CAPS Corner

Kristen AdamsKristen Adams is a U-M Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) counselor embedded at UMSN. She is available to provide undergraduate and graduate nursing students with short-term counseling to help address and overcome personal difficulties that interfere with academic and career objectives. Make an appointment at

Common concerns that CAPS helps with are: text anxiety, academic difficulties, stress, problems with relationships, self-esteem, insomnia, depression, substance use, suicidal thinking, sexuality and others. 

Kristen kicked off CAPS Corner in September 2018 to provide helpful information on different topics of importance to nursing students.



What even is normalcy? It is loosely defined as a state of what is routine or expected — "business as usual," if you will. But can normalcy be attained while we are still navigating the nuances of a surging global pandemic (among several other tragic things happening in our world right now)? The answer is unknown, though, it may be safe to say that “normalcy” may need to shift from “what was” to “what is.” That being said, we as a community are able to work toward knitting together our new sense of normalcy. This takes into account the trauma that we have endured, our constantly changing environment and newly emerged unique needs. 

Acknowledging our experience

We have all been navigating a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime event these past 18 months. With that has come much change, grief and loss, and plenty of fear and uncertainty. While some spaces have been intentional around acknowledging that pain, others have not. Please take a moment to recount all that you have been through this past year and a half, how life is demonstrably different from times before COVID, and the ways in which you have had to make change to adapt to an ever-evolving environment. 

Reflecting on our experiences

What have these experiences been like for us? In what ways have we been impacted? Do I feel differently than I did before, and if so, in what ways has that changed my behaviors and/or my outlook on life? It is important to deepen our understanding of the experiences we have just come to acknowledge. By building a narrative around our felt, emotional and subjective experiences, we are better able to understand its overarching meaning and how to integrate it into our lives moving forward.

Redefining what it means to move forward

Throughout the past year and a half, it has been normal to ask all of the big existential questions — all of the “whys,” if you will. From that, our experiences, our connections with others, our values and principles can all help us in moving forward toward a way of living that feels congruent with who we are, what we want and what we stand for. Work on identifying the aspects of life that resonate with you most and make decisions that bring you closer to those values each day.

Recovering from continuous challenge

Be sure to continue to connect to the people, places, and things that were fulfilling to you before the pandemic struck. While we are currently in the midst of crafting this new sense of “normalcy,” that doesn’t mean that elements of yesterday shouldn’t be present in your world today. In order to cultivate a full life for yourself, it is important that we are connecting to what has historically been joyful for us while also potentially shifting the ways in which we now approach the world and how we prioritize different aspects of our lives.

The age-old question: Do grades matter? The answer: yes, but only so much. It is important to maintain passing grades in order to demonstrate mastery of the material and competency of clinical skills, of course. And straight A's do not necessarily equate to being a “better nurse.” While it can be easy to get caught up in striving for perfection as U-M is an institution that teaches students who are high achieving, and nursing is a particularly demanding discipline, it is important to focus on doing “good enough” for the sake of your patients, your well-being and your peace of mind.

What does “good/well enough” mean?

The idea of being “good enough” came from the early 20th century pediatrician/psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, in which he maintained that “good enough mothering” is when a mother is able to balance the multitude of needs that exist amongst her, the baby and other dynamics in their lives. It is a notion that we need not aim for perfection in all that we do, and rather aim to do “well enough” where all needs are met at the most basic level.

What does performing “well enough” look like academically?

Performing “well enough” means earning grades that are sufficient for passing your classes. This can be applied to exams, assignments, projects and clinicals. This means that mistakes are inevitable and they are experiences that we learn from. While it might mean C’s and B’s on your transcript (along with some A’s), it also means that there is a basic level of competency achieved in which there is a strong foundation built for growing in nursing skills and knowledge.

Does doing “good enough” mean that I am not trying?

Not necessarily. “Good enough” means that you are putting forth the best effort that you can given all of the unique aspects of your life that you are currently juggling. While school may take up a big portion of your life, it is not the only thing. As an individual, you may also be a friend, a partner, a child, a teammate, an employee, etc., in addition to a student. So, to devote all of your effort and energy to only one of those aspects, particularly academics in this case, is not fair to living your life as holistically as you can. Certainly always try your hardest and your best, and that might mean an 80% over a 100%.

So, you’re saying grades don’t matter?

Technically, no. As previously mentioned, they do matter. It’s PERFECT grades that do not matter. If you are looking for employment following graduation, many employers tend not to ask for your GPA and rather want to see your experiences and hear from your references. Should you wish to further your education, yes, grades are important, and again, many graduate schools are not looking for those who have a 4.0. Instead, they want to see a well-rounded, passionate and dedicated individual who is open to learning. 

Final thoughts

While the habit of striving for perfection may be hard to break, it is important to be patient and compassionate with yourself. Grades are not a reflection of you, your worth or your ability to be a “good nurse.” Instead, it is reflective of what effort you were able to put forth given the context of your life at the time. 

In recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb. 22-28, 2021) it is necessary to highlight the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement. Read below to learn what it is, why it is important and how to incorporate elements of it into your daily living in order to live as happy and healthy a life as you can!

What is the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement?

HAES was first conceived in the 1960s as part of The Fat Acceptance Movement and is currently promoted by the Association of Size Diversity and Health. It has gained traction in recent years as mainstream society is starting to shift its focus from body size and instead to body health. As such, we know there is no clinical evidence that denotes that weight or body mass are indicators of health. Therefore, HAES focuses on how to be healthy in any and all bodies. It promotes body size acceptance and inclusivity and incorporates principles of intuitive and judgment-free eating.

Why is HAES important?

HAES is an important movement as it pushes against the stigma associated with fatness and skinniness and instead places importance and value on health over size. It fosters body acceptance and encourages us to support all bodies and to thank ours for what it helps us do on a daily basis (e.g., getting us from place to place, allowing us to dance, etc.). In addition to opening us up to accept the bodies that we were given, HAES helps us connect with our bodies by eating when we are hungry, choosing foods that are nourishing and filling, engaging in movement and embracing the decisions we make without guilting or shaming ourselves. HAES operates under the notion that ALL BODIES can be healthy, ALL BODIES are worthy and ALL BODIES have value.

How do I integrate its principles into my life?

(Taken from the National Eating Disorders Association. Visit the website for more information on each principle.)

  1.  Accept your size
  2.  Trust yourself
  3.  Adopt healthy lifestyle habits
  4.  Find the joy in moving your body
  5.  Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full
  6.  Tailor your tastes so that you enjoy more nutritious foods
  7.  Embrace size diversity

Additional resources

Approaching an elongated winter break means there may be a higher likelihood that we are spending time away from friends, classmates and coworkers. Combine that with a global pandemic and approaching arctic temperatures, the feasibility of connecting with others in person is severely limited. Though we may enjoy being around our families, it is also important to take time for ourselves. A common concern that is expressed among the current generation is the discomfort, anxiety and difficulty that we encounter in being alone. Yes, it is true that it is essential for positive well-being and superior mental health that we connect with and cultivate relationships with others. And it is also necessary that we take time to exist independently of others and become more comfortable with being by ourselves.

Below is a list of thirteen tips on “How to be Alone,” written by Tyler Tervooren for Take in what Tervooren says and keep what fits for you, while ignoring what doesn’t. Additionally, consider adaptive ways you can integrate his advice into times of living during a global pandemic.

1. Understand you’re good enough all by yourself.

You’re a valuable person, and you don’t need the approval of anyone else for that to be true. When you’re alone, remind yourself that it’s because you choose to be. It really is a choice. It’s very easy to find someone to spend time with, but when you have high standards for the people you allow into your life, you’re telling yourself that you’re better off by yourself than with someone who isn’t a great fit for you.

2. Value others’ opinions, but value your own more.

Don’t ask for advice unless you truly need it. Instead, ask yourself for advice. If you knew the answer to the problem that you have, what would it be? That’s your answer. The more time you spend asking yourself for advice, the less you start to need input from others. When you trust yourself to solve problems, you become a much stronger and more confident person, and you take on challenges that you wouldn’t have felt capable of before.

3. Learn to be an observer.

I’ve always held the belief that if you aren’t able to take interest in something, it says more about you than whatever it is you find uninteresting. To truly enjoy being alone, learn to look at ordinary situations in new and unfamiliar ways. Go to the park and watch people play with their children or their dogs. Go to the grocery store and watch how people shop for their groceries. Everywhere you go, make an effort to understand the other people around you. Learning how people operate when they think no one is watching will make you feel more connected to them.

4. Close your eyes in a dark room and appreciate the silence.

The world is a busy place and, unless you take a moment to step away from it once in a while, it’s easy to forget how nice it is to simply sit alone and enjoy your own company. Take a moment and sit quietly in a dark room. Listen to everything that is not happening around you. You can learn a lot about yourself in the moments when you’re least occupied—the times when there is nothing to distract you from the thoughts and feelings you deny yourself during your busy days.

5. Learn how to talk to yourself.

They say it’s perfectly normal to talk to yourself; you’re only crazy if you talk back. Every single person has an inner voice that talks to them at all hours of all days, and getting to know that person and how to talk to them is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. When you fill your time with other people, it’s easier to ignore this voice, but when you’re alone, it’s your only company. This voice rubs off on you. It is you. The way that you talk to yourself when no one else is around will shape who you are in this world more than anything else. Just like you’d distance yourself from negative friends who bring you down, it’s just as important to distance yourself from a negative inner voice. When you’re alone, it can sometimes be hard to stay positive, but you must be kind to yourself.

6. Cherish every interaction.

Most people have to experience some type of tragedy before they begin to understand just how brief our time here is. You get but a few short trips around the sun, and then it’s over. Time alone is important. Time alone is beautiful. But so is time spent with others. There is no such thing as a boring person. There is no such thing as a boring situation. If you’re ever bored, it’s because you’re not paying attention. This is a problem with you, not with your surroundings. Take an interest in every person that comes into your life, even if for only a second. Listen closely to what they say. Watch carefully what they do. Try to understand them as a person. You’ll be better for it.

7. Rearrange your furniture.

When you’re alone, it’s easy to fall into a pattern. It’s easy to stagnate and feel as if things rarely change. And when you’re alone, this is true—things rarely do change unless you make a conscious effort to change them. The problem is that meaningful change is hard, and what’s hard rarely gets started. To keep things moving, you have to keep things fresh. And to keep things fresh, it’s best to look for small wins that can lead to bigger ones. Rearranging your furniture is meaningless by itself, but it brings new life to a dull routine, which is easy to fall prey to when you’re spending a lot of time alone.

8. Avoid mindless consumption.

When you’re alone, you have an incredible opportunity to think clearly about your life and the direction you want to take it. In a world that’s often filled with noise, you’ve been given quiet. This is a time to reaffirm the path that your life is on. Are you happy and fulfilled? Should you keep doing what you’re doing? Or, are you feeling unsatisfied? Should you change something? These are questions you can only answer when you take advantage of this gift of quiet.  If, instead, you fill your time with entertainment that you mindlessly consume—TV, movies, randomly surfing the web—it will be difficult to answer these questions. You can never devote enough attention to coming to a clear answer.

