stress reduction

Fighting the End-Of-School-Year Burnout

Photo by  Tim Gouw  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

It’s often the same old story for students. You are counting down the days until the school year ends, and then freedom can begin! You have spent all year working hard and juggling so many moving parts in your life. Yet, finals are coming up and summer feels far away. Maybe you’ve already noticed your motivation dropping and your feet dragging when it comes to keep up with everything going on. The struggle can feel very real!

This feeling of “burnout” often pops up when we try to power through, without also taking care of ourselves. You may have received messages that you have to keep pushing on, even if you start to reach your breaking point. However, this is not realistic! Resilience, or the ability to keep going despite our circumstances, requires us to rest when we need to.

For some, burnout means feeling cranky, checked out, tearful or even shutting down. Things that used to be fun, can seem uninteresting or even overwhelming. Your body is actually screaming, “take care of me! Slow down!”

What can you do?? You have a couple months left a you still need to survive. Here are some simple tools you can use to help yourself recharge and actually get through this last hump until summer break. I challenge you to try some of these on, and see what works for you:

1.    Check in with yourself. What are you are feeling right now? Maybe: sad, irritated, nervous, numb… find the word that feels true. And then name one helpful thing you can do for yourself in this moment. And most importantly, DO it!

2.    Get your basic needs met. Are you hungry, thirsty, or tired? If these things aren’t being taken care of not much else will be able to help. It’s amazing the impact a glass of water or a 20-minute power nap can have.

3.    Find one moment each day that you are grateful for. Gratitude actually helps us see our life in a more positive light.

4.    Make a list of small things that energize you. And then write those into your weekly planner. Literally. Carve out time in your schedule to do at least 2-3 of those, along with your other responsibilities. It’s ok to be busy, and still take moments for you!

5.    Mix it up! If you are starting to feel like each week is dragging on, then find ways to do things a bit differently. Maybe change up your study spots, try out some new breakfast recipes, change up your route to school or find some new albums to listen to. Variety will help your brain stay present in the moment and less “checked out”.

6.    Name the hard days. Having a tough day? Call it out. You can start by admitting this to yourself or talk to people in your life that you trust.  It can help you accept that you are being challenged and realize that others are in the same boat. This doesn’t mean you’re weak, only human. Plus, you’ve already survived ALL of your hard days up to this point. You’ve got a pretty great track record!


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LifeTip: How to Have an Enjoyable, Stress-Free Holiday

Photo by  Simple Co.  on  Unsplash

Photo by Simple Co. on Unsplash

The holidays are upon us! Think back to past years... What do you remember the most? Is it the family time? The food? The presents? The movies? The traditions? The crippling anxiety and stress? Yep, you read that last one right. Like anything in life, many people tend to forget the negative parts of such happy celebrations, and in turn, risk suffering the same feelings of anxiety and frustration year after year. Have you ever experienced the “holiday blues” or found yourself dizzy with nerves and exhaustion while on your quest to find the perfect gift or prepare the perfect party/event?

Consider the tips below to help you manage stress and truly enjoy the holidays this year, so those happy memories can be an accurate picture of your experience!

  1. Plan ahead. Whenever possible, give yourself plenty of time to buy presents, prepare a special meal, or decorate your house. If you are not feeling the pressure of the clock, you will have more opportunities to step back and enjoy the process.

  2. Make a to-do list! Yes, I know, we often have a mental checklist of what we need to complete, but having a tangible list can help you organize your time, celebrate the tasks you have accomplished, and allow you to delegate specific jobs when you need an extra hand.

  3. Stressful family? Have an ally! Before attending (or hosting) a dinner, gathering or an event with friends or family, where you know there may be contentious conversations brewing, talk with a friend, spouse or family member about how you want to approach those situations. Knowing you have a game plan and someone who will help you carry out that plan, should you need it, will allow you to attend the social event with more confidence, and less apprehension and anxiety.  

  4. Be prepared when you shop. Make a list of items that you want to buy. Compare prices (Amazon’s “scan” feature makes this super easy to price-compare items in the store to online options), use cash (whenever possible) to avoid going over budget, and have a back-up plan for any “tough to find” items. Keep in mind that one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to be fully engaged and present with them. While that gift doesn’t cost anything, it can sometimes be tricky to do if you are hyper-focused on giving them the perfect physical gift and hoping that their reaction matches the effort you had to put in. Ease the gift buying process and enjoy some of the “untangibles” of the season by starting to shop early, create (and stick with!) a budget, and find time to connect with the recipient, whether that is in-person while they open the gift or afterwards over the phone.

  5. Engage in gratitude! Research shows that gratitude can help you maintain a positive outlook, and has benefits for your overall well-being. Throughout the season take moments to stop, take in your environment, and, with intention, consider the things you are most thankful for, in that moment. Also, write thank you notes! This not only showers other people with appreciation, but it gives you a few moments to reflect on the people and the details that make the season so special.

