While there are still a few days and weeks left in semester break 2020-2021, some college students are feeling the repercussions of fall semester in terms of stress and the management of stress. They are searching for a mental and emotional boost as they prepare for second semester.
Having had to adjust to on-line school, move home unexpectedly, and experience living is an environment that is full of disruptions, has affected students in ways they are just now uncovering. Some students even describe last semester as traumatic. The initial (seeming) disorganization of college courses and expectations, the lack of communication between professors and students, and the lack of visual and auditory cues from regular peer and professor conversations caused some students to really struggle emotionally, mentally, and academically. This winter break, however, has served a purpose in that students are decompressing from the total impact of last semester.
During this decompression, students also are preparing for yet another challenging semester. Although every person’s tolerance for change and resilience is different, students going back for spring semester 2021 could benefit from an emotional and mental boost that will arm them with the tools they need to manage life and thrive in chaos. What is a “boost” and how will it help?
A boost is a foundationally strong, healthy, and confident mental health. It is built by designing, adopting, and practicing effective coping strategies that are critical for overall personal life balance. Essentially, a boost is toolkit of supportive approaches to use in times of overwhelm.
Again, each student’s toolkit will look different.
As a professional life coach for students, I consider there to be four key tools necessary to thrive through stress when in college, with or without a pandemic. These four areas of personal introspections, when established and strengthened, not only build the “boost”, but provide and sustain a solid mental and emotional health the rest of your life.
Self-esteem: When a student needs help navigating emotional and mental chaos, one of the first things we look at is a scaled self-esteem measurement. Ultimately you should average the good, bad, and ugly aspects of your self-perception and use this moderation as cushion when motivation and strength are needed. Handling overwhelm and navigating discomfort are easier when you feel capable and confident.
Emotional regulation: We assess your reaction to unwanted, unforeseen, and uncomfortable emotions. When you feel uncapable, unmotivated, hurt, lonely, or scared, how do you react? What is your go-to response? Is it to deny, hide, give up, or attack the very thing that will be your agent of change or do you respond with an action plan, with grace, and by asking for help.
Core sense of self: When a student partners with a professional life coach, we form a collaboration and begin to explore and discover who you are at your core. We assess the things you value the most in life, what makes you feel the most complete. What are the guiding compasses for your total mental health?
Some of my student clients have never thought about this and once we connect them to the things in life (family, friends, exercise, acts of kindness, volunteerism, creativity, time alone) that make them feel their best, and they begin to incorporate these into their daily routine, we see the shift in how students manage stress and overwhelm, how confident they feel in doing so, and how capable and masterful they become with managing life.
Wellness habits: Much of this discovery is also about finding and adopting activities that bring joy, exercise self-expression, and that help with the overall mind/body connection. Being “well” is the opposite of being “sick” – stressed, depressed, weak, scared, hopeless, helpless, distressed.
Think about a boost for next semester. Build a foundation of emotional, mental, spiritual and wellness strategies on which to win against stress. Begin this boost by looking at you.
At Students Stress Less Coaching LLC we discover the best design for you to thrive in college. We boost you emotionally, mentally, soulfully, and physically.
Although you can enjoy and explore with 4 self-paced BOOST modules (visit MENU in this site or at http://www.studentsstressless.com), you can also hire a professional stress coach for the whole semester or just to get you started. For more information on how to do this, please reach out - firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have been doing a great deal of motivation (or lack of) work in coaching sessions with students over the last two months. Some seek professional coaching because of the stress of not knowing what to do with unstructured time (home-based learning). Some feel the overwhelm of not knowing how to juggle the technology-styled learning. And some are struggling with "seeing the light at the end of the tunnel".
As we know it, motivation is the desire to get something done. We can fancy the definition all we want, but when it comes down to it, we get things accomplished based on our motivation and effort. Our levels of motivation fluctuate from day to day and hour to hour. This is natural and to be expected. It is when motivation remains low and begins to effect output that students begin to panic and fall behind.
Some of the things that effect our level of motivation are mood, health, mindset, anxiety and depression, and perspective. Some of us are driven by internal desires and needs to "get on the ball", and some of us are driven by external thoughts and rewards. Any way we butter the bread, our desired outcome depends on our intentions and our efforts - motivation.
These are some of the mentally challenging questions we explore in professional coaching when motivation is low, and energy is elusive. Sometimes frustration rises because there is no answer; no vision; no clarity; no desire. What the student comes to realize is that the simple act of exploring these questions is actually a motivator!
