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Advice and Announcements for VSU Students

Do You Think My Ex Misses Me?

by Rebecca Smith on October 8, 2014 in Anxiety, Break Ups, Grief, Healthy Relationships, Loss, Stress

Do you ever wonder if your ex thinks about you?  If they broke up with you, you might assume that they are moving on pain-free.  If you were dating a heartless and selfish person, this may be true.  You may think they are being heartless and selfish, but most of the time there are good reasons for a break up.  It just can be hard to feel that way.  Trust me, your ex isn’t escaping without any pain.  They are probably still thinking about you more than you realize.

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However, that unfortunately doesn’t mean they want to get back together with you.  So, why are they still thinking about you if they don’t want to be in a relationship any more?  The sad truth is that life is complicated.  In some cases your ex may have broken up with you because they were scared of how close you were becoming.  They weren’t ready for that type of commitment.  In those cases is really is about them and not you.  Fear is a powerful emotion that make people do irrational things.  This will make you want to reason with them, however you can’t reason with their fear or make them ready to face it either.  The more you push, the more they will dig their heels in and resist.  The best thing you can do is try to move on.  If they are running from you, the best thing to do is give them their space.  If they decide to conquer their fear of commitment or intimacy, they’ll come find you.  At that point you can decide if you want to give them another chance.

In other cases, your ex realized that something about the two of you wasn’t adding up.  Something was missing.  It isn’t because you aren’t good enough.  The rejection may make you feel this way, but the reality is that it is hard to find all the right connections in a relationship.  Sometimes you may connect really well emotionally, but be missing that sexual spark.  Other times you may have a really cool intellectual connection, but don’t have any recreational interests in common.  Different things are going to be more important to different people as well.  Some people can live without having a lot of common interests as long as their values are the same and the sexual spark is there.  However, not everyone feels or thinks the same.

Your ex may have needed more from a committed relationship.  There will be moments when they doubt their decision, but at the end of the day they know they need more than you are able to give.  That doesn’t mean they won’t miss the connections you did have whether it be your friendship, the sex or going to the movies with you.  It is just that the piece missing from your relationship was too important for them to give up.  I know this won’t help, but it isn’t your fault.  You have to be you.  Trying to be someone just to make your ex happy won’t work in the long run.  In time you’ll find that it is much better to be with someone you can be yourself around and know that it is enough.

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Another case is your ex realizing you can’t make each other happy.  It is not about asking too much, it is about asking too much of this specific person you are with.   Your relationship may be good overall, but an underlying conflict keeps surfacing.  This can cause your ex to finally decide to move on.  For an example, it can be a problem if you are someone who values consistency, yet your boyfriend or girlfriend is someone who lives in the moment.  You may have a great sexual spark, be able to talk for hours, and enjoy spending time together, but if you make plans that your boyfriend or girlfriend always forgets or cancels the last minute, it can make things hard.  You may feel like they aren’t valuing your time and they feel like you are always lecturing them about it.  At the end of the day, some couples realize they won’t be able to compromise on an issue, and it tends to ruin everything else in the relationship.

Is it too much to ask for someone to be consistent?  No, but it may be too much to ask of your ex.  They may not be able to bend enough to make you happy.  It may bring them to the breaking point and they finally call it quits.  This will be painful for both of you.  Even though they broke up with you, they will still miss you.  They will have doubts.  This type of relationship may actually go through several break ups before it is finally over because there is a lot of good aspects.  Not to mention the relationships they developed with your friend’s and family.  It is usually not easy to follow through with a break up.  This is why your ex may end up texting you after a few weeks or still want to be friends.  It is painful on both sides.  However, one issue can become a major conflict.  If the resentment builds, it can be hard to overcome, and the overall happiness in the relationship dies.

The hardest part is convincing yourself not to beg.  You may want to text them and try to convince them why they were wrong to break up with you.  You may feel if they only knew how much you miss them and wanted them back, it would convince them to give you another chance.  You may want to convince them you can change.  What I know is this…begging and stalking never made anyone look good.  Try to fight your instinct to reach out to them to tell them one last time how much you still love them.  This will not make you more attractive in their eyes.  It may weaken their resolve momentarily.  You may get a conversation, a meeting, or even sex out of your efforts.  Remember, I’m telling you they do still miss you.  However, it won’t last and then you’ll be going through the pain of losing them all over again.

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The point of this post is to remind you that you aren’t a loser.  Your ex didn’t break up with you because there is something wrong with you.  (If you did do something wrong, then work to fix that mistake whether they come back or not.  Some mistakes can’t be fixed within your relationship.  All you can do is hope to correct that mistake with someone else in the future.)  Most of the time there was something wrong BETWEEN the two of you.  That means there are things your ex will miss about you.  You may not be ready to think about finding someone else yet, but don’t bash yourself too hard while you’re grieving this break up.  The reason your ex broke up with you may not be an issue for someone else, so don’t go changing yourself for someone who has already closed the door in your face.  After you feel a little better, you will realize there are a lot of other open doors with people behind them who will be able to love you for you.

In a Relationship with Alcohol

by Rebecca Smith on September 15, 2014 in Alcohol or Substance Abuse, Healthy Relationships, Respect, Stress

Drinking in a relationship isn’t always an issue.  Sometimes both people drink responsibly and there aren’t any problems.  When it does become a problem is when one person drinks a lot more than their partner.  It can be very frustrating when the one you love loves to drink and party with their friends every weekend.

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I’ve worked with several students who started out in a relationship with both of them drinking a lot at first.  Unfortunately, we all know drinking is very common in college.  You may have even met your boyfriend or girlfriend at a party while drinking.  However, as the relationship progresses and you look towards graduation some students start to feel like their relationship is pulling apart.  I’ve had students tell me they feel like they are moving past the party scene in their lives, but don’t think their boyfriend or girlfriend is.  Every weekend is still devoted to going out to a party and drinking until their partner passes out.  Then they have to take care of them and get them home safe.

This can cause a lot of stress on the relationship.  Most people know that you can’t change someone else.  But what if you change and your partner doesn’t?  What do you do?  You love them.  When you spend time together during the week not drinking you are convinced this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.  But when it comes to them being drunk on Friday and Saturday night again, you aren’t so sure.  It also doesn’t help that arguments start a lot more frequently when one or both people have been drinking.  Then Sunday is spent waiting for them to stop feeling hung over so you can talk about what happened over the weekend.

It is the same old discussion over and over.  They either tell you to get over it and you do, or they realize you are about to walk out on them and they apologize.  They may even agree to drink less or spend one night on the weekend with you alone not drinking.  This may happen a couple of times but as soon as their friends call and persuade them to come to the next party, you are pushed to second place again.  Trust me, it isn’t an easy place to be in a relationship.

The choices aren’t easy.  They never are.  I’m not accusing your boyfriend or girlfriend of being an alcoholic.  But anyone who has grown up with an alcoholic knows the excuses and the repeat pattern of behaviors.  It also happens in relationships well before couples get married.  Often in college it is hard to tell who will be the ones who go on to drink heavily for the rest of their lives and who will stop partying once they graduate and get a full time job.  A lot of young couples in college are hoping their boyfriend or girlfriend is going to be in the latter category.

You may be one of those people hoping your partner may change once college is over so you continue to give them a chance when they put alcohol before you now.  It is hard to know what the future will bring.  For some of you, waiting may pay off.  Your partner may grow up, mature and alcohol won’t be an issue.  For some of you, waiting is going to only make things worse.  You will continue to grow more resentful.  Unless you decide to love them as is and accept the drinking.  Just know they won’t be able to stop because you want them to.  They will need some internal motivation to want to stop on their own.  Some people do grow out of the college party mode and others don’t.

Time will tell.   No one knows what’s going to happen in the future.  However, some patterns become very predictable.  If your partner loves to party and has a huge group of friends who condone that lifestyle, it may be harder for them to settle down.  Unfortunately lots of people continue to drink heavily even when they get into a career and have a family.  Especially if they have someone who is always there to help them clean up their messes.

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I know you can love someone so much that you just want to make it work any way you can.  There are truly selfless people out there that handle being second best to alcohol or friends.  Just ask Gene Simmons of the band, KISS.  His wife put up with A LOT for many years.  She finally put her foot down and Gene has changed his ways.  Gene is also in his 60′s and she has been living with him cheating and drinking for almost 30 years.  It can be done, but know that you don’t have to always put someone else first.  There is nothing wrong with admitting that you can’t be with someone who puts alcohol or their friends first.  You do deserve someone who can give you what you need.

It is one of the toughest decisions you will make.  It won’t be easy to know what the best option is.  I know I’ve said this before, but your level of pain tolerance is what is going to ultimately decide for you.  Either your boyfriend or girlfriend does settle down, or they will put you through a lot of pain.  When the pain becomes too much then you’ll know when the relationship has crossed the line of no return.  It really sucks to be put in this position.  You also aren’t stupid for trying to make it work.  The person you love is in there, they just also love alcohol.  Unfortunately things like alcohol and drugs make people blind to priorities.  Only you know whether it is worth it to wait it out or not.  Also know that it isn’t a waste of time to wait.  Whatever happens you will survive it, and this relationship will go on to shape who you become.  Hopefully no matter what, you come out stronger and smarter.

If you need someone to talk to, Mark Williams, in the Alcohol and Other Drug Program can be a great resource if someone you know and love is having difficulties with alcohol.  If you are a VSU student, you can make an appointment to meet with him at any time.  His contact information is 229-259-5111.

International Students and Culture Shock

by Rebecca Smith on September 5, 2014 in International Students, Stress

Leaving home and traveling to study in a new country can be a stressful experience, even though it may be something you have planned and prepared for. Many people are surprised when they experience the impact of culture shock, and it can be helpful to realize your experience is actually quite normal.

What is Cultural Shock?

Culture shock describes the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one that is unfamiliar. It includes the shock of a new environment, meeting lots of new people and learning the ways of a new country. It also includes the shock of being separated from the important people in your life, such as family, friends, colleagues, and teachers: people you would talk to at times of uncertainty, people who give you support and guidance.

Factors that can contribute to culture shock

  • Climate

Many students find the northwest climate can affect them a lot. You may find the grayness and dampness, especially during the winter months, difficult to get used to.

  • Language

Listening and speaking in a new language is tiring. In class, some international students have trouble understanding the lecture and reading materials. People speak quickly and you may feel embarrassed to ask them to repeat what they said. If English is not your first language, you may find you miss your home language.

  • Social roles

Social behaviors may confuse, surprise or offend you. For example you may find people appear cold, distant or always in a hurry. Or you may be surprised to see couples holding hands and kissing in public. You may find the relationships between men and women more formal or less formal than you are used to, as well as differences in same sex social contact and relationships.

  • ‘Rules’ of behavior

As well as the obvious things that hit you immediately when you arrive, such as sights, sounds, smells and tastes, every culture has unspoken rules which affect the way people treat each other. These may be less obvious, but sooner or later you will probably encounter them and once again the effect may be disorientating. For example, there will be differences in the ways people decide what is important, how tasks are allocated and how time is observed. In business and academic life, keeping to a schedule is important. You should always be on time for lectures, classes, and meetings with academic and administrative staff. If you are going to be late for a meeting, do try to give advance notice.

  • Values

Although you may first become aware of cultural differences in your physical environment, (e.g. food, dress, behavior) you may also come to notice that people from other cultures may have very different views of the world from yours. Cultures are built on deeply-embedded sets of values, norms, assumptions and beliefs. It can be surprising and sometimes distressing to find that people do not share some of your most deeply held ideas, as most of us take our core values and beliefs for granted and assume they are universally held. As much as possible, try to suspend judgment until you understand how parts of a culture fit together into a coherent whole. Try to see what people say or do in the context of their own culture’s norms. This will help you to understand how other people see your behavior, as well as how to understand theirs. When you understand both cultures, you will probably find some aspects of each that you like and others that you don’t.

  • Relationship Stress

If your spouse or partner has accompanied you to the U.S., remember that the stress of the transition may cause struggles in your relationship. The transition to a new culture may be very difficult for your partner. Your partner may feel very isolated; he/she has been transplanted from your culture and separated from family and friends. Simple tasks can be stressful due to the language barrier. Often times they do not have opportunities to engage in productive, meaningful activity such as pursuing a degree, and it may be more difficult for them to make new friends.

How to Help Yourself

Though culture shock is normally a temporary phase, it is important to know there are things you can do to help yourself and minimize your distress. Click to learn some tips for easing culture shock.

View original article at the University of Washington Counseling Center Page.

Believe in Yourself

by Rebecca Smith on August 18, 2014 in Being Positive, Friendship, Stress

As you start the semester, you can be so overwhelmed that it can be hard to focus on the positive side of life.  It’s the first day of classes, so here are some inspirations to get you through the first week!  (all images via weheartit)

Welcome Class of 2018!!!

by Rebecca Smith on August 7, 2014 in Anxiety, Being Positive, Friendship, Stress

Another school year is about to begin!  August rolls around so fast every year.  VSU is excited to welcome their incoming freshman, the class of 2018!!

Move in day is coming up fast!  The first weekend away from your parents can bring mixed feelings.  For some it will be exciting to have freedom at last.  For others it will be somewhat anxiety provoking to be so far away from home.  Others will feel dread at classes starting and feel overwhelmed already looking at their syllabus online.  Other new freshman may feel a little lost, a little lonely and wish they had gone to the school where all their friends went.  Others will feel like they’ve walked into their high school class reunion.

There are so many different experiences while starting college.  You’re figuring out a whole new living situation and trying to find your way around campus.  You can’t believe how many new people you’ve met in just a few days.  So many new Twitter followers, yet so little time to actually Tweet.  You realize that 2am is early to get to bed, yet somehow you still signed up for all 8am classes.  You may make a mental note to change that for the spring semester.  It is a crazy time full of adjustment.

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Some adjustments will be easy.  Others will be hard.  Some people are born to party and make new friends easily, yet will find they struggle to make it to class and finish the semester.  Other people will thrive in their classes, but feel anxious every time they have to find someone to eat lunch and dinner with every day.  Just know that everyone goes through some hard times their first semester.  College is a lot of fun, full of great new experiences.  However, it is also stressful and full of moments of doubt.  Each experience is going to shape you and help you become someone you won’t even recognize at the end of your four (or five) years of school.

It is okay to take risks and try new things.  If you make a mistake, do your best to learn from it and move on.  Don’t be too hard on yourself or have too high of expectations.  Especially watch the expectations.  So many new college students have this image of being the perfect student, or getting into the best sorority or fraternity, or finding the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, or going to the best parties every weekend.  You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to be involved in all the right clubs or organizations or be in a relationship to have a great college experience.

Just take this opportunity to explore the opportunities before you and make changes as necessary.  Ask for help when you need it and take responsibility for yourself when you don’t.  Have fun, but not too much fun.  Study hard, but not too hard.  Don’t go to any extremes.  My advice for new college students is to find balance.  All work and no play isn’t good for you, but all play and no work won’t get you very far either.   Make sure you find time to eat, sleep, and exercise.  This will help reduce stress and keep you focused when those really hard weeks during midterms and finals come around.

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One of the top things I talk about in my counseling office, besides relationships, is stress.  Time management is key.  In college you really have to know how to manage your time.  Take the next few weeks and try to find a good routine and schedule for studying, hanging out with friends, and getting involved with other activities on campus.  If you take on too much, try to back off on a few commitments.  If you find you are bored and spending too much time in your room, look for ways to get involved with things that may interest you.  Tweak your schedule as you go through the semester until you find the right balance with your time.  This will be key as you go through your time in college.

Good luck out there!!  I hope you have a great first year!!

Ways To Share Some Sunshine

by Rebecca Smith on April 30, 2014 in Being Positive, Friendship, Respect, Stress

We all have those days when we feel down or negative.  The crazy thing is, one of best ways to feel better is to do something nice for yourself or someone else.  If you scatter some sunshine, you can’t help but get some on yourself!!

“It took us so long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” — Kurt Vonnegut.

1. Send a hand-written thank you card to someone.

2. Give a compliment about your waiter/waitress to his or her manager.

3. Hold open a door for someone.

4. Have a conversation with a homeless person.

5. Compliment someone.

6. Pay for the person behind you in the Starbucks drive-thru.

7. Clean out your clothes and donate to a local non-profit.

8. Send flowers to someone anonymously.

9. Leave an encouraging note in a library book.

10. Ask an elderly person about their childhood.

11. Be a courteous driver.

12. Mentor an at-risk child.

13. Mow a neighbor’s lawn.

14. Donate blood.

15. Introduce yourself to a new coworker/classmate/church member.

16. Share inspirational quotes.

17. Write letters of appreciation to organizations that serve your community.

18. Leave happy post-its for strangers to find.

19. Smile.

20. Appreciate the people who support you.

21. Treat everyone the same– from your best friend to your mom to postal worker.

22. Release your expectations of other people. Allow them to be who they are.

23. Be genuine.

24. Forget yourself.

25. Delight in every day.

26. Flatter people.

27. Tell people how much you like them.

28. Share your lunch.

29. Fill a parking meter.

30. Volunteer somewhere. Anywhere.

31. Seek forgiveness.

32. Do your best.

33. Love yourself.

34. Dream big.

35. Tell someone why you love them.

36. Check in on someone who is lonely.

37. Stay curious.

38. Adopt a pet from the humane society.

39. Tell your boss that he/she does a great job.

40. Renew an old friendship.

41. Donate toys/books to a hospital.

42. Give someone a sheet of brightly colored stickers.

43. Make eye contact.

44. Take someone’s picture and send it to them.

45. Don’t think about other people’s definitions of success, beauty or happiness.

46. Create spaces for others to enjoy.

47. Make beautiful art.

48. Send unexpected gifts.

49. Be enthusiastic.

50. Love your life and everyone in it.

How Do Athletes Get “In the Zone” of Peak Performance?

by Rebecca Smith on April 17, 2014 in Athletics, Being Positive, Stress

After a great performance, athletes have described a feeling of being “in the zone.” In this state, they feel invincible, as if the game slowed down, the crowd noise fell silent and they achieved an incredible focus on their mission. What is this Superman-like state and how can players enter it when they most need it?football

Like the feeling of being moved down a river by the current, this positive groove has been described as a “flow.” In fact, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, psychology professor at Claremont Graduate University in California, coined the term in his 1990 book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” (Harper & Row, 1990).

From his years of research, Csíkszentmihályi developed an entire theory around the concept and applied it not only to sports, but also to work life, education, music and spirituality.

Csíkszentmihályi identified nine components of the state of flow. The more of these you can achieve, the stronger your feeling of total control will be.

1.  Challenge-skills balance is achieved when you have confidence that your skills can meet the challenge in front of you.

2.  Action-awareness merging is the state of being completely absorbed in an activity, with tunnel vision that shuts out everything else.

3.  Clear goals come into focus when you know exactly what is required of you and what you want to accomplish.

4.  Unambiguous feedback is constant, real-time feedback that allows you to adjust your tactics. For example, fans and coaches will let you know how you’re doing.basketball

5.  Concentration on the task at hand, with laser-beam focus, is essential.

6.  Sense of control is heightened when you feel that your actions can affect the outcome of the game.

7.  Loss of self-consciousness occurs when you are not constantly aware of your success.

8.  Transformation of time takes place when you lose track of time due to your total focus on the moment.

9.  Autotelic experience is achieved when you feel internally driven to succeed even without outside rewards. You do something because you love to do it.baseball

Flow doesn’t only happen to athletes. In any activity, when you’re completely focused, incredibly productive and have lost track of time, you may be in the flow. You may not be shooting for three, but you can still say you are “in the zone.”

This article originally appeared on livescience.com and was written by Dan Peterson

How to Make Performance Anxiety an Asset Instead of a Liability

by Rebecca Smith on April 3, 2014 in Anxiety, Athletics, Musicians, Stress

This post was originally posted by The Bulletproof Musician

We are typically led to believe that being “nervous” is a bad thing. Indeed, most of the advice I’ve ever heard has been aimed at reducing anxiety. Over the years, I tried everything I could to get rid of the unpleasant feelings associated with performance anxiety. I tried eating bananas, drinking chamomile tea, imagining the audience in their underwear, sleep deprivation, practicing more, taking various supplements, and even trying to convince myself that it didn’t matter how I played. None of this, of course, took the anxiety away or did much to help me perform any better.

From my work with sport psychologist Dr. Don Greene when I was a graduate student at Juilliard and my own doctoral training in performance psychology, I’ve come to understand that anxiety itself is not the problem. The problem is that most of us have never learned how to use adrenaline to our advantage. By telling ourselves and our students to “just relax,” we are actually doing each other a disservice by implicitly confirming that the anxiety we feel is bad and to be feared. I soon learned to welcome the rush of adrenaline and to use that energy to power my performances, and to perform with more freedom, conviction, and confidence than I ever imagined possible.

The big question, of course, is how do you transform anxiety from a liability to an advantage? Before we talk about this, we first need to understand some basics about what happens to our mind under stress.

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Left Brain vs. Right Brain

Our brains consist can be thought of as being comprised of two basic regions – the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. Admittedly, it is an oversimplification of the immense complexity of our brain to imply that the left and right hemispheres are completely independent of one another, but this is a very effective model when it comes to understanding optimal mental states for performance.

Left brain thinking is associated with words, numbers, logic, analysis, criticism, rules, details, planning, and judgment. Conversely, right brain thinking is associated with sounds, images, patterns, kinesthetic or sensory input, emotions, the “big picture,” free association, and creativity.

Based on this information, which mode of thinking seems most conducive to effective practicing? Did you say left brain? Correct! Now, which seems most conducive to dynamic, inspired, and artistic performances? Right brain, exactly! Unfortunately, we often do the opposite. In the practice room, we have a tendency to practice somewhat mindlessly, merely repeating passages over and over until they sound better, making corrections, but doing so almost unconsciously. However, as soon as we walk on stage, we tend to get flooded by left brain over-analytical thinking, criticism, excessive planning, and so on, which only serves to lead to a pre-occupation with technical details and an inability to play as freely and automatically as we are capable. Are you familiar with the phrase “paralysis by analysis?” This is exactly what happens when we know that our every move and sound is under close scrutiny by others. The opposite of this paralyzed state is often referred to as “flow” or “the zone,” where everything just seems to “click” into place and our playing is easy, free, and effortless.

How do we make the shift from left brain thinking to right brain thinking and get into “the zone?” One very effective tool is called Centering.

Centering

Centering is what sport psychologists call a pre-performance routine. It was designed in the 1970′s by the renowned sport psychologist Dr. Robert Nideffer, and adapted for performing artists by Olympic sport psychologist Dr. Don Greene. Centering is a highly effective means of (a) channeling your nerves productively and (b) directing your focus even in extreme situations. Once mastered, it is very quick and highly effective, and will ensure that you begin each performance with a bang (in a good way)!

There are seven steps, each specifically designed to move you progressively closer to right brain quiet, focus, and poise, and take you further away from left brain fears, doubts, and self-criticism.

Step 1: Pick Your Focal Point
Select a fixed point in the distance, somewhere that feels comfortable. This point could be on your stand, the ground in front of you, or on the back row of the hall, but wherever it is, ensure that your focal point is below eye level. A focal point helps to minimize distractions and avoid the temptation to engage in left-brain thinking.

Step 2: Form Your Clear Intention
A clear intention is in essence, a specific goal statement. What do you intend to do when you step out on stage? How exactly do you intend to sound? What, precisely, do you intend to communicate to the audience?

Use assertive, declarative language, such as “I am going to perform brilliantly, with passion and clear dynamic contrast,” as opposed to “I hope to play well.”

Do not use the word “don’t”. Doing so will only put the negative picture in your head and generate fears and doubt. For instance, when you say to yourself “Don’t miss the high note”, what’s the first image that pops into your mind? Missing the high note, right? What image pops into your mind when you tell yourself “Nail the high note?” Learn to focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want.

Step 3: Breathe Mindfully
One of the most powerful techniques for reversing the stress response involves learning how to breathe diaphragmatically. When stressed, our bodies have a tendency to revert to shallow, rapid, chest breathing. Doing so keeps us in fight or flight mode. Diaphragmatic breathing is the most biomechanically efficient way to breathe, and furthermore, is conducive to activating what’s called the parasympathetic nervous system response which is our body’s antidote for the fight-or-flight state.

Step 4: Scan and Release Excess Tension
One of the most detrimental consequences of performance stress is muscle tension. As our thinking becomes more negative, our muscles tend to get tighter and less facile. And not just any muscles, but often the ones that we most need control over!

Scan your muscles from head to toe as you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, one muscle group at a time, releasing tension on the exhale. There is a short video clip on YouTube which illustrates an exercise that tests your ability to truly relax your muscles on command.

If you develop a more acute awareness of muscle tension even in the practice room, and are able to control the degree of tension you experience in your playing, you will be able to retain much of this ability during a performance and will feel much more in control.

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Step 5: Find Your Center
Are you familiar with the martial arts concept of ki or chi? In Eastern philosophy, chi is described as being one’s “life force” or energy. There is a specific location in our body where the energy tends to congregate, which is essentially our center of gravity. If you have ever observed the movements of a great martial arts master or even some athletes or dancers, you will notice a presence, grace, and balance about them regardless of their size or physical dimensions. Not only is the feeling of being centered a very calming and reassuring one, but the mere act of searching for you center will quiet your left brain activity.

Step 6: Repeat Your Process Cue
There is a tendency when stressed to hyperfocus on minute details. This may be highly desirable in the practice room, but can be paralyzing on-stage. The solution is to focus on a right-brain process cue, in essence, a reminder of what it sounds, feels, or looks like to produce the exact sounds you want.

There are two possible ways to do this. One, you could brainstorm and experiment with words that cue up the sound/feeling/images of producing the beautiful sound, clean articulation, or solid intonation that you wish to produce. Examples of such words are smooth bowing, light fingers, even shifts, fluid, powerful, calm, or easy. It’s not the word that is important, but the resultant mental sound/feeling/image of performing exactly the way you want to that is key.

Thus, a second way to do Step 6 is to avoid using words altogether and merely hear, feel, or see yourself performing exactly as you wish.

Step 7: Direct Your Energy
By the time you have gotten to this step, you will have made the shift into a more quiet and focused mental state conducive to performing your best. You will have taken the edge off of your nerves, and in this last step you will channel the remaining energy that remains into a dynamic and inspired performance. This is how you use the energy instead of trying to get rid of it.

Do a quick internal search for all of the energy that you feel in your body, and feel it gathering at your center. I often imagined my center and energy being somewhat like those plasma lamps that are sold at stores like The Sharper Image (Google “plasma lamp” if you don’t know what I’m referring to). Now, direct that energy upwards, through your torso and neck, into your head, and blast it out through your eyes or forehead like a laser beam at the focal point you identified in Step 1. Think of this beam as a conduit for your music and the energy that will convey your clear intention to the audience.

This may sound a little hokey to some, but this energy is real. Have you ever met someone incredibly intense, who perhaps invades your personal space a bit, and looks at you so intensely that you feel uncomfortable and almost feel that they can see into your head and read your thoughts? That’s the same sort of energy I am talking about. Instead of trying to get rid of the energy adrenaline provides by relaxing or taking beta blockers, you can learn to use it, channel it into your performance, and take your playing to a whole new level!

Practicing Centering

When you first try to Center, it may take several minutes to go through all of the steps. If you practice this for 10-15 minutes per day, however, and stick with it, you will begin to notice a difference within a week or two and find that you can center in 5-10 seconds. Some notice a difference within days. The key, like anything else, is consistency and persistence.

Many, if not all, of these elements can be shared with even the very youngest students, whether they get nervous before performances or not. Not as a means to reduce anxiety, but as a way to improve focus and clarity of musical intentions. Many of Centering’s aspects can even be tremendously helpful in practice sessions, to ensure that one remains focused on the task at hand (instead of reinforcing bad habits via mindless repetition).

With a little time and practice, I’m certain that Centering will change your approach to performing and practicing just as it did for me and the many others who have learned this process.

As the saying goes, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

p.s. If you’d like more help learning how to “surf”, check out Beyond Practicing - an online performance enhancement course that will provide more in-depth training on Centering and six other key skills that will help you become the kind of player who thrives when the pressure is on.

How to Help Your International Student Friend

by Rebecca Smith on March 26, 2014 in Anxiety, Friendship, International Students, Stress
This is a repost from the blog, Quarter Life Crisis.                         

As the immigration reforms debate is going on, many international students struggle to plan their life.  As a graduate international student, now an international “alien” defined by the U.S. Government, I am now working in a company that is sponsoring my H1B visa. What does it mean?  It means I can work for this company for up to 6 years (renewal every 3 years) and maybe… just maybe they ‘ll agree to sponsor my H1B visa green card.  Again, what does it mean?

Let me tell you a story, the life and the emotional roller coaster of an international student, maybe you will feel worse for your friend who is an international student, or maybe you can decide to help and do something or at least, try not to unintentionally picking on the same old wound that we, international students, all try to cover up with pretty American made products like bandages, shoes, chocolate molten cakes,  etc.

12 years ago I came to this wonderful country on a J1 visa.  What is a J1 visa?  Great question.  It is an “exchange visitor visa.”  Which means, you come to this country as an exchange student based on an exchange program between 2 countries (your country and the other country).  The exchange program typically works this way, the schools between 2 countries work together, they send students between the schools back and forth during the countries for cultural experiences.  No, this is not a mail order bride program, though, if you really think about it, it might be a good cover up for such a program.

Most of the time, the exchange program is embedded in the school fee you pay, but if you are from a third world country trying to do an “exchange” program to the US, the fee is extremely crazy.  My family didn’t have that much money, but for my future, my mother sold everything we had to send me to the US and she sent me to this strange and foreign country when I was 14.  14, alone in a place half way around the world from my home, living in strangers’ home and knowing noone, my first year in the US was much better than it sounded.

 

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I landed in Chicago O’Hare airport, and was met by my “host parents” assigned by this exchange program.  Did I mention, I could not find the place in any maps (this was before Google became popular) before I left my country?  But, oh well, ”it’s the US, no one would do anything bad,” I thought.   So, why not get on the plane, meet someone you have never met and live in a town you could not find on any map?  My ”host parents” met me with an upside down name board with my full legal name carefully written.  That was the first time in my entire life I have seen my name written in full in such a mega scale, it was a bit unsettling.

 

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I lived with my host parents for 1 year in a smallest town, I met wonderful people, made many mistakes and gained 20 pounds within the first 2 months snacking on onion-sour cream potato chips dipped in sour cream.  I drove my first tractor, mowed my first lawn, ate my first McDonald’s hamburger and fries, and many more.  I lived on $500 for that entire year. I got lost to class the first day.  All the girls and boys looked the same to me with their blonde hair and blue eyes and pale skin. Oh, also, I broke my first bone ice skating and had my first dance.

I fell asleep crying for the first 3 months, and my mother spent at least $200 every month paying for phone cards.  Every conversation was filled with silent cries and tears.  Until one day, my uncle picked up the phone, and he said to me “if you keep crying, it does not help anyone.  Stop crying and be strong.”  That was the end of my weeping and mourning period.

1 year goes by, and the fear started to creep.  I wanted to go home.  However, a J1 visa required the student to not come back to the US for 2 years after the exchange year (why? I have no idea).  In addition, the year of exchange in the US would not count toward your education back in your home country.  In another word, I would have to retake my freshman year in high school.  I refused to do that, but I missed my family.  My mother kept promising me, “you will come home…. SOON….,” and I kept that word “Soon” in my heart for the next 7 years until I decided to go home all by myself.

After the J1, you will never be able to get another J1.  It’s a once in a life time visa type.  Thus, in order for me to stay in the US, I have to change my visa status from J1 to F1 (independent international student) and have to change school ( by law, you cannot attend the same school with different visa type….why? Again, I have no idea… maybe non-citizen aliens like us might get too attached.  So the journey began to change my visa status from a J1-F1 and to look for another stranger to take me in to live with them with no conditions….. and yet, God is on my side again.

According to the immigration rules, I could not change my visa unless I left the US and either go home or go to a third party country and reapply for the visa.  Which meant, there was a big chance my visa would get rejected and I would never be able to enter the US.  So, after my mother found a friend of a friend of a friend who knew a friend who lived close to a friend in Denver to take me in as their host daughter and helped me with my visa, I finally got my visa status changed from J1-F1.

Then college time came, not many schools offer scholarships for international students, not to mention, international students never get in-state tuition benefit, so you always pay the highest cost.  I found a school with full scholarships and everything I wanted in a state where -20F is a normal thing (not Alaska, thank God), and consider this, I am from a country where 100F is a normal thing.

When you attend a college or university as an international student, you cannot work for more than 20 hours a week, and you cannot work off campus unless it’s an approved CPT (CURRICULAR PRACTICAL TRAINING VS OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING).  You can work part time as long as you are in school with your CPT which will have to follow your curriculum in school (your major), approved by the school department, signed by your international student advisor and approved by the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services).

In your years in school, you are also allowed 1 full year of full time CPT, and then after graduation, you are also allowed 1 full year of full time OPT (OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING), the time frame is longer for you if you are in the STEM program (science fields).  The purpose of this OPT is to find an employer who loves you so much that he/she will sponsor your H1B visa (I don’t even want to go over the requirement for the H1B visa approval) and eventually sponsor your green card.

This sounds great, but, consider this, one of the condition for the green card H1B visa is that the employer has to prove that there is no or very limited candidates in the US that can do the job and you can… out of all the people in the US, you are THE ONE!  I believe, this condition comes out of the fear of international students who have to study extremely hard to be top of their schools with the highest grades and the most extra curricular activities would take away American jobs. This topic calls for another long and complicated blog!

Long story short, your international student friend who you see everyday or once in a while worries about all these letters everyday, J, H, O, C, T, P, U, S, C, I, S, 1, B, D, E, P, O, R, T, E, D…. and many more… so don’t mind them when they freak out in front of the alphabet place mat.  When they go to bed at night, they have to worry if tomorrow they will be back and continue another day or they will have to pack and start a new life in another country or go back home.  Every meal is like the last meal, and every party is the best party.  Every relationship is extremely precious, and every mistake is a grave chance of being deported. When they plan their future, they have to have plan A: staying in the US and getting green card or plan B: staying in the US for 3-6 years and getting married, or plan C: leave it all and just restart.  And the easiest choice always is: go back to school and get a PHD.

 

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So be nice to your international student friend, feed them the best American dish (90% of the time, they already tried all the food you considered “exotic” yet never touched a hot dog before), invite them over for Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, etc. because those holidays are the most terrifyingly lonely time for them.  Talk to your friends who might know people who are executives (only the executives can be so unrealistic enough to make the decision of going through the pain of hiring 1 non-citizen individual).  Pack their clothes and give them a giant party when they can’t find a job, not because they are not qualified, but because no one even want to try to look at their resume due to the inherit invisible flash on their forehead saying : sponsorship.  They will have to go home.

 

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Believe In Yourself

by Rebecca Smith on March 19, 2014 in Being Positive, Friendship, Stress

As you reach the middle of the semester, you can be so stressed that it can be hard to focus on the positive side of life.  If you’ve had a crazy semester, you’re not alone.  Here are some inspirational quotes to get you through the end of the semester!  (all images via weheartit)