9. Create, create, create.

To create is one of the most important things you can do in your life. To create among a sea of people (or even just one person) vying for your attention is one of the most difficult things in life. When you’re alone, the only one stopping you from creating the art, the work, that you’re capable of is yourself. All excuses are gone. When you’re alone, you can lose yourself in your work. When you lose yourself in your work, you can be sure that you’re creating something truly meaningful. Your other option is to ignore that call to create and, instead, look for temporary comfort in things and people who will eventually leave you unfulfilled. Make use of your loneliness.

10. Make plans for the future, and pursue them immediately.

It’s almost impossible to feel good about your life if you don’t have some type of direction for it. When you meet someone, it’s usually quite easy to see if they have a handle on their life and are happy, or if they’re wandering without aim, looking for something to pursue. The purpose for your life doesn’t need to be complex or earth shattering. It doesn’t have to be big or overwhelming. It only needs to be present. Once it’s there, it gets much easier to make plans you can take action on. Pursue these plans immediately. Don’t put them off. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Perfect never comes, and the longer you wait, the harder it is to get started. Maybe you want to travel the world and understand different cultures. Maybe you want to build a massive stamp collection. It doesn’t matter what it is—pick something you enjoy and go after it. When you do this, two things happen. First, you gain a sense of confidence in yourself because you see that you’re capable of living on your own terms. Second, this confidence brings new and interesting people into your life. Being alone can be beautiful, but if you want to add people to your life, finding a purpose for your existence is the fastest way to do it.

11. Go to a movie alone.

Get used to doing things alone that society says is made for two. Go to a movie by yourself and enjoy the picture. Have a great dinner out all by yourself. Take yourself on dates, and learn to treat yourself well. This will be awkward at first. If you’re used to going out with others, you’ll wonder what you should do with yourself while you’re alone. Don’t try to hide from the discomfort. Accept it. And then laugh about it because, really, who the hell decided that you weren’t supposed to do these things alone? Besides, to truly enjoy these things with others, you have to learn to enjoy them alone first.

12. Pursue an impractical project.

When you work on a team, the pressure to conform is great. You always have to think about the others in your group and regularly make compromises so that the end result is acceptable to everyone. In my opinion, this is a terrible way to do something important and personally meaningful. When you’re alone, you’re free to pursue any kind of project you want in your life. You have the freedom to be completely selfish and make no compromises about what you do or how you do it. Take advantage of this freedom! An important part of life is doing things that look unwise or impractical to others. Do something that’s completely over your head. Start something that you don’t know how to finish. Think of the wildest thing you’ve ever wanted to do, then take one small step towards realizing it. If you’re afraid, understand that this doesn’t have to be your whole life. You can contain it to just a small part. In the piece of your life that you set aside, never, ever allow anyone else’s advice or opinions to direct how you work. This is something you do alone, for the benefit of no one but yourself.

13. Volunteer your time.

If you’re a hermit when you’re alone, find others that you can be alone around. A great way to do this—and to contribute something positive to the world—is to volunteer your time to a cause you believe in. Being alone and happy doesn’t mean sequestering yourself from the world. It means being confident enough to know that you can surround yourself with people, but not depend on them for your own happiness. And one good way to get started is to surround yourself with good people—the kind you’ll find when you give your time to a cause that’s important to you.

Fall 2020 is a semester unlike any other. This is the first time in our current history that we are navigating a global pandemic that is majorly impacting institutions of higher education and its people. Between hybrid learning, mandatory face coverings, physical distancing practices and canceled major events like tailgates and graduation, we are all learning to adjust. Please read ahead to understand the ways in which we as a collective are being impacted and what can be done to manage this adjustment as smoothly as possible.

Maintain a sense of normalcy and establish a routine: The alarm blares at 7 a.m.. It can feel tempting to turn it off and roll over to the other side. As time is currently relative and responsibilities are nebulous, it may be hard to feel as if the day holds meaning and purpose. Try to live your life as you would were there no pandemic present. Set a consistent bedtime and wakeup time, be sure you’re eating three meals per day, and schedule time for completing assignments, studying and relaxing.

Navigating online learning: If you ask me, online coursework is harder than in-person classes. It requires more preparation, reading and time to ask questions and tie up loose ends. While it may be nice to listen to lectures from the coziness of your own bed, it can be confusing to our internal systems. Create a schedule for when you actively engage in coursework, when you read, when you study and when you complete assignments. It is OK to create a loose outline and make adjustments to it as you go. Additionally, it may be helpful to establish a shared study/learning schedule with a classmate or two.

Connect with others: We need connection with others now more than ever. Life amid COVID-19 is lonely and isolating. While some of you may be living in a house of fifty, others may be assigned to a single with no roommates. Be sure to plan for quality time with friends from home, family members and new classmates or floormates. While the weather is good, take a stroll to enjoy some bubble tea or pizza. Connect with classmates to play “get to know you” games and other fun icebreakers. Whatever your style may be, be sure to connect, connect, connect!

Allow space for losses: Times are really difficult right now for everyone. College life as we know it has been drastically altered this year. Especially for people in their first year and for those who are graduating, this year may be particularly disappointing, as meeting people is more difficult and it is unclear whether or not there will be a commencement ceremony at all. While it is important to mourn the loss of things that we once never even questioned, it can feel overwhelming if we allow that grief to overtake us. Instead, make space for the emotions that accompany the grief and loss, and know that things will change and get better in time.

Tend to your mental health and wellness: Over the past six months, rates of mental illness have skyrocketed nationwide. Because life has changed drastically in such a short amount of time, it is more important than ever to take care of our mental and physical wellness. Carve out time to engage in a meditation practice, journal your experiences at the end of the day, set boundaries with others, and/or watch Netflix. The emotional labor involved in navigating this pandemic is extremely emotionally exhausting, so please don’t be surprised if you’re feeling more tired or glum each day. With that, be sure to take care of yourself and engage in meaningful and joyful practices.

These are hard and challenging times. Aim to find the bright spots in every day, and be patient with yourself and others. We will all get through this together!

Much in our collective lives has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person classes ended abruptly, commencement ceremonies postponed to an indefinite date, and we are relegated to living the majority of our lives in our homes, potentially states away from loved ones. This time is especially complicated for health care providers serving on the front lines. Some may be directly taking care of patients who are COVID positive, while others may wish to utilize their skills to do so but are unable for myriad reasons. Additionally, some may be nervous to work as a new nurse, nurse practitioner, tech or extern as we navigate a precarious health care landscape. In all, it is important that, regardless of our specific circumstances, we acknowledge that we as a collective are existing among the grief and trauma that is part and parcel of this generational milestone. Now, more than ever, with our new way of navigating life, it is essential that we engage in self-care throughout this time. Please find some tips that you can work to integrate into your lives as we move through this together.

Stay connected
Social distancing does not mean that we need to limit our social connections with others. Be sure to reach out to family and friends, maintaining a semblance of normalcy that existed before the pandemic. Plan for weekly coffee chats, Netflix viewing parties and Houseparty game nights. Impromptu, spur-of-the-moment connection is also encouraged. Perhaps go old school and pick up the phone or write a letter to be sent through the U.S. Postal Service! Regardless of the medium you choose, it is important to not remain isolated and to connect with others during a time when loneliness is at its peak.

Know when to disconnect
While social connection is immensely important now, forever and always, it can feel exhausting at times. Be mindful of the recent phenomenon known as “Zoom fatigue,” which is related to being engaged in a plethora of meetings held via teleconferencing software. Please be attuned to your personal needs and know when to take a break from FaceTime, Snapchat or TikTok in order to decompress and recharge. This also applies to news and the media. All the information presented to us can be overwhelming. Be sure to limit your intake to an amount that feels manageable — one where you are informed without feeling overwhelmed.

Establish structure/routine
It is always important and necessary to follow a basic routine in support of our mental, physical and spiritual health. Nowadays, this is especially difficult as we are often fatigued with the exhaustion of navigating uncertain times. It is helpful for us to maintain some control over what we can. With that said, establishing a healthy sleep schedule, choosing nourishing foods and getting in moments of movement throughout the day is essential. Additionally, adding in time for journaling, meditation or prayer is equally as important in order to maintain some grounding and consistency.

Try something new
Having an established routine or structure of sorts is integral to our wellness throughout this time. Though, with many limitations set in place, it can feel monotonous at times. Therefore, it may be in our best interest to try out a new hobby or activity. Perhaps now is the time to order the embroidery kit you’ve been eyeing, or take up Pilates, learning from the multitude of YouTube trainers basking in their fifteen minutes of fame. Whatever it is, be it virtually touring aquariums across the globe or cultivating your green thumb, be sure to try something new that feels both fulfilling and exciting.

Maintain hope
Surely, this may be one of the more difficult tasks on this list, albeit just as important as the others. Recognize that this is the current state of the world, and unfortunately there is not much we can do about it outside of public health measures that are already being emphasized. Reassure yourself that this will eventually come to an end, in time. And while we wait and continue practicing guidelines proposed by leading experts in the field, it is necessary that we live in the moment, honoring the areas that we are privileged and grateful for while simultaneously acknowledging the difficulties and losses we are experiencing. There is always something reassuring about knowing that we are all in this together.

Trauma infographic

NICABM strategies infographic

Whether this is your twentieth or your first Michigan winter, it is no surprise to anyone that it is cold, icy, and dreary. Trudging through feet of snow on your way to morning clinicals, being blasted with bone-chilling winds upon leaving your late-night study sessions, and forgetting what the sun looks and feels like can leave a lot of people feeling down. While not everyone experiences seasonal affective disorder, many do notice a shift in their mood, energy, and physical wellness.

What are the winter blues?

The winter blues consists of a set of symptoms that often present themselves during the winter months (approx. Oct-April) when it is darker and colder out. They tend to manifest through emotional, psychological, physical, and social ways. Some common experiences include:

  •          sleep disruptions (e.g. sleeping more or less than usual)
  •          sluggishness, lethargy
  •          decreased motivation
  •          feeling less social than usual
  •          “gloomy” mood

Why do I experience the winter blues?

The main reason for the winter blues is due to the decreasing amount of time the sun is present, which equates to darker days and earlier nights. As a result, individuals may experience a dip in serotonin and melatonin levels, which are neurotransmitters and hormones that regulate mood and sleep, respectively. Additionally, this can lead to disruptions in a person’s circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock), which helps control sleep-wake cycles.

How do I work to ease the winter blues?

It’s true that we have no immediate control over the weather around us. Instead, we can work to take active measures to keep ourselves as healthy as possible during the long-stretch of arctic temperatures and cloudy skies. Here are some tangible steps you can work toward integrating into your everyday routines:

  1. Exercise: movement helps improve mood and mental functioning
  2. Make healthy food decisions: while alright to eat refined carbs (e.g. pizza) in moderation, they can lead to increased sluggishness. Try to opt for more frequent complex carb (e.g. broccoli, lentils) consumption as they take longer to digest and don’t cause sudden spikes in blood sugar
  3. Create a sleep routine: this will help create consistency for your circadian-rhythm, which will help alleviate a decrease in energy
  4. Get outside: while this may seem counter-intuitive as we might wish to avoid the cold; it is important to get fresh air into our lungs and absorb (what little) vitamin D the sun is giving off
  5. Light therapy: a full-spectrum light box can help regulate your body’s circadian rhythm and help release serotonin and melatonin. Check out smaller light boxes on Amazon or visit one of UM’s CAPS’s Wellness Zones to sit in front of a large one.
  6. Have fun: it is important for us to keep as much consistency as we can in order to help with our mood and energy. Connect with friends, travel somewhere exciting, have a movie viewing party, or create a spa day

What if it feels like it’s more than just the winter blues?

If you are noticing that you (or someone else) are:

  • experiencing depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • have a loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy
  • withdrawing or isolating from family/friends
  • struggling to focus or perform at school/work
  • feeling constantly fatigued and lethargic
  • feeling hopeless about the future
  • having suicidal thoughts

it may be indicative of the presence of seasonal affective disorder. If this is the case, it would be helpful to consult with a professional. CAPS and/or UHS can help you discern whether your experience might necessitate something in addition to the six strategies listed above.

In the meantime, strap on your snowshoes and enjoy the crisp winter air! 

Learn how mindfulness can benefit you and find tips on how to practice it yourself with this helpful handout from Counseling and Psychological Services.

What does it mean to identify as a first-generation college student?

The term “first-generation college student” has received a lot of attention over the past decade, and yet, many are unaware of what that might mean, entail, and how it can impact a college student’s experience.

Identifying as a first-generation college student means that you are of the first generation in your immediate family to attend a 4-year college/university. According to the U.S. Department of Education, a first-generation college student (first-gen for short) is identified as someone whose parent’s highest level of education is that of high school or less. Those who have parents who received a post-secondary degree in another country, or only a 2-year degree are also identified as first-gen.

It is important to note that first-gen students present in all shapes and sizes. Some may come from a high-financial need background, have grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins who have attended college, identify as a person of color, received college counseling in high school, and/or have parents who completed some college; and some may not identify with any of these. While first-gen college students include a diverse mix of individuals, it can be helpful to speak to some of the overarching experiences that they might share.

Some challenges associated with being first-gen can include: difficulty navigating academics in a new and nuanced way, experiencing financial instability, encountering mental health stressors, difficulty adjusting and transitioning to college, navigating campus and the higher education process, having family expectations and pressures placed upon you, and feeling as if you may be leaving family and friends behind. Learning an entirely new system and environment can be taxing. Not only is there the potential strain of needing to work, learning a new “language” that is unique to the culture of higher education, and navigating the difficulty of family not understanding your experience; you are also expected to study for hours on end, complete challenging clinical rotations, and have an extracurricular and social life to boot!

Fear not, though! While identifying as first-gen can sure have its challenges, it has its unique strengths as well. Typically, first-gen students are resilient and bounce back quickly in the face of adversity. Additionally, they can be extremely adaptable and learn quickly, benefiting them throughout their adult life. With support, mentorship, and guidance, they can excel and supersede in the work that they do.

Some of you who don’t identify as first-gen may be asking what relevance this has for you. It is likely that some of your friends and classmates identify as a first-gen student. As such, it can be helpful to be a source of understanding by hearing about their experiences in an empathically curious way, while collaborating on how you can be a support for them.

About 13% of UM students, with approximately 15% of UMSN students, identify as first-gen. There are plenty of opportunities for first-gen students to get involved in first-gen activities and endeavors while gaining support from each other and from other departments/entities on campus. Please visit for more information.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Awareness Month - October

October is Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Awareness Month. This month, we’ll take a look at what IPV is, its prevalence, signs, impact, and resources.

What is Intimate Partner Violence?

IPV is violence that occurs when physical, sexual, and/or psychological harm is caused by a former or current partner. It can occur amongst all genders and sexual orientations. It includes:

  • Physical violence (e.g. hitting, strangling, shaking, restraining)
  • Sexual violence (e.g. attempted or actual sexual contact when one partner is unwilling or unable to consent [as in, affected my alcohol/substances, illness])
  • Threats of physical or sexual abuse (e.g. causing fear through words, actions, weapons)
  • Psychological/emotional abuse (e.g. bullying, isolating, controlling)
  • Stalking (e.g. following, harassing, or unwanted contact that elicits fear)
  • Coercive control (e.g. exploitation, deprivation of freedoms, intimidation)

Power and Control Physical Violence Wheel


According to the American Psychological Association (APA):

  • More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Women with disabilities have a 40% greater risk of IPV, especially severe violence, than women without disabilities.
  • 1 in 5 female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
  • IPV is the leading cause of female homicides and injury-related deaths during pregnancy.


Some characteristics of a partner that is engaging in IPV can include:

  • Acting jealous and possessive
  • Exhibiting controlling behavior (e.g. being bossy, giving orders, making all the decisions)
  • Being frightening and causing worry about reactions to things said or done
  • Blaming the partner for their own mistreatment
  • Not accepting responsibility for their actions
  • Pressuring a partner for sex, or being forceful/threatening about sex
  • Unpredictable mood swings with a history of fighting, mistreatment of others, or cruelty
  • Having a history of tumultuous relationships and blaming the other partner
  • Misuse of alcohol and/or other drugs and blaming behavior on substances


The consequences of IPV do not just affect the person being abused. It is also a societal and public health concern. Some consequences (for both the abuser and society) include:

  • Physical injury (e.g. cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, reproductive, musculoskeletal, etc.)
  • Mental health concerns (e.g. depression, PTSD)
  • Homicide
  • Suicide
  • Child maltreatment (e.g. exposure to abuse, neglect, physical/psychological harm)
  • Economic costs (e.g. medical and criminal justice costs)
  • Lost productivity from paid work
  • Property damage or loss


IPV is both preventable and survivable. There are many resources available to those who might be affected. At U-M, both Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS – and The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC – are two departments that can help provide resources to those impacted by IPV.

For further reading on IPV, its causes, signs, impact, and additional resources, please visit:


The Importance of Self-Care

Self-care is certainly a buzzword these days—and for good reason! Self-care as a practice was born in the medical field during the late 1960s, catching momentum into the early 1970s. It was (and is) used by healthcare professionals to help provide a sense of autonomous care for patients who were often elderly and/or quite ill. This momentum forced its way into academia, in which individuals employed in emotionally-heightened professions (e.g. social workers, EMTs, nurses, etc.) were encouraged to engage in self-care under the notion that “one cannot adequately take on the concerns of others without taking care of themselves first”.

While the concept of self-care has been steadily making its way into mainstream American culture since its inception, it is important to demystify what exactly self-care is. Essentially, self-care is an activity that we deliberately engage in, in an effort to take care of our physical, mental, and emotional health. Such an activity is defined by the person choosing to engage in self-care. Therefore, for one person, self-care may be saying “no” to an invitation to a party, while to another person it may mean saying “yes”. Whatever the self-care activity is, it is important that we choose to engage in it as a way to live in accordance with our values and to promote positive wellbeing. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

It is important to note that self-care is neither selfish nor indulgent. While it does often mean that we are taking time out of the day to take care of ourselves, whether by taking a stroll through the Arb, enjoying a long, hot shower, or watching a third episode of Friends; these are intentional undertakings that help refuel our soul in an effort to make us more available to those around us.

Some helpful tips to living a balanced life via self-care, include:

  • Stick to the basics: engaging in healthy eating, consistent exercise, and plentiful sleep provide us with the foundation we need to implement more original forms of self-care activities into our lives.
  • Self-care is something that needs to be actively planned: over time, you will find your own rhythm and routine. Until then, self-care activities need to be an active choice you make. Be sure to schedule such activities in your planners and set reminders on your phone.
  • Keep a conscious mind around self-care: in order for us to feel taken care of by ourselves, it is important that we view self-care activities as such. When you are choosing to take a break from studying to have lunch with a friend, know that this is a decision made in order to treat your body and soul as a whole. 

For a list of 45 simple self-care practices, please see: 

Mindful Eating

February 25th is the start of National Eating Disorders Awareness (#NEDAwareness) week sponsored by National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). In honor of paying tribute to the week, and in keeping with wellness and wellbeing, we will explore some tips to help with engaging in both mindful and intuitive eating practice.

Mindful Eating is the practice of paying attention to and become aware of our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to eating, while avoiding judgment or criticism. This practice allows us to be more in tune with our body’s needs, as well as more engaged in the act of eating. Here are some helpful tips on how to engage:


  1. Listen to your body and stop when full: the body responds to its satiation signal about 20 minutes after reaching satiety. By letting our body catch up to our brain by chewing our food more thoroughly and taking breaks between bites, we are able to honor our body’s natural signals as to when it is satiated.


  1. Eat when your body tells you to: know your body’s personal hunger signals. Too often, we eat when our mind tells us to, which frequently leads to stress-eating or eating out of boredom. Instead, pay attention to what your body is communicating to you. Is your stomach growling, energy low, or are you feeling lightheaded? Become acquainted with your body’s way of letting you know it needs to refuel.


  1. Eat with others at set times and set places: while we can’t always control our aimless snacking that occurs from time to time, it can be helpful to schedule meals at a consistent time and in a consistent place. Creating an environment that is conducive to mealtime (e.g. putting food on a plate and sitting at a table with others) helps slow us down and increases connection with others.


  1. Eat food that are nutritional: we are often drawn to foods that produce emotional comfort during times of stress. While this is appropriate in moderation, it can be helpful to find nourishing foods that are also satisfying and comforting. By taking the time to engage our 5 senses when consuming a meal or snack, we are more apt to enjoy the experience of eating over the actual food that we are ingesting.


  1. When eating, just eat: when we try to multitask while eating, we tend to distract ourselves from being able to listen to our body’s needs and wants. Instead of eating in front of Netflix, perhaps try sitting at table by yourself or with a friend and engage in a full-body experience and/or good conversation.


  1. Consider where food comes from: it can be hard to not feel both grateful and interconnected to the food we consume when taking the time to pause and consider all the people involved in the meal sitting on our plate. Consider those who planted and harvested the ingredients, those who supported them, those who stocked the shelves, and the loved ones (and yourself) who prepared the meal.


For tips on intuitive eating, please go to

How to make the most of our time

Living in a society that constantly expects us to add to our proverbial plate means that time management can often times be a struggle. Included are some tips to help with effective time management strategies as you plan to navigate a busy semester ahead.

Tip 1: “Thin out” your responsibilities

Try not to read texts word for word. Instead, focus on key points and essential information. Also, use time-consuming strategies (e.g. color-coded notes/flashcards) only on “difficult to master” subjects. This will help save time in the long run, allowing you to focus on the most pertinent material.

Tip 2: Let it go

A lot of time is likely to be freed up when we let go of the desire to “be perfect” and the need to “finish it now”. Perfectionism is one of the greatest causes of anticipatory anxiety, which frequently leads to procrastination. Instead, aim to do your best. Additionally, our minds are actually able to be more productive and creative when we come back to our work after taking small breaks.

Tip 3: Treat your body and soul

You get the most done when you lead a balanced life. Therefore, take some time to exercise, sleep well, socialize, and engage in hobbies. By living a full and well-rounded life, we tend to be more productive in general.

Tip 4: Break it down

Having a task that is tangible and more manageable increases the likelihood that it will be successfully completed. Instead of telling yourself “I need to memorize all of the pharmacology material” break it into smaller pieces. First, make a study guide for chapters 1-5. Then, create potential test questions. Next, work with a classmate to test each other on your knowledge. This way it is three smaller sprints, as opposed to one long marathon.

Tip 5: Map it out

Regarding effective time management, it can be helpful to have a loose framework to work off of. Invest in a good planner and use it! Visualize your semester ahead and plan for it. Make sure to have a general sense of important deadlines and plan around those. It can be beneficial to create a to-do list for the next day, prioritizing tasks into high, medium, and low importance categories.

Tip 6: One thing at a time

While individuals today may claim to be great at multi-tasking, the truth is that they absolutely are not. In fact, the human brain is notoriously awful at focusing on more than one thing at a time. Try focusing on the assignment that is due this week and not the exam that is at the end of the month. Also, while helpful to take social media breaks, it can be important to only study when you’re studying. Then when you’re Facebooking, only Facebook.

Self-care for the Holidays!

The holidays can be an exciting time of the year. Between trimming the tree, lighting the menorah, seeing extended family, watching cheesy Hallmark movies, and snuggling with pets by the fire, there is no shortage of things to do. While this time can be invigorating, it can also quickly become stressful and exhausting if we’re not mindful and intentional about the ways in which we choose to engage.

During this time, we are often tasked with traveling, socializing, shopping, cooking, and the list goes on. While these might not be inherently negative activities, they can impart a mix of emotion. Sometimes we might be asked to spend time with those we don’t get along with, are expected to spend money when funds are tight, and/or feel compelled to host the “perfect” party. In order to sustain our energy and live into the holiday spirit in its most authentic form, it’s important that we practice some self-care.

In prioritizing wellness over the holiday season, some tenets to lean into include:

  1. Listen to your needs and give yourself permission: Check in with yourself and decide whether or not you have the energy to visit with some old acquaintances. If you’re not feeling it, respect this, and allow yourself to politely turn down plans and take a raincheck for later. Really listen to what your mind, body, and soul are asking of you.
  2. Try not to get swept up in the hustle and bustle: The holiday time can be a whirlwind. If we’re not careful, we can run from errand to errand, city to city, house to house. It can be helpful to plan for activities like shopping and cooking early on, in order to be the most present that we can be in each and every moment. When spending time with others, focus on that experience. Planning for check-offs can wait another day.
  3. Engage in moderation: This is often a time of excess— people, food, sleep, libations—you name it! Be sure to integrate some of your usual routines and activities in an effort to maintain some semblance of normalcy and to not overdo it. And, with that said, do make sure to enjoy a third, or fourth, cookie following dinner.
  4. Maintain realistic expectations: The holidays can be a really special time of year. Outside can look like a scene from a snow globe and there is usually an air of merriment and whimsy. Yet, beyond this façade, it can be just like any other time of year. Therefore, it can be important to remember that we will still experience our usual ups and downs regardless of whether Santa plans to pay us a visit or not.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 standard drinks for males and 4 standard drinks for females over a 2-hour period. When binge drinking, a person’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) will likely rise to 0.08 and above. At this BAC, it is illegal to operate heavy machinery and a person’s motor functioning, coordination, balance, reaction time, speech, vision, memory, judgment, self-control, awareness, and emotional functioning are significantly compromised.

Binge drinking graphic The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that approximately 40% of U.S. college students have endorsed engaging in at least one incidence of binge drinking over the past two weeks. Binge drinking can result from a variety of factors such as stress, anxiety, decreased self-confidence, traumatic experiences, and pressure to fit in. Additionally, binge drinking is more likely to occur on campuses that have a large fraternity/sorority presence and a strong athletic program. 

As the saying goes: “too much of anything can be bad for you." This is also true for too much alcohol, which can have negative and lasting effects. Each year, alcohol use is responsible for 1,825 deaths, 696,000 assaults, and 97,000 sexual assaults on college campuses. Additionally, 1 in 4 students report negative academic consequences as a result of alcohol use (e.g. missed classes, falling behind, lower grades), and 20% of college students meet criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) at any given time.

If you or someone you know is looking to decrease their alcohol consumption, it is important to first ask “why” you are engaging in binge drinking. Having an awareness and understanding of certain behaviors is the first step toward enacting change. Seeking support from friends, family, and/or professionals may help you to uncover the “why”, help reduce stressors in your life, and allow you to move toward change.

Since it may be unrealistic to completely eliminate alcohol from your life, if you are looking to cut down, some helpful tips include:

  • identifying (and sticking to) the number of standard drinks that you intend to consume over the course of a day/night/event
  • having a glass of water between every drink
  • eating a filling meal before drinking
  • not drinking while getting ready to go out, and instead, waiting until you’re already at the event


Did you know that according to the American Sleep Association, 37% of adults ages 20-39 report being sleep-deprived? Shockingly, sleep deprivation accounts for 100,000 medical mishaps that occur in U.S. hospitals each year. Not only is sleep important for the safety of others, it is also extremely important for an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Studies have shown that when we are well-rested, we are more likely to experience greater physical health including increased immune system functioning, improved memory, and decreased susceptibility to infection and disease. Adequate restful sleep also helps improve mental efficiency, which can lead to higher grades, sharpened attention, and increased creativity. Overall, sleep allows us to function at our best!

While adequate and restful sleep is sometimes seen as a luxury, especially while being busy and in school, it is important to prioritize and make time for it. 

Sleep icons including clock, sleeping at desk and phone

  • Establish a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine: e.g. a warm shower, followed by light stretches, and 30 minutes of reading for pleasure.
  • Create a comfortable sleep environment: try comfy pillows, a cool room, ear plugs, and blackout curtains.
  • Avoid caffeine and disruptive foods just before bedtime: it may help to limit caffeine intake to the morning and early afternoon, while also steering clear of heavy, rich, and/or spicy foods late into the night.
  • Limit daytime naps: while 20-30 minutes of “power-napping” can lead to improved mood, alertness, and performance, anything longer may be draining and disrupt established sleep patterns.
  • Exercise and movement: exercising well before bedtime promotes continuous sleep and allows for drastically improved sleep quality.
  • Turn off electronics: while very tempting, using phones/tablets/laptops in bed causes our brain to associate being in bed with wakefulness, as opposed to sleeping. Additionally, it can lead to overstimulation, making it more difficult for us to fall asleep.

Stress has been found to be the number one indicator of disrupted sleep, so please take care of yourselves by engaging in self-care and stress-reducing activities.

Setting boundaries is an important aspect of self-care and it is essential to identify, assert, and maintain boundaries that provide protection and are in line with your overarching values. It’s true that the word “boundary” has been thrown around quite loosely for the last few years, but what exactly are boundaries?

Boundaries are limits that we set to help define our roles, respect our needs, and outline what we find acceptable and unacceptable within that delineation. Setting boundaries is important within the practice of self-care and self-respect, communicating our needs within relationships, making time and space for positive and important interactions, and for setting healthy limits within a relationship.

It is important to note that boundaries will look differently for everyone, and even differently for the same person within different contexts. They can be rigid or flexible, physical or emotional, and often are influenced by a person’s cultural background, social identities, upbringing, and past experiences. Hence, boundaries are very personal to each and every individual, and therefore, important to recognize that what might feel okay to you, may not feel okay to someone else.

Sometimes it can be hard to set boundaries for ourselves. Often, as caring, compassionate individuals (in a care-taking profession/field of study), you might be more willing to put others’ needs above your own. Additionally, when you may relate to a person’s experience, feel responsible for others, struggle in saying “no”, and/or be in an inordinate position of power and privilege; it can be even more challenging to set and assert a boundary. In those instances, it is important to listen to your inherent needs and make decisions that prioritize your ability to be available and present to yourself, and thus, ultimately available and present to the other individual(s).

At times when you’re feeling like a person or thing is draining you of your energy, when you are neglecting other responsibilities, when you’re making exceptions for particular individuals or entities, and/or when you’re noticing feelings of anger or resentment toward someone/something; then it is likely time to shift your level of engagement and set a boundary that protects yourself and allows your needs to be met.

 As mentioned, setting boundaries can be a difficult task. You may have never previously done this or you may worry about how the other person may react. This is all natural! Some steps that can be helpful in boundary setting include:

  1. DEFINE: identify the desired boundary (e.g. staying home to study instead of going to dinner)
  2. COMMUNICATE: say what you need (e.g. “I need to stay home tonight to study, so I won’t be able to make it to dinner.”)
  3. STAY SIMPLE: don’t over explain (e.g. don’t add anything additional that is not directly related to the shared statement/boundary)
  4. SET CONSEQUENCES: say why it’s important (e.g. “I need to spend time studying for this test, as I am barely passing. Having dinner with you all is important to me, and therefore, I hope we can reschedule soon after my exam.”)

Setting boundaries can be a challenging and personal process, and an extremely important one at that. For some people it may look like saying “no” to a party, where for others, it may include saying “yes”. It can entail not responding to texts after a certain time in the night, or cutting an evening out short. Whatever the boundary may be, it is important that it takes your needs into account, is closely aligned with your overarching values, and allows you to be the best version of yourself so that you

When it gets hard to catch up

It’s toward the end of the semester. You check your syllabus, calculate your current grade, and realize that you are further behind than you anticipated. You worry that you will never be able to catch up. You think to yourself, “oh no, what do I do now?”. While this is certainly a distressing situation, it is not a lost cause. Below are some tips that can be supportive to you if you find yourself in this situation and are unsure how to proceed.

  1. Don’t panic!

It can be very easy (and sometimes reflexive) to freak out upon recognizing that you’re behind in your classes. While it’s natural to become worried upon this realization, panicking will only create greater chaos in your life, leading to decreased clarity, increased anxiety, and negatively impact sound decision-making.

  1. Don’t avoid!

It can also be very easy to want to avoid the problem at hand and pretend that it isn’t happening. While that might provide temporary relief, the issue will still be looming overhead, and will potentially evolve into an even bigger concern. Instead, as painful as it may be, it is important to confront the matter head-on, even if it causes temporary spikes in stress and anxiety.

  1. Consult professors/instructors/GSIs

Sometimes there’s worry that speaking with a professor about these concerns will highlight the fact that you’re behind on assignments. The truth is, the professor already knows this. It is in your best interest to converse with them first-hand around what measures may be able to be taken to help catch you up to speed. Inquire whether accommodations or extensions are a feasible possibility, and learn which assignments/exams may be of the utmost importance to focus your energies on.

  1. Continue moving forward and put forth your best effort

We can’t turn back time. This is disappointing, yet a reality. Instead, focus on what you can do in the time that you have left. Maybe there are smaller assignments that are easier to manage, which will afford you points that help fill in the gaps. Or perhaps you can carve out chunks of time in your schedule to devote to studying for an upcoming final exam. Regardless, a passing grade (no matter how low) is better than a non-passing grade.

As always, be patient, kind, and compassionate with yourselves. If it is helpful to talk through any of these concerns and you would like to set up an initial consultation with UMSN Embedded CAPS Counselor, Kristen Adams, email at to do so.