If you are a student experiencing low motivation and cannot visualize finishing the semester (right now), what thought patterns can you shift? How can you rethink and reframe thoughts paralyzing your actions? Is it realistic to remain in your non-motivated state any longer? What emotional and mental snowball effect will your lack of movement create? How will being in this state of being affect you? How can you access positive thinking and forward motion? How will you "raise your frequency?"
To some students, intentionally adjusting your level of motivation may look like:
Of course, obstacles will trip you up; make you question your efforts. The human brain is designed to be negative, so you might doubt every effort you make to move the dial on motivation. It is critical to remind yourself that as you connect and work on increasing your desires to accomplish and succeed, be extremely specific in what this look like for YOU. As Steve Jobs stated, "Let the vision pull you.".
What does it look like to "be done"?
What does it look like to "hit that submit button with confidence"?
What does it feel like to enjoy your break knowing you did the best you could?
What does it feel like to move that "C" to a "B"?
Enjoy these mantras as additional mental motivators (internet sourced):
“The Best Way to Get Started Is to Quit Talking and Begin Doing.” – Walt Disney
“Discipline is doing what needs to be done, even if you do not want to.”
“We Generate Fears While We Sit. We Overcome Them by Action.”
“The harder you work for something, the greater you'll feel when you achieve it.”
Planning Backwards is exactly what it sound like. This technique was first introduced as an efficiency tool and military strategy as a means to pursue desired goals. Think backwards to plan forward is the gist. Stephen Covey lists Planning Backwards as "Habit #2" in his famous book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
"To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you're going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction."
Basically, starting with your end goal or date and working your way to present day time is the plan of action and necessary steps toward the stated goal. This effective technique for students to use is also called reverse planning or "forward in reverse".
As a stress reduction strategy, student clients and I will try this technique for long term projects. When the student knows exactly what to work on each day as a part of their plan, procrastination is minimized, forward thinking is activated, and the project is completed on time.
Planning Backwards is just one strategy both college and high school students can use to help lessen the stress caused by academics.
As we send our kids back to college in these unparalleled times, we must expect some rocky beginnings. The transition to on-line learning, the lack of social interaction, and the missing out of professor-student relationships are all things that contribute to a thriving college experience (among others). With this new kind of temporary "normal", parents and students, alike, can manage the emotions that accompany the changes.
Parents, we are not new to feeling overwhelmed. We are guilty of falling victim to the circumstances of Covid, especially around the chaos of sending our kids back to college. We speak negatively. We blame the universities. We complain about the money involved for the quality of education. We display feeling exhausted with having to make decisions. We exemplify handling our emotions in all the wrong ways. We are caught in the whirl wind of COVID, in more ways than one.
But, when our students call with concerns, complaints, sadness, and feelings of helplessness, we sometimes feel like we do not have the emotional resources to lend them. This is where things can get better!
Our kids need us. And, we are responsible for and capable of supporting them. Period. Nineteen or twenty-three. It does not matter. Every human needs validation, encouragement and modeled resilience.
Our students have lived with uncertainty for months now. They are literally living day to day (some, on edge) with announcements, changes, and the need to adjust on-the-fly. In addition, they have felt our incertitude for months. After all, we have been struggling with some of the same feelings - sadness, conflicted, helpless, anger, disappointment. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our kids feel our struggles too, and, this is not fair to them as they give everything they have to focus and succeed during this strangeness.
They need more from us.
Our kids need us to speak statements of hope. They need to hear positivity in our voices. They need our encouragement to figure this out on their own (because every other student at every other university is having to do the same). They need us to laugh. They need us to simply ask "How can I help?". Our kids need support and strength from home.
This will be the most powerful motivator in terms of how they maneuver through Fall semester than anything else.
Use the mirror effect (and it is never too late to practice this). Pretend your student is looking into a mirror for some type of positive encouragement and motivation. What would the mirror say to your child? Perhaps - "I know this is one of the toughest situations you will ever be in, but you are all in it together. Talk to your hall mates. I bet they feel the same way." Or maybe - "I am sure your professors will be understanding." "The cafeteria people are having a hard time figuring this out and I bet they will somehow reimburse us for lost meals. Do not worry about this. Let us figure out how you can get food and we will work with the Bursar Office later." Or, simply- "What can I do to help you feel more secure right now?"
Our students do not need to struggle emotionally. We can help them by reminding ourselves.
We can bypass our own feelings about this semester, this YEAR, and this situation to help our students thrive. We are adults who can regulate our feelings. Our students may still be learning this skill and it is our job to help them develop resiliency and acceptance. Life as we all know it is full of disappointments, highs and lows, and unexpected changes. How we model managing LIFE is the truest indicator of how our kids will manage life.
