Ask Dr. P. | Useful Strategies for Dealing with Anxiety

Ask Dr. P.


How can I deal with my anxiety?


In the highly stressful world of college life, anxiety is as common as exams and presentations.

While a moderate amount of anxiety can be helpful in improving your performance, high levels can be debilitating. When anxiety is very high, it is difficult to concentrate or remember much of what you studied. Excessive stress is not only painful but it is very unhealthy over the long haul. Thus, managing your anxiety level before it gets out-of-hand becomes critical.

What is anxiety?

More than 25% of college students report anxiety symptoms and more than 40% of freshmen say they feel overwhelmed by all the work facing them. Anxiety is the main reason students seek psychological counseling at their university counseling centers. In contrast to fear, which occurs in response to outside dangers like a stranger chasing you, gunshots ringing out in the night, and/ or tornadoes ready to hit your hometown, anxiety is a reaction to internal or psychological dangers. When you’re fearful of being rejected, shamed, humiliated, or exposed to the world as inadequate in some way, you get anxious.

The most common of all anxieties is “performance anxiety” and its twin sister “test anxiety.” In both these instances, you are afraid of failing, of looking stupid or dumb, of letting others down, of being humiliated by your incompetence. Performance anxiety is likely to occur anytime you are doing something that is important to you—whether you are giving a speech in class, performing on the basketball court, playing your musical instrument for an audition, trying out for a part in a play, or taking a test. In all these examples, the fear of failure can run rampant with accompanying physical reactions such as trembling hands or voice, butterflies in your stomach, frequent bathroom runs, and pounding heart. While you are not running from a tiger in the jungle, your body reacts as if you are, and the anxiety that stems from psychological danger is just as real and intense as the fear about impending physical peril.

What can you do about anxiety?

The best thing you can do is to pursue some type of relaxation training, such as muscle relaxation training, mindfulness, positive imagery, meditation, yoga, or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which strives to change unhealthy thinking patterns that often accompany strong emotion. Be aware that not all of the relaxation strategies will work for you, but if you find one or two that do, work hard on perfecting them for yourself.

Relax your muscles

You might find that learning how to relax your muscles (one by one) will reduce the physical tension you feel. If so, following along with an audio guide, podcast, or YouTube video that gives you detailed instructions on how to relax is worth a few minutes of online research. Along with this, practicing diaphragmatic breathing (slow and deep breathing) for 10-15 minutes each day would be a quick way of getting your heart and body to quiet down at any time, but especially right before a test or a performance.

Practice positive self-talk

Self-talk (a part of CBT), which entails saying soothing things to yourself, like “calm down,” “it’s no big deal”, or “you’ll survive” can be helpful.

Recall positive imagery

Positive Imagery, that is, thinking of a positive scene (walking in the woods, sunbathing on the beach, your favorite vacation) can be a way of distracting yourself to calm down.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness entails focusing on an objective reality, and not the many catastrophic fears in your mind. When you're highly anxious, the reality of the situation gets overlooked and you get lost in overblown and imaginary dangers. Looking the catastrophic fear in the eye, that is, asking yourself "what is the worst thing that can happen?" and then coming up with a plan for dealing with the catastrophe, such as, "so if I fail, I'll take the class again," can reduce the intensity of your anxiety.

Just before my many talks, I have found that focusing on something objective, such as someone in the audience or my Power Point slides, for a few minutes before the presentation took my mind off myself, calmed me down, and enabled me to pursue the rest of the talk with very little anxiety.

Practice mindfulness and muscle relaxation right now with
Propeller Collective's "Mindful Moment" video on YouTube:

Overall, try out different techniques to see which ones will work for you! If your anxiety level continues to be high, go to the university counseling center as soon as possible to see what the staff recommend. The very act of talking about your difficulties with a caring staff member can be helpful, as is anxiety-reducing medication. If you can reduce your anxiety level to a manageable burst of energy, you can improve your performance and feel good about what you have accomplished.


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Ask Dr. P. | Becoming aware of your mental health

Ask Dr. P.


How can I become more aware of my mental health?


Before trying to increase your awareness of your own mental health, it is important to be reasonably clear about just what is mental health. While it is difficult to define because no single definition encompasses all that it is, I’m going to try. I can say with assurance that you are more likely to know what it is when you don’t have it. Just as with physical health, you’re not aware of your health until you feel sick. Similarly, when you’re feeling anxious a lot of the time and/or depressed, you know that you’re not experiencing the epitome of mental health.

