Ask the Counselor is a column written by Kimara Clarke, an MTSU staff counselor, and offers students the opportunity to ask a licensed mental health professional questions about mental health. If you would like to submit a question to “Ask the Counselor,” please send an email to Kimara.Clarke@mtsu.edu. We will contact you to let you know if your question is chosen to be published and if you would like it to be anonymous.
November 2021 - Having a hard time dealing with a break up
I am really having a hard time dealing with a recent break up. I don’t understand what happened. I thought things were going good but then my partner breaks things off without giving me much of a reason as to why. My heart feels broken into a thousand pieces. How do I deal with this?
Heart-broken Beyond Repair
Dear Heart-broken Beyond Repair,
First of all, let me say that I am sorry you are having to go through this. The loss of a relationship can be painful. Our emotions can range from feeling empty and numb to excruciating pain. We may turn to others for comfort only to be met with indifference or oversimplified clichés that are anything but helpful. I won’t offer those here. But what I will offer are some very basic tips to help you navigate through the different emotions you may experience as you heal from this loss.
- Stick to the basics. Take care of yourself on the most basic level. This includes making sure you are getting enough sleep, you are eating, and getting in some form of exercise. Of course, when we are hurting we often lose all three of these. Yet, these things are a pivotal part of what helps us function as they help us get through each day. You may not be very hungry but eating smaller snacks can be helpful. To help with getting a good night’s rest, try to do things that are more relaxing leading up to bed. This may include reading a book, taking a relaxing bath, or drinking something warm. Exercise is helpful because it releases the endorphins that can help improve your mood.
- Give yourself space to grieve. Grief has no rhyme or reason. It can sneak up on you without warning and present itself at the most inopportune time. For instance, you may be overcome with emotion while eating in the STU, while walking to class, or even while you’re in class. When this happens, excuse yourself and allow yourself time to deal with your feelings. Once you have done this you can choose to return to class or you may have to excuse yourself and go find ways to self-soothe.
- Self-soothe. This is something that our mothers or guardians did for us when we were younger and were upset. They would “shoo” us or talk gently to us to help us calm down. As we grew older, it became our responsibility to learn to do this for ourselves. Self-soothing can take many forms including getting outside and getting some fresh air, talking through how you feel with someone you trust, watching your favorite movie or Netflix/Hulu show, using essential oils with a diffuser, having your favorite Starbuck’s drink, curling up with your favorite blanket or something soft or textured that feels good to you. You could even use a weighted blanket to help soothe you.
Just know the journey to recovering from a broken-heart does not happen overnight. There will be a mixture of tough days and good times too. Surround yourself with people who love and care about you because they will help to remind you that you are loved and this, along with the other things I previously mentioned, will help your heart to slowly mend.
Until next time,
October 2021 - Need help staying focused and improving motivation
I started out this semester strong. I was meeting deadlines, found a routine that worked, and overall felt pretty good. But over the last few weeks my energy has gone down. I’m finding it harder to stay focused and I have zero motivation. Studying for midterms was hard and I procrastinated getting projects done. I’m either really irritated or I feel numb and nothing is helping. Any suggestions on how to deal with this?
It sounds like you may be dealing with burnout. Burnout happens when you’ve been under stress for a period of time and have not adequately addressed it. We tend to think that if we just keep pushing ourselves then things will get better. But we only make things worse for ourselves and end up paying the price for not taking care of ourselves in a healthy and balanced way. Burnout will take some time to recover from and will require that you do things differently. Here are few things to consider:
- Mind your mind. What type of expectations have you set for yourself? Of course, you want to do the best you can. But your best does not come from pushing yourself beyond your limits when you are tired, drained, or mentally and emotionally exhausted. Be aware of the expectations you have for yourself and understand how these may be contributing to your current mood.
- First things first. Take time to address your needs. Since your energy level is down, do you need more sleep or even times for rest? Are you eating healthy? This is where your energy comes from and if you are not getting the proper amount of nutrients then you are not helping build your energy reserves back up. Make time to eat at least one healthy meal a day or come as close to it as you possibly can.