Remember, you are the mirror.
I had a consult this week with a student who is overwhelmed. He is preoccupied with the announcement of where he will continue college this fall (home versus on campus). The unknown of what his (immediate) future looks like is causing him so much anxiety that he is having difficulty making daily decisions. He is not interested in many activities, his self-care is poor, and he describes constant worry. His main worry is that he will fail more classes because he "does not do well learning online."
This student is proactively seeking guidance with figuring out how to manage his current stress and is aware that by August he will not need to worry. He is under the care of other professionals but was curious how a professional stress coach could help him.
Since the exploration call is limited to thirty minutes I did a great deal of listening. This student has significant insight and is expressive about his emotions. He failed some courses last semester and is still reeling himself back in (GPA) as he prepares for a successful semester (2020). He is self-aware enough to know he wants to do better, and recognizes his struggles around remote learning. He is curious about effective stress management strategies for both now and later.
When I come out of exploration calls with prospective clients, I always take a few minutes to reflect on how I can help the student and what specific gain they would receive with coaching. In this case, a professional coach can help the student identify the things he can control today (Circle of Influence - Steven Covey). A coach can help him learn the science behind the stress (fight or flight, adrenal functioning, mindfulness techniques) and how to stay on top of its daily (hourly) impact. And, a stress coach can help the student develop tools (both mentally and physically) that help the thoughts causing the emotions (anxious, scared, overwhelmed) which, in turn, is causing the behaviors (worrying, poor self-care, isolating from interests). Basic CBT. Even with the admission of executive function weaknesses (focus and concentration struggles with online learning), a coach can help the student set in place specific methods and practices for these concerns.
This student's worries are MANY students worries at this time in space. There are many college and high school students caught in the pendulum of campus learning or distance learning. As we are all aware, this is life right now.
The ability to adapt, bounce back, and cope in these circumstance are the factors that will determine success. Students are being asked to flexible when they are unsure how. They are being asked to be patient when waiting is causing the inability to plan and prioritize. They are being asked to understand when they are still learning to understand all that is involved with college life. A great deal of uncertainty is present and causing much anxiety and overwhelm.
When a student can go to college feeling their best, they achieve. They make friends, study hard, ask for help, set personal boundaries, and start thinking about their future. After all, THIS is what college is for, right. In order to "feel your best", there are some things that need to be checked, assessed, evaluated, and adjusted.
Does the student have a strong sense of self? Is their self-esteem healthy? Do there values lead their actions? Can they manage fragile emotional states, like loneliness? Can they prioritize their wellness? Can they manage their academic path forward - do they have an academic vision and can they forward think how to put action with the vision? Do they know the difference between "urgent" and "important"? How well do they function under pressure and respond to multiple deadlines? Do they know how to relax and balance life as a student? What does "balance" even mean? Can they recognize unhealthy situations? Can they correct faulty thinking? Can they reset unhelpful and unhealthy habits? Do they know the difference between stress and anxiety?
After five years of working exclusively with college students on stress management and anxiety "control", themes become noticeable. Believe it or not, these themes stand true from season to season and year to year. For instance, around August freshmen leaving for college start to panic. The stress is something they have never felt. Around October each year, the overwhelm of managing mid-terms is...overwhelming. Students have never had to manage academics at the collegiate level, in conjunction with maintaining wellness necessities (sleep, diet, relaxation, exercise), executing daily skills like managing distractions, prioritizing and forward thinking, deciding social priorities, all while missing family.
One theme that has remained constant in my practice (albeit not EVERY client struggles) is the challenge of feeling self-confident at all times in all situations. Feeling self- confidence and possessing self-esteem.
Are these two "self-entities" the same thing? Can you be "full" of one, and lack in the other?
Let's start with self-esteem.
Self-esteem is the act of or how you value your self. It is how happy you are with yourself (not your abilities). Self-esteem is the degree to which you respect yourself, trust yourself and to a certain extent, love yourself.
Having deep levels or self-doubt, self-worth, and self- limits is proof that your self-esteem is suffering, challenged, compromised or low. This often looks and feels like overthink, perfectionism, avoidance, hyper-criticism, a sense of failure, irritability, depression, anger, afraid, hesitancy, uncertain and a sense of overwhelm, mentally.
Self-esteem is the foundation to building self-confidence.
Self-confidence is a skill, not a personality trait. It is not fixed or constant, and often depends on what situation you might be in.