  6. Consider your closet! One of the most unexpected stressors of the holidays can be finding appropriate outfits for holiday parties, luncheons, tacky sweater contests, and family pictures. If you have a few “go to” pieces, that you know you look and feel good in, you will spend less time agonizing over what you are going to wear, and more time looking forward to the event itself. Don’t have anything in your closet? Choose an “off time” to hit the mall/store, such as later in the evening (an hour or two before stores close) or first thing on a Saturday or Sunday. With fewer people in the store, you will feel like you have more time and space to clearly choose something that suits your taste and budget.

  7. Nourish yourself. By all means, enjoy the festive food and drinks of the season, however, be sure to replenish your system with healthy options, whenever possible. Not only will this help you avoid the stress and anxiety associated with holiday weight gain (can you say anxiety in January, when your clothes no longer fit?), but can also help prevent you from exhibiting food-induced symptoms that mimic anxiety (low blood sugar, dehydration, etc). Instead of forgoing the cookies, try to mix up what you are eating by throwing in a few vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots, that are rich in magnesium and probiotics.

  8. Practice Mindfulness! Using an app such as “Headspace” or “MINDBODY” can help calm your nerves, and allow you to remain present and in the moment. These apps make it really easy to choose a time length (some as short as 2-5 minutes) and follow a guided meditation. Don’t have time to stop and fully engage in a mindfulness script? Take a moment to practice 5-2-7 breathing. In order to do this, breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and release the air completely for 7 seconds. Repeat 4-5 times. Focusing on your breathing can be done anywhere (can you say Black Friday shopping lines?), and is a quick and easy way to de-escalate in times of stress and anxiety.

  9. Talk to someone. While we are often surrounded by people during the holiday season, it can be difficult to talk about feelings of anxiety or stress, for fear of “bringing down someone else’s cheery mood.” Keep in mind that many people struggle at this time of year, so you are not alone! If you don’t have a family or friend that you feel like you can talk to, or your anxiety and stress has become overwhelming, consider calling a professional.

While the holiday season can present challenges that can leave you feeling anxious and stressed, keep in mind that it is a temporary time. By the 2nd week in January, your “regular” life will resume, and all you will have left is the memories of the season. Be sure to check in with yourself regularly to manage your stress and anxiety levels so that the memories you are creating are ones worth repeating!

LifeTip: Is It Time to Hit the Panic Button?

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Sometimes we feel like we’re about to burst. Between the pressures of work, home, school, friends, significant other, and bills, we can sometimes feel like we just can’t take it anymore. Then we get hit with an unexpected passing of a loved one, coming down with the flu, or finding out that our dog has chewed up our favorite pair of shoes. Soon we find ourselves reaching for that panic button, because we know the top is about to blow off this pressure cooker.

For those of you who have followed my blogs, you’re probably expecting me to say “take a minute and just breathe” right about now. Yes, breathing is of course essential, but when we find ourselves in the crosshairs of a full-blown melt down, we need a little more than some deep breathing exercises. We need to release that pressure valve and release it fast.

Let’s get a little nerdy and talk about what’s happening in the brain when we find ourselves in these panicked moments. When we’re calm, cool, and collected, we’re living in the “front room” of our brain; we’re able to think and act logically and make rational decisions. The more our anxiety and frustration increases, the further back in the house we go, until we land in the “back room” of our brain where we can only employ our fight, flight, freeze, or appease reactions. When we get locked into this back room, it’s almost impossible for us to think clearly, make rational decisions, and respond logically. I bring this up because the time to decide what to do when we’re in panic-mode is not when we’re locked in that back room. Rather, we need to develop our game plan when we’re calmly relaxing in our front room.

So what are you going to do? What's brought you back to center in the past? What’s helped you to walk away from that panic button? Now is the time to think through your plan. If you’ve gotten into a fight with your significant other or a friend, walk away. Remember, you’re amped up so you’re bound to say things that you don’t really mean. If you’re becoming overwhelmed with bills, set them down and go for a stroll around the block. You’re logical brain is not working well at this point; the last thing you want to do is make a mistake and end up sending two payments instead of one. You walk in the door after a long day at work and you find that Fido has destroyed your living room blinds. Let him outside to run and release some energy, then go shut yourself in your bathroom and get lost in YouTube-land; don’t take your frustrations out on Fido.  

While you’re doing your action planning, take the time to look up different de-stressing techniques. Deep breathing, grounding, yoga, and meditation are all activities that you can do by yourself. If those don’t resonate with you, think about who you’re going to reach out to in those times of stress. Who can you call and talk to when you’re feeling like your head is about to burst? Regardless of your identified action plan, do something that feels right and will work for you.

Stress and anxiety, as awful as they feel, don’t need to hold us captive. We are all capable of casting these feelings aside and deflating their power. Although, we must plan ahead and develop these strategies when we’re in a good head space. Ever hear the phrase, “the best defense is a strong offense”? Well, here is a good way to put that phrase into action. The more you plan, practice, and implement your de-stressing strategies, the less often you’ll find yourself looking for that panic button.

TeenTip: Planning Your Way to a Stress-Free Summer

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Ah, summer. It’s the time of year when the smells of backyard barbecues, sunscreen and citronella combine seamlessly in the hot Texas air. On your evening walk to the mailbox you're able to hear kids playing, cicadas chirping and lawn mowers in the distance.  If you’re an adult, you may pleasantly reminisce to those days of summer when you didn’t have a care in the world and you spent your days out on amazing adventures which brought you home, miraculously, just in time for dinner. Millennial adults remember the hours spent roaming movie theaters, three-way calling and imagining what kind of housemate you’d be if you made it on Road Rules or The Real World (or is that just me?).  It was a simpler time back then. Relaxing. Carefree.

What we often forget, however, is that summer is a time of transition. It is a time when both parents and their children experience a loss of structure, which can end up being challenging for everyone involved. It is important to keep in mind that for most young people, this structure is really about their social life. School provides ample opportunity for connection. Without it, some teens might become anxious about how they are going to continue those relationships throughout the summer. Add to that the pressure of making the team, staying on top of their college preparations, getting ready to move to a new school, feeling self-conscious about “swim suit season” and finally, having their parents remind them that summer is about having fun and relaxing! This is all but relaxing, especially for a teen experiencing anxiety or depression.  

These teens might need some extra help during the summer months. In order to keep your cool during connection attempts with your child, here are some ways this new lack of structure might affect them as a person with anxiety and depression:

1. Isolation

  • School provides opportunities for young people to build connections and relationships (ultimately building support), contribute to the well-being of others, practice social skills, and check in on how they view themselves against a more realistic barometer. Teens with anxiety or depression may isolate themselves to feel safer, but this approach can actually make negative feelings worse.

2. Free Time

  • With anxiety and depression, your teen might experience avoidance and lack of motivation. Depression feeds off of free time, and free time reinforces the distorted belief that they have no purpose or value because they are not able to self-motivate. Feeling like they have not accomplished something can stir up guilt, shame, frustration and anger.  Finding an activity for them can help structure their time, while also allowing them to explore something they feel passionate about – ultimately increasing their sense of self-worth.

3. Lack of Stimulation

  • During the year, school allows teens to focus on productive activities. It gives them natural opportunities to push away negative thoughts and feelings, because there is other work that requires their focus and attention. This stimulation has the potential to keep depression at bay. When summer comes along and there isn't a school schedule to follow it is easy for teens to lose focus and experience a lack of stimulation, which can lead to increased anxiety and depression.

Considering all the benefits that school provides for students with depression, teens and parents should look to carefully plan the summer so that the rug doesn't get pulled out from under them. Here are some natural and inexpensive ways to replicate the benefits of school:

  1. Have a Schedule – create a to-do list, even if it seems minor.

  2. Daily Physical Activity – It fills time, improves mood and is an opportunity to accomplish something and/or nurture social relationships.

  3. Employment / Volunteer Work – An effective tool against depression is helping others. Employment or volunteering opportunities can provide structure, stimulation and social interaction.

  4. Strengthen Existing Commitments – Whether through club sports, faith communities or additional learning, teens can find purpose when engaging with their community.

  5. Stay Focused on Academics – While a reprieve from the pressures of school are necessary, keeping up with academics is beneficial for some. It can also ease their transition into the next school year.

  6. Leisure  - Ideally, leisure time is given the same priority as the items listed above and is mainly social. This allows teens to take time for themselves and blow off steam by participating in activities they enjoy, with people they enjoy. * Remember that these are activities of their own choosing, and not something that you hope they will enjoy.

  7. Down Time is IMPORTANT! – There is such a thing as TOO MUCH activity. Filling every minute of the day with activities is exhausting and might even decrease their self-esteem. Regardless of age, it is important for everyone to have time to unwind and be alone, as long as it’s only one part of many.

A thoughtful and well planned summer can not only help those with depression and anxiety by avoiding certain stressors, but it could also help them make gains in managing their illness!


 

 

LifeTip: Can Taking the Time to Be Mindful Actually Free Up Time?