What is mental health?

Mental health is a state of well-being that can be characterized by positive feelings and thoughts, self-awareness, adaptive behavior, and the absence of psychological symptoms. Most of the time, you feel happy and enjoy life, which is not to say that you never feel sad, disappointed, jealous, or angry but the negative feelings don’t dominate your life. And, you don’t experience the symptoms covered in column one to any serious extent. In addition, you are not consumed with worry, not obsessed (have recurrent thoughts) about something, and/or not sad a great deal of the time. If this is the case, you know that you’re probably doing okay.

I say “probably” because many times you might not be aware that something is wrong, but your body or your behavior will be a dead giveaway that something is amiss. You may have difficulty concentrating, sleeping, or eating. You may have ongoing stomach or headache distress. Your friends may tell you’re drinking too much or have a short fuse, that is, you get frustrated or angry easily. On the other hand, you may be too quiet, too withdrawn, and too uncomfortable with your peers, all of which make social events very uncomfortable.

Other aspects of mental health have to do with positive personality traits like optimism, resilience (being able to bounce back from negative experiences), and openness to new experiences. Having a “glass half full“ attitude is healthy, as is agreeableness (not always but most of the time) and conscientiousness (fulfilling your obligations). Looking forward to each day as a time of new possibilities is a great attitude that is correlated with positive mental health.

Horace, an ancient philosopher, once wrote, “Take as a gift whatever the day brings forth.”

Experiencing joy each day by doing some things that you really enjoy is a wonderful way of safeguarding your mental health. Making wise decisions, that is, not acting impulsively and paying attention to the long-term consequences of your behavior, is also important. In addition, the quality of your relationships with others (your sensitivity, your empathy, your reciprocity) is a reflection of your mental health.

Increasing awareness of your mental health

Pay attention to your feelings

Taking at least 15-30 minutes a day, usually before bedtime, to look at how your day went, can be very valuable. You can use this time for self-reflection, that is, trying to figure out how you felt all day and whether you met your own personal goals. Keeping a daily log of your feelings, or journaling, is a great way of keeping in touch with your emotions—an important component of mental health. Paying attention to your thoughts (are you consumed with negative thinking or are you reasonably optimistic?) is also extremely worthwhile. If you felt stressed and unhappy, this is the time to be kind to yourself and prepare yourself for a new day. If you didn’t meet your goals, now is not the time to hit yourself over the head but rather to tweak your goals to make them more realistic and attainable. You can meditate, pray, or simply relax during this break time for yourself.

Dreams: The royal road to the unconscious

Paying attention to your night dreams is also extremely worthwhile in gauging your own mental health. Sleep incidentally is your body’s healing mechanism - both for your physical and mental health - so don’t skimp on it. Sleep strengthens your long-term memory by consolidating your short-term memory into long-term storage.

At night, your psyche attempts to solve your daytime problems by searching for solutions that will work for you. Thus, your night dreams are usually an accurate mirror of your emotional life and what you are struggling with, in terms of desires, fears, and conflicts. The dreams are not literal translations of your issues, but rather symbolic ones. So, if you’re running away from danger in your dreams, you need to look at what feels dangerous in your daily life. If you’re basking in the Caribbean in your dreams, you are looking for a wonderful break from the drudgeries of daily life. Look for the themes in your dreams and they will give you a new perspective on the daily status of your mental health!


I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Ask Dr. P. | What can I expect when I see a counselor for the first time?

Ask Dr. P.


What can I expect when I see a counselor for the first time?


Once you’ve decided to seek counseling, you’ll set up your first appointment.

You can do this by contacting the counseling center over the phone, in person, or sometimes online. At different campuses, the counseling center may go by different names, such as “Psychological Services” or “Psychological Clinic.”

If you need help right away, tell the contact person that you need to talk to someone right now. That person will see if anyone is available and, if not, they may refer you to a phone hotline that is staffed by volunteers to help students in crisis.

Your student fees usually cover on-campus counseling services, but the number of sessions per semester may be limited depending on the counseling center’s policy. If you prefer to seek psychological help off-campus, just ask for an approved list of counselors in the area from the counseling center or the Dean of Students. For off-campus assistance, you will need to use your health insurance to pay for services.


Now that you have taken the courageous and often trembling first step of making an appointment, what can you expect from this point on?


1. Paperwork

Generally, the first thing you will encounter at the counseling center is some paperwork. Sometimes this is done by phone but it usually occurs during the first visit, which is typically called an “intake session.” You will be asked to share basic demographic information and to complete a checklist of symptoms or presenting problems. The checklist covers a range of concerns college students typically bring to counseling centers, from concentration difficulty to sleeping problems. Occasionally, intake paperwork will also include a brief personality assessment that is designed to get a snapshot of how you usually operate.


2. A meeting with an intake counselor

Once you're finished with paperwork, you will meet a counselor for the intake session, which usually takes about an hour. The purpose of this meeting is to get a sense of how serious your problems are and what kind of help you need. The intake person may be a different person from the one you will eventually be assigned. If you have a preference as to the sex, race, or cultural background of your assigned counselor, you can make that request at this time. If such a counselor is available, the counseling center will try to accommodate you.

The counselor will ask you questions such as, “What brings you to the counseling center?” or “How can I help?” to get an idea about what you have been struggling with. The counselor will ask about the severity of the problem, duration (how long it has been going on), and what you have tried to do in the past to solve the problem. The counselor will also ask about your family, friends, interests, school history (how well you did in the past), medical history, and your strengths/ weaknesses.


3. Exploring solutions together

From this broad array of information, including the paperwork you completed earlier, your counselor will gain an understanding of your problem as well as what can be done to improve your situation. For example, if you went to the counseling center because you’re anxious and worried about failing out of school, you and the counselor will decide how widespread your fears are, how realistic they are, and what can be done about them.

In this example, questions that a counselor may consider include:

  • Is your anxiety keeping you up at night and /or interfering with your ability to study?

  • Will relaxation training help or is your anxiety too severe?

  • Will cognitive-behavioral strategies, such as examining your thoughts about failing and working to change them, be worthwhile?

  • Would medication for anxiety be useful?

Exploring these and related issues are among the many considerations in trying to help you, but what will work best for you is a function of personal factors, including your personality style and your motivation to change. Typically, at the end of the intake process, your counselor will make recommendations that you're free to accept, modify, or reject. While you alone can make the decision as what will work best for you, it is wise to be open to the counselor's recommendations.

In spite of the normal anxiety you may feel in starting this whole process, going to see a counselor is often the start of a marvelous journey towards personal growth and greater overall satisfaction in life.

I'm Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist with many years of experience working with college students. I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers in Chicago, and was the first in my family to go to college. Click here to learn more.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Ask Dr. P. | Should I see a psychologist / counselor?

Ask Dr. P.


How do I know when I should speak with a psychologist / counselor?


In short, anytime you need help with your feelings and/or your behavior.


Any of these signs is a good reason for reaching out to a professional:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or anxious a lot of the time.

  • Having trouble concentrating on schoolwork, having difficulty with eating or sleeping, or very worried about a personal problem.

  • Experiencing uncontrolled bouts of crying, unexplained periods of sadness, or crying for no reason. These behaviors are signs of depression that often require professional assistance.

  • Getting angry easily or being hostile to your friends or family.

  • Drinking heavily or using drugs regularly.

  • Feeling overwhelmed by studying. Study skill assistance, that is, help with time management (how much to study and when), how to take notes, how to take tests, and how to read a textbook, may be sought at a university counseling center.

  • If a roommate or teacher recommends it. Often, a respected friend or mentor sees things in us that we are not aware of.


Seeking professional help is one of the smartest things you can do.

It doesn’t mean you are crazy, weird, or immature, but just plain wise. If you lived in New York City, for example, seeking professional assistance would be a sign of your sophistication, not mental instability. I say that because attitudes about seeing a psychologist or a counselor vary depending on where you live and on your family’s cultural values. Regardless of geographical or familial attitudes, seeking professional help is a very worthwhile pursuit. 

Talking to a counselor is one way of sorting out your problems and gaining a new perspective. Very often, the very act of talking to an objective person (a sounding board) reduces some of the tension and you can gain clarity.

When problems overwhelm us, they are difficult to see clearly.

The problem feels lost in a fog or a sea of contradictions and seems unsolvable, when realistically the problem needs to be reframed or thought about differently so it can be approached more rationally. 

For example, if you are anxious about failing a course, the anxiety about failing can be overwhelming and blind you to some productive solutions, such as talking to the instructor about your difficulties with the material, getting a tutor, or dropping the course before the deadline. Similarly, if you are having roommate problems, learning how to communicate more clearly without defensiveness can be very helpful. Communication strategies can make the difference between ongoing conflict and peaceful resolutions.


Going to talk to a psychologist/counselor is almost never a mistake.

At the very least, it will be a new experience. At the most, it will be a life-changing event. If your problem is minor, it will be solved quickly. If more major, it will take more time and persistence. Know that all the material from counseling is confidential and is not available to the rest of the university, unless you give permission to release any of it.

The very act of going to see someone for help is a sign of your courage and determination to grow and change in positive ways.

Being “open” versus “closed” to new experiences is a positive personality trait that has been correlated with all sorts of other positive outcomes, such as creativity, friendliness, and overall success in life, so developing openness is decidedly worthwhile.


I’m Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist who has been practicing psychology in a variety of settings for over 50 years. Throughout the 80s and 90s, I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers (Roosevelt University, Chicago; and the University of Illinois at Chicago), where I worked with college students, many of whom were the first in their families to go to college.

In addition to my work in university counseling centers, I was Chair of the Psychology Department at Roosevelt University, and Supervising Psychologist in several medical schools, psychiatric hospitals, and mental health clinics over the years. I am also the author of two books on romantic love; Too Close for Comfort: Exploring the Risks of Intimacy; and Adult Children of Divorce: Confused Love Seekers. Since leaving the university setting in 2001, I have been in private practice seeing clients, most of whom are successful professionals but are struggling with some aspect of their personal lives.

I was the first in my family to go to college.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Hello 2018. Goodbye Excess Baggage.


The turn of the calendar offers an important reminder that the time we have to achieve our goals is limited. Like a hot air balloon, if we're going to soar higher, we’ll have to drop a few sandbags.

We have to make space for the things we want.

Between college, work, family, and social life, college students have a lot going on. Challenges in these areas will undoubtedly come up for all college students, but more complex and demanding situations can arise for first generation college students.


We have to be prepared for whatever life throws our way.

Excess baggage works against your ambitions. It can be found in our physical things, environment, habits, and even people close to us. It’s that pile of clutter on your bedroom floor, your poor habit of oversleeping your alarm clock six days out of seven, and that friend or family member who discourages you from achieving your goals.

Let go in your own way.

Getting rid of excess baggage looks different for different situations. At times, it can be more figurative than literal. That family member who always has something negative to say will always be family, but you have the power to decide whether or not you’ll let it affect you emotionally. The type of baggage you carry with you will also affect how you’re able to move on. For example, a poor habit of waking up late may respond well to a new alarm clock, determination and a habit tracker, while letting go of other habits or feelings can be a lifelong process and may even require the help of a therapist.


Start fresh in 2018 by asking,
what can i let go of right now?

Let go of dead weight and position yourself to achieve your goals with these 3 steps -



Prepare to detox by visualizing your goals and writing them down. Keep things simple by honing your goals down to your top 3-5 priorities for the year, then put a huge star next to the one that’s most important to you. Take some time to reflect on your goals. Why are they important to you? What does your ideal future look like? How do you feel?



Uncover roadblocks that might get in the way of your aspirations. For items within each category listed below, ask two questions: (1) Will this help me achieve my goals? (2) Will this be present in the life of my dreams?



Clothes, books, papers, knick-knacks, promotional items, photos, office supplies, and the list goes on. Keep what you use, purge what you don’t. The real test? Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, suggests you only keep things that spark joy. However, don’t throw away your textbook for this semester’s Anthropology class just because it doesn’t bring you joy! Things that serve a function and help you achieve your goals should be kept… until the last day of class :)



Think about your home environment and how it makes you feel. Consider your bedroom, workspace, kitchen, living room, bathroom, and outdoor areas. How do you want to feel in those settings, and what can you change to make them better? Are you oversleeping because your curtains are black? Upgrade to a lighter set that lets the morning sunlight in. Does your roommate play loud music late at night? Talk with them about it. Is that pile of clutter present in the life of your dreams? Say farewell.



Your habits build your life. Whether or not you’re successful in reaching your goals depends on your habits. What do your daily habits look like right now, from the moment you wake up to the second you fall asleep? What’s going well or not going well? What can you do (or not do) everyday that will set you up for success? Don’t forget to take care of yourself by building in habits like eating well, exercising, and getting 8+ hours of sleep. Looking for a way to hold yourself accountable? Download a habit tracker app or habit tracker PDF.



Will your current job help you achieve your goals? Sometimes a job is functional, where the money is a great fit but the work doesn’t align with your future career. Other times, the skills you gain outpace compensation by a long shot. Many people want the perfect fit between money and a job they love, but here’s a reality check - it’s a long-term goal that you’ll spend much of your career working toward. You’ll likely compromise on money and experience at different points throughout your life. Not getting either? It might be time to start looking into other options.



Warm-up’s over. Hands down, this category is the most important but can be the most difficult to tackle, especially when it comes to family and friends. Is anyone in your life continuously passive aggressive, negative, or mean? Do they only act in their self-interest? You won’t be able to flourish if you give them real estate in your head. If it’s a friend, you might reconsider the relationship. If it’s a family member you love, consider where they’re coming from. Listen. You’ll probably find that they have unresolved pain, fear, or insecurity in their own life. Once you understand their perspective, you’ll be better positioned to create some emotional distance. Strengthen your support network by surrounding yourself with people who are supportive of you and your life goals.

Note: Letting go of relationships can be even harder if you don’t have a strong base of people to begin with. If you keep following your goals, trying new things, and putting yourself out there, you’ll find your people. Prepare now by making a list of the qualities you’re looking for in friends. This will help you subconsciously keep an eye out for new people who meet your criteria.



Love the people and things that have helped you get this far. Take the time to accept that circumstances change. Let go of the things that no longer serve you. Make the physical, mental, and emotional space you need to grow so you can set yourself up for success. No one else is going to do it for you.



Don’t wait until next January to run through this process again! Make an appointment to have a quarterly or biannual meeting with yourself to evaluate what’s helping you and what’s hurting you. Things change. Interests change. Ambitions change. Life circumstances change.

Remember to stay in the present. It’s easy to get caught up in the exciting future you have planned, but don’t forget to be grateful for where you are now. Life is a journey. By the time you “arrive,” you may not even realize it; you’ll be working on even loftier goals :)


Kori Crockett
CEO, Propeller Collective


End Your Day with this Simple Self-Reflection

by Andrew P. Minigan

Ralph Waldo Emerson captured well the importance of personal growth and not sweating or overanalyzing the small stuff when he wrote,

"Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in. Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Each and every day will come with “blunders and absurdities” of all shapes and sizes, and there is value in thinking through them, processing them, and if possible, taking a step forward.

What is something you’d keep from your day - a highlight?

What is something you’d throw away - a difficult moment?

These are two questions I have posed to myself, friends, roommates, and significant others for the past five years. In fact, I have every day’s “keep” and “throw” over the span of a couple years documented in a journal. These questions have served as a way for me to make self-reflection a habit—to think on the day’s events as I decompress and prepare to move onward to the day ahead.

“Keeps” and “throws” began on a whim. One Sunday night during my sophomore year at the University of New Hampshire, my roommates and I reflected on our keeps and throws from the weekend. It became a Sunday tradition, and before I knew it, even the more reluctant roommate (looking at you, Luke) chimed in with something he would keep, and something that he was eager to learn and grow from. Nothing was too insignificant or heavy for the discussion, and it was a space for all of us to talk about our inner rumblings.

Years removed from my cozy Durham digs, I now continue my “keep and throw” practice for a few minutes every night, either talking through them with my girlfriend, texting a friend, or jotting them down in my journal before bed.


The Benefits of Self-Reflection

Self-reflection, like ending one’s day thinking about the day’s events —the good, the bad, the ugly— can be a simple yet extremely powerful practice. Pausing for reflection helps you make meaning of experiences and engage in perspective-taking. It can be restorative for you to revisit moments with a clearer mind and some distance. (Perhaps that person who bumped into you on the way to class was having just as lousy of a day as you.) Through self-reflection and journaling, I’ve learned how to grow from both my keeps and my throws. Growing from throws is very different than wallowing in them; it’s productive.

Be Deliberate

Writing in a journal isn’t a silver bullet, and one reflective practice doesn’t transform your well-being overnight, but reflective practices should be deliberate. Your days in college can be hectic and over-scheduled, and it’s easy to postpone things and not carve out time for yourself. By ending each day with my “keep and throw” reflection, I built a practice that was enjoyable, didn’t take up too much time, and could be done collaboratively or on my own. I was able to be intentional about my reflection, and deliberate practice led to routine. I now regularly reflect on my own life, my relationships, my work, and my growth. I think through what I would do differently in certain situations, what I understand better than I did previously, and what was beyond my control. As a result, I think I’ve become a more thoughtful and patient person.

Develop Your Own Simple Self-Reflection

What is something that you could do to integrate space and time for simple self-reflection in your life? What would you keep and throw from today?


Andrew P. Minigan writes on education, human development, and psychology. You can learn more about his work here and follow him on Twitter @AndrewRQI.


Self-Care During College: How To Take Care of Yourself


Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.”

It’s easy to think of self-care as self-indulgent or selfish, but it's important for well-being. Self-care is not about indulgent purchases or extravagant self-pampering; it’s about taking care of yourself.

Taking care of your mind, body, and spirit will give you the energy you need to flourish, rather than scrape by on empty. When our energy drops, our health and well-being can suffer, which can affect other areas of our lives.

With a hectic college schedule, self-care can easily drop by the wayside. Make self-care a focal point of your daily and weekly routines by incorporating the following #selfcaretips.


10 tips for taking care of yourself during college


1. Sleep 7-8 hours per night


All-nighters are tempting, especially during midterms and finals, but avoid them at all costs. When you don’t give your body the rest it needs, your cells don’t have the chance to replenish their energy.


2. Drink water!


About 60% of your body is made up of water. Your body needs it to function at it’s best. Daily recommended water intake from the MayoClinic: 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) for women. That’s more than the previous recommendation of eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day!


3. Practice a daily routine


In college, your schedule is packed and new things can come up throughout the day. Establishing structure through a daily routine provides a sense of familiarity and comfort. It’s reassuring to know there are certain things you can expect throughout the day, especially when everything else can seem so hectic.

As a part of your weekly schedule, write down regular mealtimes (for example, breakfast at 7:30am, lunch at noon, snack at 4pm, dinner at 7pm) and regular sleep times (for example, 10pm - 6am). Take a shower first thing in the morning to help you wake up, and come up with a comforting bedtime ritual (maybe you read or journal for 20 minutes every night before you go to sleep). Stick to your daily routine as much as possible!


4. Eat well


Lean protein (chicken, turkey, tofu, beans and legumes), greens (kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach), veggies, and whole grains are where it’s at! We like chocolate cake, pizza, and cookies, too, and it’s so easy to reach for these things in times of stress! The purpose of eating is to nourish your body, so you have the energy you need to take on the world.

Also, try your best to avoid caffeine from coffee, tea, and soft drinks. We LOVE coffee, but caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety, including jitters and a racing pulse. For people predisposed to anxiety, these side effects can contribute to feelings of panic. It’s especially important to limit caffeine intake during midterms, finals, and on days you’ll be taking an exam or giving a presentation.


5. Get cardio exercise


Not to look good at the beach, but to feel well :D Heart-pumping cardio exercise (circuit training, jogging, running, cycling, etc.) has numerous benefits: it relieves stress, improves heart and brain health, decreases fatigue and depression, and helps you sleep better. Aim to get at least three 30- to 60-minute sessions in per week. There’s a reason it’s called a “runner’s high.”


6. Be social


Living in isolation from others can take away from your health and well-being. Humans are meant to live in communities. It’s easy to forget that when you have readings, papers, and problem sets on problem sets due. Fit in a social activity once per day, whether that’s grabbing coffee or lunch with a friend, attending an event on campus, or calling a friend or family member. For introverts, this might feel like it’s impeding on your “me time,” but you’ll be grateful you took the time to connect with others on a regular basis during your college years.


7. Help others


Care for yourself by caring for others. Life has greater meaning and purpose when you take the focus off of yourself and bring joy to someone else. Share a word of encouragement with a friend, say hi to your neighbor, volunteer at a local charity, help a classmate who is struggling in class, listen to a friend who is having a hard time, or cook dinner for your study group. Helping people will also improve your communication and leadership skills that will be valuable throughout your entire life.


8. Breathe mindfully


Practice one of the following techniques regularly. They’re also great for destressing in the moment.


9. Express gratitude


What are you grateful for? Expressing gratitude through your thoughts or a journal is scientifically proven to improve physical and psychological health, reduce aggression, improve sleep quality and self-esteem, and increase mental strength and resilience. Even during a challenging season of life, you can always find something to be grateful for, even if it’s really small. Need some inspiration? Check out this list of 100 things to be grateful for.


10. Spend time in nature


Restore your mind, body, and spirit by spending time in nature. Go for a walk or bike ride, take in the characteristics of the seasons, and breathe in the fresh air. Don’t have access to a park nearby? Buy a few small plants and spend time tending to them.


Incorporating these self-care tips into your daily and weekly schedules will help you live a balanced life, which will help you put your best foot forward in college. Remember, it takes time for changes to your routine to become a habit. Learning about and practicing self-care is a lifelong pursuit.


