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- Understanding Life Transitions and Stress
- Dear Babbs-Sad and Scared Senior
- Dear Babbs-Clueless Friend
- Supporting a Loved One Experiencing Mental Health Concerns
By Anna Leifeste, Clinical Intern
When confronted with difficult news such as the death of a family member, being diagnosed with a serious illness, or moving to a new community, it is not surprising to experience high levels of stress and painful emotion. It may be unexpected, however, to learn that significant stress also occurs in connection with seemingly positive or happy events, such as getting into college, graduating, getting married, or being promoted at work. Acknowledging the complex emotions wrapped up in these experiences and developing relevant coping skills can significantly help during times of transition when they inevitably arise.
Stress is defined as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. The term “non-specific” indicates the fact that stress is experienced differently by everyone, usually manifesting with a combination of physical and emotional symptoms. Common physical signs of stress include increased blood pressure, muscle tension, nausea, pain in the head, jaw, neck, or back, dizziness, perspiration, fatigue, and shallow breathing. Common emotional and cognitive symptoms include anxiety, sadness, worry, irritability, anger, trouble concentrating, feelings of guilt, confusion, and memory loss. Stress also impacts the functioning of the immune system, and increases susceptibility to both physical and mental illness.
While stress results from a wide variety of factors, it is especially present in connection with significant changes and life transitions. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale is a list of common life events with corresponding ratings suggesting the degree of stress usually associated with it. While each person’s experience of these events is unique, the scale ratings are intended to provide insight about the degree of stress that may arise from each type of event, which can inform our needs for coping skills, self-care, and/or support at any given time. Whether or not you are currently in the process of navigating such life events, here are some aspects of transition stress management to keep in mind:
- Understand Stages of Adjustment – Common stages of adjustment include confusion, denial, anger, sadness/loss, doubt, discomfort, discovery, and acceptance. These stages are non-linear and experienced differently by everyone. Time and patience will help in moving through these stages, as will an attitude of self-compassion and trying not to judge your feelings or believe that you “should” be in any stage other than the one that you are presently experiencing.
- Maintain Consistent Self-Care Habits – During times of upheaval, it is easy to slip out of routines or ignore our basic needs, but it is especially important in these stressful moments to take time to eat well, stay active, be consistent in our sleep hygiene, limit caffeine, and make time to incorporate both relaxation and social support into our schedules through hobbies, rest, time with friends, and time for laughter.
- Use Past Experiences and Strengths – Coping with change can be a highly personal experience, which means that we are often our own best teachers. Even though we may have not encountered the same type of transition in the past, it is helpful to reflect on previous life events and challenges to identify coping skills that have proven useful in the past and then apply these same skills to our present and future transitions.
- Control Changes As Possible – While many life events are outside of our control, some are within our power to plan. When you are already in the midst of managing significant stress and change, it is best to avoid any additional changes that can be delayed. Waiting to change jobs, move homes, or make serious decisions about personal relationships may allow you to put more energy into the transitions that are already occurring, which will reduce your experience of stress.
- Use Short-Term Goals – Life transitions, especially those involving significant loss and change, can feel overwhelming. While navigating these periods of time, it can be helpful to break down our obligations, goals, and planning into smaller pieces. Doing so can allow big issues to seem more manageable, provide us with a sense of confidence and hope as we are able to master the smaller steps, allow us to establish a sense of normalcy as we accomplish day-to-day tasks, and can help us to keep realistic expectations for what we can handle.
- Frame Change as Opportunity for Growth – Finally, while it is easier said than done, it is important to keep in mind that growth occurs through challenges and changes in our lives. The human experience is full of disruptive, difficult, and sometimes unexpected developments, each of which allows us to learn, grow, and, if nothing else, strengthen our self-understanding.
Above all else, life transitions are not meant to be handled alone, so do not hesitate to reach out for support, whether you wish to rely on friends, family members, mentors, or Counseling Services. Our offices are located in the 731 S. Plymouth Court building, and you can reach our front desk to schedule an appointment by calling 312-369-8700.
