Believe me, I know all too well how it feels to go into monkey-mind mode. You know, those times when you literally cannot get out of your head and it feels like you are spiraling deep into a rabbit hole.
How do we stop overthinking? Here are my top 6 go-to strategies for overthinking, that I use to loosen the grip my thoughts have and help get me back into the present moment.
1. The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique.
Being able to connect yourself back into your body is important to do when you notice yourself getting stuck in your head. When you are thinking, you are no longer in the present moment. A great mindfulness technique to help you reconnect to the present moment is by using all of the 5 senses of your human body. You can do this simply by:
Naming 5 things you can see.
Naming 4 things you can feel.
Naming 3 things you can hear.
Naming 2 things you can smell.
Naming 1 thing you can taste.
2. Deep Breathing.
Deep breathing is another helpful tool to combat anxious thinking. As soon as you become aware that you are stuck in your head, take 3 conscious deep belly breaths. I love this one especially because you literally cannot think and take a deep inhale at the same time! It’s also a simple strategy for overthinking that you can do anywhere.
3. Worry time
How do we better manage worrying? A helpful technique for worrying is to give yourself a boundary for worrying and only allow yourself to worry during a specific time. Set a timer for 5 minutes and use this time to think, worry, and analyze. Then set another timer for 10 minutes and use this time to write down on a piece of paper all the things that stress you out and give you anxiety. When the timer goes off, rip up the piece of paper and do something pleasurable for yourself. This is a very helpful strategy for managing overanalyzing.
4. Write a Gratitude List.
Sometimes when I get into an over-thinking mode I spend so much of my time and energy focusing on the negative. I find taking the time to reflect on the things that are actually going ‘right’ in my life as a great way to re-shift my focus in the moment to more loving thoughts.
5. The STOP Technique.
This one is one of my personal favorite strategies to help me combat my negative thoughts, especially the ones that lead me spiralling. What I do when I notice I’m totally in my head (and after I make sure no one is around) is literally yell as loud as I can, “STOP!” This is a great way to release some tension and reset yourself. A modification to this one (especially if you are around others) is to imagine a humongous STOP sign and use that imagery to anchor yourself back into the present moment.
6. Mirror Talk.
When you notice you are battling with yourself in your head, turn to a mirror and have a conversation with yourself, preferably out loud. I do this when I am especially critical or angry with myself. There is something about looking into the mirror directly into my eyes and telling myself exactly how I feel, that allows me to access the loving-kind part of me. I almost always end my mirror talks with a heart-to-heart conversation with myself, leaving me feeling really nourished.
Try experimenting with these techniques and see which ones resonate with you the most. We’d love to learn what you notice. We’d also love to hear some of the strategies that you use!
You complete your exams, hand in all of your assignments and then just like that the break is over and a new semester has begun. As a student, it can be difficult to manage the demands of school with work, family, friends, etc. Here are 5 tips to feel less overwhelmed as a student..
1. Know the signs
Many of us know when we have too much on our plate and we are feeling stretched too thin or “not like ourselves.” Warning signs that you’re overwhelmed may include:
- Irritability and moodiness
- Anxiety and/or panic attacks
- Problem sleeping
- Loss of Motivation/Lack of Energy
- Loss of focus/concentration
- Drinking too much, smoking, overeating, or using drugs to self medicate
- Physical symptoms such as headache, chest pain, stomach problems
2. Find a Balance
It may seem that between all the readings, assignments, tests, quizzes, discussions, classes and studying, you couldn’t possibly have time for anything else. The thing is, it’s important to have a life/school balance. Believe it or not, it is essential for optimal academic functioning. Focusing primarily on academics and neglecting other factors such as sleep, exercise, eating a balanced diet, socializing with friends, etc. can actually lead to a decline not only in academic performance but overall health and wellbeing. Don’t feel guilty about getting lost in a series on Netflix for a while—time for yourself is important. It’s all about balance!
3. Use School Resources
Use your school resources. For example, if you find yourself wondering where to start, learning strategists can help you learn to manage time and address procrastination issues and stress. For some students transitioning from high school or having difficulty keeping up, they can help you develop new strategies, including active studying, reading and note-taking, and exam preparation, improve your research, writing, and presentation skills.
