Category Archives: Outlook

But First, Take a Breath

By Yoko Fukumura

It’s finals season. Or it’s application season. Maybe it’s your first semester at college. Maybe it’s your last semester of school before you head off to the world.

No matter where you are in life, most of the time you probably have something big on your mind. And it’s not a bad thing – it means that you’re working hard and pushing yourself! But as important as it is to succeed and reach towards your goals, it is equally, if not more, important to be in tune with your mind and body.

As young adults sometimes we feel invincible. We think that we can eat cereal and instant noodles for weeks and pull all-nighters because self care can wait, but the test tomorrow will not wait. I’m also guilty of this and I can attest that this is false – I’ve done better when I prioritized eating and sleeping over studying on the last day. Even if our overworked immune system makes up for all the unhealthy choices momentarily, our physical and mental health might be taking a toll that ultimately affects your studies and future.

Doing well in school is not irrelevant, but your health will decide whether you do well, in school and after. These are a couple small things that I have found helpful along the way that don’t take up too much time.

First, you need to get to know yourself. If you don’t know your limits, it’s hard to plan ahead or know when to stop. We commend hard work, but we can’t keep working hard if we don’t know our limits. Writing a daily journal entry is one simple way to get to know yourself better, and it makes you tune in to your self at least briefly every day. If a blank paper isn’t enough structure for you, you could also get “Q&A a Day” at a bookstore or on Amazon.

Another big one for me was picking up an activity to do fairly consistently. In school, we have multiple deadlines and exams that have hard set dates and limited flexibility, but your hobbies and exercise are flexible. I try to exercise every day – nothing big, anything from ten minutes to thirty minutes on weekdays so that I don’t intimidate myself out of it. When I’m busy I can skip it without feeling guilty – it’s almost like tricking your mind and body so that when you have less time, you have surplus energy. One of the great resources of USC is the Recreational Sports program. There are many affordable fitness programs, from yoga and mindfulness to kickboxing. If you find group classes intimidating, there are 1-on-1 personal training and private session pilates/yoga as well. You can find more about the options here: https://sait.usc.edu/recsports/

Lastly, the easiest to do but also the easiest to forget, is to take deep breaths. Diaphragmatic breathing involves using the muscle between your lungs and abdominal area to breathe deeply (this youtube link explains and helps visualize the diaphragm), and one of our automatic reactions to stress is to take shallow breaths. Deep breathing has many lasting physiological effects, including inhibiting your body’s stress response. Stress affects not just your mind but your whole body, and too much of it can cause long term effects such as memory issues, high blood pressure, and migraines, among others. Breathing can be done anywhere – during class, on a bus, in your bed. It only takes a second, but you could feel better for the entire day, which affects your next day, week, and semester.

Your test tomorrow is important. But first, take a breath.

Yoko is a 1st year graduate student in USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. She is originally from Boston, Massachusetts where she studied piano performance at New England Conservatory of Music. Born to Japanese immigrant parents, Yoko is very familiar with both the challenges and beauties of cultural diversity. She is also an expert collaborator and teacher from her experience teaching piano and performing in ensembles.

 

USC Resources for Stress and Anxiety

By Stephanie Wicburg

As someone who has experienced instances of almost crippling anxiety in my life, I know that the avoidance of these issues in conversation is a fact.  Stress and anxiety are just not things that society addresses.  If someone wants to discuss them, it is often either with a professional, or not at all.

For me, the amount of preparation it takes to even do something as simple as making a phone call or socializing with people I don’t know is staggering.  And yet, through my years, I have learned to cope with this part of my life.  I have learned how to be able to function when I feel like I can’t breathe and how to push past it.

But imagine if I were put in a totally new environment.  An environment in which I knew barely anyone.  A place with a culture entirely different from my own, with a language that I do not natively speak.  I have personally never been in this situation, but all the students I have worked with through ALI’s Conversation Groups are experiencing this as I type.

A new place can be incredibly hard to adjust to. I know that it took me several weeks to adjust to USC when I first moved here just last August, and during those weeks, there were several moments when my anxiety took over, and it felt like every little thing was just absolutely overwhelming. Fortunately, however, I had friends and family who I could talk to, as well as an incredibly supportive roommate, and all of the coping methods which I have developed through the years.  These support systems are not something everyone has, however.  Not everyone is taught or is able to figure out ways to help their anxiety, and so stressful situations, such as moving to an entirely new country, can just be beyond overwhelming.

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An Unspoken Language

By Stella Yeung

My grandfather had been creating Chinese art for as long as I can remember. My family would drive to his house, a couple towns over, every weekend. All my mom’s sisters, brothers, nephews, and nieces lived with him, keeping the house in a constant commotion. The house smelled of traditional Chinese dishes and bare feet. During every weekend visit, I begged to go home immediately, as I judged this side of the family who grew up so differently than me. It bothered me that they had mismatched bed coverings and antique art pieces that seemed to be blindly picked up from Goodwill. I pulled at my mom’s sleeves until she told me “Be quiet, we’re leaving soon”. I let out exaggerated groans and sighs until we’d finally leave hours later.

I spoke Chinese-English growing up, but the English side became more prominent as I went through American schooling and watched countless reruns of Full House. I watched enviously as I constantly compared my family to the characters in the show. I wondered why I didn’t have an uncle like John Stamos or a dad like Bob Saget, and why my life had to be so crude.

“Do you know how lucky you are to grow up in America?”

I roll my eyes at my mom because I’ve heard it all before, even though, on the inside, I know I take it all for granted. My mother’s side of the family are all immigrants, including herself. Most of them did not get college degrees and worked in the restaurant business for years after they came to America, just so they could pay bills, support the family, and repeat. Regrettably, I have never had much conversation with this side of my family. Their main focus was to get to America to provide a better life for their kids, and here I was, a non-Chinese speaking Chinese-American with everything laid out for me. The least I could do was learn Chinese, to say thanks, and commend them for their conquered adversity. However, they never fully learned English and I never fully learned Chinese; we were comfortable with how things were and therefore never felt compelled to change. As a result, I sit awkwardly and quietly at family gatherings, picking at food and wishing my relatives would quiet down (yelling is commonplace for their conversations). I am annoyed at their volume of conversation but also envious, because I’m not a part of it. Here we are, sitting, with the same blood running through us, but we are strangers. As a side note, I did go through multiple years of Chinese school, but my mother had to sit with me because I couldn’t understand the teacher.. After a few years, I finally convinced her to stop paying for my Sundays filled with embarrassment and boredom.

So, to keep myself preoccupied while at my grandfather’s house, my tiny self would hobble into my grandfather’s study room where he would be effortlessly gliding ink across parchment. There was parchment on the floor, walls, and tables. Ink and paint brushes were scattered across his desk as well. He would dabble in ornate paintings of mountains or large texts of Chinese. Each brush stroke was placed with precision, grace, and dexterity I wished I could do with such ease. I was an artist myself so I watched him with awe. Since I couldn’t read Chinese, I never quite knew what the words he wrote meant, but my young wide-eyed self knew they looked beautiful.

While I never lived in rural China and was never forced to farm for a living, I also found that same escape in art as my grandfather once did. When he wasn’t drawing, he was scowling. Veins thriving from his neck and brows constantly furrowed. He spoke in complaints and accusations. The only time I saw his face relax, and his muscles loosen, was when he was at his desk, in his study, with his brushes in hand and parchment in front of him. I stare at his concentration, the clear transparency in his eyes as his presence was no longer at his home but somewhere far off where he felt at peace. I smile because I know exactly where he is. He later passed his paintbrushes onto me because he knew I was an artist just like he was. Oddly enough, nobody else in our family had the same shared fire to create as we did.

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