Travel

With the wind whipping, snow slipping under my feet, and a view of the plunging cliff to my left, I had a full-blown panic attack on the side of the Grand Canyon.

But before I get into that, let’s rewind a little bit. During my sophomore year, I decided to detour from the beachy college spring break that I initially wanted to one that would be a complete adventure. I had never been to the American southwest and was looking forward to experiencing the open skies I had heard about and seeing the Grand Canyon in its entire splendor. Anyone who knows me can tell you that nature, hiking, and the outdoors is way out of my comfort zone, but I figured, why not try something new?

After a few days of exploring the sites around Phoenix, such as the Heard Museum and the Superstition Mountains, the plan was to drive toward the canyon and tackle its Bright Angel Trail, which the brochures listed as a difficult trail. From our entry point into the canyon to our destination point called Indian Garden and back would be a 9-mile journey. Why we chose this trail as novices, I will never know. But, that was the plan.

Waking up the morning of, I was uneasy knowing what I was about to do. A girl who had never even camped in her backyard before was about to hike one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  Before I had time to talk myself out of it, gear was on my back and spikes were on my shoes. Yes, spikes. Did I mention the Grand Canyon’s high elevation created snow and ice on the trails?

grand canyon

Now, we’re back at the beginning of the story. The first mile down the canyon was simply treacherous. I was slipping across the icy, narrow trails and trying, but failing, to not look over the 4,380-foot cliff immediately to my left. The deafening gusts of cold wind were clouding the encouraging voices of the people I was with and intensifying my fear. I couldn’t master using the snow spikes and I was convinced this adventurous spring break was surely going to be my last. It was then I felt my face go hot and all I stopped dead in my tracks. I sat down right where I was and just cried.

Okay, I did a bit more than cry. There was some hyperventilating and uncontrollable shaking, too. I finally understood what an “anxiety attack” was. There were hikers piling up behind me, but I didn’t care. I had no plans to move out of my fetal position and didn’t let anybody touch me. With the help of my then boyfriend, I realized there were only two choices: hike back up and let my fear get the best of me or keep going because we didn’t fly all the way to Arizona for nothing. Truth be told, I wanted to turn around, but something in me (likely, just my ego) told me I would regret it.

After about 20 minutes of calming and pep talk, I slowly got back up and continued on. Everything from this point was nearly smooth. At about two miles down, there was no more snow and, in fact, it was dessert-like and scorching. We made it to our picnic spot and turn around point, and headed back up on the same trail. Hiking back up had its own issues, but that story is for another time. What I will say, however, is once we reached the top of the canyon; we literally kissed the flat ground.

Hiking the Grand Canyon is surely the most terrifying, but rewarding, thing I have ever done. Its power is breathtaking, in all senses of the word, and humbling. You never realize how strong you are until you’re put into a challenging situation. Regardless of the temporary strife it caused me, the canyon was absolutely beautiful. What is beauty without a little bit of pain?

Images by Aysia Woods

EducationHealth

Stress: it’s a way of life for most students. The ever-present nudging of worry against an unsteady conscience, the realization that there’s always something that hasn’t been accomplished or adequately prepared for.

Stress is not a pleasant state of being, yet it’s one of the most common in the world – everyone has felt that twisting in their gut at some point in their lives. Yet the world continues to function despite the pressure constantly bearing down on everyone. Sometimes, however, it can feel like a lot to cope with, but with practice and a few simple strategies, it’s much easier to handle.

First and foremost, throw procrastination in the trash – as soon as you’re rid of that rushed feeling you get when it’s midnight and OH MY GOD that paper is due in SIX HOURS, you’ll be a lot calmer.

Another strategy is to have something that you know will calm you down. It can be anything from working out to endlessly Googling acapella groups (that would be me). Of course there are the old favorites – get enough sleep or enjoy a snack.

If you keep these tips in mind, stress will slip away, and you’ll find yourself calmer, and happier.

How do you de-stress?

Image: Silvestri Matteo

HealthSkills

It’s 3 a.m. on a Saturday and we’re pulling an all-nighter and studying for our test on Tuesday and preparing for that big event and planning our next organization meeting and fixing our resume for Monday’s interview and… we’re forgetting to take a breath because we’re on our fourth cup of coffee in the last two hours. Sound familiar? It’s a lot to handle during adolescence and adulthood, when life is already throwing so many new changes and obstacles our way.

It’s a mad rush to pad our resumes, make the cut for dean’s list, or secure the best job, and while ambition is so important in these years, rest is, too. Not the kind of rest that involves lying on the couch in front of the TV, one hand in a chip bag and one hand surfing Facebook on our phone. I’m talking about the kind of rest that allows us to rejuvenate and care for ourselves.

In college, I only gave myself the potato chip kind of rest, on the very rare occasions that I actually even “rested.” I worked my butt off and tried, to no end, to be perfect and the best at a lot of things that looked amazing on my resume but didn’t even make me that happy. In fact, they brought me anxiety. Not stress; stress is normal and can be healthy. Anxiety is not, and neither is perfection. I was lost, and I refused to slow down to ask myself where this lost feeling was coming from, and if it was even real.

That strategy didn’t work. Halfway through my senior year, I became burnt out and depressed to the point that I wanted to throw everything away and hide under the covers for the entire semester. Coming from a school known for its overcommitted students, I was not the only person I knew who felt this way. I was tired of trying to please everyone but myself. I finally began asking myself what was up, which led me down a life-changing path where I made the changes that now allow me to enjoy the things I commit myself to.

You see, ignoring feelings of intense pressure or anxiety, and pushing ourselves to unrealistic limits can lead us to burn out. In order to avoid it, we can do a few things:

1. We must stop and listen.

This means that, when we feel an emotion we don’t like, we don’t push it away and run from it. No amount of ignoring will keep us from feeling what we feel. When we learn to respect our emotions and ask what is causing them, we can really get somewhere. It is this kind of questioning that slowly brings us closer to ourselves and allows us to make important discoveries and necessary changes in our priorities and relationships.

2. We must be ok with what we are feeling.

We have to stop judging ourselves. One of the greatest contributors to adolescent and young adult stress and confusion is the need to be perfect. The thing that can be so difficult to realize is that when we fail, when we’re angry, when we react poorly, and when we screw up, we’re being humans, and we need to try to be ok with that. Otherwise, we will be unable to let go of our fear of failure, preventing us from genuinely, passionately devoting ourselves to what we love.

3. We need to take naps.

Why do they only happen in pre-K? We all need them. A short 15 minute power nap can really do wonders for our bodies, which sometimes need a chance to unwind, regroup, and chill. And getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night, if we can swing it, is key.

4. We need to discover what it is that we love, and make time to do it.

This can be a process, so don’t freak out if you don’t have a clue what it is. Taking a few minutes, even just once a week, to try out something new or deepen an existing hobby is a good first step. It may be trial and error, but soon we realize we can actually make time for these little moments.

5. We need to learn to say “no.”

I know that this one is tougher than it sounds. We’re taught to work and work and work, more than anyone else in the office, even if it means 10 hour days with no lunch break or accepting yet another position as president of yet another campus club. When we spread ourselves thin, we don’t allow ourselves to give our best to any one thing, and that isn’t fair to ourselves. Saying “no” when we aren’t able to take on a commitment is not bad, insulting or mean. It is responsible and smart.

Burnout is so very common among young adults, and it’s important to recognize when it may be happening to us. It can be scary and foreign to admit to it and attempt to change things, but addressing it can bring us a sense of peace, along with the energy and motivation to be our very best.

Do you have any tips for staying motivated and avoiding burnout? Let us know below or tweet to us!

Image: Mike Hoff

CollegeCultureInspiration

Anxiety. It’s not a pleasant word. It’s also a word that illustrates the feelings of me and my friends when we realize we’re knee deep in thesis projects, midterms, or final exams. Anxiety is a weird feeling because it’s not like a cold. People can’t necessarily see the worry or panic in you, so they treat you normally. But like depression, it’s still a very uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, thing to hold inside for a long time. People go through anxiety often, and in college, I’ve met many people who say that they’re suffering from it.

I was talking to a friend who used to suffer from anxiety and depression. She said that part of the reason was because she didn’t know what she wanted to do with herself and she didn’t know where she was going in life. In high school, she went to counseling, but it didn’t help. She said she got better because she found something she loved, in particular a television show and her passion for graphic design. Being lost is scary, so if that is causing some worry, remember that the best thing is to keep searching (not feverishly, but more considerately) for things that are interesting or passion-­worthy. It’s different for everyone.

Some people feel that anxiety stems from a fear of the future. Anxiety isn’t necessarily fearing the future; it’s fearing the inability to control it. I get anxiety from not being to control the outcomes of my future. I don’t know if I’ll get a perfect A this semester, and that freaks me out. I can control my work ethic, but not my professor’s mind. I tell myself that some things are out of my control, and to not blame myself for everything. If I was late because of a train delay, it’s not my fault. Sure, the professor will be irked I walked in during lecture, but I left my house on-time, I was not trying to be late and, well, sometimes things like that happen.

Anxiety is different for everyone, and the reasons are different for everyone. The ways to deal with it varies, from drinking tea in bed to ­exercising at the gym. In the end, the most important thing is to remember that there is always tomorrow, and to not sweat the small stuff. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, today will just be a blimp in a timeline filled with great experiences. You can do it.

Image: Unsplash

HealthSkills

Like many returning college students, the next few weeks will be a whirlwind of textbook hunting, syllabus sighing, and alarm clock slamming. Being a senior (and preparing for a thesis… or two…), I would love to say that I’m used to the First Week hustle and bustle. But like the Freshmen who are moving into the dorms, and like the underclassmen who I’ve come to know, I end up losing a bit of sleep due to all the excitement. There are a few things that I’m sure people get nervous about, like meeting professors, finding your place, and academics. Here are a few things I tell myself, and they might help you out too!

“I’ve done this before.”

Freshman or senior, this applies. You’ve taken those SATs, AP exams, midterms, and finals. You’ve met new people, made new friends, and survived an awful prom night with terrible acne (eck). College is a little better because you (hopefully) like what you’re doing and you can change your mind if you don’t. If you don’t know what you’re doing, this is a good chance to explore. The tip here is to be confident in yourself. You might be worried about the workload, and the syllabus may look intimidating, but that’s okay. You’ll meet upperclassmen who can tutor you and classmates who will study with you. You’ll meet people who relate to you more than ever. Do your best and fear not. Take one step at a time.

“I am who I want to be.”

This comes in handy often. In a new environment, you might find yourself wondering if you will fit in somewhere. You might see yourself change a bit (your clothes, your music tastes, your interests). That’s a normal and healthy thing to do. Don’t feel too pressured to do something if you don’t think it fits you, but do embrace things that seem to feel right. For example, I didn’t particularly like watching movies until I got into college. I was a bookworm and that was the end of it. Now I try to watch one or two a month because it gives me something to talk to people. I didn’t become a movie ­snob (a term I use endearingly), but I am giving it a shot and it has added to my view of the world. You are always you, and no matter who you meet, who your new professors are, or who your peers are, that one fact will never change. Be open-minded but be honest with yourself. This will help you keep a good balance.

“It’s okay to mess up.”

This applies for both of the previous things, but people forget this one often. Anxiety, nervousness, fear. These things come from the feeling that we humans can’t understand or control something. That’s natural and everybody feels these emotions. You might be nervous about a test, or you failed one and you’re afraid of failing the next one. But who will find you ten years from now and ask you, “How did you do on that one quiz in Freshman year Design in that class in room 912 in building C with Professor Twitts?” Probably nobody. And who’s going to come up to you and ask, “Do you remember that one time when you went to that party and stood around awkwardly?” Also probably nobody. Chances are, everyone is feeling like you – they’re freaking out about who they are and what they want to be – and they’re so occupied with that they won’t remember the little things that might consume you at the moment.

So incoming Freshman and fellow seniors, and everybody in between… are you ready for a new semester? Put your worries and fears aside. All of your experiences will be great stories one day, so have no fear, and go forward with confidence!

Image: Unsplash

Health

Last week I talked about the benefits of meditation and the roadblocks that keep many people from getting started. In a nutshell, it’s a wonderful way to find freedom from anxieties, negativity and certain ailments. So you might be motivated to get it going. But how?

I’ll walk you step-by step through a first-time meditation sequence. The type of meditation I’m going to outline is called mindfulness meditation; it’s a simple technique and a great place to start. It will help you be more mindful (duh) of your feelings and desires, and allow you to cultivate or work through them more easily than you would if you were not practicing mindfulness.

Your first time meditating should be short and sweet – enough to at least immerse yourself a little, but not so long that you get bored and discouraged. I recommend allotting about ten minutes to begin, but even this can be intimidating if you have no idea what you’re doing or a short attention span, so five minutes is ok, too. And just follow along!

1. Find somewhere comfortable and where you won’t be interrupted.

I like to sit on the edge of my bed with my feet on the floor and hands in my lap. Find somewhere you can sit this way, where people aren’t likely to bother you. Background noise, even if it’s loud, is ok; being jarred out of your thoughts by sudden disruptions is not!

2. Sit with feet on the floor and hands in your lap or on your thighs.

Find a happy medium between rigid and lounging; keep your back straight and shoulders back, but don’t freak out about having perfect posture. To keep you straight and still you can try imagining your head aligning with a point in the sky.

3. Breathe, imagine a sense of calm.

Before closing your eyes, think about yourself in a peaceful place and state of mind. Take a few deep breaths.

4. Close your eyes when you’re ready, and take a few more deep breaths.

Focus on the up and down of your breathing, wherever that is in your body. Imagine inhaling calm and exhaling stress or negativity. Once you’ve taken several deep breaths, return to your normal breathing pattern, in your nose and out your mouth.

5. Body scan.

Do a mental scan of your body; I like to start at my head and move downward, but feel free to start at your feet, stomach, wherever. As you move down, up or out, focus on the way each body part feels. Are some areas tense? Are some relaxed? Just notice, don’t try to fix it. Take as long as you need for this; it may take several minutes.

6. Emotional scan.

As you do the body scan, you will begin to notice the underlying emotions you’re feeling. It may be obvious or you may have to look for it. Are you anxious? Sad? Happy, free, peaceful? Again, just notice. Don’t judge or try to change it.

7. Return focus to breath.

Sit for several minutes (I’d say up three to five) with yourself. Don’t force your mind to be blank. Instead, if you realize your mind has wandered off, gently label it as ‘thinking’ and bring the focus back to your breathing. You can count your breaths if it helps.

8. Let your mind go.

For about 15-30 seconds (but don’t strictly time this, just approximate) let your mind wander free. This feels longer than it sounds. Let your mind think or sing or be blank, whatever it wants. No effort. You may get frustrated by this at first; don’t worry. It’ll get easier and easier to let go the more you practice.

9. Bring it back to breathing.

Bring it back again to your breath and physical body. Just allow yourself to re-acclimate to your physical surroundings. How do you feel?

10. Open eyes when ready.

Take your time breathing before doing this if you need. There have been times I’ve needed to keep my eyes closed and remain focused on my breathing for another 15 minutes, and times I’ve been immediately ready to return to my physical environment.

Congrats!

That’s it. Nothing super difficult, nothing ridiculous. Just sitting with yourself.

You may be confused at first or unsure whether you even feel any different. You may be sure you don’t feel different. Just keep at it. As you continue meditating, you’ll begin to understand your feelings, become able to sense them more effortlessly and manage them with ease.

I hope mindfulness meditation helps you in your journey, whatever it may be, and that you are able to more fully live and discover yourself through it! Most of all, I hope it helps you find freedom from anxieties and health issues.

Any meditators out there have other advice or suggestions for getting the most out of meditation?

Image: Jesus Solana, Flickr