Join a study group! You are not the only one looking for support. Forming an informal study group or joining your school’s Recognized Study Groups (RSGs) can help you connect socially with other students, increase understanding of course material, compare class notes and prepare for tests and exams in a supportive, collaborative environment.
4. Seek Support
Sometimes feeling overwhelmed means something more. Often times, admitting you need help and then seeking the support can be a difficult task. If you are dealing with a disability that is causing barriers to your academic success, find out if your school offers Accessibility Services. Accessibility Services can support students with a permanent or temporary disability (such as ADHD, ASD, learning disabilities, and/or mental illness) navigate their disability and related barriers, provide appropriate accommodations, facilitate peer support and interactions, and provide various academic and social opportunities.
5. Enjoy yourself!
Have fun! This time will fly by so fast and be over before you know it. Take in the whole experience. Get involved with some clubs on campus, attend social events, and get involved with the school community. This is the time to learn new things both in and out of the classroom.
Do you feel overwhelmed juggling school, work and personal life? Perhaps you’re in class and instead of listening, you’re thinking about all the tasks you need to get done for the day including finishing your assignment, studying for your exam, doing laundry, going grocery shopping or squeezing in time to talk to a friend. Do you ever have racing thoughts about how you’re going to get everything done? Think that it’s impossible to finish everything? You may stop paying attention in class, feel your heart beating faster and your palms getting sweaty. It can feel as though your world is closing in.
If you can relate to feeling stressed out about all the demands of life, you’re not alone!
Living in an up-pace society, we are often placed with multiple demands, which can easily make us feel overwhelmed. In turn, this can make it more difficult to be able to focus and concentrate, making getting everything we need to get done for the day that much harder.
Our minds are often racing between thinking about the past or the future. We rarely stop to be present in the moment. If we can begin to learn to center ourselves back to the here and now, we can reduce anxiety and increase concentration by putting the breaks on in our brain.
Here are 10 some simple, easy grounding techniques, which can help to reduce anxiety when we notice it creeping up.
- 5-4-3-2-1: Look around the room and name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
- Box breathing: Picture a box in front of you. As you move up the side of the box, take a deep breath in for 4 seconds. Next as you move along the top of the box, hold your breath for 4 seconds. Then as you move down the other side of the box, breath out for 4 seconds, and finally as you run along the bottom of the box hold for 4 seconds. Repeat.
- Mindful eating: Take a raisin or other piece of food. Examine it. What does it look like? How does it smell? How does it feel? Slowly begin to chew it. How does it taste?
- Counting backward: You can do this several ways, my personal favourite is to count backwards by 7 starting from 100.
- Ice cube technique: Take an ice cube and move it along your arm. Notice the temperature, if it melts, how it feels, and what it looks like- again, tap into your 5 senses.
- Teddy bear technique (for children): Lie on your back and place a teddy bear on your belly. As you take deep breaths in and out, watch the teddy bear move up and down with each inhale and exhale.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Start with your right hand in a relaxed state. Slowly begin to clench your hand. Notice the tension as you begin to do this, as you transition your hand from a relaxed state into a fist. Next, slowly begin unclenching your hand back into a relaxed state, again noticing the difference in tension. Repeat these steps with your left hand and then move along to other body parts such as your foot or leg.
- Naming colors: Name everything in the room that is blue. Now name everything in the room that is red. Now everything in the room that is yellow, etc.
- Mindful walking: As you walk, notice the weight of each foot on the ground and how your weight changes as you take each step. If you are outside, notice if it is sunny, hot, cold or rainy. If it’s sunny, notice how the sun feels on your skin. Notice if you can hear cars passing or birds chirping.
- Monitoring your heartbeat: Place your fingertips together from both of your hands. Notice your pulse in your fingertips and pay attention to the rhythm of your heartbeat.
Let’s set the stage. It’s 9am and you’re sitting in a morning class.
You’re needing to give a presentation today and you’re feeling super anxious. Your legs keep shaking, you feel sick to your stomach and you’re heart is pounding.
You remember hearing it can be helpful to take some deep breaths to calm your nerves so you decide to give it a try. As you do, you realize that you’ve been holding your breath and can’t seem to inhale. Or your breathing is already quick and focusing on this is even more stressful. You think to yourself, “Great now in addition to public speaking I can add breathing to the growing list of things I can’t seem to do!”
