My Smiling Mind App

Another free app for the smartphone that gives you access to mindfulness and relaxation scripts and exercises for you to practice. Some of the scripts are relatively short around 3 minutes and other are a little longer 7-8 minutes. You can’t fast forward through the scripts to a part you like so if you are using the app you need to make the time for the script you like.  There are a few programs in the adult section on scanning, breathing, listening and daily mediation and mindfulness. The scripts are all narrated by the same person and like any script you need to be able to let the voice blend into the background and if you can’t do that then skip this app and look for another one with similar content but a different voice over.

Before each of the scripts you are asked to review a set of emotions and use a slider to reflect where on the spectrum you fit. You get to do this again after the session as well. Whilst this is a nice feature it doesn’t appear to save the data so you can’t compare each sitting only the current time period. This is kind of fitting given the focus of this app is only on the present moment rather than the past or future. It does however let you set reminders for the future, not for today though. So if you did a script this morning and wanted to remind yourself to do another one tonight you are out of luck.

After you complete the script and the evaluation depending on the direction and change in your slider responses you will earn achievements. There are achievements for the script type, number of minutes spent in meditation, how many times a week you do it, and a number of other ones.

In addition to the programs there are also some additional scripts under the collaborations icon. There are three organisations at this stage, one of which is Cricket Australia. These three organisations have developed some specific scripts tailored to specific areas but available to everyone who has the app. IBM have created one called “The Brain Break” and one focussed on stress management which may appeal to students studying.

The app interacts well with social media sites and there are options to share your progress and achievements on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

What’s good about it: The scripts are short in duration and there are a number already available and others can be added in the future.

What’s not so good: The scripts are all in the same voice which means if you don’t like the voice you better find another app.


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.

 

 

 

 

 


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.


Check-In with a friend

Have you ever been worried about a friend but not sure what to say to them? Have you thought you might say the wrong thing but had no idea what the right thing might actually be? Have you ever wondered who to ask for help on what to say to the friend? Or how you could help them find the right kind of help? Apparently these are thoughts that lots of young people in Australia have, and it’s why BeyongBlue took donations from people and organisations within the community to help them develop a Check-In App for the smartphone.

The app will assist with:

  • developing a tailored, step-by-step ‘check-in’ plan
  • reviewing how the conversation went, and give ideas for what to do next, especially if things got tricky
  • setting reminders to follow up
  • providing links to professional support
  • providing words of wisdom from people who’ve done it before
  • giving ideas for how to look after yourself when supporting a friend.

The app itself has information in a variety of formats including quick tips, short testimonies from people in similar situations and links to support resources for immediate help and longer term options depending on the circumstances you find yourself in. You can click on those tips that you ‘like’ or find useful and when you flick through the list you can see those tips which others have found the most useful. The most popular tip when I was last on was the “what not to say” checklist. BeyondBlue are also keen to get your help in building the app so if there is a suggestion you have or an experience you want to share you can hit the suggest button and send them an e-mail for consideration.

In addition to this it also has a section that links to other useful apps and online services like the ReachOut.com SMS Tips and Smiling Mind. You can also use the app to send you reminders or to send you a tip every fortnight to build your skills in the friendship department.

What’s good about it: It helps you work out not only what to say to your friend who you are worried about but also what not to say!

What’s not so good about it: It doesn’t have any information about the different warning signs of mental health to help you decide if you think you should talk to your friend. So for someone who is unsure if they should say anything it doesn’t provide the reassurance about taking that step.


Reviews

Here the online counsellors have posted reviews of online resources and smart phone applications that you might find useful. You can click on any item on the list to take you to the review. Feel free to suggest some resources and applications you have used in the past and found helpful and I’ll try and review those as well.

Online Resources

Smartphone Applications

Not sure which app you need ?  Take the Reachout.com quiz to quickly find out !

 


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.


Burnout….and not the kind you do in a car.

There comes a time in every students life that they start to feel burnout. For some it happens early on, others in the later stages when they are nearing completion of there degree. Some will feel it as a direct result of their studies and others will feel it as a reaction to a combination of competing demands in their life. How and when you feel it isn’t the important factor. Whats important is that you recognise it as burnout and take some steps to change before you find yourself feeling less and less motivated, withdrawing from friends and experiencing some of the early signs of depression.

So how do you know if you have burnout? Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I exhausted?
  2. Do I find it difficult to find the energy to study?
  3. Am I getting increasingly frustrated and cynical about my study?
  4. Am I having memory difficulties, find it difficult to concentrate or unable to see another perspective?
  5. Are my grades slipping?
  6. Am I having problems in my relationships at uni?
  7. am I still satisfied with my choice of degree?

 

If you have answered yes to a few of these it could be a case of burnout. I know what you are all saying – Yes I have all of those! I have a heap of assessment work due and exam time is looming – of course I have burn out. And the closer we get to the end of the semester the more you will isolate yourself, withdraw from social functions, have difficulty sleeping and concentrating. This is all to be expected. So here are a few things that might help you with these.

  1. Take relaxation seriously and make sure you are getting regular study breaks – don’t just push through take 5 -10 minutes to do a relaxation exercise.
  2.  Don’t narrow yourself to study only – make sure you are still socialising with friends and family and engaging in physical activity.
  3. Unplug the distraction of electronic communication devices – take a break from Facebook, check e-mail once a day not 20, and turn off your phone.
  4. Get some sleep (This might be a topic I will explore more with you all later in the week).
  5. Get organised and make some study plans
  6. Pay attention to your body – eat and exercise regularly and get some sleep, did I mention sleep already?

 

There you have it the magic recipe for getting through the next few weeks, and if that doesn’t work but you survive the exams anyway remember that you get a month holiday after them!


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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