Handbook of Stressful Transitions Across the Lifespan by Thomas W. Miller, Copyright 2010
Posted on Apr 4, 2014
Post by mishler
I can’t believe it’s already April and I will be graduating in just six weeks! It feels like I’ve been working toward this for such a long time, so I expected to feel excited and ready to move on, but now that the time is really here, I am feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and not ready to leave my friends and life at Columbia. How should I handle this? I don’t want my last weeks here to be ruined!
Sad & Scared Senior
Dear Sad & Scared Senior,
Graduation can be an overwhelming time, filled with many different emotions, ranging from excitement and pride to fear, uncertainty, and sadness, so know that you are not alone. While this time surrounding graduation is bound to be stressful and emotional no matter what, here are a few tips for managing stress and making the most of your remaining time on campus:
Know that Not Everything Has to Change: Inevitably, some things will be different after graduation- your identity as a student, schedule, the convenience of having friends in close proximity, and possibly where you will live or what career you pursue. However, it is important to remember that not everything will be different, and it is possible to preserve some things that are important to you. Perhaps you watch your favorite show with your roommate every week, have a favorite running route in the city, or like to pick up afternoon coffee at your favorite cafe. Taking time to remind yourself that some of these habits and relationships can carry on long after graduation will help to alleviate some of your anxiety about this big transition.
Make Time for Important Experiences: Of course, there is never enough time to do everything you’ve ever wondered about doing during college, but now is a good time to make a list of all of the ideas you’ve had over the years- events you’ve wanted to attend, campus offerings that you’ve meant to check out, and corners of the city that you have been curious to explore. Then, prioritize your list according to the items that are most important to you and the items that will only be available to you as a student. If you can create time to act on these most urgent and meaningful experiences, it will help you to feel like you are making the most of your pre-graduation weeks.
Contain Future Plans and Worries: Depending on your aims for life after graduation, you may be feeling pressure to find a job, change apartments, or plan your next steps. These are certainly important projects to work on, but it is important to distinguish between the time you are spending focused on the future versus the time that you are using to enjoy the end of your college experience. Schedule specific periods of time to focus on your future plans, and when that time is over, try to allow yourself to fully appreciate and experience your present life without the distraction of worrying about what is next.
Savor the Moment: The practice of mindfulness can help to increase your presence in and appreciation of each moment. Mindfulness, a practice inherited from Buddhism and now widely used outside of the context of spirituality, involves bringing your attention completely to the present moment and observing without judgement your thoughts, sensations, emotions, and experiences. Practicing mindfulness has many benefits, one of which is increased awareness that can help you to fully appreciate your remaining time leading up to graduation.
Remember to congratulate yourself: Last, but certainly not least, try to remind yourself that graduation is a significant accomplishment! Whatever path you have taken through college and up until now has inevitably offered challenges, opportunities, and plenty of chances to learn about yourself. It is important to reflect on all that you have learned and accomplished and to realize the many reasons that you have to feel proud on your graduation day.
So in your last weeks as a college student, rest assured that it is completely normal to wonder, worry, and question the big changes that are looming in the near future, but hopefully you can employ some of these strategies to also enjoy all of the exciting, memorable, and accomplished aspects of your this big milestone.
Congratulations and good luck!
Posted on Apr 4, 2014
Post by mishler
Something happened last week and I am not sure what to do – I am hoping you can help. I am a Sophomore at Columbia College, and I am really close with my roommate. I thought we knew everything about each other, but she just shared some surprising news with me. Apparently, she struggled with depression in high school. She is receiving treatment and doing well now, but she told me that high school was a difficult time for her.
Since we plan to keep living together for the rest of college, my roommate wanted me to know that she might become depressed in the future. I have never had a close friend struggling with mental health issues, and I don’t know what to do. How can I support her, both now and in the future?