But what you may not realize is that taking a deep breath is just one of the many strategies you can try to help calm you down in the moment.
If you can relate at all to the above scenario, here are four tips to try today.
1. Start with a breath out
Most of the time when we hear instructions on how to practice calm breathing, we’re told to start by taking a deep breath in. However, if you’re already feeling anxious or overwhelmed you may be already holding your breath which makes it very tricky to do this. Instead, start by exhaling as much as you can. Go ahead, try right now. Let out a great big sigh. Picture pushing out all the air from your lungs. Automatically your body will respond by then inhaling which will allow you to start taking slow, deep breaths.
2. Make a breath sandwich
A quick breathing exercise you can do almost anywhere at anytime, is called a breath sandwich. Start by thinking of a soothing sentence, such as, “I’m in a safe place” “Everything will work out” “I’m a good person who deserves good things”.
Then take a deep breath in and while you’re holding it repeat the sentence in your head. Now take a deep breath out. (i.e. sandwich your sentence with a breath on either side). Repeat as necessary.
3. Focus on your feet
Sometimes when we’re anxious, we experience uncomfortable sensations inside our body. I’m talking about heart racing, sweating, legs trembling, crying, or hyperventilating. When this is happening it may be better to focus on a part of our bodies that feels less intense. Often our feet are the furthest away from the above symptoms. Take a moment to wiggle your toes and think about how your feet are feeling. Are they warm? Cold? Can you feel the softness of your socks or weight of your shoes? Push down into the ground and remind yourself of the security of the floor beneath you.
4. Focus on your physical environment
Now if even your feet feel anxious, it may be time to focus outside your body on your physical environment. The best way to do this is by using your senses. For example, take a moment to notice five things you can see that are blue, or three things that you can hear. If you have a small object nearby like a coin or pen hold it in your hand and notice how it feels. Is it cold? Hard? How does it feel when you squeeze it? Is it warming up.
As you take a moment to focus on this, your initial problem doesn’t go away but you’ve hopefully been able to catch your breath a bit and feel a bit calmer.
Now over to you…
Which strategy have you tried before? Have you learned of other tips that help you when you’re struggling with deep breaths? Comment below!
‘Tis the season! .. and no, I’m not talking about Christmas. It’s EXAM TIME!
But as exam period approaches, our anxiety is escalating. Right? We hear you and more than that, we understand you.
Over the past months, we’ve been in contact with many of you who haven’t been feeling too optimistic. That’s right, if you’re reading this, you are not alone! In fact, we’ve gathered 3 of the most common negative thought patterns experienced by students during exam period.
1. “If I don’t pass this exam, I’ll definitely feel like a failure”
In the therapy world, this is called a cognitive distortion. To put it simply, your mind is playing tricks on you and giving you an “all or nothing” perspective without leaving much room for a grey area allowing for the complexity of most people and most situations.
Our Suggestion? Take a breath, ground yourself and try to locate those shades of grey even if they seem overtaken by the black and white. Work on maintaining realistic expectations and remind yourself that there will always be room for improvement. Ask yourself if you remember that time when you failed an exam in high school. Did it suck back then? Sure. Did it keep you from being where you are today? Probably not. Think that in a few years from now, you’ll look back and this time in your life and realize that it probably wasn’t worth all the anxiety.
2. “If I get a grade lower than x%, then my GPA will be affected, which means that I may or may not graduate, which will impact my chances to get good job, which will put me in a financial strain meaning that I won’t be able to pay my student loans, etc…”
The classic snowball effect. We’ve all been there. We imagine that our path will be drawn a certain way based on how this one event will go. Read this last sentence again. Doesn’t it sound a little irrational? To think that our whole life is defined by one outcome?
Our Suggestion? Stay specific and start small. Examine the things that you have control over at that moment and search for ways to improve them. Most of the time, the higher percentage of your anxiety is linked to irrational thoughts, aka things that you want to have control over but cannot (i.e. predicting every question in the exam or thinking that your whole life will be impacted if you don’t score a certain grade). In those situations, notice that a lot of your energy is wasted on things you can’t control- which may be why you’re left wondering why you’re feeling so exhausted at the end of the day when you haven’t really done much. Try to identity irrational thoughts so you are better equipped to handle them. Always look for the evidence and compare it to your negative thinking (i.e. what are the clear signs indicating that I will fail this exam?).
