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.
Most people go to the gym or work out to improve their health, build muscle, and have a fitter body. However, exercise can have a tremendous impact on our brain and overall mental health.
The next time you debate whether to go work out, consider the following benefits:
1. Stress Reduction
Tough day at work? Consider taking a long walk, or making a quick trip to the gym. The most common mental benefit of exercise is stress relief; it increases levels of norepinephrine, a chemical that regulates the brain’s response to stress.
2. Boosts Happy Brain Chemicals
The next time you think, “I hate the treadmill,” remember that your brain loves it. Exercise releases endorphins that are responsible for feelings of euphoria and happiness. If you suffer from depression or are feeling a bit down, consider adding exercise to your regimen. You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to reap the benefits; 30-minute workouts a few times a week can do the trick.
3. Confidence Booster
We often go into a workout kicking and screaming, but it’s rare to find someone post-workout who has regrets. That’s because not only do you feel good post-workout, but you often look it. Regardless of whether you’re seeing noticeable results, exercise can swiftly increase our perceptions of self-worth. As we continue, the obvious physical changes only solidify our positive relationship with ourselves.
4. Vitamin Gain
If you’re one who takes his or her workout outside, be prepared for more than just fresh air. Sunshine not only provides our body with Vitamin D, but it also helps reduce depressive symptoms. There’s more to just running to be done outside, too. Consider cycling, yoga, rowing, or a grab a few friends and consider joining a league.
5. Help Your Brain
As much as we hate to admit it, aging impacts the body and the brain. However, exercise has been shown to have a remarkable impact on slowing aging of both, including helping to prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s or even to combat Osteoporosis. As we’ve learned from recent research, exercise can even grow new brain cells. Even though you won’t be able to see it, exercise results in a healthier, sexier brain.
6. Maximizing Memory
Memory not what it used to be? Exercise can help with that. Just like with preventing diseases and aging, exercises knack for stimulating your hippocampus boosts your memory and helps you to retain information when learning new things. Studying a new language? Schedule in routine workouts to maximize your likelihood of success.
7. Controlling Addiction
Dopamine—the principal chemical responsible for pleasure—is also what drives addiction. We just can’t get enough of it. However, instead of turning to drugs, alcohol, or food for a dopamine release, consider exercise. Not only does exercise help in addition recovery, but it helps you prioritize your dopamine cravings.
Of course, regular exercise is just one strategy to promote mental wellness. If you are feeling overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, or sadness, mental health counselling can be an essential part of taking care of yourself. However, the next time you’re trying to motivate yourself to hit the gym, remember: your body AND your brain will thank you.
Last week, we posed a question on social media and in our weekly newsletter.
The question was simple: What’s the most powerful thing you’ve learned about improving your mental health?
Your responses were fascinating and served as a reminder that sometimes the most powerful things are also the simplest.
Here are some that stood out to us. (Note that some were edited for grammar or clarity.)
- Start every day with something that makes me laugh!
- Slow progress is still progress.
- Everything is temporary. Both happiness and, more importantly, pain.
- If I keep replaying things over and over, I need to talk it out with someone.
- So far you’ve survived 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great!
- Say it out loud. Sometimes just putting it out into the world helps you find a jumping off point to tackle the overwhelming.
- Set hard boundaries.
- In order to help others around me, I had to look after myself first. And in starting to do self-care to improve my mental health, I am beginning to learn more about myself which helps.
- Surrounding myself in reminders of the good things in my life.
- Exercise really does make you happy!
- There’s too many to name just one, but finding ways to put yourself first.
- I come first. If I am not going to take care of myself, no one will. Also, how am I suppose to support others if I am not ok?
- Realizing it’s not about being the person you used to be, but instead becoming the person you want to be.
- When in doubt, talk to someone.
- All the power is inside of you.
- You aren’t your thoughts. You are enough regardless of what your thoughts about yourself may be.
- Just because you have a thought, doesn’t make it true. So, why not just choose another?
- I always try to remember that the things that frustrate me are really trying to teach me something.
- That I’m not actually as stuck as I feel sometimes.
- Learning about how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) impacts the developing brain and body; and how “trauma informed care” can help. Knowing this science gave me more empathy for myself, and to see past the shame and seek medical help, including mindfulness training and psychotherapy.
- I am not alone and when I share my thoughts with others it reinforces this!
- Doing things that I want to do, not things that people around me want me to do.
- Journalling allows you to transfer the weight of your thoughts onto paper and alleviate the stress.
And last, but certainly not least, this: “Improvement is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Thank you to everyone who shared! For those of you that haven’t yet, we’d love to hear your response. Click here to share and we’ll curate the responses to update this post periodically.
Thanksgiving is upon us, the first break during the academic year.
For some, you’re back home for the long weekend. What a great opportunity to catch up on sleep, see old friends, and eat meals that aren’t served cafeteria-style! But this can also be stressful, we totally get it. For others, you might be stuck on campus. Maybe travelling is cost-prohibitive, or you feel like you simply have too much to do.
Here’s how to deal either way:
IF YOU’RE BACK HOME
If you’re back home, buckle up for a lot of questions. It’s natural for parents, relatives, and family friends to be curious and want to know all about your college experience. How do you like your courses? Are you eating well? Have you chosen a major? What are your grades like so far? Phew, that’s a lot. But how do you handle it? Well, I guess you could design your own infographic like this student did. Or, try to remember that this comes from a place of love and support — be patient with them, they missed you!
Looking forward to connecting with old friends? I bet they are, too! But your parents might have different ideas. Try to communicate your expectations clearly and make sure everyone’s on the same page in advance to avoid disappointment.
Worried that the dynamics may have changed in your friend group since you’ve been away? This is normal and can throw things for a bit of a loop. Consider this instead: friendships grow and evolve and this is a beautiful thing! Seeing this “new” part of your old friends can be pretty cool, even if it’s a bit strange at first.
IF YOU’RE STICKING AROUND
For those that aren’t able to get home, we highly recommend double checking what’s available to you during the break. Will the residence halls be open or must you leave campus? Do you need to submit any special requests to remain on campus? Will dining services be available? Is there a way to find out who else will be on campus? Does the college plan any special activities, events, or trips for those who remain at school?
Your campus may have some activities for campus-bound students to partake in over the holiday. Check out your Student Association or local clubs to find out!
If you know others who aren’t going home for the weekend, try rounding up a group and having a Friendsgiving celebration instead. You -could- challenge yourself to prepare all the at-home staples dorm-style if you want, or better yet, ditch the traditional turkey altogether and freestyle your meal! After all, this holiday is really about gratitude, and we know we’re thankful for snacks of all kinds.
If you’re missing your family back home, you could use social media to let them know you’re thinking of them. Better yet, schedule a good time to connect via Skype or FaceTime, and it’ll be just like you’re home! Well, almost!
Dinner or no dinner, volunteering your time on this day of thanks is a fulfilling way to spend Thanksgiving. Look on your campus bulletin board or online for volunteer opportunities within the surrounding neighborhoods. Churches, shelters, and hospitals are just a few of the places that could always use a helping hand.
And don’t forget, after the long weekend, coursework keeps on keepin’ on! So just because you’re relaxing over the break, try not to let your academics slide. This is a great chance to learn how to manage homework over a break — carve out a little time to stay on top of readings or assignments and you’ll be glad you did!
NO MATTER WHAT
Regardless of where you are, take some time with check-in with yourself. Ask yourself how the semester is going so far? Are you happy with the choices you’ve made? Are you feeling balanced? Or are you struggling with something? Be honest with yourself. These weekends of downtime are remarkable in helping us gain perspective.