Mindfulness and stress reduction do not need to be hard. Today we showed our Engineering students some simple ways to unwind, de-stress
and find some balance and calm during exam time.
Mindfulness and stress reduction do not need to be hard. Today we showed our Engineering students some simple ways to unwind, de-stress
and find some balance and calm during exam time.
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.
Although I frequently guide students towards careers that will enable them to do something that they love and are passionate about, this article makes an excellent point that it is not always as easy as “do what you love” nor should it be.
By GORDON MARINO
May 17, 2014
Student advisees often come to my office, rubbing their hands together, furrowing their brows and asking me to walk along with them as they ponder life after graduation. Just the other day, a sophomore made an appointment because he was worrying about whether he should become a doctor or a philosophy professor. A few minutes later, he nervously confessed that he had also thought of giving stand-up comedy a whirl.
As an occupational counselor, my kneejerk reaction has always been, “What are you most passionate about?” Sometimes I‘d even go into a sermonette about how it is important to distinguish between what we think we are supposed to love and what we really love.
But is “do what you love” wisdom or malarkey?
In a much discussed article in Jacobin magazine early this year, the writer Miya Tokumitsu argued that the “do what you love” ethos so ubiquitous in our culture is in fact elitist because it degrades work that is not done from love. It also ignores the idea that work itself possesses an inherent value, and most importantly, severs the traditional connection between work, talent and duty.
When I am off campus and informally counseling economically challenged kids in Northfield, Minn., a city of about 20,000, the theme is not “do what you love.” Many of them are used to delivering papers at 5 a.m., slinging shingles all day or loading trucks all night. They are accustomed to doing whatever they need to do to help out their families. For them, the notion of doing what you love or find meaningful is not the idea that comes first to mind; nor should it. We put our heads together and consider, “What are you best at doing?” or “What job would most improve your family’s prospects?” Maybe being licensed as a welder or electrician? Maybe the military? Passion and meaning may enter into the mix of our chats with the understanding that they sharpen your focus and make you more successful.
My father didn’t do what he loved. He labored at a job he detested so that he could send his children to college. Was he just unenlightened and mistaken to put the well-being of others above his own personal interests? It might be argued that his idea of self-fulfillment was taking care of his family, but again, like so many other less than fortunate ones, he hated his work but gritted his teeth and did it well.
It could, I suppose, be argued that my father turned necessity into a virtue, or that taking the best care you can of your family is really a form of self-service. But getting outside yourself enough to put your own passions aside for the benefit of a larger circle, be it family or society, does not come naturally to everyone.
Not all take this path. You may know the tale of Dr. John Kitchin, a.k.a. Slomo, who quit his medical practice for his true passion — skating along the boardwalk of San Diego’s Pacific Beach. But is it ethical for the doctor to put away his stethoscope and lace up his skates?
Thinkers as profound as Kant have grappled with this question. In the old days, before the death of God, the faithful believed that their talents were gifts from on high, which they were duty-bound to use in service to others. In his treatise on ethics, “The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals,” Kant ponders: Suppose a man “finds in himself a talent which might make him a useful man in many respects. But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in pleasure rather than take pains in enlarging his happy natural capacities.” Should he?
Kant huffs, no — one cannot possibly will that letting one’s talents rust for the sake of pleasure should be a universal law of nature. “[A]s a rational being,” he writes, “he necessarily wills that his faculties be developed, since they serve him, and have been given him, for all sorts of purposes.” To Kant, it would be irrational to will a world that abided by the law “do what you love.”
Perhaps, unlike Kant, you do not believe that the universe is swimming with purposes. Then is “do what you love,” or “do what you find most meaningful” the first and last commandment? Not necessarily.
The faith that my likes and dislikes or our sense of meaning alone should decide what I do is part and parcel with the gospel of self-fulfillment. Philosophy has always been right to instruct that we can be as mistaken about our views on happiness as anything else. The same holds for the related notion of self-fulfillment. Suppose that true self-fulfillment comes in the form of developing into “a mature human being.” This is of course not to claim that we ought to avoid work that we love doing just because we love doing it. That would be absurd. For some, a happy harmony exists or develops in which they find pleasure in using their talents in a responsible, other-oriented way.
The universally recognized paragons of humanity — the Nelson Mandelas, Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Martin Luther Kings — did not organize their lives around self-fulfillment and bucket lists. They, no doubt, found a sense of meaning in their heroic acts of self-sacrifice, but they did not do what they were doing in order to achieve that sense of meaning. They did — like my father and some of those kids from town — what they felt they had to do.
