Fall is just around the corner which means summer is coming to a close. Classes are in full swing and other responsibilities are getting added to the calendar. The fresh start of the new year begins to wear off for you, your family and campus wide. If you have kids, bets are that they have homework, drama, sports, etc. which leaves little time for your own work, friends and physical activity. There are times where it occurs to you to pull at your hair and scream and there are just as many times that you smile and have a genuinely good time. There are several projects you would like to do, and with each passing day you tell yourself “I’ll get to them in time.”
Does this sound familiar? Hold that thought.
Fall is just around the corner so summer might as well be over. Classes are in full swing and other responsibilities are filling up the calendar. The fresh start of the new year seems forever ago for you, yet family and campus life are still buzzing. Your kids, pets or evening chores take all of your time and you feel like a failure compared to your co-workers and friends. There have been times when you pulled at your hair and screamed and you considered it a good day if you were just able to avoid the urge to do so. There are several projects you would like to do, and with each passing day you tell yourself, “I didn’t do it again, I should just forget about it, I’m never going to get to it.”
Does this seem different than the first paragraph? Do you notice the absolute thinking, the comparing self to others, catastrophizing and limited positivity in the second paragraph? This is a brief illustration of some of the differences between stress and depression. Stress and depression affect everyone differently and this is not meant to be a comprehensive definition. Stress and depression can look and feel similarly and stress can be a precursor to depression. Let’s explore some key terms and skills that can help us remain resilient against the buildup of daily stress.
Self-compassion, or self-love, means accepting ourselves as an autonomous physical being separate from environmental factors and relationships. Self-love is non-judgmental. This is different from self-esteem where we judge ourselves as good, bad, positive, negative, right, wrong etc. Self-compassion (and self-esteem) seem to directly correlate with psychological well- being. We can do an irresponsible thing without being an irresponsible person. Self-compassion was exemplified in the first paragraph by accepting that projects didn’t get done today without judging/blaming self for those tasks yet to do. Steer clear of absolutes like always, never, all, nothing and can’t. Learn additional ways to practice self-compassion here!
- Avoid Avoidance
Naturally, our brain and body aim to avoid stressful or anxiety provoking triggers. Coping only with avoidance can lead to generalized avoidance, lack of self-compassion, withdrawing and even loneliness. These effects can lead to and are indicative of a depressive episode. A longitudinal study by Holahan and colleagues found that people who used limited coping skills for stress including avoidance were more likely to experience a depressive episode in the future. So, how do we avoid avoidance? Avoidance generally means stopping doing something so look at starting something – anything. Call upon a self-compassion practice to remind yourself that you do not have to do anything like anyone or everyone else, and doing something differently does not make you less than. You are your own autonomous self.
Stress – in some way shape or form – is inevitable. Having an outlet for the stress and negative feelings that are bound to build up from time to time is just as important as having fun, relaxing times where you fuel your mind and body to power through the next stressor. Talking, writing, drawing, performing or visualizing stress release though exercise are some outlets that could help you process your stress. Remember, avoid avoidance! Designating a time for destressing can be helpful to then allow yourself time to relax and have fun. A morning stressor is not an afternoon fun-swallower. Identify what fuels you. Is it public or private, challenging or easy, indoors or out, self-conceived or internet inspired? It can help to recall things you used to do that were rewarding. Haven’t practiced in a while? Give it a go! It could go really well and you do not have to continue doing it if you choose not to.
Evidence has been building for years that individuals are their own biggest barrier to seeking professional help. This is fueled by perceived societal stigma and perceived function of counseling/therapy (Vogel & Wade, 2009). Common misconceptions include:
- Only clinically depressed and mentally unstable people get counseling.
- Seeking counseling will result in a clinical diagnosis.
- You just lay on a couch and tell a stranger about your dreams – it’s weird.
These misconceptions are reinforced by digital media, a lack of updated information and in avoidance methods (“if I don’t seek help then I don’t have a problem” type thinking). In reality:
- Seeing a counselor when you are “just stressed” or struggling with a particular situation can act as input/output and help you identify and build coping skills and techniques to prevent clinical mental illness.
- Not all counselors and services require a clinical diagnosis. Insurance often plays a role in choosing to officially record a diagnosis. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offered on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, as well as via telephone, is available to all benefits-eligible Purdue employees and provides up to six meetings with a licensed mental health counselor each year without billing for an official diagnosis. For more information, contact the Center for Healthy Living on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus to schedule an appointment. Additionally, LiveHealth Online Psychology offers the ability to talk virtually with a licensed therapist. Both employee assistance counseling and LiveHealth Online services are available to benefits-eligible Purdue employees.
- Counseling therapy has come a long way from dream analysis. You decide what you are comfortable telling your counselor. They are trained to identify a method of therapy that will help you specifically and bring you success in your goals. Often you will agree to work on specific goals and discuss strategies to help you reach those goals.
You are not alone. Be kind to yourself. We do not control the past, and we can influence the future by recognizing the present and living in it.
Be kind. Be well. Boiler up!