3. “School is not looking good for me anyway and my chances of graduating are low so what’s the point of studying?
This is one of the most common thought patterns experienced by all students. It’s easy to get unmotivated when there’s been a build-up of past events that have led to this moment.
Our Suggestion? Remember that it takes less effort to dwell in the negative patterns than to challenge them, so you will be tempted to just give up and you will find yourself in a negative spiral. Rather than just assume the worst, review your academic history and get a rational sense of where you stand today. You might be surprised that it’s not as bad as you had thought. If you’re still feeling pessimistic, reach out for support to get different opinions, whether that’s a therapist or an academic advisor. As hard as it can be, take that step and ask for help!
Building on that last piece of advice, no matter what you’re going through, you don’t have to go through it alone. Whether you’re having doubts about your future, or worried about your level of confidence or just concerned about your overall experience at school, there’s always someone you can reach out to. In fact, that’s what Real Campus is for. Real Campus offers you the chance to book a consult with an academic advisor or to speak to a clinical therapist for unlimited sessions, and all of that is free of cost!
Want support now or in the future? If you’re looking to gain new perspectives and improve your negative thought patterns but feel like you need support with that, we are here to help! There are different ways you can reach us: Chat with us using the chat bubble on the bottom right of this page, click on Get Support Now at the top right or simply call us at 1-877-390-REAL (7325).
If you’ve ever had a panic attack, I’m sure you’re aware of just how terrifying the experience can be. Although an attack may only last a few minutes, it can leave you feeling very unsettled. These attacks generally stem from intense anxiety and can appear suddenly, out of the blue. While a panic attack itself may be brief, it can lead to an increased anxiety and fear of experiencing another episode.
The best way to deal with future panic attacks is by learning how to cope with your anxiety so that if you do notice symptoms of a panic attack, you can calm your mind and body until the symptoms subside. Below are some strategies you can use to help manage your anxiety and cope with physical symptoms.
Anxiety can cause your breaths to become quick and shallow, which makes both mental and physical symptoms of a panic attack worse. Deep breathing is a relaxation technique that requires you to pay attention to how you’re breathing and use your belly, not just your chest, as you draw in breaths. When you begin to feel panic, consciously take slow and deep breaths. As you focus on your breath coming in and going out, let your worries or concerns fade away. It’s helpful to practice this technique while sitting or lying down. Put a hand lightly on your stomach and breathe so that your abdomen lifts and lowers your hand. Once you learn this technique you can practice it when day-to-day stressful situations arise.
Interrupt Negative Thinking
Shout out the word “stop” really loud inside your head. By shouting the word “stop” you’re interrupting the emergency message that your brain is sending to your adrenal glands. Often those experiencing a panic attack get into an endless loop repeating the same catastrophic thoughts over and over in their minds. Interrupting this spiral gives you the opportunity to replace the fearful message with a calming one.
Use Coping Statements
A coping statement is a positive statement that is at least as strong as the catastrophic statement that you’ve been scaring yourself with! Replace the negative thought with a positive one. Choose a statement that addresses the negative thought.
For example, if you believe you’re having a heart attack — a common fear during a panic attack — then you might say something like this to yourself “I’m having a heart attack” or “I’m going to die”. After you shout the word “stop” immediately replace the fear thought with a positive statement that helps you cope with the situation, such as, “I’m only having a panic attack and it will be over in three minutes if I relax” or, “My fear is making my heart pound harder, I know my heart is fine”. Other coping statements might be “I’ve gotten through this situation many times before and I can get through it again.”
It can be helpful to reflect on the kinds of fear thoughts that bring on panic for you and make a list of coping statements that you can look at when you need to rather than trying to think of statements in the middle of a panic attack.
Accept your Feelings
Acceptance of your feelings is very important. Minimizing your experience usually serves to perpetuate it. It can be helpful to start by identifying what emotion you are feeling. Most panic attacks are caused by the emotion of fear. Identify the emotion you are feeling and reflect on the reason for feeling it. Validate that feeling and the reason for it.