Beat End-of-Semester Anxiety With These Tips

By Kylie (Xiping) Qiu, M.S., PLMHP

Our mind is like a wave. We can’t control the wave, but we can always learn how to surf.

No matter how busy we are, we all brush our teeth on average six minutes a day. We never question this routine, and yet when it comes to maintaining our mental health, many of us don’t do this until we are forced to because of a common reason — “I don’t have time.”

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But if we’re honest, this isn’t exactly true because we don’t skip brushing our teeth when we are busy. It all comes down to priorities.

We have to recognize that preventive care is just as important for our mental health as it is our physical health. Don’t wait until you have a mental break down to learn stress management!

How stress affects the body

Stress is our body’s response to a life-threatening situation, like suddenly stumbling across a venomous snack on a hike. On an abstract level, exams are the “life-threatening danger” for students.

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No one can avoid stress, but we can avoid anxiety. Our mind is like a wave. We can’t control the wave, but we can always learn how to surf.

To reduce our anxiety level while experiencing stress, we have to calm down first.

Be a bridge builder

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When “fighting” with finals, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is aroused by stress, anger or fear, which accelerates the heart rate, constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure — the physical feelings of anxiousness. When the sympathetic nervous system is working, our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is on leave. PSNS slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and glandular activity and relaxes the muscles.

SNS and PSNS are like two workers with their own shifts on duty. When one is always in charge and prohibits the other to work, it breaks the system’s balance. To make matters trickier, these two workers don’t talk to each other.

Don’t lose hope! The secret is that we were all born with the ability to manage and build bridges between those two workers. We do this by controlling our breathing and managing our judgmental thoughts.

Breathe to achieve mindfulness

Consider your natural breathing. Is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow? Stable or unstable? Breathing deeply and slowly can activate our PSNS. Intentionally do this whenever you can.

Manage your judgmental thoughts

Thoughts like “I need to skip this chapter because I don’t have time” or “I just couldn’t focus” help you make a decision, which is the type of thoughts we need. Judgmental thoughts like “I am stupid” or “it’s my fault that I didn’t study well enough throughout the semester, and see this is the consequence…” won’t help you manage stress because they hurt your self-esteem and confidence.

The three steps to thought management are:

  1. Recognize judgmental thoughts
  2. Observe your thoughts like a third party instead of reacting in your typical ways
  3. Let the thoughts go without reaction

You might say, “I couldn’t let it go.” That’s OK because you tried. You will build more skill and tolerance if you try it repeatedly.

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What else can I do?

  1. Educate yourself on stress management and take time to balance SNS and PSNS
  2. Evaluate yourself by scoring your anxiety or fear on a scale of one to 10 (10 being the most overwhelming) at least once a day
  3. Practice breathing skills instead of watching your cell phone during your study breaks. Intentionally slow down your breathing and make it as deep as you can, but don’t hold your breath. Follow these instructions:
    1. Sit comfortably. Devote 100 percent of your attention on your breathing. Breathe in all the air until your lungs are filled and then breathe out slowly until there is no air left. Repeat this five, 10 or 20 times.
  4. Repeat breathing skills until you feel much calmer or less stressed
  5. Manage your judgmental thoughts
  6. Plan six minutes in your daily schedule to focus on your mental health, just like brushing teeth
  7. Learn more stress management tips when you complete your final because you deserve to feel less stressed during your next finals preparation

If you need help managing your stress, talk with us. We can help. Make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services by calling 402.472.7450.

Shedding Light on Suicide Ideation

by Heather Patterson Meyer, PsyD, MAT, clinical psychologist

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people 15 to 24, and more than 1,000 suicide deaths occur on college campuses annually, according to the Jed Foundation. White males under 21 and LGBTQ youth are the highest risk groups for suicidal ideation (thoughts about suicide), but anyone can experience those types of thoughts, regardless of race, religion, class or sexual orientation.

These statistics show that this issue cannot be ignored, especially on a college campus like Nebraska. It’s time to commit to learning more so we can help prevent suicide.

Know the warning signs

While there’s no surefire way to predict when or if someone will attempt suicide, there are warning signs that could indicate someone is struggling and needs help or support. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these signs include:

  • Acting recklessly
  • Anxiousness and agitation
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Hopelessness
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Intense anger or seeking revenge
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Talking about being a burden to others or having no sense of purpose
  • Talking about death
  • Withdrawal and isolation

What to do if you are having thoughts of suicide

Get help immediately:

  • Call 911
  • Go to the nearest emergency room, Bryan West (2300 S. 16th St.)
  • Text “START” to 741-741 or call 1.800.273.TALK
  • Call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 402.472.7450 or stop by the office at the University Health Center between 8 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday
  • Call UNL Police at 402.472.2222

You may feel hopeless and that you are beyond help, but it’s important to know that you are not alone. With some support, you can find ways to cope with your problems and the pain can subside.

If you aren’t immediately considering attempting suicide but have had thoughts of death or suicidal ideation, reach out to a friend or family member — someone you can trust. Talking about your feelings can help you feel less overwhelmed and isolated. Make an appointment at CAPS (402.472.7450) as soon as possible, even if you feel it isn’t an emergency. The sooner you find support, the better you may feel.

Remember, even if you no longer have these thoughts or if they come and go, it’s important to seek help as it may be a signal of a more serious underlying issue.

What to do if you are worried about a friend or family member

If you notice someone exhibiting the signs mentioned above, don’t be a silent observer. Your support can be really meaningful to someone struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Here are a few ways you can help them get support and help as soon as possible.

  • Express your concern and ask directly if they have current, recent, or past thoughts of suicide. Bringing up your concern does not give them morbid ideas. In fact, it’s one of the most helpful actions you can take. Bringing it up can help them know they are not alone and that you care about them. It also can help you determine how urgent the need is for help. If they have a specific plan and means to carry out that plan, call 911 and stay with them until help arrives. Not sure how to get the conversation started? Visit helpguide.org for sample questions you can ask.
  • Listen to them and don’t try to problem-solve. People who struggle with suicidal thoughts are often frightened by what they feel. Simply being there for them and comforting them with your presence can make a huge impact. Don’t judge them for what they tell you.
  • Remind them of the truth. Reassure them that treatment can help and that these feelings can get better. Connect them to resources on campus, such as CAPS, or in their community.
  • Get support and guidance. Talk to an RA, RD, academic advisor or someone in CAPS about your concerns. If the need is urgent, call 911 and stay with them until help arrives. Speaking up and taking action is always appropriate because keeping your friend or family member safe is more important than losing their trust or friendship.

CAPS is here to support you, whether you are currently experiencing suicidal ideation, are depressed or anxious, have lost a loved one to suicide, are concerned about a friend or family member’s suicidal ideation, or need to talk for any reason. Call 402.472.7450 to make an appointment with one of our counselors or psychologists.

If you want to be more involved, participate in and/or donate to the UNL Out of the Darkness Campus Walk April 23 from 2 to 4 p.m. Out of the Darkness Walks like this and others across the country promote fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and promote healing to the local community to those who have lost someone or struggled. Join us on the UNL greenspace for activities, speakers, and, of course, the walk. Pre-registration is free at afsp.donordrive.com/event/unl.

Let’s Talk About Depression

“You say you’re ‘depressed’—all I see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective—it just means you’re human.” – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Tomorrow is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is Depression: Let’s Talk.

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. and yet it’s still considered somewhat of a taboo topic to discuss. There’s a perception that depression doesn’t exist or that it’s nothing more than a personal problem or sign of weakness. This stigmatization surrounding depression stems from a misunderstanding of what depression is and is not.

So let’s debunk a few depression myths, shall we?

  1. Depression isn’t a feeling or reality that a person brought on themselves and isn’t something you can “just get over.” It’s a serious illness, not a character flaw. You wouldn’t accuse someone with brain cancer for being lazy and causing their own illness, so why treat people with depression this way?
  1. Depression isn’t simply being sad. Some moments in life—the loss of a loved one, moving away from home or failing an exam—warrant grieving. Depression and grief share some of the same features, but they are not one in the same. For example, grief is often fleeting, whereas depression lasts for weeks. Grief doesn’t typically affect self-esteem, but with depression, it’s common to loathe oneself and feel hopeless. Grief can lead to depression in some cases, but it’s important to distinguish the two.
  1. Depression isn’t just a woman’s disease. While it’s true that women suffer from depression twice as often as men, no one is immune from depression; it’s an equal-opportunity illness. All ages, genders, races and economic statuses can be affected.
  1. Depression doesn’t just affect the mind, but the entire body as well. It can negatively impact your immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infections and illnesses. It affects appetite, which can cause serious weight loss or gain. Headaches, stomach pain and other physical symptoms can occur if depression is left untreated. Unipolar major depression is the leading cause of disability, and only heart disease tops depression in causes of lost work days in the U.S.
  1. Depression won’t usually disappear if the sufferer ignores it for long enough and refuses to seek help. If treated, depression symptoms can decrease or even disappear. If left untreated, it could lead to failing health or even suicide.

About one in five people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. With those odds, it’s likely you already interact with someone who currently deals with from depression. Here are a few ways you can help support them and end the stigma surrounding depression:

  • Be the example. Take an online mental health screening at least once a year and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you are worried you might be struggling with depression, make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services by calling 402.472.7450.
  • Educate yourself. The more you know, the better stigma buster you’ll be. Take time to research depression and other mental illnesses. A good place to start would be the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
  • Watch your language. Expressions like “get over it” or “just relax” can minimize how a person feels. Instead use supportive language like “I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well” and ask what you can do to help.
  • Listen and be supportive. People who are depressed often feel isolated, so check in on them and ask them how they’re doing. Spend time with them when you can and know it’s OK to not know what to say. Showing them you care may motivate them to seek treatment if they haven’t already.
  • Be kind. Small acts of kindness can go a long way, whether it’s a simple smile to your fellow classmate who passes you on campus or inviting that friend you haven’t talked to in a while out for coffee to chat.
  • Share your story. Talking about your struggle with depression can help you recover and challenge stereotypes. It may even encourage others to get help if they need it.

For more information on mental wellness and CAPS services, visit health.unl.edu/caps

Understand the Hidden Signs of an Eating Disorder

By Heather Patterson Meyer, PsyD, MAT, Counseling and Psychological Services licensed psychologist and Eating Disorders Treatment Team coordinator

There are many myths out there about eating disorders, so it’s no wonder that it can be difficult to truly understand the risks and warning signs of an eating disorder.

Unlike what some people assume, eating disorders are not limited to a particular age group, gender, race, sexual orientation or other identifier. They can affect anyone. It’s also important to recognize that eating disorders are not a choice but a mental illness that develops over time. People with eating disorders did not “bring it on themselves.” Eating disorders are not limited to anorexia, but they also can include ARFID, binge eating disorder, bulimia, pica, rumination disorder and other unspecified feeding or eating disorder. Understanding all of this will help you better recognize warning signs of an eating disorder.

While there are many signs, here is a list of more subtle ones that often slip by unnoticed:

  • Excessively looking in the mirror
  • Negatively commenting on your physical appearance
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide your body shape
  • No longer eating with friends or family
  • Consuming caffeine to suppress your appetite
  • Constantly counting calories and/or micronutrients
  • Excessively chewing before swallowing
  • Taking a long time to eat
  • Obsessing over “clean eating
  • Consuming fewer calories in order to drink more alcohol
  • Frequently visiting nutrition websites
  • Spending hours exercising and obsessing over calories burned
  • Becoming upset if an exercise routine is disrupted and eating less to compensate
  • Using diet shakes, pills, teas, etc.
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities.

If you or a loved one is exhibiting these behaviors, it could be a hidden sign of an eating disorder. Help is available. The UHC Eating Disorders Treatment Team specializes in helping individuals struggling with eating disorders or disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. They offer individual counseling, support and therapy groups, nutritional counseling, medical evaluations and more. To talk to a member of the team, call 402-472-7450. You can also get help by calling the NEDA Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

For a full list of eating disorder warning signs, visit the Remuda Ranch website.

Also be sure to read Monday’s blog post about ways you can support Eating Disorders Awareness Week and help end the stigma surrounding eating disorders.

Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Ashley Grundmayer, M.A., licensed independent mental health practitioner and provisionally licensed alcohol and drug counselor with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

It’s common to feel a little down in the dumps during the cold and dark winter months. However, if the change of seasons has suddenly caused you to have low mood, decreased energy, irritability or excessive sleepiness, it could be a sign that the “winter blues” or “cabin fever” has developed into Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is SAD?

SAD is a depressive disorder often triggered during the change of seasons. Most people with SAD experience an onset of symptoms in the fall that continues into the winter months, but it can appear during any change of season.

SAD affects people from all walks of life, but young adults, women and those with a family history of depression or SAD are more likely to experience the disorder.

What are the symptoms?

The National Institute of Mental Health reports people with SAD often experience symptoms of major depression, such as:

  • Feeling depressed during most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed.

Additionally, people with SAD may struggle with hypersomnia, overeating, decreased energy and an urge to “hibernate,” which could involve avoiding academic responsibilities and withdrawing from social opportunities.

What causes it?

The cause of SAD is unknown, but some medical and mental health experts suspect that a disruption of melatonin levels, serotonin levels and a person’s biological clock may be the primary culprit. As college students, any SAD symptoms caused by these changes in the body can be exacerbated by an increased workload and struggles with time management. This is why it’s especially important to keep an eye out for SAD symptoms, not only personally, but also in the lives of your friends, classmates and significant others.

What should I do if I think I have SAD?

The first step is to recognize the problem. If you are struggling with mild SAD symptoms, there are several coping strategies you can try:

  • Light therapy: Add another lamp or two to your dorm room. Consider purchasing a fixture designed specifically to emit light levels that have been found to be therapeutic. Weather-permitting, try to spend at least a few minutes outdoors in the sunlight each day.
  • Exercise: Whether it’s going to a group fitness class at the Campus Rec Center, lifting weights in your living area, taking a few laps around the interior of the Union or heading outdoors for a hike, find an activity that interests you and try to incorporate it into your daily winter routine.
  • Socialize: Combat the desire to isolate by making plans with friends, roommates or family. If you don’t have someone to spend time with, attend an on-campus activity, join a free CAPS support group, attend a Student Involvement Coffee Talks session or participate in some similar activity to meet new people.
  • Improve your sleep: As tempting as it may be, avoid oversleeping. Create a sleep schedule and try to stick to it every day. Limit caffeine consumption. Create a healthier sleep environment by not using electronic devices in bed. Stop by the Health Promotion & Outreach office in the lower level of the University Health Center to pick up a free sleep kit to help you get a better night’s rest.

If you are experiencing severe SAD symptoms, make an appointment with a therapist. Our Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) staff is here for you. Bonus: If you pay student fees, your first four therapy sessions per academic lifetime are no extra cost (Some restrictions apply).

For more information about CAPS, visit health.unl.edu/caps.

CAPS Staff: All Are Welcome

The staff at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) stand with the statement issued by NU President Hank Bounds and the Nebraska University system chancellors. We agree with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that the “executive order (signed by President Trump) is disturbing and disruptive to our students and UNL employees and that it does not represent the values of UNL.”

We understand that students might be experiencing a great deal of fear and uncertainty, even if they are not directly impacted by the ban, and we are here to listen. Whether you are an international student or a domestic student, you are a Husker.

Counseling and Psychological Services is here for you. If you would like to meet with a counselor, please call 402-472-7450 to schedule an appointment, or stop by our free Drop-in Support Group, which meets Tuesdays 3 p.m. – 4 p.m. in the University Health Center, Room 213.

CAPS: Coping Strategies for the Recent Election

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln community recognizes that, in the wake of the recent election, many feel deeply impacted by these events in our country. For the overall health of our community, the University Health Center Counseling and Psychological Services team created strategies to help you manage any feelings that may arise.

1.) Maintain your normal routine and engage in healthy activities that provide balance in your life. Try not to withdraw. Consider exercise—alone or with others—as a way to induce feelings of well-being.

2.) Practice acceptance. Try self-soothing strategies such as taking a walk, meditating, mindfulness exercises, listening to music or whatever you find helpful. Now is the time for you to take care of yourself.

3.) Practice reflection and pay attention to your early awareness signs. Allow time to reflect on your reactions, personal history and ways your values and well-being feel threatened. By watching your own reactions to stress, you can then address them. This might be a tightened throat, muscle tension, negative evaluations of the other person or an impulse to act out.

4.) Model healthy communication and seek community. This is an opportunity to show you can elevate conversations, take a higher path and engage in positive conversation. Sharing experiences and ideas with others can be a way to strengthen positive community values and shared identities. It may make you feel good about yourself, too! There are many groups on campus you may want to consider joining if you have not yet already done so.

5.) Limit your intake of news and social media. If you feel distressed by what’s in the media, temporarily limit your consumption of Facebook, Twitter and other social media as well as watching and reading the news. Helpful apps and websites, such as LeechBlock or SelfControl, can temporarily block your access to social media or certain websites.

6.) Be thankful. Jotting down 10 to 15 things you are grateful for, such as your health or your family, can help you maintain perspective. The list will remind you of what provides you strength and support.

7.) Acknowledge feelings. Reactions to events vary from person to person. Some experience intense feelings while others experience nothing at all. Allow yourself to feel what you feel and don’t judge your personal experience or the experience of others.

8.) Utilize your supports and resources. Many have a natural tendency toward isolation when feeling triggered or emotional. Reach out to those around you—family and friends—who may be experiencing similar feelings. Utilize support groups or other resources in your community.

9.) Get your sleep. Aside from breathing, eating and drinking, there is likely no more important function to our survival and well-being than sleep. Most of us need approximately eight hours of sleep a night to feel rested, relaxed and capable of meeting the next day’s challenges. During times of stress, quality sleep is even more important, so make it a priority by giving yourself permission to get your zzz’s. For helpful sleep tips, visit: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/healthy-sleep-tips

10). Be patient. Some people go through a crisis and think they should be “over it” within a week or two. The truth is, big events can take time to process, and feeling better can take a while as well. Know that if you’re not feeling back to yourself quickly, that is likely normal. On the other hand…

11). Seek counseling. If the event that distresses you impacts you in an ongoing way and affects your ability to function at school, home or in your day-to-day life, feel free to consult with one of the Counseling and Psychological Services therapists at the University Health Center. We are here to help you explore your concerns, develop positive coping strategies and get back to yourself again. Our services are confidential, and the first four sessions of your academic career are offered at no extra charge if you have paid student fees. For more information, visit: health.unl.edu/CAPS