Ease Your Anxiety, One Breath at a Time

Returning to campus after the holidays can inspire a range of feelings, from joy and hopeful anticipation to sadness and outright dread. Thanks to the recent Omicron upsurge, health worries, remote classes, and ongoing social isolation could make this spring’s transition back to school harder than ever. To help yourself stay calm and grounded during challenging times, start with the most simple thing in life: Your breath.

Breath is a powerful tool. It can send a message to your brain (and the rest of your body) that it’s okay to relax, that you are safe, and you can let go of the “fight or flight” urges that are causing you to experience symptoms of anxiety. There are many ways you can call on your breath to increase your sense of peace and well-being. Give these methods a try the next time you need to find your calm center.

Deep Breathing

When we’re stressed, our breathing can become shallow and “caught up” in the chest. Deep breathing is an effective way to quickly release tension and calm your nervous system.

  • Take a deep breath, letting your abdomen expand. Sense your body filling with oxygen.
  • Hold this breath for 3 – 5 seconds.
  • Release the air all at once (in a sigh, or a slow, steady stream…whatever feels good).
  • Consciously release your shoulders and jaw as the breath leaves your body.

Conscious Breathing

When are minds are cluttered with stressful thoughts, our bodies become stressed, too. By focusing on our breath, we can calm our thoughts and create relaxation in the body.

  • Close your eyes, and focus your attention on the tip of your nose.
  • Breathe in slowly, noticing the sensations of the air drawing into your nose.
  • As you breathe out, notice the air passing through your nostrils and out of your body.
  • Repeat this several times. You might also add a simple “mantra”, such as “breathing in…breathing out…breathing in…breathing out…”, or “peace…calm…peace…calm.”

Counting Breaths

If having a mental pattern to follow increases your sense of ease, try 8-4-7 to create mindful breathing.

  • Exhale through your mouth to the count of 8, making a sound (a sigh, a low whistle, etc.).
  • Inhale quietly through your nose to the count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Repeat this cycle 4 times, ideally at least twice a day (or as often as you feel the need to quiet your mind and body).

Legal Housekeeping for College Students

There’s a lot to think about when you go off to college. In the scramble to take care of the big things — packing, shopping for dorm decor, negotiating travel logistics, trying not to have a nervous breakdown — it’s easy to forget some of the less exciting but nonetheless essential tasks…like signing advanced health care directives.

When you turn 18, you are legal adults, which means that your parents/guardians lose the legal authority to make decisions for you. They won’t legally be able to access your medical, academic or financial information or represent you in these areas. Should you have an accident or become otherwise incapacitated, they won’t be able to act on your behalf unless documentation is in place. They may not be even be able to get information from hospitals about your condition in the event of an emergency.

You’ll need the following if you’d like your parents/guardians to be able to continue supporting you with regard to medical and financial information and decisions: 

Durable Power of Attorney This document will able your parents/guardians to act of your behalf in legal and financial matters without you losing any ability to act on their own. It gives families the ability to do things such as pay bills, apply for loans, and access or transfer funds, which can be useful if you are studying abroad, sick or injured, or just overwhelmed with school work and in need of some help managing your affairs. This document can be drafted to become effective immediately upon signing and can be revoked at any time, as long as you aren’t under a disability. 

Advanced Health Care Directive If you have an accident or other health emergency and is incapacitated, this document gives your family the authority to make decisions on your behalf. It can also include information about your wishes regarding organ donation and end of life decisions. A HIPAA waiver will give your family access to your medical records so they are able to make informed decisions regarding care. 

You might also consider as a separate document an Advanced Directive for mental health care, which would enable your family to make decisions and direct care for you should you experience a mental disability and need your family to represent you. 

FERPA Release Parents/guardians are sometimes surprised to learn that they are not able to speak to colleges to discuss their adult child’s grades and academic progress. A FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) form must be signed for your family to access records and talk to colleges about you. The forms may be requested from colleges. 

While most families see the benefit of advanced health care directives and durable powers of attorney, the FERPA release can be tricky. Should students have privacy regarding their academic records and progress? Is it healthy/valuable for families to monitor adult children in this way? At what point do students become responsible for their own educations? 

While we all hope there will never be a need for our families to intervene on our behalf in a medical or legal situation, for many families, knowing that they have the ability to make decisions and direct care in an emergency is comforting. Clearly, whether or not to create these documents is a decision that should be made only after clear discussion and agreement between you and your family. As a young adult, your privacy is important to you (and might be a sticky subject with your family); strive to find a balance between assuring their ability to support you in serious situations and maintaining a comfortable level of control over your own life.  

Regardless of what you and your family decide, this is a worthwhile conversation about issues that all responsible adults should address. None of us can predict the future, and thorny situations and emergencies unfortunately do arise. Investing a small amount of time and energy now can enable your family to contribute to your well being in critical times, and by negotiating and navigating the process, you’ll be taking another important step on your path to adulthood.  

It’s Okay If You’re Not Okay

For many young people, the past nine months have been the most frightening, confusing, lonely, frustrating, sad, anxious and disappointing of their lives. Sure, the vaccine means there is finally an end in sight, and you can look forward with hope, but it’s hard not to think about all of the things (and maybe even people) you will never get back. For some of you, it’s still challenging to face each day, and to manage school and responsibilities as effectively as you did back in the Before Times. It can be even more difficult when the message you’re hearing from those around you is that you should be used to the situation by now, and you should just get on with life in this “new normal.” 

Continue reading “It’s Okay If You’re Not Okay”

Finding the Right College to Support Your Special Needs

No two people learn the same way. For those who have learning styles or challenges that aren’t compatible with a traditional high school approach, finding a school that is a good match (or finding ways to make your current school better serve you) can be its own challenge. That’s what makes planning for college so exciting: It’s a perfect chance, and maybe the first one you’ve ever had, to choose the educational environment where you will thrive. 

Your success and happiness in college depends in great part on how well your college meets your needs. If you already have an IEP or 504 plan in high school, you probably have a good understanding of what those needs are. If you’ve never had formal diagnostic testing but just know there are things that could help you do better in college, pay attention to those. Whatever you need, there are colleges that can provide it. 

Continue reading “Finding the Right College to Support Your Special Needs”