A Clueless Friend
Dear Clueless Friend,
I can tell that you really care about your roommate and want to be as supportive as possible. That in and of itself shows you’re not totally clueless! It’s obvious that your roommate really trusts you and believes you can provide the support she needs, both now and in the future.
In terms of how you can support your roommate now, the first thing is to treat her just as you always have. Knowing that she has a history of mental health issues doesn’t change who she is as a person and friend. Try not to be judgmental or label her differently, both in your thoughts and in talking with other people. Also, you’ve probably already thought of this, but don’t tell anyone else this news without your roommate’s permission. Since she waited two years to tell you, it’s probably something she’d prefer to keep confidential.
It would be helpful to ask how she would like you to help her if she becomes depressed in the future. For example, maybe she would like you to simply listen, invite her to go on more outings, contact her parents, remind her that therapy and/or medication has helped in the past, or something else.
Remember that there is help on campus for you and your roommate as well. Counseling Services can be reached at 312-369-8700 to support you and your friend. Remember to take care of yourself and reach out for help if you need it. It’s the best thing you can do for both of you!
Lastly, if you’d like to learn more, check out the websites below. They provide more information and support to friends and family of those affected by depression.
Hope this helps!
Posted on Mar 3, 2014
Post by mishler
By: Lauren Drake, Clinical Intern
Did you know that every year an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder? What would you do if a friend or family member told you that they are struggling with depression, panic attacks, an eating disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder PTSD, or something similar? Perhaps you’ve been in this situation, or maybe you will be in the future. It can be overwhelming and confusing to know how to respond when a loved one struggles with mental health concerns. Most people feel like they want to provide support, but aren’t sure how to do so.
Every mental health condition is different and there are a variety of ways to support a loved one who is struggling. However, there are a few things that can be useful across situations. If you suspect or learn that someone close to you is experiencing mental health concerns, try to keep in mind the following:
- Listen! Oftentimes people struggling with mental health feel very alone. If your loved one wants to confide in you about what’s been going on, take time to listen to what they have to say. Although active listening might not feel as helpful as giving advice, calling a professional, or providing reassurance, doing so will help your loved one to feel less isolated and afraid.
- Ask how they would like to be supported. Don’t assume they would like you to call more often, leave them alone, give advice, or share self-help tips. Instead, ask what would be most helpful! You can ask a simple question, such as, “How can I best support you right now?”
- Your loved one is still the same person they were before. They are not defined by their condition or disorder. Try to think and speak about them in person-first language. For example, just as you would not say that someone “is cancer”, it can be stigmatizing to say that someone “is depressed, anorexic, OCD, etc.” Instead, they are “facing/struggling with/battling/experiencing symptoms of depression, anorexia, OCD, etc.”
- Encourage them to seek (or stick with) treatment. If your loved one is struggling and has not sought help, encourage them to do so. To avoid pushing too hard or confrontation, consider asking, “Have you thought about getting help?” Often seeking professional treatment in the form of therapy, medication, hospitalization, or a day treatment program is extremely helpful, but seeking it out can be an intimidating step. Ask your loved one if they have considered professional help and encourage them to consider it. Offer to sit with them while they make a phone call or accompany them to their first appointment. If your loved one is already in treatment but doesn’t feel like it’s working, encourage them to stick it out. Suggest talking to their care providers about the perceived lack of progress to see if any adjustments need to be made to medication or therapies.
- Learn more about what they are struggling with. Fortunately, there are many great resources available to loved ones of those struggling with mental health concerns. You can look online to find many websites that provide information and support to loved ones of those with mental health issues. Learning more factual information about conditions such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, or PTSD can provide you with a better understanding of your loved one’s symptoms and what they are going through. It may also help you to take any changes in your relationship less personally. Here are a few helpful websites related to eating disorders, depression, and OCD:
- Don’t burn yourself out. As much as you want to provide support your loved one, it is not your responsibility to “fix” them. Know your own limits and do not take on more of their emotional burden than you can handle. It might be helpful to visit a support group for loved ones of those struggling with a mental health concern. Check online to find support groups in your local area, such as those run by the National Alliance for Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=find_support
Whether your loved one is newly diagnosed or has been struggling with mental health concerns for many years, knowing how to provide support is often a challenge. These tips for providing caring and compassionate support are by no means all the ways you can help, but they may be helpful to you now and in the future.
Posted on Mar 3, 2014
Post by mishler
By: Alison Pullman, Clinical Intern
While experiencing mood changes during the winter months is not an uncommon phenomenon, it’s important to understand whether your symptoms are just a case of the winter blues or something more serious, like seasonal affective disorder. Furthermore, it’s also important not to confuse seasonal affective disorder with a more severe course of non-seasonal clinical depression. Most people experience “down” days from time to time, especially during the winter, but when you start to feel down more often than not for prolonged periods of time, it could be indicative of something more serious than seasonal affect changes. Below is a closer look at the winter blues, seasonal affective disorder, and clinical depression:
Mood shifts according to changes in the weather are quite common. In general, people tend to be happier on warm and sunny days and are more prone to feeling down on cold and dark days. Though in some cases certain individuals experience the opposite phenomenon, meaning they are more prone to feeling down in warmer weather. Since the winter months are consistently colder and darker than any other time of the year, mood shifts experienced during this time have been dubbed the winter blues.
How do you tell the difference between just having a couple of bad days and a true case of the winter blues? Almost 67% of the population experience mood changes and loss of energy during the winter, but only those individuals whose functioning in every day activities is limited are considered to have the winter blues. On the other hand, symptoms of the winter blues, including sleep disturbance, changes in appetite, and loss of motivation, are generally mild. If these symptoms become more severe, the person may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder or clinical depression.
Unlike the winter blues, people with non-seasonal clinical depression feel sad or depressed most of the day, nearly every day. Their symptoms are not influenced by the weather, but rather they are pervasive regardless of the season. To meet the diagnostic standards of a depressive episode, symptoms must predominate for at least two weeks and can last for years. Unlike the winter blues, these symptoms of clinical depression cause significant disruptions in everyday functioning, including the ability to go to work, attend classes, and maintain relationships. Common symptoms of depression include low moods, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, loss of energy, excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt, feeling worthless or hopeless, and even suicidal thoughts. About 25% of individuals experience a depressive episode at some point in their lives, and about half of those who experience a depressive episode will experience additional episodes throughout their lifetime.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is considered a “subtype” of clinical depression and, therefore, more severe than a case of the winter blues. One of every ten persons who experience recurrent depressive episodes experiences them on a seasonal pattern. The symptoms of clinical depression and seasonal affective disorder are the same, so the only difference between these conditions is that SAD occurs on a seasonal pattern. The onset of seasonal depressive episodes generally occurs in the fall or winter and symptoms begin to subside in the spring or early summer. SAD is most common in women and in individuals in their early 30s.
Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder and Clinical Depression
Everyone has down days, but if you find yourself feeling down for days a time or more days than not and find that your mood change is impacting your day to day functioning, it may be time to seek help. Light therapy is often used to treat seasonal affective disorder; however, it is also sometimes treated with psychotherapy and antidepressants as clinical depression is treated.
Remember you can always contact Counseling Services at 731 S. Plymouth Ct. or call 312-369-8700 to schedule an appointment!
Posted on Feb 2, 2014
Post by mishler
As a freshman at Columbia this is my first Chicago winter – and it has been a brutal one! Everyone warned me that Chicago winters were tough, but what I didn’t realize was how big of an impact this cold weather would have on my mood. I’ve been feeling down, lethargic, and unmotivated. All I want to do is stay inside to avoid the cold. Is this normal?
Dear Seasonally Affected,
You are right; this has certainly been a brutally cold winter – even by Chicago’s standards! To answer your question, yes – experiencing mood shifts along with the change in weather is quite common. In fact, six percent of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and 14% suffer from a less severe mood shift known as the “winter blues.” Common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and the winter blues include depression, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities that one usually enjoys, changes in appetite, weight gain, and difficulty concentrating. Check out this week’s featured article to learn more about the difference between the winter blues, seasonal affective disorder, and non-seasonal clinical depression.
While most of us are quick to blame the cold temperatures for our mood change – research has shown the shortened amount of daylight during the winter months is the true culprit. Days are the shortest during the January and February months, so symptoms can be most pervasive during these months. For many of us, we leave home in the morning in the dark and when we get back in the evening it is already dark again! That, along with the cold temperatures, makes us more prone to stay at home rather than go out and do the things we normally do during other seasons.
Certain factors can predispose us to experiencing seasonal affect changes. More women are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder than men; however, men tend to experience more severe symptoms. Family history of seasonal affective disorder also increases one’s likelihood of having it. Finally, if you experience non-seasonal clinical depression, your symptoms could worsen as a result of the change in weather.
Here are a few tips to overcoming seasonal affect changes:
1. Reposition furniture to take advantage of as much natural light as possible: Sunlight enters our eyes and interacts with our dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters, which are sometimes called the “feel-good” hormones. Alternatively, the lack of sunlight can lead to a lack of these neurotransmitters that have a positive impact on our mood.
2. Install a light box: Since relying on natural light may not be possible during these short winter days, purchasing a light box and holding it about one or two feet away from your eyes for about 30 minutes each morning can act as a substitute for natural light.
3. Take breaks outside: For natural light exposure, go outside during your break instead of staying at your desk!
4. Watch your diet: Research has shown that we tend to crave carbohydrates in particular during the winter months. While some carbs can be good for us, simple carbohydrates like donuts, muffins, etc. can lead to a “sugar” crash, which may worsen your mood.
5. Exercise regularly: Exercise improves mood and reduces stress!
Posted on Feb 2, 2014
Post by mishler
By: Olivia Metzger, clinical intern
As simple as communication seems, often times when we try to communicate with others (or when others try to communicate with us) much of what we are trying to convey is misunderstood. This can cause conflict and frustration in some of our most important relationships. The use of effective communication is one way in which we can become better communicators and can strengthen our relationships with others. Effective communication combines a set of skills: attentive listening, nonverbal cues, the ability to manage stress in the moment, and emotional awareness. Learning and practicing these skills enables us to resolve differences, build trust and respect, and better connect with our family members, friends, and colleagues.
Listening is one of the most important aspects of effective communication. Attentive listening is a skill that involves not only understanding the words that are being conveyed but also the feelings behind the message the speaker is sending. To be an attentive listener you must focus fully on the speaker. If you are texting or daydreaming you are missing parts of the conversation. If you find it difficult to concentrate on the speaker, try repeating their words over in your head to help you stay focused.
Attentive listening is not the same as waiting for your turn to talk. If you are formulating a response, you are not concentrating on what the other person is saying. The same goes for interrupting. Try to let the speaker finish their thought before you add to the conversation.
Attentive listeners demonstrate their interest in what is being said by nodding occasionally and making eye contact with the person who is talking. This does not mean you have to like or agree with the ideas being presented. However, it does mean you should strive to set aside judgment and criticism in order to better understand the speaker’s point of view.
Wordless or nonverbal communication involves conveying meaning through body language, facial expression, movements, gestures, eye contact, posture, and the tone of your voice. You can enhance effective communication by being aware of the nonverbal cues both you and others transmit. For example, open body language such as standing with your arms uncrossed and maintaining eye contact with the person you are talking to sends a message that you want to understand and connect with them.
You can improve your understanding of nonverbal cues by observing how others use body language. Take note of how people react to each other and be aware of individual differences such as how age, culture, gender, and emotional state affect people’s nonverbal cues.
When stress becomes overwhelming it can disrupt your ability to communicate in an effective manner. This is because stress affects your ability to think clearly and creatively and to act appropriately. You are more likely to misread people and situations when you are stressed and may even send confusing or off-putting nonverbal cues to others as well.
To deal with stress during communication, you should recognize when you are becoming tense. Your body will give you clues such as tight muscles or shallow breathing. When you notice these body signals, take a moment to calm down by taking a few deep breaths or by trying to engage your other senses through focusing on a calming sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. If necessary, take time away from the conversation to calm down. Find a quiet place to regain composure before continuing the conversation.
Often times it is the way you feel, rather than what you think that motivates you to communicate. If you are out of touch with your feelings or do not understand how or why you feel a certain way, you may have a hard time communicating your needs to others. This can lead to frustration, misunderstanding, and conflict. Emotional awareness can enhance clear and effective communication because it allows you to better understand yourself and others.
Knowing your feelings may seem like a simple idea but many people try to ignore or push away strong and unpleasant emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear. Your ability to connect with these difficult feelings will help you communicate more genuinely with others and allow for greater understanding, problem solving, and conflict resolution.
Developing emotional awareness takes time. You can start by tuning into your self and noticing how you feel each day. If it is difficult for you to pinpoint your exact emotions, try writing a description or even asking someone you know or trust how you come across to others. Try not to judge or edit your feelings by dismissing them before you have a chance to think them through. With time and practice, you will become better at cultivating emotional awareness and your ability to communicate effectively with others will improve.
Posted on Dec 12, 2013
Post by jstrobel
I’m in my junior year at Columbia, am earning good grades, and even have a job to help pay my way through school. With the holidays coming up, I’m dreading going home to see my family. My parents, especially my mom, still treat me like I’m a kid. Whenever I disagree with her, she tells me I’m acting childish. Both my parents constantly lecture me, even about my own field of study! I feel like I’ll only be an adult in their eyes if I do everything exactly the way they want. How can I gain some respect from my parents or at the very least deal with being around them during break?
Not Looking Forward to Home
Dear Not Looking Forward to Home,
It makes sense that you are wary of returning home for the holidays. You have been away at college for several years and have likely set up routines and established an existence completely independent from your family. It is wonderful that you’ve taken on some of the responsibility of helping to pay your way through school and great that you are working hard at your studies! I know life would be a lot easier if your mom and dad could just acknowledge your burgeoning independence and back off but unfortunately some parents have difficulty accepting as their children pull away from the family and make independent decisions. While it seems unfair that parents can react this way, you should continue to demonstrate that you are becoming an adult by behaving in a respectful and responsible manner while you are at home.
One way to demonstrate your maturity is by practicing healthy communication and problem solving skills to manage any conflict that may arise with your parents. The following three-step framework is one helpful way in which you can attack family problems without attacking each other:
Step One: If a conflict arises, you should start by identifying the problem. I encourage you to do this openly with your mom and dad so that each family member has a chance to clarify their view of the disagreement. Make sure that everyone has the opportunity to speak and that those who are not speaking are attentively listening. Attentive listening means that you are not interrupting or formulating a rebuttal while another person is speaking but that you are genuinely hearing what is being said. One way in which to show you have been attentively listening is to repeat back the main idea that your mom or dad is trying to convey. After you have acknowledged their perspective on the matter, you can offer your own point of view while they attentively listen to you.
Step Two: After the source of the problem is identified, it is time to propose possible solutions. When identifying potential solutions, I encourage you to be creative. Even if you do not plan to implement a particular solution because it is too outrageous or silly, thinking creatively often frees your mind to find a more practical solution that had not previously been available. Each family member is allowed to identify as many solutions as they would like without veto and everyone should have a chance to offer solutions while the other family members practice attentive listening. It is useful to write down all the solutions that are generated.
Step Three: Now that you have made a list of possible solutions, the final step in resolving the conflict is to evaluate, select, and implement one of the solutions. Again, you will want to use your attentive listening skills to talk through the potential benefits and pitfalls of each option. Once you have discussed the solutions, you and your parents should choose and implement one of them. The goal here is to choose the option that will most help reduce the conflict. If members cannot agree on a solution, perhaps a combination of solutions is a more realistic conclusion. Try to remember that even if the problem is not immediately solved, you have conveyed to your parents that you are able and willing to communicate in a helpful and responsible manner that invites open discussion and problem solving. This should certainly afford you some respect!
By: Olivia Metzger, clinical intern
Posted on Dec 12, 2013
Post by jstrobel
Ever since I was younger, I’ve loved art and felt that it is an outlet for everything going on in my life. I was so excited to come to Columbia and dedicate myself to art full-time. However, with all of these assignments in my different classes, my art is starting to feel like an obligation instead of something I can practice whenever I feel inspired. It’s so hard to produce work for all of these deadlines and I just feel like my creativity is completely shot. Does this mean I’m not a real artist? How can I keep up with all of my different projects when I’m feeling totally uninspired?
Blocked and confused
Dear Blocked and Confused,
With all of the many demands of college life, it is completely normal to feel run down at times. Even the world’s greatest creative minds throughout history have often described periods of feeling blocked, unproductive, and uninspired—and they weren’t up against deadlines for midterms and final projects! While it is completely understandable to question yourself in times of burn out, rest assured that moments of more and less productivity are all part of the creative process. With this in mind, there are several things you can do to help foster your artistic practice, both by seeking out sources of inspiration and refining your creativity habit.
It is hard to predict when a moment of feeling inspired might occur, so stay aware of even fleeting thoughts or images throughout your day, and jot them down (in a handy notebook, scrap of paper, or even in your phone) in the moment to reflect on later. Inspiration often occurs as we engage in new experiences, so making even small changes to your routine can incite a new way of seeing things—take a new route when walking to your usual places, experiment with working on your projects in different settings or at different times of day. Don’t forget about the importance of consuming other people’s art in order to help you produce your own. In free time, take advantage of the many offerings of Chicago’s neighborhoods, festivals, concert venues, old bookstores, small galleries, and artisan markets. When you are having trouble with the first steps of your creative process, don’t be afraid to begin with imitation, copying the first words of a favorite author’s book, sketching your own interpretation of a well-known piece of art, etc. to spark your own imagination. It can also be helpful to engage the connection our minds have to our bodies, using physical movement to stimulate and invigorate all of your senses and even your thoughts. Perhaps most fundamentally, maintaining a curious approach to all that you encounter in classes, relationships, and daily experiences opens you up to inspiration in both expected and unexpected places.
Columbia’s emphasis on collaboration and working with a creative posse is fruitful and rewarding, but it can be equally important to set aside alone time to sink into your individual process and indulge your own creativity without distraction. The term “creativity habit” has become popular for good reason—regular and disciplined practice is the foundation for keeping up artistic skill and productivity even when passion or inspiration are in short supply. As part of this regular practice, do your best not to judge your creative output, instead know that “good” art and “bad” attempts are all part of the process. In maintaining your daily artistic exercise, it can be helpful to develop a ritual to help spark your creative practice. This ritual could be clearing the same space to sit in each day, preparing your favorite cup of tea or coffee before you begin, performing relaxation exercises, or reading a mantra or quotation that reminds you of your intention.
As you explore these ideas for inspiration and creative practice, keep in mind that patience is perhaps the most useful skill to develop toward yourself as an artist. Through a combination of seeking inspiration, consistent effort, and patience with yourself, periods of increased creativity will always return.
Posted on Nov 11, 2013
Post by jstrobel
By: Anna Leifeste, clinical intern in Counseling Services
Along with all of the excitement and busyness of college comes the frequent feeling that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. When you’re balancing a combination of several classes, extracurricular activities, hobbies, relationships, and the general demands of young adult life, all while trying to save a little time for yourself, making the most of your work time is essential. Since the days aren’t getting any longer, our best bet is to adopt some helpful time management techniques to maximize efficiency, which just might lead to a little more time to spend on the things that matter most. Let’s take a look at a few effective time management strategies…
Get Organized: Monthly, weekly, and daily to-do lists can help keep you organized and on task. Making weekly reviews of what you’ve accomplished in the past week and what needs to get done in the next seven days can help remind you of what you’ve recently achieved, as well as clarify how your time will be best spent in the near future.