By definition, self-confidence is your thoughts about your abilities. How capable you feel about navigating yourself in this world. When compromised or in need of development, low self-confidence looks like negative think, mental chaos, thoughts about being flawed and incapable, and feeling exaggerated shortcomings about yourself. If your self-confidence is low, you might downplay or hide your positive attributes and accomplishments. You might under appreciate the good in your life. You might question or not believe your good qualities.
So, there is a distinct difference between self-confidence and self-esteem. While the two co-exist, you can be missing self-esteem yet feel confident about an ability such as maybe how well you can draw. Drawing charcoal portraits may be one area of life where your confidence resides. Other feelings of failure or self-acceptance may be challenging enough that you hesitate to engage in other areas outside of drawing, like... sharing in a relationship, or admitting to feeling sad, or making unhealthy choices in life situations, or feeling "not as good as".
There are all kinds of ways that low self-esteem can manifest itself, and you know when you feel lousy about YOU. You know when you feel inadequate, unworthy, shameful. The most powerful thing to acknowledge is that...
No one feels confident and at the top of the esteem game one hundred percent of the time. It is impossible for humans to walk through every day feeling comfortable with every aspect of their existence.
When, however, you practice self-love, acknowledge that your belief system about yourself may be flawed, and actually learn that emotions can teach you about yourself and not devalue you, you begin to extend yourself in what used to feel like risky situations (going to a restaurant alone, making eye contact with the young lady, asking a group of friends to tag along). Self-esteem is an emergence. It happens when you practice self-awareness and trust your emotions to guide you, not hurt you.
Helping students understand the slight discrepancy between self-confidence and self-esteem is a tool used that jump starts the process of self-acceptance. You CAN have one without the other! Helping students acknowledge skewed perceptions of themselves and tap into their inner guidance system (intuition) is powerful in their journey to growing "the self".
Here are a few ways to do some solo work and begin to accept the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem
5/8/2020 0 Comments
You are at the end of an unusually stressful semester. Spring semester 2020. You will still be talking about these past few months when you are eighty years old. There is no disputing the fact that you have experienced high stress this semester.
Now that finals are here and you are preparing to display how hard you have worked, you may still be experiencing feelings of fear, failure, and overwhelm. At a time when you should be feeling some excitement about the end of a school year, your body and mind are most likely still in an active stress response, in part from your response to Covid-19.
You may find yourself feeling more worried than normal, maybe more anxious than normal, and perhaps more overwhelmed.
Now is the time to become aware of your stress so you can manage and regulate stress levels during exam week (Think: Scale 0-10). You will want to maximize your study efforts with smart planning and organization, a clean mental space, and ramped up wellness practices.
Keep in mind that a little healthy stress (eustress) around exam time is needed. You would not be productive or prepared if you did not feel a little angst in the next few weeks. Note that these feelings will disappear once your exams are over.
Stressing too much about final exams is what you are trying to prevent because raising the level of panic and letting false thoughts about yourself and your efforts during this time serves zero purpose. In fact, allowing yourself to believe that you are not prepared, that you do not really care, or that you are going to fail any way only gives more strength to the already absorbed stress.
Take some time to STOP what you are doing and let those negative thoughts pass through you. Let them exist (do not try to avoid, deny, or ignore them). Let them make their appearance, BUT, do not attach your feeling to the thoughts. They are simply thoughts. Let them be. And, watch them go.
Now, really focus and become aware of what you can do at this very moment to move through this next week with less of an impact of stressful thoughts. This might look like changing your nutritional habits, making a new study schedule, or planning out the next ninety-six hours to the minute with charts, timers, mind maps, or flow charts
If the reality is that you are going to fail a class, that there is no salvation, then move to the next class that gives you the most stress and begin to organize a study schedule and make a study plan (FREE TIPS offered on IG @studentsstresslesscoach), and focus with intention.
Here are TEN physical and mental strategies to help you monitor stress so that it does not interfere with your studying:
1. When you feel yourself getting tense or experiencing some type of physical manifestation of stress, stop and direct your thoughts to what is happening in your immediate environment. What do you see? What can you smell? What can you touch? Rub your hands together to feel your own skin. This technique is an effective strategy called STOP (Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed).
Really ground yourself while you practice being present.
2. Several times a day stretch and breathe. Incorporate “4-7-8” or "square breathing". You can do this wherever you are.
3. Seek out or start a conversation with someone. Talking can release ruminated thoughts about failing or fear of being unprepared. Let others support you.