Photo by  Harry Sandhu  on  Unsplash

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

Mindfulness is the intentional and active state of being aware and present – basically it’s getting out of your head and into the moment.  It’s about connecting to yourself, others, and the world around you. At heart it’s about cultivating consciousness through the use of the very thing that keeps us alive, the breath. I avoided it for years, thinking I had to be Buddha like to succeed! The very notion of mindfulness sounded not only impossible but also grueling and certainly I didn’t have the time for it. What I discovered, though, is that mindfulness can be done anywhere, in your car, on the bus, on your daily run or walk, even while eating or talking with a friend. And, it can look however you want it to look, eyes open or closed, standing, moving, or sitting in lotus position cross-legged on a mat . . . your choice. The idea is to begin in a way that is comfortable for you, just not so comfortable that you fall asleep!  

While the formal practice of mindfulness, mindfulness meditation with eyes closed in lotus position, is considered the optimal posture it can be excruciating and intolerable for some, so much so that one might quit before ever really starting. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else — it’s about being where you are and knowing it.” So why not set yourself up for success and do what works for you by starting right where you are.  It does take practice and time but let’s look at that a little more closely.  You might just find that it’s worth your time.

So, what’s the big deal? Why practice mindfulness, you may ask? You may resist, like I did. But here’s the bottom line - it’s a paradox - taking time to be mindful can actually free up time. Absurd, right? How can adding something to your already overscheduled day create that illusive thing we all yearn for, more time?  It makes sense, though, when you consider what neuroscience tells us about mindfulness and the brain. What studies show is that mindfulness literally rewires the brain. And, it rewires it in a way that improves focus, memory, clarity of thinking, and the ability to manage emotions. It has the capacity to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. Even more compelling is that findings show mindfulness can enhance happiness and overall well-being, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

So, imagine just for a moment how much time you might free up if you were less stressed, anxious, and/or engulfed by the blues.  Imagine, too, how your use of time might look were you focused and better able to regulate the ups and downs of life. Study after study shows that the health benefits gained from mindfulness abound. Perhaps more time, not to mention quality time, is yet another reward?

Curious to know more? Check out these videos. Be ‘mindful’ of the fact that there really is no one definition or one way to cultivate mindfulness.  See what resonates with you in this very moment!

The powerful secret of your breath -- Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, MD

Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain's Default Mode with Meditation

Meditation 101: A Beginner's Guide Animation

Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness

Andy Puddicombe, All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

For practical steps check out Mayo Clinic’s guide to simple meditation here.

 

LifeTip: Working Through the Chaos of the Holidays

The holidays are in full swing and you have made it past Thanksgiving. Congratulations! You hopefully have a moment, although probably brief, to breathe before the next big one, but the buildup may be starting to create anxiety. What do you do? There are several things that can help you get through it.

First, remember to breathe! Yes, people probably tell you this all of the time and it can sometimes make you want to scream. You breathe all of the time, your unconscious mind makes you do it. However, you can take some conscious control over it by slowing your breath down, which in turn will stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system (nerd alert!). All this means is that your body will put on the “brakes” and slow down, relax your muscles, and slow your heart rate. To slow your breath down, breathe in through your nose, count the number of seconds it takes you to inhale, breathe out through your mouth, and double the length of your exhale. Breathe in for four seconds, exhale for eight. One way to do that with less effort is to purse your lips together when you exhale—like you are trying to blow the flame of a candle without blowing it out. This is a great breathing exercise to try with the tiny humans in your life. Kids love to blow out candles, even the make believe kind!

Second, make a list. Having a million thoughts, ideas, and tasks that need to get accomplished can add to the anxiety. Write everything down, so they are no longer floating around in your head or popping up at the most inconvenient times like when you are in a meeting or reading a book to your child and you want to remain present with them. But you can never remember to bring the piece of paper or journal with you? Put it in your phone. Find whatever works best for you. When you finally have a moment, maybe at the end of your day, see which things you can cross off your list for the next day. Be careful not to schedule too many tasks in one day.

Third, make time for yourself. If you have to, put it on your list so that it becomes as much a priority as buying groceries. Maybe you are a parent and have a full-time job,or a student in the middle of finals, or just a person who feels like there is never enough time in the day. Take a shower at night when the kids are asleep, this could be your time and it may be only 5-10 minutes but it’s your time. Splurge on the fancy soap or the extra soft towel. Practice some mindfulness and appreciate your moment (See Huffington Post article link below for more ideas).

Fourth, get your body moving. There are so many benefits to exercise, but for anxiety, it can help you get all of that extra energy out, clear your head, and increase your endorphins. Again, where is the time? Go outside with your kids and run with them. On your lunch break, get a walk in for 15-30 minutes. Do an online yoga practice at home. Make it something you actually enjoy doing. Not another to-do list anxiety provoking task.

All of the ideas listed above are for you to try out and see what works for you. Everyone is different and handle situations differently, so please take what serves you and leave the rest behind. After all, the goal here is mindfulness and self care, not one more should. We are with you.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/meditation-in-action-5-tips-to-be-mindful_n_3253336.html