How to worry less and get more done

Reading Time: 2 minutes How to reclaim your worried mind so you can perform better.

Mind your mind: June 2016

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The pleasures of summer are close: oceans, ice cream, time to hang out.  But sometimes we carry our stress right into our downtime, and our worries about the future keep us from loving the present.

Can’t switch off? Conscious of what you need to get done? A relentless swarm of thoughts can make you stressed, no matter how relaxing your situation “should” be. It can prevent you from chilling out or making progress on a project.

If your summer is at risk of being sabotaged by stress and worry, try a mindfulness intervention.

How to reclaim your worried mind so you can perform better

Stella, a student, described how she kept getting stuck. “I hate this; I’m never going to get this done,” she would think, staring at her computer. “I’ll probably fail the class and won’t be able to graduate on time. My parents are not going to keep helping me if I don’t graduate. I could end up homeless.”

While Stella was lost in fear about the future, what was happening in the moment? She was sitting in an upholstered chair, in comfy clothes, not experiencing pain or hunger. Her actual situation was not physically uncomfortable or dangerous, and yet she felt miserable.

After Stella began practicing mindfulness—the skill of nonjudgmental, present-moment awareness—she found it easier to write her papers. When she noticed her mind catastrophizing, she focused on immediate physical sensations, like the feel of her breath and her fingers tapping the keyboard. This brought her attention back to the present. Her fears about the future receded, making room for her creativity.

If your summer is at risk of being sabotaged by stress and worry, see if you can direct your attention toward your physical sensations, as Stella did. Try this:

  1. Stop whatever you’re doing and check in with your senses.
  2. Look around. Name five things you can see.
  3. Listen carefully. Name five things you can hear.
  4. Notice the sensation of touch. Name five things you can feel touching your skin (a breeze on your face, your socks on your feet).
  5. What about taste and smell? You may not be able to come up with five flavors or aromas, but see what’s there.

Build lifelong skills with Koru Mindfulness

Mind your mind: Choosing change

Reading Time: 2 minutes

As the semester ends—and especially if your program is coming to an end—you can be sure that lots of changes are coming your way. When we ask students about changes they’re anticipating, they sometimes say, “I hope my friends and family never change” or “I’m worried about what might come next.”

It’s natural to fear change, especially if we are pretty comfortable with the status quo. Change leads to the unknown, and the unknown makes our minds uneasy. But during your time as a student and the years following graduation, you will likely experience more change than at any other time in your life.

Over the next few years, you will likely experience more change than at any other time in your life. You may change degree programs, careers, living situations, and romantic partners. These changes will drive other changes too—in your interests, talents, relationships, priorities, and values. That’s what growth is. Life is change.

How to get more comfortable with change

Instead of fearing change, practice opening yourself up to it.

  1. Don’t fight it. Change happens. If you resist change (“Why is this happening?” “What if I don’t like this?” “You said you would never change!”), you waste time and energy that could better be used managing what you are facing.
  2. Stay in the moment. Worrying excessively about what might or might not happen throws fuel on the fear fire. Keeping your attention in the present keeps you ready to do whatever is needed.
  3. Trust that you got this. You are more resilient then you think. You have the inner resources to take on whatever change brings your way, especially if you can settle into taking each day as it comes.

+ Headspace app: Train your mind to work with you

+ Build lifelong skills with Koru Mindfulness

Change can be destabilizing—and also exciting and fun. To stay anchored in the present so you can maximize your resilience in the face of change, practice mindfulness for just 10 minutes a day. This way, you’ll be ready. The Headspace app is a good way to get started.

Students’ mixed feelings about what’s coming next:

“I’m looking forward to graduating and then finding a job, which could lead to a potential move. The unknown future scares me, but I keep trusting that everything will work out.”
—Chelsea B., third-year graduate student, University of Texas at Tyler

“I will be graduating this spring, so I am looking forward to having my free time back. I work and take classes online part-time. I will be revisiting hobbies that I have not had time for in recent years. It has taken me five years to complete my program.”
—Sonja M., second-year student, Nova Scotia Community College

“I’ll be taking a break from school and focusing more on my family, which is just as busy but a different type.”
—Jennifer W., first-year student, Wake Technical Community College, North Carolina

“I’m starting a PhD program at a new university in a new city. I expect to feel significant anxiety, but I’ll handle it.”
—Barry F., third-year graduate student, Portland State University, Oregon

Mind your mind: Avoiding the trap of your assumptions

Reading Time: 2 minutes

College is meant to be a time in our lives for hashing out ideas and setting the world to rights. But that doesn’t always feel comfortable or constructive, especially when we are arguing about trigger warnings and free speech, cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation, and other issues relating to race, gender, equality, and civil rights.