- Rest is your friend. Taking time to rest, sit and do nothing, watch your favorite show, or spend time with a friend is not a waste of time. Sometimes we can get stuck in work mode. When we do, our brains tell us that we should be doing more. Just because we have this thought does not make it a fact. It is actually a judgment of our performance, and works against us rather than helping us or motivating us. We need times of rest to replenish ourselves so that we can get school work completed. Build these times into your schedule and take breaks as you need them.
- Break up your study time. When you can only focus for a limited amount of time requires a “refocus.” If you can only focus for 15 minutes at a time, trying to force yourself to focus beyond this is only going to make you frustrated. Divide your study time into increments that match how long you are able to focus. So, if that means you can focus for 15 minutes, then study for 15 minutes and take a 5-10 minute break. During the break, refrain from using social media or anything else that could pull your attention away from getting back to your studying. Instead, let your mind rest and then resume studying until you complete your assignment or are able to make significant progress on it.
Until next time,
September 2021 - Suggestions on making meaningful friendships
I thought that coming back to school I would have made more friends by now. But honestly, I haven’t and I don’t know why. I want to feel connected and have a community and it just isn’t happening. Any suggestions on how I can make this happen?
A Tad Disillusioned
Dear A Tad Disillusioned,
Relationships make up such an important part of our lives. We were made for connections and when we feel like they are lacking it can leave us feeling grieved. But it’s more than just the number of friendships, it’s the quality of the relationship that makes a difference as well. Based on your question, I’m wondering which one you are looking for? On the one hand, you want to feel connected and have a sense of community and yet your question is asking for suggestions on how to make “more” friends. There is a very big difference between what a quality friendship looks like and quantity. Quantity of friendships is about the number. These friendships may or may not develop into anything beyond hanging out occasionally and being surface level. Quality friendships are those in which we feel comfortable being ourselves and can share the deeper parts of ourselves without fear of judgment. These friendships may only be with a few people instead of a group. Here are a few things to consider as you think further about your friendships:
- Be clear on what you want. First things first, are you looking for a lot of friends or friends you feel connected with and safe? Think about which would be more meaningful to you right now. In any new situation, we want to feel connected as soon as possible and sometimes believe that comes from having as many people available to us as we want. But is that what you really need? Do you need something that has more substance to it?
- It may not happen overnight. There is a process to meeting and getting to know people. Even if you want a lot of friends, it still might take time to meet people you want to spend any amount of time with even on a surface level. Make yourself available for friendship. Be willing to make the first move especially if this is something that is important to you. Give things time to develop whether on a surface level or for a deeper connection.
- In the meantime. Focus on getting settled in school and finding the routine that works for you. Get involved with activities on campus. Sometimes friendships come from common interests. This also would be an opportunity for you to build your skills or gain more knowledge in a certain area all while getting to know others and possibly finding the friendships that you want for yourself.
Until next time
August 2021 - How can I manage the transition back to in-person classes?
I am happy to be back for in-person classes. Being virtual was a challenge to say the least. But the transition back has been a bit more challenging than I thought. Any suggestions on how to make it more manageable?
Welcome back! I can imagine for some it is a big relief to be back in the classroom and resume face to face learning. Having to learn virtually was a big transition and came with its own challenges. But with that behind us now we can focus on moving forward. While you may have wanted to come back as soon as possible to being in person, it sounds like returning has been difficult. Since you didn’t provide me with any specifics about what it is challenging, I’ll just offer some general suggestions that you can take and make applicable to you.
- Establish your routine/schedule. Having a virtual schedule versus having an in-person schedule are two totally different ways of going about school. With virtual you can literally roll out of bed minutes before class begins and sign on to the class. The in-person process requires a very different routine. In-person you have to give yourself time to prepare to physically come to campus. One way to get back into a routine is to think about what you’ve done in the past that has worked. What did your schedule look like? How did you space out your breaks? What time of day did you have the most energy to get work done? What time of day did you notice you started to slow down? These are some things to consider as you are building back your routine.
- Set reasonable expectations. It may take a minute for you to figure out what works best for you. This is normal and ok. Give yourself the space to find the pace and routine that works for you. Keeping your expectations in line with where you are in the present is key to having a smooth transition back to in person. Stay in tune with what you are saying to yourself about yourself, listening specifically for any “shoulds.” The “shoulds” demand things from us that may not be appropriate to our current circumstances. Once you are aware of these things then you can begin to challenge them.