Dr. King taught that every life is marked by dimensions of length, breadth and height. Length refers to self-love, breadth to the community and care of others, and height to the transcendent, to something larger than oneself. Most would agree with Dr. King’s prescription that self-fulfillment requires being able to relate yourself to something higher than the self. Traditionally, that something “higher” was code for God, but whatever the transcendent is, it demands obedience and the willingness to submerge and remold our desires.
Perhaps you relish running marathons. Perhaps you even think of your exercise regimen as a form of self-improvement. But if your “something higher” is, say, justice and equality, those ideals might behoove you to delegate some of the many hours spent pounding the track on tutoring kids at the youth center. Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.
Gordon Marino is a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College and the editor of “The Quotable Kierkegaard.”
This post was published on The Opinionator
At 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.
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?
I frequently meet with students who are struggling to figure out their path in life. Often I find the challenge is that they are spending a lot of time worrying about what they think they SHOULD be doing and not enough time reflecting on what they WANT to be doing. As I have stated many times, it is abundantly important to focus on finding a career that is fulfilling and in line with your personal preferences, attributes, and skills.
To start this process of reflection, think about the point that you are currently at in life – based on your likes, values, skills, and needs number from 1 to 5 the top priorities for you when it comes to your career. As you move through your career your priorities will likely shift; thus, it is good to take a look at these every few years to see if your priorities align with what you are actually doing. If they do not, it may be time for a strategic change.
Help Society: I want to do something which contributes to improving the world we live in
Help Others: I want to be directly included in helping other people, either individually or in small groups
Public Contact: I want to have a lot of day-to-day contact with the public
Work with Others: I want to work as a team member toward common goals
Work Alone: I want to do projects by myself with limited contact with others
Competition: I want to engage in activities which put my abilities against others
Make Decisions: I want to have the power to decide courses of action
Work Under Pressure: I want to work in situations where time pressure is prevalent
Influence People: I want to be in a position to influence the attitudes or opinions of other people
Knowledge: I want to engage in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding
Expertise: I want to become an expert in whatever work I do
Artistic Creativity: I want to engage in creative artistic expression
General Creativity: I want to have the opportunity to express my creativity in many ways (though not necessarily in artistic ways)
Aesthetics: I want to participate in studying or appreciating the beauty in people and/or surroundings
Supervision: I want to have a job in which I am directly responsible for the work of others
Change and Variety: I want to have work activities which frequently change
Precision Work: I want to work in situations where attention to detail and accuracy are very important
Stability: I want to have a work routine and job duties that are largely predictable
Security: I desire the opportunity for a continuing position
Recognition: I want to be appreciated for my work, and receive acknowledgement in ways that are meaningful to me
Fast-Paced Environment: I want to work in circumstances where work must be done rapidly
Excitement: I want to experience a high degree of (or frequent) stimulation in the course of my work
Adventure: I want to have work duties which require frequent risk-taking
Financial Gain: I want to have a high likelihood achieving great monetary reward for my work
Physical Challenge: I want to do activities that use my physical capabilities
Independence: I want to be able to determine the nature of my work without significant direction from others
Moral Fulfillment: I want to feel that my work contributes to a set of moral standards, which I feel are very important
Community: I want to participate, contribute and belong to my community; however I define it
Time Freedom: I want to be able to work according to my own schedule
These topics for consideration come from a game that was developed by York University. The game is called Who Am I? and helps players to gain insight into their desires, interests and abilities. To learn more about Who Am I? visit: http://www.yorku.ca/careers/whoami/
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.
LinkedIn is a great tool for researching prospective careers, building your network, and reaching out and connecting with people. This should be an entirely professional social media tool, so keep your personal life out of it. It really should function as an on-line resume and professional networking tool. It takes some time and effort to create a great LinkedIn account, but if you do it right, it will certainly help you in connecting with the right people and getting a job.
Here are some tips on how to set up an effective LinkedIn profile:
I 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:
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/
When dealing with email communication I am frequently stunned by the lack of professionalism that I encounter. Many times I receive emails that have no salutation or sign-off and no capitalization, grammar or sentence structure. If these habits continue when the sender enters the workforce he/she will find that it will have a significantly negative impact on his/her career prospects.
You will find that if you take the time to write accurate, concise, and respectful emails that you will be perceived in a better light and will likely receive more positive and helpful responses.
Secondly, if you develop a strategy for effectively managing the emails that you receive, you will waste much less time will be responsive, organized and less stressed.
Below are some tips for helping you ensure that you are creating a professional image and effectively managing your email:
For further tips on managing your email check out: Managing Your Email, Thinking Outside the Inbox by Christina Cavanagh. http://www.christinacavanagh.com/book.htm