Did you find the info above helpful? Have additional questions?
Let us know in the comments below!

Can’t Focus at College? 5 Ways to Get Back on Track


I have SO MUCH STUFF going on between home and college, and I’m having a hard time focusing on my studies.

When I get to the library and sit down to study, I THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING BUT MY COURSEWORK. When I walk across campus, instead of mentally preparing for my next class, I think about things that are bothering me.

I feel like I’m drowning in my thoughts, and I’m worried it’s going to affect how well I do this semester. What do I do?


“Where focus goes, energy flows.” - Tony Robbins

Most college students have a hard time staying focused at one point or another, but it can be especially hard for students who are the first in their family to go to college or from limited-income backgrounds. Things going on at home might need your attention, or you might think they need your attention. On campus, maybe you’re stressed about an upcoming exam, finding a job, weekend plans, or who you’ll sit with at lunch.

There are hundreds of things that could take your attention away from your studies, but

Maintaining focus is a prerequisite for achieving your goals. When you lose focus, you lose the energy you need to nurture the momentum that will get you there.


What ifs, should haves, worries, fears, and negative self-talk are enemies of your goals. Ruminating on them is not only tiring, but it robs you of your focus.

The following tips are guaranteed to help you get a handle on your thoughts, renew your focus, and get back to your studies and #lifegoals.


5 ways to get focused and back to work:

1. Recognize that focus is a choice

Focus is a choice that you have to actively make day in and day out. Most of the time, it’s not going to happen naturally. Even if you wake up feeling focused and ready to concentrate on your work on Monday, there’s no guarantee you’ll wake up feeling the same way on Tuesday. Not to mention, you never know what could come your way midday. This means you have to decide to focus. Then, you have to make that decision over and over and over again. Water your decision on a regular basis and watch your focus grow.


2. Tap into the WHY behind your long-term goals

Think about what you want to achieve over the course of your life. Take a few minutes to run through this exercise: (1) Visualize your most important goal, (2) Think about why it’s important for you to achieve that goal, how you’ll feel once you get there, and how you’d feel if you didn’t make it. Tapping into the emotions behind long-term goals will give you the focus you need to surpass many of the challenges you encounter. Plan to run through this process on a daily basis for at least three - five minutes.


3. Get out of your head

When your thoughts are running a mile per minute, you can stop them in their tracks by getting out of your head and into your body. Exercise is a great way to get oxygen and feel good hormones flowing. For best results, go for 30-60 minutes of heart-pumping cardio at your campus gym, outdoors, or complete a workout on YouTube. A walk is another good option, even better if you incorporate a walking mindfulness meditation. If you’re in the library or a tight space (e.g., your dorm room and the weather is terrible), do some jumping jacks, stretch, or walk around a bit. The mind-body connection is real.


4. Come back to the present moment

Often when we can’t focus, we’re not truly in the present moment: we’re stuck in the past or anticipating what might happen in the future. Where are you right now? That’s where you need to be. Get there by taking a few minutes to center yourself. On a piece of paper or in a journal, write down a description of your environment, what you want to focus on, and why it’s important. Or, close your eyes and focus on your breath, noticing each inhale and exhale. Bringing awareness to your breath for as little as 15 seconds will bring you back to the present.


5. Take action right now

It’s easy to tell yourself “I can’t focus” as an excuse for not getting work done. Change your thought patterns now by getting started on the task at hand. Make mini goals in 5-minute increments. Start with easy tasks like opening your book, reviewing your notes, or taking a look at project instructions, then transition to 5-minute increments where you’re actually doing work. Once you start, you’ll find it’s not as hard as you thought it would be to get into a groove.


Kori Crockett
CEO, Propeller Collective

Have other tips for getting focused?
Share with the community in the comments below!


"Am I Supposed To Be Here?" When You Feel Like An Impostor On Campus…


Everyone here seems smarter than me, and they’re so confident.

Did my university make a mistake?

Maybe they meant to send my acceptance letter to another person with the same name.

Did I just get lucky?

Maybe I’m fulfilling the university’s diversity quota.


Am I really [good / smart / confident] enough to be a student here?

As a college student, thoughts like these are not uncommon, especially in your first couple of years. For students who are the first in their family to go to college or from limited-income backgrounds, thoughts like these can seem particularly alienating. Am I the only one who feels this way? The answer is no!


There’s actually a name for feeling this kind of self-doubt. It’s called the imposter experience, or impostor syndrome, and it’s defined as “a false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill” [1]. About 80 percent of people have the imposter experience at some point in their lives, according to social psychologist Amy Cuddy [2], which means you’re definitely not the only one who feels this way.