Prioritize: In making your to-do lists, it may help to begin with a few easy tasks to jumpstart your sense of productivity, and to mix in shorter and/or easier tasks between larger undertakings to keep your momentum up and prevent feelings of discouragement. When scheduling larger projects, it is often best to tackle difficult projects earlier in your day so that your mind feels fresh and not yet fatigued. Strategize as you plan, thinking about how and when you work best, and anticipating likely hurdles in order to create a realistic schedule for yourself. For example, you may find that it’s best to schedule group meetings first thing in the morning because you find it is difficult to concentrate in the hours leading up to such meetings, causing time to be wasted in anticipation.
Postpone the Unnecessary: In prioritizing your daily, weekly, and monthly goals, ask yourself which tasks can wait and which are not necessary to complete at this time, and keep those items on a separate list for periodic review. Don’t worry- they can be moved to your priority list if you have extra time, or when they become necessary. So often, it is tempting to delay starting a large or difficult project by crossing less intimidating items off of your to-do list. However, if those smaller items weren’t necessary or urgent to complete, they are just setting you back in the long run and taking away from precious time you could devote to important projects, or use to engage in self-care.
Minimize Distractions: It is tempting to keep our cell phones within arm’s reach and our email open while working, but this threatens dedicated work time with intermittent distractions. Schedule in purposeful time to check and return email, texts, and missed calls throughout your day, but between these time periods, be sure to turn off your ringer and log out of email. Similarly, while you are working on a particular task, any unrelated ideas, questions, or “to-dos” that pop into your head should be written down and set aside to pursue at a later time. This will prevent you from going down the rabbit hole of sequential internet searches that can so easily soak up hours of your week before you even realize you’ve strayed from your intended focus.
Take Breaks: High levels of productivity cannot be maintained for hours on end, so keep your energy up and your mind fresh by “chunking” your time. Setting a timer to go off at the time of your next scheduled break can help you avoid the distraction of constantly checking the clock. Breaking larger projects up into manageable pieces will keep the idea of getting started from being overly daunting. Keep in mind that more time doesn’t always mean more productivity- time pressure and schedule constraints can add urgency and motivation to your work that can lead to improved concentration as well as saving you time in the long run.
Optimize Your Biological Clock: Some people wake up alert and energized, while others gain motivation and momentum later in the day or evening. Observing and utilizing your natural rhythms of energy and concentration will serve you well to accomplish tasks more efficiently. Finding a routine that works with your internal clock and sticking to it will reinforce your natural rhythms to create a work routine that can develop into a familiar habit that requires less effort than trying to get motivated at different times every day and week.
Use Free Time Intentionally: In addition to all of the work projects and obligations assigned to your schedule, be sure to also block out a reasonable amount of free time to recharge and take care of yourself. Just like the focus you dedicate to your scheduled work time, the blocks of time that you have dedicated to relaxation and leisure should be free from the distraction and worry about the remaining items on your agenda. Really letting yourself enjoy your free time will not only feel good, but it will better prepare you to return to your work refreshed and motivated when the time comes.
As you experiment with these time management techniques, finding what works for you and beginning to develop effective work habits will serve you well for years to come. Motivation and work ethic are like muscles that must be exercised to build and maintain, so remember that finding your most effective work styles is an ongoing process. Be realistic in your expectations—it is impossible to be productive all of the hours in the day—and celebrate your small successes along the way in order to continue developing your own style that will minimize the obstacles in your work routine and maximize the balance in your life.
Posted on Nov 11, 2013
Post by jstrobel