Archive

Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

Stress is Good: embracing stress, not fighting it

May 29, 2018 Leave a comment

Stress-can-actually-be-good-for-me-YAY-300x300We talk a lot about stress as something negative, something to be avoided.  Students tell me all the time how “stressed” they are as if it is something entirely negative.  The reality is that often stress is an appropriate response to a situation.  A student should feel stress, particularly when going into an exam.  If you do not have stress, I would be even more concerned.

Stress tends to have the impact that you expect it to have.  If you believe your stress is harmful it is more likely to be harmful and if you believe your stress is a resource we can use it to activate the energy and focus we need to overcome challenges.

Stress is not something that happens to us, instead, think of it as something that happens within us.  It is a subtle distinction, but if we think of it as something internal rather than external being forced upon us, we feel a greater sense of control and ownership over how we use it.   Dr. Kelly McGonigal, an expert in the field of “science help,” recommends that we do not attempt to directly fight the physiological responses that we have to stress, but instead subtly reframe it in a way that is positive.  Thus, instead of trying to calm ourselves down, we should see the surge of adrenaline, energy, etc that often comes with a stressful situation as an indication of excitement.  Indeed, at times of stress, our bodies and minds are in a state of excitement.  While it may feel unreasonable to convince yourself in those moments to be calm, it is not unreasonable to convince yourself to view your emotional and physiological response as excitement.

Further, it is important to remind ourselves that stress is fundamentally linked with what we care about and what we value.  If we view the stress we encounter in each day as a part of eudaimonic well-being, then we will be have the courage and resilience to grow from stress and realise its critical role in self-realization.  (Eudaimonic wellbeing is an alternative to hedonic happiness; it focusses more on human flourishing including self-realization, values, and purpose and less on the pursuit of pleasure that is associated more with hedonism.)

We can use this perspective on a daily basis when dealing with the inevitable stress that is associated with doing a university degree.  By reframing our thoughts on stress and seeing stress as something we can harness and use to our advantage rather than something that is happening to us and is innately negative, we will be able to help alleviate some of the more destructive consequences that the negative view of stress has on our academic, physical and psychological well-being.

The reality is, stress is an essential part of a fulfilling and productive life.  If we had no stress, we would not have the pressure and motivation to get up and do anything.  Stress is what gets us going, it is what helps us be energetic and engaged at the right moments.  The goal should not be to eliminate stress, but to get better at interpreting stress as a productive tool.

Advertisements

Finding the light in the darkness. A Reflection on the Humboldt Broncos Tragedy

April 20, 2018 Leave a comment
light in dark

When I googled the word Humboldt, to find an image, for some reason my search returned a whole bunch of images of light shining through trees

When I read about the horrific accident involving the Humboldt Broncos just two weeks ago, I was overcome. My children take a bus to school, my son plays hockey; we drive around Southwestern Ontario in the winter to take my daughter to gymnastics competitions. Those families are my family.

 

The pain felt very real. I could not turn away from the unfolding stories of the lives of those impacted. I felt an obligation to learn about each victim so that I could pay tribute in my heart and mind. The grief was hard to bear even from such a great distance.

broncos

The Go Fund Me Page raised more than $15,000,000 in less than 2 weeks

I turned my attention instead to the Go Fund Me page. I became fixated on watching the donations roll in. Seeing how people from across our country and across the world were expressing their compassion in the only way they felt they could in that moment. Each dollar represented an expression of love and kindness. This shift from dark to light helped me to see that even in the midst of the greatest tragedy that a parent can face, there is love, hope, and light.

 

As a teenager, I worked at a camp for children with cancer. By the time I was 20 I had attended over a dozen funerals for young friends and campers. Seeking a way to reconcile living with the death I was witnessing, I clung to a law of physics that gave me great comfort. It states that energy cannot be created or destroyed it can only be transferred or transformed.

When I thought about this in the context of our physical bodies, it was very easy to reconcile. Our bodies return to the earth or are transformed into heat, fire, and ashes. But we are so much more than our bodies. I realized then that who we are, our spirit, soul, personality (however you want to describe it) is also energy. That energy is, upon our death, transferred and transformed – it cannot be destroyed. This realization helped me to see that I could continue to experience the energy of those that I have lost, just not in the same way that I had before.

With the devastating loss of lives in Humboldt we can see the transfer and transformation of their energy. Each one of those 16 individuals lived lives filled with passion, persistence, love . . . ENERGY. I can see that energy spread now across our country and beyond. I see that energy in each dollar raised, in each sticker placed on a helmet, in each green and gold quilt stitched. It is impressive. I know that for the families and friends of the victims this does not begin to touch their pain. However, I hope that these acts of kindness, love, compassion, this light in such darkness, will give them the strength they need to find new ways of experiencing the energy of their loved one.

Neuroplasticity

February 12, 2018 Leave a comment

nNeuroplasticitynoun

mass noun

  • The ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.

The idea that our minds are not just set, unchangeable, static, makes so much feel possible.  I have grown up in a world that encourages us to believe that talents and abilities are innate, that we are “gifted” or “a natural”.  Further, if we have to work too hard at something it is an indication that we are not naturally gifted in that area and therefore are unlikely to every become really good at it.

Josh Waitzkin states, “The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability we will be brittle in the face of adversity.”  I agree entirely with this statement and see it play out on a daily basis with the students that I council.  If we believe that struggle and effort are indicative of inability, then we will give up when things get hard.  Instead, if we believe as Rick Hanson asserts, that “Failure is the most essential step to success” then we will be able to embrace adversity as a necessary part of growth.

Furthermore, if we use our mind to change our brain, to change our mind for the better, then we will be able to harness our full potential and become resilient when we face challenges.  Hanson, refers to this sort of thinking as self-directed neuroplasticity.  This concept feels very liberating and empowering to me as it allows us to defy what seems to come naturally and instead to master, whatever we set our minds to – quite literally.

I have started talking with students about neuroplasticity.  It is interesting to observe how few of them have heard of this and how many of them hold onto the belief that struggle and effort are a sign of inability and weakness.  Having this dialogue with students I have seen an instant impact on their ability to look at the next week of exams: the struggles, the doubts, the hard-work that lies immediately in front of them, and to see it not as an exercise in futility and self-doubt, but instead as an opportunity to transform their brain, in meaningful ways.  To literally form new neural connections, and pathways, to impact the chemistry, structure and function of their brain in a way that sets them up better for learning, success, and resilience.

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.

%d bloggers like this: