Altruism

Altruistic acts are selfless acts that benefit others, despite what the act might mean for you. When we think about altruism, we think of big acts of kindness, like building houses for those in need or donating money.  But altruistic acts can be small and just as effective. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives that it can feel impossible to think about spending time, money, or energy to help others. How can we be altruistic in small ways, while making big differences?

  • One of the ways we can be altruistic in our daily lives is praising others. Random and kind compliments or appreciation of others can go a long way to boost another person’s mood!
  • Another way to be altruistic is to do the things you enjoy doing, try to do them well, and help others who have similar passions. Working together and educating others to do their best, in a positive way, can motivate and help others to feel good about what they’re doing. When we feel like we’re doing well at something, those positive emotions can affect how we see ourselves in other areas of our lives.
  • Lastly, just being aware of what is going on in other’s lives can lead to altruistic acts. When we’re aware of what is going on in the lives of those we care about, we can be more thoughtful about how we interact with them. It can be as small as grabbing a coffee for a stressed friend, or texting words of encouragement before an exam.

Altruism can seem daunting but it can be easy! Little acts overtime add up and there are psychological benefits to helping others. It can reduce your own stress, enhance and broaden your perspective on your own life, boost your overall positive feelings and happiness, and can alleviate feelings of loneliness. When you help others, you help yourself. 😊

Laughter

Laughter is something we all do – it’s universal among humans despite race and cultural differences. Laughter even comes before we can talk, which we see in happy, giggly babies. But why do we laugh and what are the benefits?

You might think the obvious – that we laugh because something is funny. But there’s also nervous laughter and some people even laugh when they’re scared. We even laugh at ourselves when we’re embarrassed! Research has pointed to the purpose of laughter as a way to alleviate tension and to illicit positive emotions in others, not only ourselves, which could explain why laughter is often thought of as contagious. Without even thinking, we often laugh when others are laughing. Laughter can also lighten your mood, reduce negative feelings, and it also fosters social engagement – it can bring people together. There’s also some evidence linking laughter to boosts in the immune system and muscle relaxation ("laughter is the best medicine!").

As we enter into the end of the school year with finals approaching, think about laughter as a free, quick, and easy way to alleviate stress and tension! While eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising are a few of the most well-referenced ways for you to take care of yourself during tense times – add laughter to that list and call up a friend, enjoy a light-hearted movie, or read a funny book to take a quick break from the stress of school!

Grit

When we think about what it takes to be successful (even when things get tough), we think about the concepts of motivation and self-discipline. A lot of the time it’s hard to find the get-up-and-go attitude we need to sit down and do homework or to study. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood or you lack the motivation to get started. When we fail to stick to hard and fast routines, we think we lack self-discipline. Research, however, has pointed to a new concept for success: grit.

Grit is the idea that passion and perseverance for long-term goals are what leads to success. Dr. Angela Duckworth (check out her TED talk!), suggests that above and beyond intelligence or talent, grit is what drives us towards success. It can be easy to be motivated to work towards something you’re passionate about, but the perseverance aspect is what keeps you going. Similarly, self-discipline in the short-term is often feasible. We can commit to a two-week study plan – but the long-term is what ultimately matters.

It’s intimidating to think about four years of undergrad as four years of commitment to self-discipline when motivation may be hard to find. But grit – passion and perseverance – can keep you going through the good times and the bad. Acknowledging that failures or bumps in the road will ultimately lead you to success are essential in moving forward – but don’t forget your passion for what you’re doing. Maybe you’re passionate about your major, or you’re passionate about the life you’ll be able to create after undergrad. Regardless, you’re doing this for you and maybe it’s time to get gritty!

Burnout

National Nurse’s Week (May 6-12) not only recognizes the contribution of practicing nurses but also the high demands placed on nursing students. Nursing students must balance a rigorous curriculum with long hospital shifts, all while working and attempting to maintain a school/life balance.

Burnout is physical and emotional exhaustion. While stress is common and can dampen how your behavior and how you feel, burnout is worse – it’s prolonged and chronic stress related to work and/or school. Burnout can involve feelings of hopelessness, flattened emotions, and little to no motivation to do well at the job you once cared about. Burnout not only affects how you feel and behave personally, but it impacts your performance and can have harmful consequences. With such long hours and high emotional stress, caring professions, like nursing, are especially susceptible to burnout.

Paying attention to how you’re feeling is one of the first steps to recognizing burnout. It’s important to understand where the burnout is coming from. Often, in caring professions, empathy can lead to burnout. While empathy is an admirable trait and critical to performing well in caring professions, it can also increase emotional stress, especially in healthcare. Long shifts without breaks and packed schedules without any time for self-care can also lead to burnout. Lastly, neglecting who you are outside of your profession can be detrimental – you are more than your career!

When working in caring profession, we want to give our all for to our patients, clients, training, and to our own professional development. It is so important that we remember that to give our all, we have to firstly take care of ourselves. We must give ourselves the same kindness we provide to others so that we can be the caring, present, and competent professionals we strive to be!

Opposite Action

This month we’ve talked about understanding emotions, values and how to accumulate positive emotions, and checking the facts. This week we’re talking about opposite action – a strategy you can use to regulate your emotions and change your behavior.

Opposite action is exactly what it sounds like – it’s doing something that is opposite of the emotion you’re feeling. This might sound like the popular saying “fake it ‘til you make it” and it’s not far off. When you’re feeling sad or down, it’s easier to withdraw from the things you like doing and the people around you. While this might feel like the easiest option, it can actually be beneficial for you to do the opposite. Sometimes you can break the cycle of feeling sad or down by doing something you would normally do when you are feeling happy. You may be able to change the way you’re feeling through your behavior.

Opposite action isn’t just for when you’re feeling down, it can be helpful when you’re angry or upset with someone, too. Being kind or doing something nice for someone when you’re not happy with them can seem even more infuriating at the time, but you can take charge of your anger through opposite action. Often, feeling angry doesn’t help us resolve what made us upset in the first place – opposite action can help get you to a place where you can process how you feel and how you want to respond in the future.

While opposite action can be useful, it can be really hard to do in the moment. It’s also important to realize that every emotion you feel is valid and real. The way you feel and respond to a situation or event is useful information that you can use to learn about yourself. Try out opposite action and see if it’s helpful, and if not, try again!

Checking the Facts

We’ve talked about how we’re always feeling an emotion and how identifying your emotions is a great step towards understanding them. While describing your emotions are useful, it’s also helpful to know what you’re responding to in a situation. Since emotions are automatic, we’re quick to emotionally react to an event and even our thoughts about what is happening. Sometimes, though, we don’t have all the information we need to respond appropriately. Additionally, sometimes we are actually responding to how we think, believe, or are interpreting a situation rather than what is really happening.

Checking the facts is a way you can make sure you are respond to the actual event or situation. To check the facts, you have to ask yourself:

  • What is the feeling I want to change? This is why identifying your emotions is so important!
  • What happened that brought on this feeling or emotion? Think about what came right before you started feeling the emotion you identified.
  • How am I interpreting, thinking about, or what am I assuming about what is happening? This is where we have to be careful with reacting to our thoughts and not to what is actually happening in reality.
  • Am I jumping to conclusions that something negative or bad is going to happen? When we do this, we cloud our ability to see what is happening.
  • Do my emotions match the intensity of the situation? This is where we can stop to check if we are catastrophizing or downplaying your own emotions.

When we can check the facts, we can respond to situations better and more in-line with what is actually happening. It also allows us to slow down and assess how we are really feeling in response to what is actually happening instead of emotionally reacting to what we think, assume, or how we are interpreting the situation. Lastly, it’s important to try and see situations from other perspectives – this can help you gain more information and insight into how your emotional response measures up to reality!

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!

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!

Self-Soothing

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!