In this article, we run through five strategies you can use to get back on your feet.


How to overcome feeling like an impostor on campus:

1. Acknowledge Your Feelings

The first step in working through a challenge like this is to gain a full understanding of your feelings and why you’re experiencing them. It’s easy to dismiss feeling like an imposter as a fact (“I’m not as smart as my classmates”), rather than digging into the details. Take a minute to ask yourself why you feel this way and to reflect on the facts. You might think to yourself, “I’m not as smart as my classmates because [insert explanation here: my high school was terrible, I haven’t studied anthropology before, etc.],” but remember that you were accepted to college based on real measures of your past performance: academic scores, test scores, extracurriculars, community service, and past work experience. The facts don’t lie; you already passed the bar.


2. Remember What You’ve Already Accomplished in Life

Think back to your past performance. How did you get to where you are today? Reflect on your success and own it. Chances are, your greatest achievements were also some of the hardest to overcome. You might have doubted your ability to accomplish a particular task or goal when you first started, but you did it. By the end, you felt on top of the world. What strategies and values helped you get there? These are the same strategies and values that will serve you well as a college student.


3. Don’t Compare, Connect

When you find that little voice inside your head comparing you to that fellow classmate across the room, I hope you remember these three words: don’t compare, connect.
— Dean Michael D. Smith, Harvard College

It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to classmates. You might think to yourself, “WOW, that person… 
...dresses like they just came from a photoshoot.”
...speaks so well.” so well-traveled.”
...already started a nonprofit organization.”
…[insert other amazing feat here].”

Your brain might follow that up with, “MAN, I…
...dress like a slob.”
...speak like a mouse.”
...have never been to another state, let alone another country.”
...didn’t even do all my homework in high school.”
…[insert other potentially embarrassing thing here].”

Comparing yourself to others can cause you to feel bad about yourself and your accomplishments. What many students don’t realize in that moment: often times, the classmate they’re comparing themselves to has had similar thoughts, either in this class or another class. It’s human nature, and it’s not limited to students who are the first in their family to go to college or from limited-income backgrounds.

Comparing yourself to classmates can also make you hesitant to talk to those individuals you put on a pedestal. However, one of the greatest opportunities that college brings is the ability to connect with fellow students from diverse backgrounds. Take time to say hi, connect over something in the class (“Did you see the salad in Professor X’s teeth?!”), ask them what they’re studying or what they like to do for fun. You may be surprised to find you have more in common with them than you thought. In the words of Michael D. Smith, “Don’t compare, connect” [3].

Finally, if you feel like some of your comparisons are directly related to being the first in your family to go to college or from a limited-income background, remember that you’re not the only one with a background like yours and that other first generation college students on campus may feel the same way. It can be beneficial to talk through your feelings with friends on campus who come from backgrounds like yours to know that you’re not alone. 

Don’t know other first generation or limited-income college students on your campus? Join the Propeller Collective Community, a private Facebook group.

4. See the Challenge as an Opportunity

Things on campus that didn’t seem like a big deal before can start to feel threatening when you experience doubt about your abilities. Understand that you might have a harder time asking for help when you need it or experience a stronger desire to strive for perfection. However, this is an opportunity for you to continue improving your skills and understanding of yourself. Recall point #2 above: based on what you’ve already accomplished in life, you already have the tools you need to take this new challenge head on.


5. Be Thankful for Where You’ve Been and Where You’re Going

Expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to overcome negative thoughts like those that come with self-doubt. Take a couple minutes to reflect on what you’re grateful for, write it down, and think about why you’re grateful for that particular thing or experience. You can do this right in the moment when you start to feel negative feelings creep up to keep negative thoughts at bay. Doing it on a regular basis first thing in the morning or right before bed is also a great way to start or end your day on a positive note.


Kori Crockett
CEO, Propeller Collective

Have other tips about how to get over feeling like an impostor on campus?
Share in the comments below.


De-Stress with Mindfulness


College can be stressful at times, even more so as a first gen or limited-income college student. It can be a challenge to stay on top of every aspect of your life.

Heather, a mindfulness facilitator and certified yoga instructor, will take you through a mindful breathing and visualization exercise so you can become more present in the moment. Take this opportunity to de-stress and relax. ⛱

After watching, you’ll be able to take on college with increased determination and a calmer mindset. 💪  🌈  😎