Healthy debate turns into stalemate when we make assumptions about people who hold different opinions. (She must be stupid to believe that. He obviously doesn’t care about anyone but himself. If she believes that, she must also believe this.)

Be part of the debate without closing your mind, losing your cool, or blowing your chance to bring about positive change.

These tips for using mindful awareness will help you listen, be heard, and communicate more effectively:

  1. Notice the feeling of anger or stubbornness that comes up when someone disagrees with you. See it for what it is (a normal, temporary mood state) and what it isn’t (proof that you are right and others are wrong or “bad”).
  2. Take a deep breath and try to listen with an open mind. Recognize that people who have had different experiences will have different perspectives. Be curious, instead of judgmental, when you hear an idea expressed that you don’t share.
  3. Others will hear you more clearly if they do not feel attacked or criticized. Try starting your sentences with, “I hear what you are saying. This is how I tend to see it…” Acknowledge common ground: “I agree with you about [this part of it]”; “I love that we both care about this so much.”
  4. Stay grounded in the present moment. If you feel your emotions starting to get away from you, turn your attention to your physical sensations. To calm yourself, notice what your hands are touching, feel your feet pressing into the floor, and feel your breath moving in and out of your body.
  5. Be willing to take a break and return to the discussion later.

+ Build lifelong skills with Koru Mindfulness

This V-day, give the gift of mindful communication

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Jamal knows why he and his girlfriend have problems: “I bottle up my feelings.” Monique says the fights with her roommate happened because “we weren’t bringing up the small issues regularly.” Dominic and his boyfriend broke up because “nobody could admit they were wrong.” (These responses are from a recent CampusWell survey.)

What do these students have in common? For them, communication breakdowns became relationship breakdowns. Using mindfulness to stay calm and present can make it easier to talk out the irritations and insecurities that arise in any relationship.

Clear communication is the key to a strong connection, whether that’s with your parent, roommate, partner, professor, boss, or anyone else. Unfortunately, it can be hard to say what’s on your mind. It can be just as hard to hear what’s on someone else’s.

Practicing mindfulness isn’t just about listening to a guided meditation or breathing deeply and deliberately. It’s also about applying those skills as you go through your day; for example, by slowing down your reactions and giving yourself the time and space to be thoughtful. Next time you’ve got something on your mind, follow these steps.

  1. Check in with yourself. Are you super rattled? Wait until you’re calm enough to have a thoughtful conversation.
  2. Think about what you want to say. Is it true, kind, necessary, and the right time?
  3. Use “I” statements: “I am feeling hurt and angry,” not “You are a thoughtless jerk.”
  4. Listening is more important than speaking. Listen fully until you understand the other person’s perspective and feelings.
  5. In a difficult conversation, “respond,” don’t “react.” Instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind, take a couple of breaths and let the first wave of emotion pass. Then, respond truthfully, directly, and kindly.
  6. Made a mistake? Saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it is the only way to right a wrong.
  7. It’s easy to notice the things that drive us crazy. Make an effort to also notice the kindness and humor in your close connections.

Tip:  The secret to happy relationships? Keep the compliments coming. Research shows that couples stayed happy as long as the partners complimented each other five times more often than they criticized.

+ Secrets of happy couples (infographic)
+ Get your chill on with Koru Mindfulness

Dr. Holly Rogers co-developed the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and co-author of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Hope for the haters: How to do self-compassion

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Do you criticize yourself repeatedly? Are you hard on yourself for even small missteps, like leaving your apple core decomposing on the counter or reading the wrong chapter of social psych? If so, you might be a hater. In 2016, make self-compassion your priority.

People who cut themselves more slack are happier, less stressed, and more productive, studies show. Read on for students’ questions on self-compassion. No judgment here.

Q&A Give yourself some loving kindness

Question: How does someone learn self-compassion? I never grew up around it so I don’t really know how.
—Second-year graduate student, Lambton College, Ontario

Answer: Self-compassion is something we learn rather than something we are born with. It takes practice to develop the habit of being kind to yourself. Get started with these steps:

  • Pay attention to yourself. Do you feel sick, tired, or stressed? Are you struggling with something?
  • Rather than criticizing yourself, think about what you would say to a friend in the same situation. Say that to yourself.
  • Give yourself a healthy break: Take a power nap or a hot bath, go to yoga with your roommate, check in with a friend.

Question: How do you stop yourself from judging others?
—First-year graduate student, University of Guelph, Ontario

Answer: The judgment cycle is a hard one to break. With a little bit of effort, you can get a handle on the negativity. Here’s how:

  • Spot the judgments: Rather than preventing the thoughts, start by identifying them. Judgments can sometimes be tricky to spot. They include:
    • Any thought about liking or not liking something or someone
    • Any thought assessing whether something is “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong”
    • Opinions that masquerade as “facts” (e.g., he’s a loser; anyone who believes that is an idiot)
  • Acknowledge the judgment without being critical. Say to yourself: “There’s a judgment,” “Here comes the judge,” or simply “Judgment.” Keep the tone of your acknowledgement light and humorous—no judging your judgments.
  • Let the judgment go without buying into it. To let a thought go, simply move your attention elsewhere. If you practice this response to your own thoughts, the judgments eventually start to slow down, leaving more room for happier stuff.

The best way to step up your self-compassion and silence your inner judge is to practice loving-kindness meditation. It’s not as strange as it seems.

Question: What if I’m so stressed I can’t fall asleep or get any work done? My mind is often flooded with negative judgments about myself, especially regarding my ability to complete tasks in the face of anxiety and depression.
—Third-year undergraduate, Wilfred Laurier University, Ontario

Answer: If you are severely stressed or depressed, the self-judgment can be overwhelming, which leads to a cycle of more stress and more criticism. You may need to consult with an expert to find a way through it. As an act of self-compassion, contact your campus counseling center or wellness services and make an appointment. Their support and guidance can help you get back on track.

+ Loving kindness with Koru Mindfulness

Dr. Holly Rogers co-developed the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and co-author of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Mind your mind: Stress less this holiday season

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Finals are over. You’re supposed to head back home today but you can’t locate your suitcase, let alone think about packing it. Remember which airline you’re flying? Better find out.  And be sure to brace for the annual fight over who shovels the driveway. Urgh, you just can’t even.

Before you resign yourself to a winter break in your residence hall room, learn the art of the conscious breath. You’ll need it when Uncle Reg tries to seat you at the kids’ table.

Learn to breathe better

A conscious breath is a slow, deep breath that you observe closely, feeling it in your body from beginning to end. It settles your nervous system, convinces your heart that you’re not actually running a marathon, and helps you feel grounded. Try one now. See how different it feels?

You can take a conscious breath (or even a few) whenever you need a mini staycation in your mind. It might be especially helpful when:

  1. You are stressed or worried—for example, if you’re desperately trying to locate your flight info. The conscious breath will help you find your calm.
  2. You have a headache or your muscles feel tight. The conscious breath releases tension.
  3. You’re impatient, waiting in line, or dealing with the horrendous holiday traffic to the mall. The conscious breath will help you feel more patient and maybe reduce your road rage.
  4. Your friends or family are getting on your last nerve. Conscious breathing will help you maintain peace of mind or at least prevent you from spewing out things you’ll later regret.
  5. You are drowning in the details of that last final project. A conscious breath will help you reconnect with the big picture.

A student’s verdict

“I was really losing it, so I just sat down, closed my eyes and took a really long breath. And then another. After a few more I felt back in control, and realized if I did one thing at a time, I’d get it all done. And I did.”

+ Conscious breathing with Koru Mindfulness

Mind your mind: A mindful solution to the procrastination problem

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Q: Procrastination is killing me. I just can’t get started with my work. I even put off asking this question. Can mindfulness help?

A: Procrastination is a clever strategy for avoiding discomfort. Often, the thought of getting started with a big project (or anything that even resembles a project) creates feelings of impending doom and anxious dread. Nobody has time for dread and doom, so then we distract ourselves with Grand Theft Auto or trying all 280 flavors of fro-yo.

How to stay on track

Dr. Holly Rogers codeveloped the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and coauthor of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).

The unpleasant feelings that lead to procrastination are usually fed by negative thoughts: I’m not in the mood for this now—maybe I will be later. I’ll never get this 25-page paper done. I don’t know how to start on this abstract painting. What if I can’t explain this economic theory? What if I fail? 

Avoidance and distraction get rid of the head-crushing feelings, but they don’t get the work done. (And no, you won’t be in the mood for it later.)

Yes, mindfulness can help. Give this a shot:

  1. Get off autopilot
    Take a deep breath. Try to notice the thoughts and feelings that fuel the procrastination.
    Once you’re aware that they exist, you don’t have to be controlled by them.
  2. Recognize that thoughts are just thoughts
    Think about it. They have no substance. Even the uncomfortable
    ones are temporary. And besides, what’s a little discomfort?
  3. Get in sync with your (physical) sensations
    Notice how your body feels. Feel your feet on the floor or your fingers on the keyboard. Feel your breath moving in and out.
  4. Give your environment a makeover
    Eliminate distractions, then turn your attention to your work. Decide to get to it for 20–30 minutes, no matter how many thoughts urge you to do otherwise. Make a commitment to get started.
  5. Take a second
    After you have worked for half an hour or so, take a short break—a few minutes to post a #tbt pic to Instagram or make a green smoothie. Then start again with step 1.

+ Check out Koru Mindfulness for tips, meditations, and more.

Mind your mind: Finding calm in the chaos

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Your week might look like this:

  • Study for bio exam
  • Finish/Start Russian lit essay
  • Get to poetry club meeting
  • Turn in grad. school applications
  • Pick up an extra shift at the library
  • Celebrate your roomie’s birthday
  • Devour pizza with your study group

Sound familiar? Sometimes the demands can be relentless, making you feel like you wouldn’t know how to relax even if you had the time. To keep it together, we may need to cut back on our commitments. But there is another way:

How to practice present moment awareness; i.e., mindfulness.

Dr. Holly Rogers codeveloped the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and coauthor of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Finding your calm (yes, it exists)

Believe it or not, there is a calm, quiet space in all of us that we can access by pulling our attention firmly into the present. Once you find it, the chaos of college life will still be there, but you won’t be overcome by it.

How Jaime got unstrung

Jaime felt strung out from the moment she woke, thinking about everything that had to get done that day, week, semester, decade. She was so busy worrying that she couldn’t concentrate for more than 10 minutes at a time. Even with friends she found it difficult to relax.

Jaime took a mindfulness class and learned to hold her attention in the present moment, focusing on one sensation or action at a time: her breathing, or her fingers as she typed. Whenever her mind started getting crowded, she repeated a mantra to bring herself back to the present: “Just this moment.”

“If I give my full attention to whatever I am working on right at that moment, I feel much less stressed. I’m more efficient that way, too. It will all get done if I take it one step at a time,” she says.

Try it

At the link, scroll to the Koru Body Scan. This type of meditation can teach you to use physical sensations to keep your attention in the moment. To help you stay calm in the chaos, practice this for 10 minutes a day. 

+ Guide to Koru Mindfulness and how it helps students

Mind your mind: September

Reading Time: 2 minutes

What is mindfulness, really? Every time I enter the BuzzFeed black hole or scroll through my Twitter feed, there’s an article about how mindfulness can improve our lives. Mindfulness is supposed to be good for you, but it seems kind of out there, doesn’t it? Here’s why it’s worth trying anyway.

Developing the skill of mindfulness can help you manage your stress (which we know you have a lot of) and get more satisfaction from your life. Mindfulness is actually very straightforward: It’s the practice of learning to hold your attention on what you are doing, thinking, and experiencing in the moment.

Guide to Koru Mindfulness and how it helps students
Dr. Holly Rogers co-developed the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and co-author of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).

This is the first in Dr. Rogers’s series on mindfulness for Student Health 101. Coming in October: Present moment awareness.

Jack’s story
Jack was a student athlete who used mindfulness to help him cope with a knee injury. He had come to the Koru Mindfulness class to manage his physical pain and emotions from being unable to play his sport.

During one class, he told us that he was getting a steroid injection later that day. He’d had one before, and it had been extremely painful. He had been dreading the next injection until he started using mindfulness.

“I understand that it will hurt like crazy, but right now, nobody is sticking a needle in my knee. If I stay in the present moment, I feel fine. Worrying about it now is not going to make it hurt less when it happens,” he said.

His pain did not exist in that moment, and he was choosing to stay right where he was—the present.

How to get started
Try it at least once a day and see if you can spend more time being mindful.

+ Listen to one of these guided meditations