having to own and, therefore, resolve every issue that is brought to your attention, you enable others by trusting that they have the capability to develop and execute on a resolution.

So the next time that someone approaches you with a problem try to first bite your lip and allow him/her to own the problem; instead, listen actively to what he/she is saying.  As they taught us at LET many of the things that we naturally want to do in that moment can make the other person feel like he/she is not being listened too.  These are called communication roadblocks and include:

  • Ordering
  • Warning
  • Moralizing
  • Advising
  • Using Logic
  • Criticising
  • Praising
  • Labeling
  • Analyzing
  • Reassuring
  • Questioning
  • Avoiding

For further insight on why these are roadblocks and how you can avoid them, visit: http://www.gordontraining.com/leadership-training/do-you-use-the-dirty-dozen-when-you-communicate/

http://www.gordontraining.com/leadership-training/leadership-training-do-you-give-advice/

Go To Class

July 12, 2013 Leave a comment
remembering Jeff

Gazette article that I wrote the year after Jeff died

We are at that time of year when students are frantically selecting courses for their upcoming year of university.  I love getting to talk with first year students about what courses they want to take, what they hope to do with their degree . . . Best of all, I love the students that come in well prepared and excited for all of the courses.  Those students that say, “I can’t choose, there are so many that sound interesting.”  When I hear that, I know that that student is going to do well.

On the other hand, there are the few students that have not yet found their passion and some that just don’t seem to want to be here at all.  When I ask “what courses are you most excited about taking?” and the response is “whatever course is the easiest,” I think, “Wow, you are in for a lot of lessons in the subject of life.”

I learned those lessons when I was going into my second year of university.  A friend of mine, Jeff, was a year behind because he had been diagnosed with cancer and had been going through intensive chemotherapy during what should have been his first year.  I spent many days up on the cancer ward visiting Jeff.    During my second year, Jeff was able to register for his first year courses and on the days when he was up to it, he would rally all of his energy and go to class.  Jeff was told that his diagnosis was terminal and that there was nothing more that they could do for him.  Jeff knew that these were the last weeks of his life and his priority was not to go sky-diving and visit exotic lands; all he wanted to do was be a regular 20-year-old and go to his first classes at university. Jeff would have know that he was never going to graduate and yet he was able to see the value and gift that education was and spent his last few weeks learning.

While Jeff was learning about Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus, he was also teaching me an important life-long lesson – Go To Class!  It seems un-profound, but really he taught me the importance of taking full advantage of the basic things in life.  The best things in life are not those rare moments that are exceptional, but those everyday moments, the routine that we create, the regular ways that we occupy our time and build our life.  If we can find inspiration in the everyday, we will be present and engaged in ways that will invariably lead to success and happiness.

Jeff passed away on October 10th of my second year. He only made it to his first month of university.  From that moment on, I saw each class and assignment differently.  When I started to feel overwhelmed, tired and stressed, I would think of Jeff and it revitalized me. I have always gone to class.  It is a simple way that I pay tribute to Jeff’s strength and honour his memory. Although I graduated many years ago, I am committed to life-long learning.  Every year I take another course or attend a conference. I happily engage in the routine of my life and am grateful.

As you chose your courses and as the school year draws closer, think of Jeff.  When you are too tired, too stressed, too bored, too confused, . . . think of Jeff, pick yourself up and Go To Class.

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