3rd Year Psych

My uni experience – the people I couldn’t do without

I’m almost at the end of my undergrad degree – all coursework and exams are finished, now it’s just a matter of time until results are released and I get to graduate.  When I decided to do this as a mature age student, 4 years ago, I had no idea what I was in for.

I look back on how I thought and felt over the years, particularly the earlier years, and in hindsight, I can see that I was arrogant.  Yes, I expected to learn new concepts, but I didn’t expect to change as a person.  I thought at the age of 27 I was a very well developed person.  I had a career, a house, and a husband.  But I didn’t have confidence in myself, and I didn’t have direction.

Since studying, I have so much conviction in what I think and do, and a clear purpose in life.  Not just when it comes to psychology, but even things like health and fitness, and continuing to try new things and grow.  I’ve come to accept that I experience a certain level of fear and uncertainty, but that when I push through, I can do incredible things.  Like public speaking, train and develop large rooms of semi-strangers, and go out of my comfort zone to do new activities like boxing and capoeira.

I still have moments of self-doubt, but the more examples I have of overcoming these, the easier it gets.  So as I’m approaching the end, I feel a sense of joy and excitement.  I’m happy in the knowledge that I made it.  I survived, and not only that, I exceeded all of my expectations.

To be honest, I never imagined I would have the opportunity to go to uni, let alone do so well. I’ve lived out of home since I was about 18-19 and learned the hard way that you can’t count on people to help you in life, not even family. It’s really up to you to succeed.  Despite this cynical mentality (and the barriers I’ve put up as a result), I’ve had support from multiple people and honestly couldn’t have achieved this without them.

First up, my best friend Ness, who somehow manages to know my most secret and strongest wishes, never once stopped asking me why I wouldn’t consider studying psychology. She had faith in me when I needed it most.

Secondly, and to my ongoing surprise, I’ve had a series of amazingly supportive managers. Because of them, I’ve not only managed to keep working productively, but I’ve grown, developed in the role and had some incredible opportunities over the years. And because of them, I am always truly happy to work there, even though it hasn’t always been related to my degree.

Along the way, I kept myself separate of the other uni students.  I just didn’t feel like I had much in common with them, being an adult and having all the responsibilities that come along with that.  But to my surprise, I found some genuinely lovely people who had the same drive to succeed as I do.  I also encountered some inspirational and motivating lecturers and tutors, who kept my interest alive.

And finally, I can’t put into words the amount of support I’ve received from my husband…but I’ll try. He has been there for me every single step of the way. Early mornings, late nights, deadlines, cancelling social events, cramming for exams, tears over grades, outrage over perceived unfairness, he’s been there for it all and hasn’t complained once. I went from providing a full time income to 40-60% of my salary, and he did not mind in the slightest. Partway through my 2nd year I floated the idea of applying for honours (so… not returning to full-time work anytime soon) and he’s backed me 100%. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I do know that that’s what love is – being completely and utterly invested in the success of another person.  Along with him, comes his family. More people to talk to and share this journey with.

So yeah, I used to think I had to do everything by myself but somehow, somewhere, I found some incredible people to help me.

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Fitness Goals & Mental Imagery Reflection

My week of exercising, sticking to my meal plan and using mental imagery to motivate myself is now over.  I mentioned before that I did this as an activity for one of my uni classes, so here is the reflection I wrote afterwards.


For successful goal setting, Grant and Leigh (2011) suggest pursuing goals that align with your values as this increases likelihood of success.  One of my key values is self-improvement; I believe in continuously finding opportunities to improve, and working towards self-actualisation.  This is why I started to exercise two years ago – to improve emotional and physical wellbeing.  Holmes and Mathews (2010) contend that mental imagery (MI) is particularly effective at activating brain regions associated with emotion, so I was really excited to try it.

What it was like to practice imagining – how easy was it to control your images? How clear/vivid were your images? Did it get any easier/better with practice? What obstacles did you become more aware of? What new options did you discover?

My goal is to increase muscle definition, and reduce another 2-3 kg in the next 3 months.  However, I’m currently experiencing a plateau, which I’m hoping can be aided with MI.

Since returning from overseas in June, I’ve only been going about 3-4 times per week, and I can’t seem to find the motivation to resume 5-6 workouts weekly. I also haven’t been planning my meals carefully, so I haven’t felt in control.

I envisioned how I would like to look and feel by January.  I used MI techniques from this week’s audio file, visualisation from the Real Simple website (Rodriguez, n.d.), and tips from an article (Roffey, 2013) from my gym (which coincidently referenced Lydia). I created a list of daily exercise and food goals, and from this, a clear plan (see attachment in last post).

I started MI in the mornings, but realised quickly I was often rushed and distracted, so I changed to later at night and easily incorporated it into my evening routine.  My images were vivid and clear, but an obstacle was if I was falling asleep other images would also intrude e.g. a day at work, getting into honours, etc.  It wasn’t bad necessarily, because the theme remained the same – full of optimism and hope, however it detracted from my fitness objectives.  By practicing earlier at night, I was able to stay better focused on my goals.  I found a great guide designed for swimmers, that I used before going to bed (EAC Gators, n.d.).

How this practice affected your hope and optimism (and ultimately PWB)? Or for that matter, self–‐ confidence (aka self–‐efficacy)? You might like to discuss this relative to your score on the Optimism Test (online at http://www.authentichappiness.org)

The test indicated that when it comes to bad events, both in terms of permanence and pervasiveness, I’m optimistic.  I attribute bad things based on the situation.  With good events, I do the same – I believe they can be situational and isolated instances, overall, this gave a slightly hopeless result.  If optimism and pessimism were a spectrum, I believe I’m in the middle, a realist.  I believe successes are due to hard work – nothing to do with me being smart or dumb, but that I applied myself well in that given situation.

How successful were you following through on your (daily) goal? What was that like?

With my weekly plan, plus visualisation, I felt more optimistic about achieving success.  I didn’t achieve 100%, but I was pleased with the outcome.  6 out of 7 days, I achieved my food plan, and I did 5 out of 6 planned workouts.  I slipped when there were logistical issues (i.e. getting timing wrong), but I’ve made another plan for next week, and included more flexibility.

What else did you learn from the process?

It’s tempting to use one failure as an excuse to give up entirely, but I have to cut myself some slack and use these opportunities to reassess the plan, and find ways to reduce the risk of failure.

References

EAC Gators. (n.d). Mental Imagery.  Retrieved from http://www.eacgators.com/imagery.pdf

Grant, A. M. & Leigh, A. (2011). 8 Steps To Happiness: An Everyday Handbook. Melbourne, VIC: Victory Books.

Holmes, E. A. & Mathews, A. (2010). Mental imagery in emotion and emotional disorders. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(1), 349-362. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.001

Rodriguez, T. (n.d.). 3 Easy Visualization Techniques. Real Simple. Retrieved from http://www.realsimple.com/health/mind-mood/emotional-health/visualization-techniques

Roffey, C. (2013). Train your brain with mental imagery. Fernwood Fitness. Retrieved from http://www.fernwoodfitness.com.au/weight-loss—exercise/well-being/train-your-brain-with-mental-imagery/

Mental Imagery and Goal Setting

Ah, another week, another random task I have to do for my Happiness & Positive Psychology class.  I’m really enjoying it – I have this natural instinct to always want to try something new and this class is meeting that need.

This week the focus is on hope, optimism and mental imagery.

I’ll do a proper reflection later on, but basically I’ve set myself daily food and exercise goals for the week and I’m going to be using mental imagery to imagine success (both short term and long term).

The goal for the week is as follows.  It’s not super healthy, but if I can stick to it, then I’ll be happy.  My goal is baby steps – if I can keep doing something like this for more than a few weeks, then I might start thinking of proper fitness meal prep.

Wish me luck. 🙂

Exercise and Food Plan

Biological and Cognitive Aspects of Depression

It’s mid semester break, and I’m meant to be catching up on all of my readings for my subjects, but it’s tough.  One of my subjects, Psychopathology and Models of Intervention requires 6-8 hours of reading per week (with 6 weeks worth of reading so far) and I can’t seem to stay focused for that long and retain the knowledge.

All week I’ve been trying to wade through the readings on depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, suicide and schizophrenia.  It’s rather bleak, and every now and then I’ve had to take breaks to go out in the sunshine and workout at the gym.

But I figure another good way to procrastinate… I mean.. get perspective, is to share some information here.  So here are some things I’ve learned about depression.

Cognitive Aspects

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that depression is as a result of cognitive processes – so the way we think and perceive the world.

A precursor to depression is a tendency to think negatively about life, and to interpret daily events in a negative manner e.g. imagining the worst in every situation.  As this occurs more and more often, it starts to become a  negative schema .  A schema is a framework or template of thoughts, opinions, values, ideas, etc. that allow us to interpret situations quicker.  So if we have a an unpleasant upbringing, or experience a lot of negative events, over time we might develop a negative schema about ourselves, other people or the world around us.

When this negative self talk is coupled with the belief that we’re a failure and that there’s no hope for improvement, we can fall into the trap of learned helplessness.  The theory of learned helplessness has been observed in animals as well as people who (through experience) perceive they have no control over their lives.  So animals that are punished for no reason, at unknown times, without any opportunity to improve their situation have been found to just give up.  The same has been found in people – if they feel that the bad things will happen to them irrespective of what they do, they lose hope.

So although this wasn’t covered in the textbook – the key thing I took away from this is that, coupled with neural plasticity (the theory that our brain continues to develop throughout life, new connections between neurons form and existing ones strengthen as a result of our experiences and thought processes), it is important to build positive schemas and consciously stop yourself ruminating negatively.

Studies mentioned in my textbook (Alloy & Abramson, 2006; Alloy, Abramson, Safford, & Gibb, 2006; Abela & Skitch, 2007; Haeffel & Hames, 2013) demonstrated that people with negative schemas (i.e. dysfunctional attitudes_ are 12 times more likely to suffer a depressive episode than those who have a more positive or realistic attitude, and this poor cognitive bias is contagious – if you live with someone who thinks negatively, it is likely to rub off.

Biological Aspects

Okay so there are actually a lot of biological factors involved in depression and mood disorders (including genetics, hormones and the endocrine system), but I’m sharing this one because it was news to me and it fits in with my strongly held belief that exercise is good for mental health.

Depression is linked with high levels of cortisol, which is called the stress hormone (it is released during stressful situations, so fight/flight, and alongside this our autonomic nervous system prepares us to respond, and our immune system is dampened).  High levels of cortisol for long periods of time has been found to cause a reduction in volume of the hippocampus.  A smaller hippocampus region has been found in people suffering from depression and those at higher risk of having a depressive episode.

The key thing is…

  • Some studies have found that the effects might be able to be reversed by increasing the volume of the hippocampus.
  • One way of increasing volume of the hippocampus found in experiments with rats is exercise.

What makes me sad is that this is a catch 22 – side effects of depression include fatigue and learned helplessness, so it’s unlikely people suffering from depression will actually become active.  But I think if therapists combine CBT (cognitve behavioural therapy – helping clients change their schemas) alongside physical activity, it would be hugely beneficial.

Every psychology student knows that you have to take a holisitic view when helping people, (i.e. consider the biological, social and psychological factors), but I wonder how therapists can help clients get physically active when therapy is restricted to the clinician’s room.

Reference:

Barlow, D. H., Durand, V. M., & Stewart, S. H. (2014). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach. Toronto: Nelson Education

Gratitude #5

Woo! Last day of writing a gratitude list for uni!

Firstly, a reflection.  Writing a list every day has been a bit annoying and time consuming, but I think it’s really made this week more enjoyable.  This grey, wet weather has been getting me down, and I’ve been struggling with juggling uni, work and gym.  On top of that, Pete’s having a stressful time at work, so it would’ve been really easy to be unhappy, irritable or argumentative this week.

Instead, I’ve found myself exercising greater appreciation of the small things and by talking about it and sharing it with others, I feel like I’ve been able to spread the happiness.

Alongside gratitude, we also did some readings on savouring.  One reading in particular stood out, the author was a professor and he said he was going to be doing a speech to recognise some undergrad psych students for their academic achievements.  He told them to really savour the moment, to listen to every word in his speech, to congratulate themselves and allow a moment of self-pride and to share this moment with others if they could, either by taking family members along, by calling them afterwards or even writing a letter about the experience.

This really struck a chord with me, because I’m very much aware of the tall-poppy syndrome and know that it’s easier to not share success with others.  Because of this, I spent a moment reflecting on the fact that I might be graduating this year, and to fully appreciate the work that’s gone in to get this far.

While I was doing my reading, I got some great news from my boss.  Something I’ve been working on for the last 10 months has come to fruition, and will be resulting in success and recognition for my whole team.  My immediate response was to think, “I can do better!” and I had to stop and force myself to really savour the moment and congratulate myself.  And you know what…it feels really good!

Okay, now onto the list.

Gratitude List – Saturday 29/08/2015

I’m firstly grateful for my health and my body.  I know that I’m incredibly lucky to have my physical and mental health, and it serves me well every moment of every day.  I started the day with my usual Saturday morning gym session, and I noticed that I’m able to do tricep pushups really well – which is something I really struggled with in the beginning.  I felt very grateful to be whole, healthy and strong.

I’m grateful for the time Pete spends with me, and how much he cares about my interests.  I know some people tend to zone out when their partners talk about work or study, things that are considered boring.  But Pete always listens.  On Saturday morning I relayed to him what I’d learnt about depression – the subgroups, symptoms, comorbid factors, etc.  He listened to every word, added more information and asked questions.  It’s because of this supportive attitude that encourages me to do well in my studies.

I had a call from my dad, and again, I was grateful for his health.  Can’t wait to catch up with him in person sometime soon.

I know I’ve mentioned this already as well, but I’m so grateful for friendships.  Although I didn’t spend any time with friends yesterday (spent the vast majority of the day studying), I was reminded of them on a few lovely occasions.  Firstly, I put on my favourite pair of boots to go out to brunch, and the sole of one felt slippery.  I looked underneath, and found a picture of Jenny’s face, which immediately brought a smile to my face.

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For context – when Pete and I went to Korea, Jenny and her partner (also Peter) house-sat for us.  When they left, their parting gift was pictures of Jenny’s face in all sorts of random locations and we’ve been finding them ever since.  This one was great because it took 5 weeks to be found.  It’s like a treasure hunt in my own house.

Later in the day, I got a call from another friend.  One that I haven’t seen in a few months, and I’ve been missing her a lot.  We had a good chat and planned a catch up for tomorrow.

Lastly, I’m grateful for the mid semester break.  I really hope I can get on top of my readings in the next week, this semester is proving to be a lot tougher than I expected.  A week without classes is exactly what I need.

Gratitude #4

This week has been tough, so this gratitude list thing is starting to get difficult.  One more day to go!

Gratitude list for Fri 28/08/2015

  1. Being able to open the jam jar – I’m going to take small wins today, and seeing as there are about 3 jars in the fridge that I couldn’t open, I was pretty happy to open this last one.  I know the usual tricks – boiling water over the seal, or jamming a knife in underneath, but still – opening it with my own two hands is the most satisfying.
  2. Grey days – I’m definitely dying for summer to come back, I’m not at all a winter person, however I spent the day at home studying and it was really nice to look out at the grey day through the giant window in the lounge room.  The wind was sweeping the tree branches around, and the general feeling was quite cozy indoors.
  3. When grey days turn sunny – there was some sunshine in the afternoon that cheered me up considerably.  And the mornings are starting to lighten earlier and earlier, so I know the sunshine is just around the corner.
  4. My gym – I don’t know what I’d do without my gym.  It is the source of so happiness for me.  In the gym I find challenge and triumph.  Peace and quiet, plus loud music and instructors yelling.  I go through ups and downs, and right now I’m in a bit of a down – still struggling to get the routine I had pre-Korea, but every day I go is a day I spend full of endorphins and satisfaction.
  5. John Oliver – seeing John Oliver was great, and I got a really pleasant surprise with his opener – Celia Pacquola, she was fantastic.  Laughter is good for the health, and doing something fun with Pete after a difficult week was just what we needed.
  6. My work’s whatsapp chat (funny memes) – I’m so lucky to work with such a funny, close knit group.  Even on the days I’m not around, I get to see their hilarity in the group chat on my phone, and it always makes me happy.

Gratitude #3

Gratitude List Thu 27/08/2015

A full day at work means that a lot of these will be work related.

  1. Autonomy in the workplace – I’m working on a kind of difficult project at the moment, and came across a stumbling block.  I felt disheartened for a brief moment, but I have the time and autonomy at work to go away, think about it, come up with a solution and share it with colleagues.  While I don’t think I have the creativity to come up with new ideas on the spot, I appreciate the fact that my job suits my working style.
  2. My work shares the same values as me – I went to a 1.5 hour seminar on mental health run in the workplace by Beyond Blue.  The psychologist who ran it was a great public speaker, and integrated anecdotal stories as well as evidence and facts from the diagnostic statistical manual (DSM).  I was thankful that my work takes mental health seriously and that they disseminate credible knowledge.
  3. Good coffee baristas – The guys at the coffee shop nearby not only make great coffee, but they know how to pronounce and spell my name.  Small things, but very much appreciated.  After having so much trouble getting decent coffee in Korea, I’m still appreciating the coffee culture in Melbourne.
  4. My favourite band are going to play one last time together, although they stopped/retired a few years ago.  It doesn’t sound like much, but music is incredibly important in my life, and I’ve liked this particular band since I was 11 years old.  I can’t wait to see them one more time.
  5. Being dry when it is raining – lunch time was a bit miserable yesterday, walking around and getting half soaked in the rain.  So when it came to home time, I was dreading the walk across the city to Pete’s car.  As I was leaving the building, he called and said he was done with work and would be picking me up from my office.  The timing was perfect, and I’m thankful for the warm, dry drive home with great company.
  6. Amelia – I’m so grateful to have Mila in my life and I wish I could see her more.  My best friend’s daughter – 2 years old, about 2-3′ tall, is very cute, and adores Pete.  Yesterday he got a call from Mila, so when I heard about it later that day I got jealous and had to call her on the way home.  We didn’t talk much, but just hearing that voice was enough to make me happy.

Gratitude #2

Gratitude for Wed 27th August

1. My flexible workplace, where they work around whatever hours I need (I stayed at home and studied yesterday)

2. The privilege of going to uni – it’s not something I could afford when I was younger, and I know there must be many people in the same position

3. 3rd year content – the subjects I’m studying are finally very practical and I can see the long term benefits of studying them

4. Money – I’m very fortunate to live comfortably, and buy whatever we need without stressing about our budget. I try to share this by donating my time, money and effort wherever possible.

5. Our dishwasher – I still remember the time I lived alone without a dishwasher. Washing all the dishes by hand was a tedious waste of time.

6. My friends – even when I don’t see them often, I get messages and pictures sent throughout the day and they always make me happy.

7. Following on from number 6, I’m grateful for my phone and social media/chat apps – I love staying in touch with the people I care about.

8. My cat – it’s amazing how much happiness and well-being pets can bring. Before Pete came along, Missy was my only company at home for a long time. I’m grateful for her furry little face.

9. The ability to cook, access to my kitchen – for 5 weeks in Korea I didn’t have access to a kitchen, so now I’m very appreciative of the ability to cook. Last night I randomly decided to make crispy chicken tenders with a side salad and it was entirely within my control

10. Chocolate – I’ll be grateful for chocolate every day of the week 🙂

Capoeira continues

I’m writing this on my phone so I’ll be brief.

My second capoeira class was a  much better experience. It’s not that I improved, but I went in with a very different mindset.

In an unrelated class at uni, the topic for the week was mindfulness and I decided to apply it to capoeira.

Mindfulness is the act of focusing your thoughts on the present moment. Our natural tendency seems to be to think a hundred different thoughts per minute, so this can actually be quite challenging.

It was pretty obvious that during the first capoeira class I was 100% focused on my inner critic and riddled with self doubt, so this time I decided to ignore that voice. It was harder than it sounds, but I kept my attention entirely on doing the moves correctly. By the end of the class, I found I was really happy with my progress and had managed to keep up fairly easily with the others.

I’m going to give this a go again next class, fingers crossed it works. 🙂