Waiting is Hard to Do

December 18, 2018

From the Archive: Blog written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, PhD, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs, Michael.sheridan@nih.gov

It is December 2018, and while many are preparing for holidays, if you are trainee, you are probably asking yourself, “I haven’t heard back from a number of medical schools, is there something I can do to move them along? Should I assume I won’t get in?  Will I get an interview at the graduate programs that I applied to?  I am waiting to hear from academic positions …is there anything I can do?  The good news is that, if you haven’t heard anything yet, you are still being considered. With the holidays fast approaching, it is probable that most communication will resume in the new year.  The reality is that waiting for a response is hard thing to do.

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Dr. Michael Sheridan, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs offers some strategies to help and writes that an area to be aware of while you wait is what is going on in your mind – specifically, the “inner chatter” that is present. It’s important to realize that you “talk” to yourself more than anyone else and thus, what you are saying makes a difference.  There are two particular qualities of this inner chatter to be mindful of – the “when” and the “what.”

The “when” of your inner dialogue refers to how much the mind is focused on either the past (“I wish I had remembered to put X in my application.” “I should have had so and so critique my letter before I sent it.”) or the future (“What will I do if I don’t get any interviews?” “If I don’t hear back from them by the end of this week, it means I didn’t get in”).  The reality of both past and future musings (or let’s face it, worrying) is that it is truly wasted effort as you can’t change something that’s already happened and you can’t predict what is going to happen in the future!  The only moment you have any control of is the current moment – and even then, I’m talking about control of your own thoughts and behaviors – not the actions of others or the eventual outcome.  Focusing on what you can do versus what you can’t lowers anxiety and builds confidence.

The “what” of your inner chatter has to do with the overall message or tone of what you are saying to yourself.  Are your thoughts harshly self-critical? (“I know I did a terrible job on that personal essay – I probably sounded really stupid”) Do they have a doomsday or “catastrophizing” flavor to them? (“I didn’t get this position, which means I won’t get any of the others I applied for either”)  Or are they balanced and positive? (“I know I won’t get accepted by everyone, but I probably won’t get rejected by everyone either” -“I’ve done the best I can and I can handle whatever the next step needs to be”).  A good thing to cultivate during the waiting is compassionate self-talk, or treating yourself with “the same kindness, care, and concern that you would treat a good friend” (Dr. Kristen Neff, www.self-compassion.com). So notice what you’re saying to yourself and if it is not supportive, ask yourself if you would say this to a good friend.  Chances are, you would offer something more encouraging, so try being your own good friend!

In addition to Dr. Sheridan’s suggestions above, we invite you to visit our blog, where we suggested some activities to engage in during the holidays that will help you prepare to continue pursuing your career goals.  Also, be sure to visit our OITE web page as well to attend workshops and schedule an appointment with a career counselor.  If you are one of our extended community readers, please check with your home institution and local resources for career services. We will see you in 2019!

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Managing SAD at Work

December 11, 2018

lily-banse-363743-unsplashJust over a month ago, we set our clocks back for Daylight Savings Time. This combined with fewer daylight hours means that most of us are leaving work in the dark. This is just one of the many groan-inducing moments which wintertime brings. Others include frigid mornings making it harder to get out of a warm bed, commuting through snow/ice and gloomy grey days all the while navigating sick colleagues in the lab.

It is no wonder that many of us find that our energy levels and happy outlook dissipate with the change in seasons.  For some of us, the winter blues can be easily shaken off; however, others are afflicted by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons and differences in daylight hours.  Not accounting for personal variability, SAD usually begins in October/November and ends in March/April.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, SAD is not considered a separate disorder; it is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern.  For individuals to be diagnosed, they must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons for at least two years.

On top of some of the common symptoms of depression such as feeling hopeless, sluggish, and experiencing difficulty concentrating, other symptoms of winter pattern SAD include:

  • Low energy
  • Hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness)
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

There are attributes that make you more likely to suffer from SAD. Living far from the equator is an obvious one; for example, only one percent of those who live in Florida experience SAD whereas about nine percent in New England and Alaska suffers from SAD.  If you have a family predisposition or prior diagnoses of depression or bipolar, you are more likely to experience SAD as well. Another risk factor is being female as SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than in men.

If you are concerned that you might be suffering from SAD, please seek help from a physician or counselor right away. There is no need to suffer these winter months away and four major types of treatment have been proved effective. These include: medication, psychotherapy, light therapy, and vitamin D which can be used alone or in combination with one another.

Don’t be hesitant to ask for workplace adjustments which could help as well. Some of these small tweaks could include sitting by a window in the lab/office or even installing a light box which is designed to simulate sunshine and help increase one’s production of serotonin. You may also ask to adjust your work hours, so that you are able to leave the lab before it gets dark at night.


Character Strengths

December 4, 2018

Character Strength Word InfographicDo you need help identifying your signature strengths?

According to the VIA Institute on Character, knowing your character strengths isn’t just interesting information to have; it can have a positive impact on your life overall. It is believed that understanding your strengths can help you: 1. Manage and overcome problems; 2. Improve your personal and professional relationships; 3. Enhance your overall sense of well-being.

Martin Seligman (Founder of Positive Psychology) and his research group have a website through the University of Pennsylvania called: authentichappiness.org.  This site includes information on learning and applying the principles of positive psychology to any domain, such as a job search. We have talked about the site before on the OITE Career Blog when we discussed the importance of positivity and resilience in your job search in past blog posts like “Enhancing Optimism and Resilience in Your Job Search & Beyond”. This website has a whole range of different surveys that you can take, such as assessments on happiness, grit, work-life balance, etc. The one we suggest focusing on today is the Signature Strengths Survey which helps you identify your top five strengths.

This online assessment denotes six classes of virtues that make up the 24 character strengths listed. These six classes and corresponding strengths include:

  • Wisdom and knowledge

Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
Strengths: Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment, Love-of-Learning, Perspective

  • Courage

Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
Strengths: Bravery, Honesty, Perseverance, Zest

  • Humanity

Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
Strengths: Kindness, Love, Social Intelligence

  • Justice

Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
Strengths: Fairness, Leadership, Teamwork

  • Temperance

Strengths that protect against excess
Strengths: Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence, Self-Regulation

  • Transcendence

Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
Strengths: Appreciations of Beauty, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Spirituality

Hopefully this assessment will help you focus on not only identifying your strengths but also finding new ways to begin using those strengths more intentionally within your life. A logistical note about taking this survey: it is quite long as it has 240 questions and you can’t save it and come back to it, so be sure to take it when you have sufficient time. You do have to create a log in to access the surveys, but by participating you are actually paying it forward in a way by helping with their positive psychology research.