- Live balanced. While finding a routine and having reasonable expectations are important, it is equally important to have balance in your life. Our tendency is to become overly involved with work and limit time for play and relaxation. But this puts us out of balance and leads to negative consequences. Making time for pleasurable activities in your weekly/biweekly schedule gives your brain and body some time to rest and rejuvenate itself. This helps you to function optimally and makes the most out of your classroom time and study time.
- Signs of not adjusting well. Sometimes with the best of intentions things can still not go as planned. Pay attention to how well you are able to focus, your energy level, how well you are able to sleep or your quality of sleep, a loss or increase in appetite, difficulty making decisions, hard time getting out of bed, low motivation, feeling sluggish, procrastinating, feeling helpless, hopeless, worthless, or being distracted by worries. If you notice any of these things and you believe it has gotten out of control, then it may be time to reach out for help. You can come into the Counseling Center to get help in determining what is going on.
- One last thing. If you drive to campus get here early because there is no mask or vaccine for the parking situation just yet.
Wishing you a smooth transition,
April 2021 - I'm really overwhelmed!
Just like everybody else who has written in lately, I’m really overwhelmed. A friend of mine recommended that I do meditation but when I tried to do it, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking. I kept thinking about what I needed to get done and other random things. I ended up feeling frustrated, which didn’t help at all. What did I do wrong? How do I get myself to stop thinking long enough to meditate?
Too Many Thoughts
Dear Too Many Thoughts,
It sounds like you went into it with certain ideas about how things were supposed to go, and when they did not go that way you got frustrated, and understandably so. But in actuality, what you experienced while trying to meditate is normal, particularly if you have never done it before. A lot of things we attempt to do for the first time don’t always turn out the way we planned. This is not a signal that you have necessarily done anything wrong. It may just mean that you need to think about how to make it better the next time. When it comes to meditating, if you think about it, your daily routine is constantly engaging your mind, creating the habit of not being in the moment. It is this lack of being present that contributes to feelings of stress and overwhelm. Meditation is a practice that you build over time. It helps you learn to focus your attention in the present and by doing so helps you manage your stress levels. Consider these things as you work on building this new skill:
- Manage your expectations going into the situation. Be clear on what you are doing. Do your research and arm yourself with the information you need to make sure you are getting the most out of each meditation session. Learn about the different ways of meditating and choose which one you think will work best for you. Being knowledgeable about this practice will help keep your expectations realistic.
- There is no such thing as stopping your thoughts even while meditating. Your brain is designed to think. Be careful going into any meditation session with the idea that you will be able to stop thinking. Know that a wandering mind is a normal part of the process.
- Try to find someplace that is comfortable but also has minimal distractions. If total silence does not work for you, try using a background noise. If you have a lot on your mind try making a list of things you need to get done. This is another way to help minimize distractions so that you can focus more on the present rather than on what you need to get done.
- As you meditate, focus your attention on your breath. When you notice that your thoughts have drifted from your breath (and they will), slowly bring your awareness back to you breath. Each time you become aware that your attention has drifted from your breath you are gaining more control over where your attention lands.
- Remember, this is a practice and it takes time and consistency to build it. Think of it as a muscle that gets built up over time and with consistent use. The more you practice it, the stronger you become in it and the more you reap the benefits of it.
April 2021 - My motivation is down to nothing!
I feel like I’ve hit a wall. My motivation is down to nothing at this point. I’m having a hard time bringing myself to do even the simplest of assignments. I’m really tired and just don’t have the energy to even care at this point. Any suggestions on things I can do to motivate myself these last few weeks of the semester?
Motivation refers to your desire to reach the goals you set for yourself. It comes from either outside of you (extrinsic) or inside of you (intrinsic). Hitting the wall when you are feeling tired and your energy is low can make it hard to motivate yourself. But while it can be frustrating, it is not impossible to build it back up again. A key ingredient to improving your motivation is knowing whether you are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. Here are also a few other things that you can try to help get yourself back on track.
- Set up rewards/remind yourself of what you are working toward. For those of you who are motivated from the inside the goal itself is the motivator. So, remind yourself of what you are working toward. Use sticky notes or set reminders on your phone to help you keep your end goal in mind. For those of you who are extrinsically motivated set up a reward system. The rewards do not have to be big things. They can be small things such as allowing yourself 10 minutes outside during study breaks or going for coffee once you finish a paper. Denying yourself rewards could affect how well you are able to maintain your motivation moving forward.
- To say or not to say? Your self-talk can be another issue that diminishes your motivation. Sometimes you can be harder on yourself than anyone else. But most of the things you say to yourself you would never say to anyone else. There may be the belief that punishment is the way to get yourself to do what needs to be done. Even if this works in some situations, it will not work for the long haul and eventually it slowly chips away at your motivation. So, be mindful of what you are saying to yourself about yourself.
- Start small and build up. Take a look at the assignments you have to get done. Determine which ones are simple and which ones are more complex or break them down based on the amount of time it will take to complete. Start with the one that is the simplest or that will take the least amount of time. Once you finish, take a break or if you are extrinsically motivated, reward yourself. Sometimes it takes starting in order to build your momentum. If after you complete this assignment you are still having a hard time this is okay. Try to start with the next simplest assignment. If you need to, think about breaking the assignment down into manageable parts rather than trying to tackle the whole thing at once.
- Acknowledge what you have achieved. If after you complete your simple assignment you are still having a hard time, please know this is normal and to be expected. Acknowledge the fact that you completed one assignment. Acknowledging what you have been able to do up to this point in the semester can help to turn your mind away from the negative and toward the positive, which can go a long way in building your motivation back up.
It can be challenging to push yourself toward the goal line when you feel tired and drained. At this point it becomes even more important to make sure you are taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and having some form of exercise. Also, managing your expectations can be helpful in taking the pressure off. Be kind to yourself and do the best you can do. You have made it this far and there are a few short weeks left until this semester will become one for the books. The goal is to finish and of course you want to do well. But sometimes redefining “well” goes a long way in getting you over the goal line.
Until next time,
March 2021 - Mental Health Days
I have been really stressed out for most of this semester. The things I normally do to help myself cope aren’t working. A friend of mine recently suggested that I take a “mental health day.” While that sounds good, I don’t see how I can take a whole day when I have so much work to get done. It would set me back and stress me out more. Are there other ways for me to deal with my stress without taking a whole day to do it?
Dear No Clue,
Mental health days are days you intentionally set aside to take care of your mental well-being. They can be particularly helpful when you feel like you are hitting a wall as they can serve as a way of resetting yourself. Depending on how stressed you are would determine the amount of time you felt was necessary to take. If your stress level is really high, then a day may be what you need. However, if your stress level is a little lower, then you could consider taking less time. As you think through what will work best for you, take a look at some other alternatives that you could incorporate into your daily routine that may help.
- Tune in. H.A.L.T. stands for hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Each of these represents either a physical, emotional, or relational aspect of your well-being that may get neglected when you are under a heavy workload. During the day, take the time to stop and ask yourself if any of these might need your attention. While it may seem that pushing through to get an assignment done is best, it can be detrimental to not just your well-being, but the quality of your work may suffer as well. Once you address each of these areas you gain the energy and motivation you need to get your work done.
- Take breaks. Take a look at one of your assignments and estimate the amount of time it may take to complete it. Once you get a ball park figure in mind, divide the work into time increments that work best with your attention span. For instance, if you are able to focus on something for a solid 30 minutes, then divide the assignment into 30 minute intervals. When you begin, set a timer for 30 minutes. At the end of that 30 minutes, take a 5 or 10 minute break and H.A.L.T. Assess yourself to determine whether or not you need to address any physical, mental, or relational needs. Take care of these and then reset your timer and pick up where you left off.
- Change your environment. Consider switching up where you do things. Keep sleep and study areas separate, if possible. If you’ve been studying one subject all day in one space, consider switching spaces when you start working on a different class. You might consider a change of environment for one of your breaks as well. Instead of staying inside for a break, step outside and get some fresh air. You might even consider taking a walk down your street or around your apartment complex. A change of environment can bring on a fresh perspective and energize you toward finishing your work.
- Have defined start and stop times. Having to get up and physically come to campus helped to add definition to your day. You knew when to start and when to cut things off. However, taking classes mainly online can obscure how important this is to your well-being. It can be easy to continue working throughout the day and even the night without realizing the impact to you. Pay attention to when your energy level drops. This would probably be a good time to put the books away and do something that is fun or relaxing. Studying can take a lot out of you, therefore, it is imperative that you pour back into yourself with something that helps to refresh you.
These are small changes you can incorporate into your daily routine that may assist you in refocusing yourself. However, if you do these things and notice no change in your stress level, then you may want to consider taking a few hours or half a day for yourself. We were not built to just work. We have to have balance in our lives and sometimes this balance can get lost when we are under heavy workloads. Sometimes it is necessary for us to get away in order to replenish ourselves so that we can complete the work we need to get done.
Wishing you good mental health!
March 2021 - I'm frustrated and tired of these online classes!
ARGHHHH! I cannot begin to tell you how frustrated I am with this semester. I’m tired of these online classes. I don’t learn the best this way. I’m having a hard time keeping up with assignments and I’m not getting the help I need when I reach out for it. I’m so over this semester that I have considered withdrawing thinking this may help but I’m just not sure about this. Honestly, I’m just not sure what to do.
Your feelings of frustration are definitely valid and relevant. None of us ever expected to be living through a pandemic. Nor were we aware of how long this might last and that unknown is still not very clear. Coming off of fall semester and having to now go through the same thing this semester has been a struggle for a lot of students. I cannot imagine the amount of frustration you are having to bear to get through this term. Allow me to offer you a different way of looking at your situation. Typically, when you focus on things outside of your control it may only serve to add to your frustration. Instead, it may be more helpful for you to focus on what you can control and consider the following:
- Regulate yourself. Frustration may show up in your body in a number of ways including muscle tension, clinching your jaws, shoulders, and/or fists, chest tightness, and rapid heart rate, just to name a few. These physical sensations come as a result of what you are feeling. Getting a handle on frustration’s effects on the body is a good place to start. Trying to think clearly without this critical step may lead you to choose something that may not be in your best interest in the long run. So, first things first, use your breath, grounding, and body scanning to help you regulate any physical responses you are having as a result of the frustration you are feeling.
- Feelings vs. Fact. Your feelings are designed to tell you how your current circumstance is affecting you. Feelings are not meant to be the only gauge by which you live your life. Feelings are to be taken into consideration, along with other factors, to help you decide the best course of action to take. Feelings are not facts and need not be regarded as such. Get this in your mind and remind yourself of this as often as necessary to help you stay clear on how much to factor in your feelings into your overall decision.
- Reorienting your focus. Is there anything that is going right? Sometimes you can lose sight of the good things because the frustration only shows you what is not going well and blocks your view of what is going well. Always acknowledge the feeling and also realize that your feelings may be limiting your view of the whole picture. In any given situation, there are multiple ways of viewing it. In order to access these different views, it may be helpful to ask yourself how your best friend or someone else whose opinion you highly regard would view the situation. This will aid you in seeing different angles to help you in deciding the best course of action to take.
- Plan for action. Once you understand your feelings are one facet of a whole, considered different alternatives, and regulated yourself, now you can come up with a plan of action. Have you talked with your advisor? How many times and in what formats have you reached out to your professors? Are there other offices on campus to reach out for help? For instance, if you are having difficulties with writing have you checked into the writing lab or if this is a math issue, have you looked into math tutoring on campus? The point is there may be other alternatives to consider aside from withdrawing. Additionally, it may be a good idea to discuss your situation with trusted family and close friends for support and encouragement.
Remember, the decisions we make concerning our well-being come best from a place where we factor in all of the details and are not just based on one part of the whole.
Wishing you good, healthy choices,
February 2021: What are some of the causes of anxiety and what are some helpful ways to deal with it?
I’m just wondering what are some of the causes of anxiety and what are some helpful ways to deal with it?
Anxiety is a feeling that you might experience for any number of reasons. It may come as a result of our relationships with others, stress related to work or school, and how we view ourselves and the world around us. Anxiety could even be the result of our childhood experiences or due to some form of trauma. Some people might say they experience it because they are “worry warts” who tend to worry about everything. Regardless of the source, anxiety can affect every aspect of your life. When it is activated, it causes physiological changes that affect your breathing and your heart rate. It may cause you to feel pressure or tightness in your chest, muscle tension, headaches, and racing thoughts. When these things happen to you they can be scary. These sensations can cause you to become hyper focused on them and compel you to respond in one of three ways: to want to act in some way (fight), to want to run away (flight), or to not know what to do or which way to turn (freeze). Whatever your individual experience may be, these sensations can feel overwhelming and making functioning difficult. It is important that you build a healthy self-care regimen to help you manage anxiety. Each of the strategies may help aid you in doing so.
- Acknowledge the feeling
- First things first, nothing changes without you first acknowledging that something is going on. Our tendency at times is to avoid because that is easier than dealing with what is going on. But usually avoiding does the opposite of what you want it to do. In fact, avoiding may make stronger what you are hoping will be weakened by the fact of your avoidance.
- Temperature check
- After acknowledging the feeling of anxiety, scale it. Use a scale from 0 (no anxiety)-10 (the worst anxiety you could feel) to determine its intensity level. Keep this number in mind as you will use it later to help you notice any change in how strongly you feel the anxiety. Once you complete your temperature check, you can now move on to focusing on regulating your body.
- Body scan
- The body scan is designed to bring your awareness to areas of tension that you may be having in your body. To begin, start at the top of your head and move down your body noting any tension that you find. Each time you find an area that is tense, try to loosen that area. There are several ways to do this. For instance, you can move around or adjust your sitting or laying down position. Or you can imagine the muscle being a knot that unravels. You could also imagine the tension melting away causing that area to feel as light as a feather. As you move down your body allow yourself to relax, allow your arms to fall to your side, your shoulders to slump, and your legs to go limp. One you have scanned your body now slowly bring your attention to your breath.
- Relaxation breathing
- As you bring your focus to your breath, breathe in through your nose, fill up your
stomach, breathe out through your mouth, and then rest. It may be helpful for you
to count as you move
through each step of the breathing process. In this way you would breathe in to the count of 4, hold in your diaphragm to the count of 4, breathe out to the count of 4, rest to the count of 4, and then repeat.
- As you bring your focus to your breath, breathe in through your nose, fill up your stomach, breathe out through your mouth, and then rest. It may be helpful for you to count as you move
- Sometimes, depending on how high the anxiety is that you are experiencing, it may be difficult to go through a body scan and engage in relaxation breathing. Higher anxiety levels require something that pulls you outside of your body. This is because when the anxiety is at a high level your attention is drawn to the changes happening in your body, i.e., the rapid breathing, the increased heart rate, the racing thoughts, or perhaps even a feeling of doom - all of which feel as though they may overtake you at any moment. This is where the technique of grounding comes into play. The point of grounding pulls you outside of your body and puts you in your environment. In this way your attention is drawn away from the physiological changes you’re experiencing. It’s a way of gaining back the control that anxiety is trying to say you no longer possess. Grounding is a strategy that can be done in any number of ways. One way of grounding is to name everything you see. Another way of grounding would be to name 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and one thing you can taste. You can name everything you see that is the same color. You can even name everything you see that is the same shape. The point is not on how it’s done but on pulling yourself into your environment.
- Temperature check again
- After grounding you can do another temperature check to determine any progress you are making in bringing the intensity level of the anxiety down. Use the same scale from before 0 (no anxiety)-10 (worst anxiety). If you don’t notice much of a change, keep doing it. The lack of change may not be that it’s not working. It may be that you need to give it more time to work or you may need to add something else to what you are doing to help it come down. But no matter how minuscule the change may seem, any change in intensity level is a good indication that what you are doing is working. So, be patient and allow it time to work.
If you find that you have tried these things and you have had little success with them there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. If this is the case, it is important that you find a safe place to address it. These strategies are meant to address the symptoms but not what may be the cause. If you need help getting connected, you may contact Counseling Services at 615-898-2670 to help you get started.
Wishing you great calm,
February 2021: I am starting this new semester off stressed already – what can I do?
I am starting this new semester off stressed already. I’m worried about pretty much everything at this point. My grades were ok at the end of the fall semester, but I’m still worried that I won’t do well this semester. I just don’t know what to do to shake this feeling.
It sounds like you may be experiencing worst case scenario thinking. This kind of thinking will have you anticipating the worse possible outcomes. These “what ifs” will focus your attention more on what is not working than on what you may be doing that is helping but that your brain may be minimizing. There are some practical things you can do to help set yourself up for success and you can even do these things while feeling worried.
- Thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are made up of our judgments, opinions, assumptions, stereotypes, and biases. These things are not facts. Facts are things that actually exist. Our thoughts coupled with our feelings can cause us to feel as though what we are thinking is real, making it hard to distinguish between what is real and what is not. But just because we think something does not make it a fact. It makes it a thought that can be challenged.
- Possible vs. likely. All things are possible but how likely are they to happen. There is a difference between something being possible and something being likely. Challenge your thoughts to determine the likelihood of them actually happening.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself. The expectations you have for yourself and what you think others want for you can affect your level of worry. Your expectations need to be reasonable and fit who you are as a person. When you set standards that are too high or have standards that move, you end up working against yourself.
- Use what worked. How did you get through last semester? What worked? What didn’t work? If you find yourself minimizing your strengths, pause and ask yourself “what benefit am I getting from minimizing my efforts?” “Where is this coming from?” “How is this helping me?” Asking yourself these questions can help you pull the wisdom out of what you are already doing well and apply it to this semester.
- Know there will be bad days. There will be some days where you are on top of things. You are getting your work done, you start early on a project, and you get some things done around your apartment or dorm. Then there will be days when your energy level is low and you don’t feel much up to doing anything. Either day is okay. Work with your low energy days and adjust. On these days the focus may need to shift from assignments to self-care. How well did you sleep? Have you eaten well today? Is there some other stressor pulling on you that needs your attention? Address what needs to be dealt with to move it off of your mind and then tackle reading that 30 page chapter.
The worry you feel may be trying to protect you from the fear of failing or fear of not being good enough. But worry can work overtime and cause disruption to daily living. It keeps you focused on the future and out of the present. Work on a plan to calm it to make life simpler for you.
Until next time,
December 2020: How do I motivate myself to finish out this semester and prepare for finals?
This semester has been hard and that’s putting it mildly. I started off ok but as the semester progressed it became harder to stay motivated. Now that the end of the semester is here I still have little energy and even less motivation to get assignments done and the idea of studying for finals makes me even more tired to think about. How do I motivate myself to finish out this semester and prepare for finals?
Dear Over It,
Abracadabra. Hocus Pocus. Make this semester go out of focus! Deep sigh. It’s still here. But seriously, if I could wave a magic wand I’d do it for you in a heartbeat. I can’t even begin to imagine the mental and emotional toll this semester has had on you. Online classes, quarantining and isolating, social distancing with no break has taken its toll on a number of students. At this point you just want it all to be over. However, you may be over it but there are some loose ends to tie up before you can officially write this semester off as DONE! Here are a few things that might help push you over the finish line:
- Make a list. Write down the things you need to get done. Then take each task and break it down into manageable parts. Try not to tackle everything all at once, as doing so will only increase the lack of motivation.
- Make a schedule. Once you have your list, set up a schedule for each of the items to complete each day. Start with the easiest assignments first and then work you’re work towards the harder ones. This will not only help build confidence, it will also help to build your energy level.
- Schedule breaks in between each task. Try not to push yourself to just get through it. This will wear down your motivation and increase your chances of procrastinating. A simple 10 minute break can go a long way during study time.
- Use a reward system. Set up some rewards to give yourself along the way. Sometimes having little things planned you enjoy doing while working on what you have to do can be motivating and energizing all at the same time. It can help you gain the momentum you need to get the work completed. You might even consider planning something for yourself once you have turned in the last assignment. This will give you something to look forward to that can also help build motivation.
- Last but certainly not least, breathe. Take some deep relaxing breaths, intentionally focusing on the breath to help regulate any feelings of overwhelm. You’re almost done and have come through a majority of this semester. Breathing helps you focus on what is happening in the moment rather than trying to think about too much at once. It can help redirect your focus from the lack of energy and motivation you are experiencing to taking one thing at a time, completing it, and then moving on to the next thing.
Wishing you the best of luck,
November 2020: How do I turn my brain off so I can get some sleep?