4. Administer self-massage to your face, neck, shoulders arms and hands. Or, apply "third eye" acupressure to the middle of your forehead. (https://www.powerofpositivity.com/heres-happens-massage-point-forehead/.
5. Regain a feeling of control over your situation by reframing your thoughts. Instead of thinking "I'm so mad I left this until the last minute.", slowly move your thoughts to what one action step you can take to make you feel in control of studying the material. There is always an upside to most things in life. It is up to you to take your mind to that place.
6. It is never too late. Never too late to try a new way to study. Never too late to take a quick nap to rejuvenate your brain. Never too late to email the TA. Never too late to try again. Never too late to plan.
7. Accept what is. If you have backed yourself into a corner in a particular class by not attending class, not working harder to bring up a failing grade, not keeping up with assignments, accept your current situation but trade the blame and shame for a more positive acceptance like "this is my eye opener", or "this is a touch lesson". We all learn from our experiences. Use your current situation as motivation to do better at something else.
8. Avoid or monitor caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and sugar drinks including smoothies and energy drinks. You want to maximize the quality of your sleep.
9. Move your body. This can be vigorously or gently. Or, incorporate some of both. The idea is to give your brain a break and your body some love.
10. Believe in yourself. Think of all you had to do to even get to college. Remind yourself of your successes along the way. Life is about "wins and losses", mistakes and lessons. Mostly working through stress in life is about exercising the skill of being resilient. Part of being resilient is accepting what is, loving yourself, and knowing that your college life is only one part of your life experience.
3/30/2020 0 Comments
It appears college students across the country are making this new normal seem easy during these unsettling times. Adjustments are being made. Distance learning is going well. Projects are continuing. And professors who may have been new to total online teaching are now seasoned. The semester rolls on.
This week, I learned from my neighbor who is a professor that as she was recently remote teaching a science related course to her forty-three students at a Florida college, the internet went out during the course. She is a dental hygiene professor and the computer has always played a minimal role in her teaching students…until now. Learning how to implement distance learning tools to teach a practical course and have the internet fail in doing so has required many extra hours of her time and some ingenuity she forgot she had. Despite figuring out these details, she is still unsure how her students will finish clinicals.
On one hand, it seems unimaginable how students and professors all over the world have figured out how to make “this thing” work. Quick adjustments, communication, and a bit of extra effort are just a few of the actions that have squashed panic in academia. Students have remained glued to their computers since they were asked to move home. They have rearranged schedules and set up classrooms at home. They have reached out to peers and found comfort in knowing they are all in this together. They have allowed themselves to feel sad, sentimental, and even angry, but there is one thing they have not done.
Folded. Given up. Or, quit.
For parents, despite how positive and confident we are trying to be, it can be said that we are perhaps the ones who have not adjusted as well. We are trying to make sense of the instant chaos and create some sense of order as the entire household finds a balance. In addition, we are not only experiencing a level of worry that is intense and extensive, but we still feel somewhat in charge of our students’ uncertainty during this pandemic. As parents, we are absorbing another layer of worry in this process.
Our college children are making things happen though. They are picking up the pieces and completing the puzzle. They are using and strengthening their executive function skills, particularly mental flexibility and emotional regulation, to persevere.
“Executive function is the ability to organize and manage our thoughts, actions, and emotions in order to initiate, sustain, and complete a task.” https://www.growinghandsonkids.com/executive-functioning-skills.html
And, our students are sparing us their worries because they recognize their own ability to succeed during this crisis.
When a student can dig deep and rely on themselves in times of change, stress and uncertainty, they feel successful. Each small success, whether it is an emotional win, an academic win, or a social win of some type, builds upon itself. They gain competence and confidence as they overcome, problem solve, and take risks.
For instance, the senior college student who had a “melt down” over not being to walk in graduation ceremonies in May is working to accept that global health and safety are paramount. This same student is relying on hope that there will be a future ceremony and has turned attention on finishing the semester strongly. The architecture student whose entire junior semester is spent in the architecture studio completing a semester project, is trusting that their professor will guide them to completion. And, the music major who was in the middle of a huge campus and community (graded) musical production has had to adjust to an alternate assignment.
One of the things I help students assess (as their personal stress coach) is how they adapt to stressful situations. How resilient are they during the many times in life they are faced with difficulty?
Resiliency is many things. Resiliency is the ability to overcome. It is a skill that can be both learned and practiced as tribulations occur. Think lemons and lemonade. Think elastic. Think silly putty. Resiliency is about how well you bounce back. Other qualities of being resilient: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/resilience
Ten Ways Parents Can Help Their College Student Build Resiliency: