Mindfulness and Anxiety

Have you heard about Mindfulness ? If not where have you been hiding, it’s all the rage and all the cool kids are doing it !

Mindfulness is a concept that the West has borrowed principally from Buddhist meditation practices, and has been popularised over the past 40 years in the west. One of the leading pioneers of mindfulness is Dr Jon Kabat Zinn, who applied the concept of mindfulness to combating stress and anxiety.

He created an eight week program called Mindfulness Based Stress Management (MBSR). Another similar course is called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. These programs have been researched scientifically and found to be very effective in helping to reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and even chronic pain.

 

So what exactly is Mindfulness.  Well in a nut shell, mindfulness is method of distancing ourselves from unhelpful thoughts and emotions. Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as “Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment , non-judgmentally”

The benefits of mindfulness includes ;

  • Reduced rumination or worrying
  • Stress reduction
  • Boosts working memory
  • Better focus
  • Less emotional reactivity
  • More cognitive flexibility

You can find out more about the benefits of mindfulness here … Mindfulness Benefits

There is a great TED Talk about Mindfulness here too

 

 

How can this help with anxiety ?

Well, the cause of anxiety are our thoughts. Now sometimes our anxiety is useful, and we as humans evolved to have anxiety to keep us safe from harm. However, sometimes our mind can indulge in worry too much and trigger our fight or flight response prematurely. This is akin to the smoke detector being activated in your kitchen by slightly burning some toast.

By learning to adopt a perspective of mindfulness to our thoughts and emotions, we can gradually become less reactive to them, so that we recognise that the issue is just burned toast, and not a real fire.

Getting started with Mindfulness

There are lots of apps around to learn mindfulness, such as Smiling Mind, however in my experience it is establishing a regular mindfulness practice that is the tricky bit. However there is a 4 week online course available for FREE from Monash University, called Mindfulness for Wellbeing & Peak Performance.  I will be doing this course over the next 4 weeks, and writing some posts about my experience, and I’d like to invite you to join me, and share your experiences.

Another option is to learn a couple of mindfulness techniques from singer-songwriter, Jewel ……. right here …. right now.

 

 

 

 

 


Mindfulness…merging your rational and emotive mind.

Well it’s the calm before the storm that is known as final exams! It’s that time when you are trying to tap into your rational, task focused mind but your emotion mind is trying to hijack you so that you can’t concentrate. You’re trapped by the thoughts of failure, or thinking about past mistakes and wondering how on earth you are going to make it through the next 4 weeks.

While there are no quick fixes to this and despite numerous research attempts we have not found the off switch for our emotions, we can use mindfulness to help you merge the two different spheres of your brain into one and try and maximise your wise mind experience.

wisemind_uon

I know it’s great to be able to multi-task and pack as much into one day as possible but in terms of retention of information, synthesis and ability to recall it having individual focus is more important. So take time out this week to “smell the roses”.

  • Practice you’re observation skills by taking 5 minutes to lie on the ground and watch the clouds go by. What do you see, hear, smell, and touch?
  • Practice your description and unwrap yourself from the interpretations or the judgements you are making on situations by describing the facts. What? who? when? and where?
  • Practice your participation by engaging in just one task at a time. Take the time to just listen to the music rather than listening whilst driving, or washing up.

For more tips on being mindful and staying calm this end half of semester keep checking back on the blog as I’ll be giving regular small exercises you can try. You can also check out our additional resources in the tip sheets and topics of interest pages.


Mindfulness Workshops online

Have you wanted to try mindfulness but all the workshops you can find are at times you can’t make? Or the cost is out of your budget? Monash university is hosting a free online series of workshops on learning more about and practicing the skills of mindfulness. The workshop goes over 6 weeks and is for 2 hours a week starting the 14th September. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the skills and the benefits of mindfulness and how you can incorporate it into everyday life. Mindfulness skills have been used to reduce stress and improve general wellbeing and study performance.

If you are interested in finding out more click here.


Free online programs for stress and anxiety

As we come towards the second half of semester, some of you may be feeling a bit stressed or looking for some strategies to help you manage anxiety or improve your wellbeing.

An easy way to learn some new skills and strategies is to complete an online treatment or training program. There are a range of free programs that have been developed to help with a different issues – some are more general such as ‘coping with stress’ or ‘intro to mindfulness’, where others are designed to target specific problems such as OCD or Social Anxiety.Many of the courses have online questionnaires, recovery stories, videos, worksheets, and additional resources.

Some of the advantages of online programs are:

  • they can be completed any time of the day or night
  • they are free or low cost
  • there are no waiting periods
  • you don’t have to travel anywhere
  • you can do them in your pyjamas

Sometimes one of the downsides can be that it is hard to get the motivation to complete the course. One way to deal with this is to link up with a counsellor who can check in with you on a regular basis about your progress and how you are going applying the skills. Alternatively, you could complete a course such as mindfulness or managing stress with a friend.

Below are some of the online wellbeing programs offered free or at a low cost:

  • eCLiPSE (UON) – a portal for UON students offing access to four separate programs designed to support people considering reducing their substance use (including smoking) and improving mental health. Programs are free and range from 4 weeks to 10 weeks. Support is available from UON Counsellors to complete these programs.

 

  • Coping with Stress (This Way Up) – a free four lesson program using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to manage stress effectively.

 

  • Managing Insomnia (This Way Up) – a free four lesson program which is designed to teach Cognitive Behavioural Therapy skills to manage insomnia.

 

 

  • Intro to Mindfulness (This Way Up) – a four lesson program designed for people interested in learning about mindfulness and meditation

 

  • Mindspot courses – a range of free programs on different topics, including wellbeing, mood, OCD, PTSD, Indigenous Wellbeing and Chronic Pain.

 

For other program and online resources, please see here.

If you are a current UON student and think you would like some professional support while completing any of the programs, we would be happy to provide support via emails, phone or skype. Just send us an email to onlinecounselling at uon.edu.au


Taking Care of Yourself

It is that time of year when taking care of yourself seems just that little bit harder. What with exams and study and assessments and placements and now it is winter! Seasonal Affective Disorder is a term some of you may have heard and perhaps wondered about but even without the diagnosis I know for me the colder nights and shorter days means that enthusiasm to do things is so much harder. Especially when you have to do things that are not fun (like study) getting motivated to start, let alone keep going, sometimes seems impossible.

While sometimes there may be hours, days or weeks when getting through the day feels hard, this is normal. Sometimes life causes pain and hurt and struggle and mess. As humans it is OK that we feel that pain, hurt, struggle and mess. But what is so very important in those times is knowing how important it is to take care of yourself and so having some ideas on how to do this may be helpful. So with that in mind I thought it might be a good time to offer up some seasonal, exam tips for self-care when you’re feeling low.

1.Check in with your expectations. Are you expecting too much from yourself given all the things you have happening right now? I encourage you to look at yourself with a gentler eye, let go of any ideas you have about being ‘good enough’ and instead ask ‘what is reasonable’?

2. If you were talking to a friend who was feeling like you what would you say to them? This follows from above and can be helpful if you are feeling like it is all too much. Imagine you are your own best friend. Offer yourself comfort and empathetic words of encouragement.

3. Speaking of comfort, what could you do to bring comfort to your day today? How about a coffee in the sun? A drive to the beach and sitting looking at the rolling ocean? New sheets on your bed? Some hot buttered toast? You can also practice gratitude in these times to aid your experience.

4.Have a warm shower and spend some time being mindful of the water as it cleans you and renews your body. Recognise where you are holding stress or tension and move your body to stretch those aches.

5.How about a bath, if you have one pop yourself in with some bath salts and your favourite book or music.

6.Go outside and walk in the weather. Whatever the weather. If it is sunny bask in the warmth of the day. If it is windy wrap yourself in a scarf and coat and look at the clouds as they move or the trees as they drop their final leaves. If it is wet, don’t be scared, you won’t melt! Just pop on some boots and a raincoat. Find a puddle!

7. Reconnect your mind with your hands. We have all seen the mindfulness colouring books but how about knitting, baking, drawing, gardening, tinkering on a project?

8. Make a list and a plan for today or tomorrow or the week. Leave the high expectations out and ask of yourself only what is necessary or will bring joy. If it serves neither than leave it alone for a time when you feel stronger.

9. Try taking a break from technology. Try an hour, or a day. It is amazing how re-connected you can feel by not being connected!

10. Lastly reach out for support if you need it. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone and ask for help. If you’re not sure where to start then try booking in to meet with a Student Support Advisor here at UON so you can have a confidential chat with someone who can talk through some ideas and help you get back where you want to be. This is really important if you have been feeling this way for more than 2 weeks.

These are just a few ideas that you may want to try if you are feeling the exam or winter blues, remember they may be something that sounds OK or you may have your own ideas about what helps. Use your own values and self-awareness to trust yourself to create your own ideas for some self-care. Deem yourself worthy enough to try putting those ideas into practice and choose something you can have a go at today.

Just a note that due to the Public Holiday on Monday 12 June there will be no Skype Drop-in on that day.The next regular Skype Drop-in is Tuesday at 8pm.


Managing end-of-semester Stress

So it is week 10 (nearly week 11), getting towards the pointy end of semester, and many of you may be feeling the squeeze with lots of assessments due and exams on the horizon. Chances are that you might be experiencing some feelings of anxiety and stress – this is a completely normal human response!

Alternatively, some of you might take the more “bury my head in the sand” approach and try to avoid thinking about everything/anything. There is no shame in this, it is just a way of coping that most of us will have used at some point in time. However, most of us will acknowledge that this approach has its downsides (no pun intended) – tasks pile up and feel even more overwhelming or we might miss deadlines. And the truth is, that this approach is usually also a sign that you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or anxious.

So, say you are able to recognise that there is some anxiety going on for you at the moment – then what? What can you do with this anxiety?

Well as with most things, there are a few different options, and different things work for different people.

Some options for managing intense anxiety might include relaxation strategies like grounding yourself in the present moment using your senses, slowing your breathing rate, progressive muscle relaxation or using some guided mindfulness exercises. A couple of good apps for mindfulness and breathing include Breathe2Relax, headspace, and Smiling mind.

On the other hand, you might like to try to change your relationship with the anxiety. Rather than fighting or struggling to get rid of or avoid the anxiety, you could try making space for the feelings and being willing to experience them in order to work towards something that is important to you. Being willing to experience uncomfortable emotions can mean your actions are guided by your values, rather than avoiding discomfort.

For some people, much of their stress might come from getting caught up with thoughts about the work needing to be done perfectly or to a really high standard. This can be impossible (or come at the cost of your mental or physical health) when you have a number of things due at the same time, and for some people it can lead to being paralysed and not handing in anything at all. If this sounds like you, then you might like to have a look at some of these resources on perfectionism, and consider what would be more reasonable or helpful expectations for your work, taking into consideration all the demands on you at the moment. Remember – you are a human not a machine!

The key thing with managing your stress, is to give something (or a few different things) a try, and see what works for you. And remember – you are nearly there!

Stay tuned to the blog for more on perfectionism and other ways to manage anxiety in the coming weeks.


Lest we forget

As an Australian the saying ‘Lest we forget’ is one that resonates with me deeply. It is a time to remember what it means to be Australian as well as reflect on what people who are not too different from me have sacrificed to enable me to live in a free society.

Sometimes it is good to take the time to practice gratitude for what we have in our lives. Studies show that we can consciously grow gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition gratefulness, especially expression of it to others, can increase energy and empathy.

Mindfulness is a slow and easy way to practice gratitude, and it is something that you can easily work into your day. It allows you to stop and re-connect with the world around you and ground yourself in reality. Some quick ideas might be practicing mindfulness during daily task, such as;

  • Set an alarm on your phone to go off at certain time of the day to remind you to check in with your breath
  • Brush your teeth and as you clean focus on the movements of the toothbrush in your mouth and the sounds/smells/taste
  • Sitting at traffic lights try a quick body scan and check in with your emotions and where are you holding your stress

Over the next week take some time to remember to be grateful and mindful of the world around you, and perhaps these tips may be of use as you return to your studies after the Easter recess.

Remember our Skype Drop In Sessions are up and running for the remainder of the semester with the exception of this Tuesday’s 8pm session.

 


The Cultural Diversity of the Calming Breath

by Marie Rockford **

Before it starts to get busy this semester balancing assessment and exam commitments with work, friends and family get started on your skills to ride the storm by introducing the calming breath.

The calming breath is achieved and valued in many cultural societies and spiritual traditions. From Buddhism and Hinduism to Chinese Confucianism to European Christianity; to indigenous animist and ancestor worship, the practice of meditation often includes the calming nature of breath awareness, reflection and prayer. A central theme strives for the art of being silent, receptive, empty, and attentive through meditation.

Within the Western Psychology, meditation is often based in ‘Mindfulness’ a very popular practice derived from Buddhist traditions of being aware of the moment. Mindfulness is a form of ‘Open Monitoring’ meditation, such as found in Vipassna meditation or some forms Taoist meditation.

Buddhist meditation, also includes some forms of Zazen, Loving Kindness Meditation, Chakra Meditation, Kundalini Meditation, Sound Meditation, Mantra Meditation, Pranayama, some forms of Qigong, and many others. These are ‘focused attention’ meditation.

So too, within the Islamic traditions there is Salat (the ritual of cleansing and salutation) five times a day. There is also Dhirk, the silent and / or the vocal repetition of the names of God. And, Sufi orders use differing meditations related to love and the heart, a personal favourite of mine. Yes I am a lover of Rumi. Other Sufi paths also practice zikr; the use of music or twirling as a focused attention on Allah.

Wondering what is available on campus around meditation then you could make inquiries with NUSA’s clubs and societies, check out the UON students event schedule, drop by counselling in the Student Services building or if you’re a postgrad student check out NUPSA‘s offerings on the Callaghan Campus.

 

** Marie is a Student Support Advisor located on the Sydney Campus.  If you’re interested in an App around cultural diverse meditation scripts then Marie has also done a review that will be published tomorrow on a multilingual app.


So what’s next?

I remember vividly that period of limbo after finishing the last exam of the semester (Yay) and waiting for final grades to be released (Eek).  I would have one foot in holiday mode and the other stuck in an avalanche of thoughts and self-doubt. “I nailed it…I think I probably passed…Did I do enough…Why didn’t I put C for question 33…Did I even spell my name write on that essay paper…Did I write in English…Oh my goodness I will fail everything, lose my job and the world will explode…”whats-next

Well you get the idea, and I am sure everyone has found themselves somewhere on this spectrum after an exam.  A great tool so the thought avalanche doesn’t bury you is mindfulness, or staying in the present.  This is so helpful when our heads are running back to the exam or forward to results that haven’t been released yet. Check out this blog post about mindfulness, My Smiling Mind is also a great app that gives access to guided mindfulness and relaxation exercises.

Whilst rehashing the past and trying to predict the future can be unhelpful and increase stress, it is good to be aware of support services and options available if your grades are not what you had hoped for.  Something I used to remind myself of when waiting for results was “there is always an alternative”.  Sometimes that alternative looks very different to our original plan, it may mean a redo of a subject or a different pathway to the same goal.  The Skype Drop-in Sessions or an appointment with a Student Support Advisor are a good forum for you to discuss some alternative options that might suit your individual situation and what you hope to achieve.

For those of you with exams left this week, good luck! For those of you who have finished, try and enjoy the present.  Worrying about what comes next can make you miss out on the fun to be had today.


Student led anxiety support group

One of the things I love most about working at UON is the enthusiasm and commitment of the students in not only achieving academically but in supporting one another in getting through the daily stressors. This week I’ve learned about two such students who have under the guidance of one of the counsellors at UON and The WayAhead group put together a support group for students who experience stress and anxiety.

The group, which is free, is designed to provide a welcoming and safe space for people who are, or have experienced anxiety or stress. The group provides a confidential and non-judgmental setting that is open to everybody. Many people who suffer from anxiety or stress feel that they are alone and no one understands their dread and fear.The support group hopes to  show students that they are not alone in their experiences. It is not a therapeutic group, but rather a discussion and sharing of personal experiences.

The group will run every fortnight on a Tuesday from 12:30-2pm at the Glasshouse. There will be free tea, coffee, biscuits and fruit along with resources to share.  Each week will cover a different theme:

Week 4 (Tuesday 16th August) Anxiety and University Life – Life Hacks for Uni

Week 6 (Tuesday 30th August) Student Wellbeing, mindfulness, relaxation Week 8 (Tuesday 13th September) RUOK day: starting a conversation about mental health with your friends and family. We ask ‘are you okay?’

2nd week holidays (Tuesday 27th September) Self-Awareness Month/Accepting yourself/ Managing stress around assessments and final projects

Week 10 (Tuesday 11th October) Mental Health Week – Creating awareness of mental health, what have been your experiences?

Week 12 (Tuesday 25th October) Preparing for Exams: talking about the tips and strategies that help you stay healthy during exams

Exam Period (Tuesday 8ths November) Managing Exam Stress/Coping Strategies/Sleep

If you want more information then contact Taylor on Taylor.Hadlow@uon.edu.au or show up on the day and say hello in person.


The material or views expressed on this Blog are those of the author and do not represent those of the University.  Please report any offensive or improper use of this Blog to RPS@newcastle.edu.au.
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