I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. School is overwhelming trying to keep up with all the work I need to get done and it’s affecting my sleep. I have a hard time turning my brain off when it’s time for bed. I end up going to bed but only lying there thinking about everything I don’t want to think about and it takes me a while to fall asleep. If and when I do fall asleep I end up waking up several times during the night. I just want to sleep. How do I turn my brain off so I can get some sleep?
Sleep and rest are important to how we handle stress and our daily lives. The activities of the day can keep us busy and focused solely on what needs to get done. Throughout the day, our bodies are on high alert to meet whatever is being demanded of us. We are sometimes so wound up that by the time bedtime comes our bodies still may be functioning as though it were the middle of the day. There actually aren’t any techniques “to turn your brain off.” This is a misnomer that may be linked to the idea that with meditation, you should be able to rid your brain of thoughts while you meditate. But I’m pretty sure that if you aren’t thinking then you’re brain dead. So, we don’t want to go for not thinking.
What we want is to learn how to control our thoughts rather than being carried away with them. One way we can get a handle on our thoughts is to set up a nighttime routine. Doing the same thing each night signals the brain and the rest of your body that it’s time to wind down and rest. This routine can be anything you make it and may include having a set time to end school work, silencing your phone, journal writing to address things that have been bothering you, or taking a shower. You might even consider finding a meditation app with soothing sounds that can help you drift off to sleep. Make sure your bedroom space is relaxing and you are comfortable. If you have spent all day in your bedroom in bed doing homework or even doing work in your room, your brain can have a hard time deciphering that it’s time to switch from work to rest because it’s been in the same space all day. Try to separate work and sleep spaces. This can also be another signal to the brain that it is time for rest. Limit your use of social media at bedtime.
Some posts, or just being on social media, can activate your nervous system and further cause you not to be able to sleep. Once in bed, minimize lighting and do a body scan. Scan your entire body for areas of tension and then imagine the tension dissolving from your body. With this, you are focusing your mind on becoming relaxed rather than allowing it to retrace what happened during the day. If you find that your mind keeps going back to something in particular, you could use your journal to process through what you are thinking, or if you’re concerned about the next day, make a list of things you need to get done. This way you move the thoughts from your head onto paper, and if they come back up you can remind yourself that it will be taken care of tomorrow. If you wake up during the night, be patient with yourself, and focus your thoughts on relaxing your body and sleeping. It takes time to build new habits. So, be patient with yourself. Be flexible with your needs and adjust accordingly.
Wishing you happy dreams
October 2020: Considering counseling - Can you tell me what to expect or what it will be like?
I’ve been thinking about coming to counseling for a while now. But I just keep putting it off. I’m not really sure I’m ready, I don’t know what to expect, and I’m not sure of the type of counseling I need. Can you tell me what to expect or what it will be like? What is the process for setting up an appointment?
Thanks for your help
You have taken a big step in even considering coming to counseling. It can be overwhelming to think about what it would be like when you’ve never experienced it before. Counseling is allowing a trained professional who is nonjudgmental and empathetic to listen to your cares and concerns, and help you acknowledge, problem-solve, and accept what is going on in your life. The process to set up an appointment with MTSU Counseling Services is pretty simple. You call the office at 615-898-2670 and will be scheduled for a first-time screen appointment. This brief 30-minute appointment is only to make sure that you get the best possible care.
Sometimes Counseling Services is not the best option for the problems you need to address. In this case, the staff will work with you to get you the help you need by connecting you with providers in the Murfreesboro area. If, however, what you are dealing with can likely be resolved within a short period of time (about six sessions), then you will be scheduled for an intake session. The intake session goes more in-depth than the screen appointment, provides the counselor more information, and gives you and the counselor some time to get to know each other. At the end of the intake session, you set goals for what you want to achieve.
All of the follow-up sessions focus on moving you closer to your goal. Through each step of the process you and your counselor assess how well the process is going. If either of you determine that you are going to need more sessions, then your counselor, who now knows you better, will work with you to get you connected with a community provider. In most cases you can continue seeing your on-campus counselor until you get connected with the off-campus provider.
So, the process isn’t as difficult as you might think. I hope this helps, Anonymous. Only you know when you are ready. It can be easy to keep putting it off waiting for “the right time” or for “when things slow down.” Life doesn’t always afford us those times. It will be up to you to intentionally set aside some time and invest in your personal growth. We hope to hear from you soon.