Values and Positive Emotions

Values are what you find important, meaningful, and they affect your every day actions. We all have values. Values inform your priorities and are a way that you might unconsciously measure your success. Different types of values include relationships (friendships, family, or romantic), spirituality, community service/volunteering, education, health, recreation/leisure (such as traveling or other hobbies), or your career. It’s important to recognize that these could all be things you value, but they might rank differently, or maybe your values might be completely different. Whatever your values are, they are yours and there are no right or wrong values.

When you do something that aligns with your values, it feels good. You feel satisfied and happy with yourself – you feel positive emotions. On the other hand, when you do something that doesn’t align with your values, like maybe not making enough time for a hobby you enjoy, you don’t feel great and you might feel like something is missing.

One of the things you can do to take care of yourself is to accumulate positive emotions. When you accumulate positive emotions, you can improve your resilience to experiencing negative emotions. How can you do this? Try doing one enjoyable activity a day that aligns with your values. Maybe you value your leisure time – what is that one hobby you put off doing because you have so much school work? It could be as simple as taking time to listen to your favorite artist. Maybe you value learning but even though you’re in college, this doesn’t feel satisfied. Take time to research or read about an area that interests you. Maybe you want to make more time for the relationships in your life or you want to eat healthier.

Regardless of what you value, taking the time (daily, if not at least weekly!) to prioritize your values can set you up for living the life you want and for accumulating positive emotions. This also allows you to have positive memories, activities, or people to fall back on when something negative happens. Lastly, try to be mindful when doing something positive – don’t ruin the experience with worrying about what you “should” be doing!

Understanding Emotions

Emotions are always present. Even when you feel bored, or neutral, you are feeling. Emotions can range from positive (such as love and happiness) to negative (such as shame, anger, and jealousy). Emotions are complex and you can often feel a mix of them at the same time. Emotions are also automatic. Sometimes it can feel like emotions are bad or unhelpful in distressing or stressful situations, but they serve a function – they can inform your behavior, help you to communicate to others, and help you to communicate to yourself.

How can knowing about emotions be helpful? When we can identify and name our emotions, we can take a step back to observe and describe them, which can help us change the behavior that comes after feeling the emotion. At the same time, it’s important to identify with why you’re feeling the emotion. While it’s not possible to directly change the emotion, it is possible to change how you respond to the emotion you’re feeling.

Pretend you took an exam and you didn’t score as well as you thought you would. You might feel a range of emotions, from sadness, to anger, to envy of other students who did well. Taking a moment to step back and identify the emotion may prevent your next action, which may not be helpful. If feeling sad, you might go eat that pint of ice cream in your freezer. Anger, you might have written your professor a rude email, or envy – maybe you would have lashed out at a friend who scored better than you. The next step, identifying with the emotion, whether it’s sadness, anger, or envy, can inform you that you really cared about doing well on that exam or maybe that you value your education and performance.

Regardless of the situation, when we understand emotions, we understand ourselves better and we can choose better, more positive actions afterwards. You can use your emotions, even the negative ones, to learn about yourself and what you value!

Faculty Spotlight: Stress

Stress in college is inevitable. Today, as undergraduate degrees become the norm, college students face a tremendous amount of pressure. Pressure to perform well academically, the increasing cost of undergraduate education, and developmentally still learning and growing – college students face a large amount of stress during a unique time in their lives. What are college students most concerned about? How are they coping and adapting to this stressful time?

In a survey on stress among over 300 undergraduate students, students rated academic performance, pressure to succeed, and post-graduate plans to be the most stressful and concerning.1 While these concerns were positively correlated with stress, they were also positively correlated with anxiety and depressive symptoms, highlighting the relationship between stress and mental health problems. Interestingly, students living off-campus scored the highest on stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, followed by transfer students.1 This highlights the importance of campus connection for well-being.

Other research on undergraduates has focused on high and low stress tolerance, with high stress tolerance scores indicating that the student was able to better manage stress. One study found that feeling supported by family, friends, and professors was the single most significant protective factor for high stress tolerance.2 Risk factors for low stress tolerance, however, were external coping sources, such as cleaning, calling a friend or relative, shopping, social networking, and using substances when stressed.2

While all college students are susceptible to stress, knowing who is more vulnerable to stress, such as students living off-campus and transfer students, can be helpful in identifying who may need more resources. Similarly, providing constructive positive feedback to students may aid in increasing their feeling of support at SPU, reducing their risk of developing low stress tolerance. Overall, as college students navigate the stressful experience of college, we can be supportive by acknowledging the stressors in their lives and doing what we can to promote a positive and supportive environment.

1Beiter, R., Nash, R., McCrady, M., Rhoades, D., Linscomb, M., Clarahan, M., & Sammut, S. (2015). The prevalence and correlates of depression, anxiety, and stress in a sample of college students. Journal of Affective Disorders, 173, 90-96. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.10.054

2Bland, H. W., Melton, B. F., Welle, P., & Bigman, L. (2012). Stress tolerance: New challenges for millennial college students. College Student Journal, (2)46, 361-375.


Radical Acceptance

When in distress or dealing with high emotions, it can be difficult to accept what is happening. Radical acceptance is complete acceptance of reality and what is happening – it lets you stop fighting with reality and helps you respond better to the distress. Radical acceptance is NOT giving up or giving in, and it is not tolerance. True radical acceptance is opening yourself up to experience the moment.

Radical acceptance can be hard to practice. In the moment, we’re often angry, bitter, or anxious. But with radical acceptance, we can come to peace with the full experience and the facts of reality. How can you practice radical acceptance?

  1. Try to limit exaggerations about reality. For example, thinking, “This professor has hated me since the first day of the quarter” is likely not a fact.
  2. Recognize when you are catastrophizing. For example, believing you’re a bad student if you do poorly on one test. This is likely catastrophizing.
  3. Avoid judgmental assertions. For example saying “I”m bad at this” is judgmental, and can be harmful.

Radical acceptance takes time – but if you can limit your exaggerations, catastrophizing, and judgmental assertions during times of distress, you can check what is actually happening in reality. Overall, trying to separate your emotions from your thoughts can help in practicing radical acceptance. When in distress, stepping back and checking what is actually happening can be incredibly beneficial in helping you decide what to do next. Finally, be patient with yourself when trying to practice new skills – radically accept that distress tolerance skills take time to master!


It’s finals week and almost spring break! If you’re feeling stressed about grades and exams, self-soothing is a great way to relax. Self-soothing is a distress tolerance skill that uses the five senses (smell, taste, touch, hearing, and vision). The goal of this skill is to find comforting activities that can ease distress through the five senses. When we’re in a distressing situation or having upsetting thoughts, it can be easy to jump into action without thinking and it can be just as difficult to calm yourself down. Using the self-soothing skill through the five senses, you can slow down, ease negative thoughts, and overall, lower your distress.

A few examples of these activities include lighting a candle (smell), eating a comforting meal or enjoying a cup of tea (taste), taking a bath or using a favorite blanket (touch), listening to music that is calming (hearing), or taking a walk outside or viewing art you like (vision).

Another self-soothing activity can be done through meditation. Through a body scan meditation, you take a break from the stress of what is going in the present and you can reconnect with where your emotions are at as you shift your awareness to your body. Click here to check out a great beginner’s body scan meditation!

When we’re able to step back from what is distressing us, we’re doing ourselves a favor. Self-soothing can be an act of kindness towards yourself and, ultimately, can help you think more clearly when your emotions are running high – which is great for de-stressing during finals week!

The STOP Skill

Crises happen all the time, whether you’re in college or not. From academic stress, to social and family stress, it can be helpful to have tools to help you manage situations and events that cause emotions to run high. Sometimes when our emotions run high, we’re tempted to act impulsively or reactively – meaning that we don’t think about the consequences of our words or actions in the moment. Sometimes we end up regretting what we’ve said or done when we act impulsively. The STOP skill can be used to help make better decisions in the moment.

  • Stop
  • Take a step back
  • Observe
  • Proceed mindfully

The first step, stop, is freezing in the moment. Instead of angrily saying something back to someone – it’s pausing. Next, take a step back, ask yourself how you want to respond. It’s important here to give yourself time to cool off or calm down. Observe is next – what is going on around you? How do you feel? Sometimes we want to assume we know everything that is going on in a situation, but that’s not usually the case. Take time to gather information so you can understand what is going on with other people involved. Lastly, proceed mindfully. Whatever the situation, there is an optimal outcome – how can you respond to the situation so that your goals are met? What do you want out of the situation? After utilizing the STOP skill, you can move forward calmly and towards a better outcome.

Like all skills, the STOP skill can be difficult to master, but practicing it can help you handle distress and difficult situations easier!

Faculty Spotlight: Self-injury

Self-injury, also known as self-harm or non-suicidal self-injury, is deliberate self-inflicted harm to oneself. Behaviors that cause pain but are not done with the intention of ending life are considered self-injury. This includes cutting, burning, and biting – but can also include behaviors such as banging your head against a wall, hitting objects, or scratching. Often, self-injury is used as a way to cope with negative emotions.

Among college students, self-injury is common. One study, surveying over 14,000 college students, found that 15.3% had engaged in self-injury behaviors at least once in their lifetime, with higher rates among female students. 1 Among female students, the most common behavior was scratching and cutting, in easily covered areas such as the wrists, arms, thighs and stomach. This is compared to male students who reported punching objects with the intention of self-injury.1 Female students were more likely to disclose their self-injury behavior and to seek help compared to male students, raising concerns about the stereotyping of self-injury behaviors as a predominately female issue.1 While self-injury make look and manifest differently between the sexes, it is a problem across genders, races, ages, and ethnicities.

One way to help students is to be observant, such as noticing behaviors that may be indicative of self-injury includes obvious cuts, marks, and injuries on the hands and arms. Fostering self-compassion on campus and in the classroom may be another way to help students who may be struggling with self-injury. Recent research among self-injury college students has shown that there is a link between engaging in self-injury and low levels of self-compassion.2 Higher levels of self-compassion, the way in which we relate to ourselves internally, may reduce the amount of pain we are willing to tolerate – potentially reducing the frequency and duration of self-injury.2

Lastly, listening to students who may need help and providing them with resources (such as the Counseling Center), can be helpful.  For more information, check out NAMI’s site on self-harm.

1Whitlock, J., Muehlenkamp, J., Purington, A., Eckenrode, J., Barreira, P., Abrams, G. B., … Knox, K. (2011). Nonsuicidal self-injury in a college population: General trends and sex differences. Journal of American College Health, 59(8), 691-698.

2Gregory, W. E., Glazer, J. V., & Berenson, K. R. (2017). Self-compassion, self-injury, and pain. Cognitive Therapeutic Research, 41, 777-786. doi: 10.1007/s10608-017-9846-9

Harmful Eating Habits

All month we’ve been talking about body image and weight, from the Freshman 15 to defining healthy to body positivity. Unfortunately, eating disorders continue to have a presence on college campuses. The most commonly talked about eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. While it’s important to know about these eating disorders, what they look like, and how you can help others struggling with these disorders, it’s also valuable to know about other harmful eating habits. While someone may not be diagnosed with an eating disorder, this doesn’t erase the possibility that they could have harmful eating habits. It’s important to recognize for yourself, and among others, what disordered or harmful eating habits may look like, so that they can be changed before turning into a serious problem.

Chewing and spitting food, and over-exercising as a way to manage the amount of calories you’ve consumed, are two harmful habits. Chewing and spitting food avoids swallowing the food, therefore restricting and preventing the consumption of calories and nutrients that your body needs. The medical consequences of this habit include stomach ulcers and dental problems. Similarly, over-exercising, or excessive exercising, can be harmful to your health as you push your body to the extreme, often while going over the amount of energy your body can produce. This can lead to malnutrition, injury, and illness. Both of these harmful habits can make you feel isolated and can consume your thoughts – negatively impacting your social and academic life.

What can you do for yourself or others in your life that may be struggling? Reach out to the Counseling Center or call the 24-hour Crisis Line at (206) 461-3222. Additionally, you can reach out to NEDA where you can either call or chat online anonymously to ask questions about eating disorders and harmful eating habits.

Body Positivity

Body positivity – you’ve probably heard of this before. It’s a movement that started in the mid 90’s to change the way our culture and media understand and define beauty. The goal of the body positivity movement is to affirm and value unique beauty and is meant to inspire self-acceptance and well-being of your own body. Body positivity also addresses how you view others and brings awareness to body shaming – which you may do to yourself and to those around you. Body positivity is not just for young women – it’s for all gender identities, ages, ethnicities, and races.

While it’s a wonderful idea, self-acceptance and appreciation of your own body probably isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s hard to stop automatic self-shaming thoughts and judgments of other people. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to adopt a more positive body outlook!

Awareness of negative thoughts about yourself and others will allow you to be more mindful of future thoughts. Once you can identify negative thoughts when they’re happening, ask yourself where those thoughts are coming from. For instance, the thoughts, “I should be thinner” or “She shouldn’t be eating that”, are shaming and harsh judgments to make about yourself and others. These thoughts also employ “should” statements, which are cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are thoughts that we believe to be true but are not actually true. Our brain can use cognitive distortions to reinforce negative beliefs about ourselves and others, keeping the negative cycle of thoughts going.

Once you take a step back to look at the thoughts you’re having about yourself and those around you, you can make steps towards changing those thoughts. Finally, body positivity is a way of thinking – it may take time to change your automatic thoughts about your own body and other’s, but the benefits of accepting and appreciating yourself is worth it. You’ll find your self-esteem will go up, impacting not only how you see yourself and your successes or failures, but also how you interact with others. Happiness and self-acceptance are contagious!

Defining Healthy

We are flooded with messages and images of dieting and tips on “how to be thin” and “healthy”. Being thin has not always been desirable – it wasn’t until the 1800s that Americans became concerned with dieting. At the time, however, it wasn’t about being thin and “beautiful” – it was about minimizing fat to be healthy. Now, there are a plethora of diets but healthy has become synonymous with thin, but being thin does not mean someone is healthy and vice versa, being healthy does not mean being thin.

What does being healthy actually mean and what does it look like?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a physical, mental, and social well-being.  But they also emphasize that a healthy lifestyle means leading a full life. Being healthy goes beyond exercising regularly and eating less junk food. Being healthy is about feeling good  - both inside and out. Being healthy is a lifestyle and the WHO refers to this as a state of enhanced well-being, meaning that being healthy is a life-long process of wellness. It’s moving forward and making positive choices that impact your physical, mental, and social well-being with the goal of living a full life.

How does this apply to you in college? College can be stressful and chaotic. Being healthy can slip to the bottom of your priority list. Western culture and social media place importance on quick fixes to getting healthy, such as dieting, and it’s often misguided. The challenge for you then, when you’re thinking of eating better or exercising, is to ask yourself what would help you live a full life and what does that life look like? When answering these questions, try to come from a place of acceptance – you are uniquely you and your full life will not be the same as someone else. Lastly, take baby steps towards being healthy and see how you feel along the well. Being healthy is a life-long journey!