The year 2020 has challenged all preconceived notions of what the future will look like for the current generation of high school students—and it's only June! That can mean a lot of pressure for students. With all the global uncertainty going on, it can be difficult to even think about making college decisions or planning for the next few years. We hear you! If you need a break, or some tools in your personal toolbox for how to cope with rising stress levels, read on. Our expert editor Norah shows us how to take a break and recoup your strength to keep going.
Take a moment. Relax your face if you're squinting.
Unclench your jaw, and take your tongue off the roof of your mouth.
Sit up a bit and drop your shoulders.
Take a slow, deep breath. Feel better?
Norah is a member of the Editor Team at Empowerly. Norah attended Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies, and went on to the Hunter College of the City University of New York for her graduate studies.
"I invite you to take a deep breath. Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Take a few quiet minutes to relax, listen to your breath, and simply be present in the moment, exactly how it is and exactly how you are."
Did that exercise offer you some comfort? That is essentially what meditation is all about – allowing your mind to slow down and tuning into your breath. Observe your breathing, and if your mind wanders, simply notice that you’ve been distracted and kindly bring your attention back to your breath. Meditating can be challenging, which is why an important part of the practice is being gentle with yourself when you do get distracted, because inevitably you will. Try not to make a big deal about it or get discouraged, just refocus your attention on your breath and continue.
Before we go any further, it’s important to acknowledge the pressure that you are facing right now. This is a difficult time, and we are all navigating our own challenges and are being impacted in both similar and different ways by the global pandemic and recent acts of violence. As students, you also have your own unique set of circumstances, and there is a lot of uncertainty about what the future will look like, which can trigger anxiety. Part of taking care of yourself is allowing yourself to feel the very real and painful emotions you might be presently feeling. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s okay to lean into those feelings, as difficult as it may be, and sit with them. If you find that your emotions are too painful for you to sit with them, you might consider talking to someone and seeking help. It may be helpful for you to write down how you’re feeling. Journaling can help you process what you’re feeling, as it lends itself to labelling your emotions and naming what you’re going through. Acknowledging how you’re feeling can help you face those feelings and move on more quickly than allowing an emotion to fester and intensify by avoiding it. Labeling these feelings can help you gain a little distance from them as well by recognizing that you are not your emotions; you may be experiencing anger but you, yourself, are not anger. This recognition also helps us understand that we also have power over our feelings and thoughts. We can choose again when we’re ready.
Author and therapist Linda Graham suggests giving yourself a self-compassion break by shifting your awareness to accepting your present experience. If you’d like to try it, next time you’re overcome with a difficult emotion, pause and place your hand on your heart. Take time to offer yourself empathy and acknowledge what you’re experiencing. Consider saying something to yourself that you would say to a friend who’s going through a difficult situation, such as, “This is hard!” Validate how you’re experiencing the present moment. Consider repeating a phrase to yourself, such as, “May I be kind to myself in this moment,” or “May I accept this moment exactly as it is.” Keep repeating one of these phrases, or another that better resonates with you in your own words, until you feel a shift from difficulty toward compassion. You can read more about the practice here on Mindful.org.
Often when we’re overwhelmed with schoolwork and college applications, and the harsh realities and uncertainties of the present climate, we may feel like we don’t have the energy or the time to stop and take a few minutes to check in with ourselves. But actually, research shows that mindful activities, such as meditating, taking time to be with our emotions, and the self-compassion break we just discussed, actually help us recharge and become more focused, which can help with productivity.
I invite you to give it a try, and decide for yourself.
Message from the Empowerly team:
Feeling especially stressed right now? You're not alone. And you don't have to face all the decisions about your future and college experience alone, either. Empowerly is in it with you. Reach out today to learn more about our program and how we can help you—so you can take a deep breath, and focus on the things that matter.