Another One Down

So pumped to say that today I’m going home for the winter break and am DONE with this fall semester!

Let me tell you, what a whirlwind it has been. One I wasn’t expecting. But now as I look back at how quickly it has flown by, I can say I’m grateful that it happened…but far more grateful it’s over.

Yes, I’m a senior graduating in three years. Yes, I took 18 credits’ worth of classes. Yes, I wanted to get involved in new ways and beef up my resume with a final hoo-rah.

You’d think all of these things would have hinted at me that maybe I was going to be stressed. I’ve had heavier course loads in past years, and handling the Canadian grading system last year felt like preparation enough.

Boy, was I wrong. Which I think a lot of factors came into play in making this semester one of the most challenging I’ve ever faced.

You don’t think there’ll be much of difference or added pressure just saying you’re a senior, but there certainly is. Not only are you making sure all ducks are in a row to graduate on time, but that looming question mark of what happens after the diploma is always there. Waiting. Luckily I’ve figured out the last part, but there still feels like hurdles to jump over to even see an end.

My living situation hasn’t been…ideal, and a solid half of the semester I was literally in a constant state of tension and anxiety that I’ve never felt before, at least to that degree. It’s still there, too, but somewhat better. Couple that with newly surfacing problems with my digestion and random killer headaches, and my health has been fighting back, big time.

My ambitions to make an impact on my campus through various roles have taken the backseat to simply going to class and taking care of myself. Sure, I would’ve loved to be more active in building up a club and spreading awareness about causes I admire, but at the end of the day, if I’m already running on a half tank, there won’t be much left for anything else.

When there are so many different influences trying to pin you down, squirming and helpless, it’s easy to just throw in the towel and let it all ovetake you. Even if you aren’t trying to, all the stress can sneak up on you and all at once smack you in the face.

I started the year already uneasy about where I stood and what to expect of my last months, so I wasn’t ready to carry an even heavier burden. So many days were hard to just get out of bed. I still have notifications on certain apps I haven’t touched in weeks because it feels like too much. I already discussed my complete breakdown over all the assignments and projects I had to complete within a three-week span.

So now I’m feeling a weird sense of relief and emptiness. I used so much will power and energy to get through, especially when my “getting through” is still doing my best in everything I do. I guess now I can just focus on recharging, writing the thesis project I’ve been putting off, and allowing myself to just breathe.

Hey, we survived! We made it through! Look at us go! If you’re in a difficult phase of life right now, hold on. Keep moving forward. It will seem impossible until you look back and see that you indeed made it.

And I still can’t believe my next semester will be my last as an undergrad. That has yet to sink in, probably because I feel like an 8th grader compared to other college seniors here. I’m almost completely done with this stage of life, a terrifying and exciting thought. Who knows what each day might bring?

I also hope over this month and beyond to devote some time to this site as well. I’ve been bouncing around the idea (as I have for awhile now) to take this blog into its own domain, perhaps venture into making more and different content. Let me know what you think in a comment or message. Either way, expect some more words from yours truly.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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The Great Outdoors

Who knew therapy could come from outside the counselor’s office? Or beyond a bottle of pills?

It’s hard to believe a doctor could prescribe a struggling patient a certain length of time spent outside as a valid treatment. Or that there’s properties in soil that help relieve depression. Or hearing rustling leaves will alleviate stress.

In traditional healthcare, that sounds like plain jibberish, some hippie “remedies” that somehow will make you invinsible.

I don’t believe that to be the case, not to that extent, but there’s a growing field (not the ones with wheat and corn!) of study dedicated to the healing of the outdoors: ecotherapy.

Ecotherapy is a profession just beginning to sprout (and allows for plenty of plant puns). While ecotherapy shouldn’t replace evidence-based practice, there is increased interesting in learning more about how a therapy session outside or listening to nature could improve our health.

Think of how often we in our daily lives actually go outside, at least beyond walking in and out of buildings for work or class. Not much, frankly. We have all the entertainment we need indoors thanks to technology. Even when we are outside, we still have our phones glued to our hands and barely acknowledge what we pass as we walk by.

Becoming a tree hugger isn’t a new concept. In 1862, Henry David Thoreau was toting the importance of walking in nature to keep us active and healthy. Another point made in that time of tuberculosis was to just destroy all our homes and sleep in open air. A tad harsh, but the thought’s there.

Now we’re adjusting that suggestion into specific routines to follow, like prescribing obese, anxious, or depressed children to visit a park for a certain length of time. Or going on a hike or walk every few days. It feels as if we’re reverting back to our essence because we’ve changed our way of living so quickly.

We continue to find new evidence showing that this is indeed beneficial for us to do. In 2007, researchers found that after a group of depressed people took a nature walk, over three-quarters of them felt less depressed. Another survey found around 94 percent of people with mental illness found that contact with nature helps alleviate their symptoms.

Ecotherapy is quite flexible to fit specific needs in specific settings. Those in rural and urban areas can practice it. Activities can include working in nature, like gardening or getting involved in a conservation project, or just experiencing nature, where the listening and mindfulness exercises come into play.

Bringing up the working element, I especially find this idea quite fascinating. Not only can we benefit from improved self-esteem and extra vitamin D, but we can also make a difference in our communities through outdoor-based projects. My mind immediately goes to Habitat for Humanity and community gardens to support local produce that could go toward alleviating hunger or supporting farmers markets. The possibilities are endless…at least depending on the weather.

Yes, the vitamin D is important. Feeling like you’re a part of something beyond yourself is important. Just a reason to get out of bed is important. Maybe we haven’t found the statistical connection to say nature cures us, but it doesn’t make us worse off.

Last semester in Canada I really relied upon walks through the nearby forests or just reading outside in my spare moments to be so therapeutic when I was stressing about grades and life in general.

I’m not in that same landscape here in the Midwest, but I’d love to incorporate more nature into my daily routine. Going back to last Friday’s post about Seasonal Affective Disorder, there’s a reason light therapy is so helpful for people: sunlight and our natural response to it makes a difference. So if we have the luxury to step outside and just walk around the block, why not do it?

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Day 16: Learning #GIG2017

Growth Mindsets
Adopting a growth mindset is a serious game-changer when it comes to appreciating learning and all it encompasses.

Every day, you learn something new. Regardless of your age or occupation or any other distinguishing factor, we all have the beautiful opportunity to enter each day with a fresh set of eyes, ready to expand our minds for whatever may come.

I’m grateful that I am not stagnant. To think of my mind stopped learning at a certain point, especially a point in the past when I was certainly less wise and experienced, what a dreadful time that would be! Or to think of never learning from an experience, good or bad, just stuck in the same place over and over again.

Learning, at least for young people, tends to have a negative connotation attached to it. We think of classrooms, stressful tests, homework, and a formal educational system that tries to address students in a one-size-fits-all way that obviously doesn’t fit for everyone.

So with that bitter taste in our mouths, we might see anything that is listed as “educational” and cringe. How dreadful and boring that book or video probably is. But what I’m most grateful for when it comes to learning is the freedom it gives me to explore what piques my curiosity. I can seek out the ideas that interest me and just dive head-first into the subject.

I’m also grateful for learning things I may not have chosen for myself or what I might find impractical in the moment. What will I ever need long-form math for? Or random philosophers alive hundreds of years ago? Heck, even an opinion that is completely contrary to your worldview?

These questionable topics are, in the moment, not the most fun or stimulating. But with the right mindset, anything can and should turn into a learning opportunity. Ask yourself, what can I gain from this class or moment? It appears unnecessary right now, but what role could this serve beyond this point? Most likely, what seems tedious right now might be teaching you another lesson that is not listed on the curriculum.

I’m grateful to approach each day with an open mind, accepting of every new idea that might cross my path. In almost every capacity but especially in politics, we tend to close up our views, build up walls (pun intended) and shield ourselves from opposing ideas as if they’re poison. But we have the gift to let down our guard, put aside our preconceived notions, and just listen to one another.

Or even learning about history, but only seeing the majority’s side of things without acknowledging the immense diversity present and the many groups who may offer new insights into “old news.” In that way, I’m grateful I can, in any situation, become a student. I’m grateful for my ability to listen to others, retain information, comprehend that information, and adjust my current mindset to include those new ideas. The brain, always remolding itself with new wrinkles of growth.

I’m grateful for the opportunities outside the classroom to learn. And really, that can be any time, anywhere. Maybe it’s talking to new people I might not have ran into otherwise. Exposing myself to content I wouldn’t have chosen for myself but was just curious. Especially with all the ways we can communicate with one another, near and far, our chances to learn multiply tenfold. Let’s take advantage of that, using that gift of technology to encourage anyone to speak their truth, to denounce false information when it arises, and allowing for engaging dialogue without the emotions that often surface in sensitive areas.

Yes, I’m grateful that I have my beliefs and I can proudly stand up for those, but I’m grateful for when I’m not defending myself and simply allowing all voices the equal chance to express themselves. Learning isn’t about choosing the loudest person and only listening to them, but instead, learning is observing and listening. It’s thinking critically and asking questions when things don’t add up.

So yes, I think this appreciation for learning takes a back burner very often when conversing with others about hot-button topics or otherwise. We look for short and sweet answers. We jump to conclusions. We form opposing sides to illustrate things. But that’s often barely a smidgen of every detail present, the tip of the iceberg.

If we have the gift to slow down and really allow ourselves to soak in others’ ideas and at the very least empathize with their position, let’s utilize that gift more often. It makes sense for a classroom, but even more so when we get out into the world and start talking. As the saying goes, we’ve been given two ears and one mouth for a reason. We should be grounded in what we stand for, yes, but we should also be well-rounded in what we understand. And if we’re unfamiliar with something, we’re blessed enough to have endless resources at our fingertips to learn more.

How do you take each day to learn something new? If you don’t already, watch a TED Talk or research a new topic you’re interested in, just for the sake of learning.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie