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Joseph Cardillo, Ph.D. Headshot

Collegers: Balancing the Emotional Rollercoaster

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There ain't no time like the mid-semester blues! One's mind is still feeling the influences of the warm, free-flights of summer and is looking ahead to winter break and holidays. And there you are in the middle, having to find the energy and focus to get you through.

College is a time that is filled with a steady stream of emotional ups and downs most of us will remember the rest of our lives. There are so many expectations, self=imposed and put on you by others; it's no wonder: classes, instructors, test scores, living environments, relationships, and often a lot of change. It's easy to lose perspective. Then the times when you hit the proverbial wall and wonder just what next and the days get shorter, less bright, the air gets cooler and the nights colder. You want to activate your mind, yet outside the natural world is winding down. Emotions swell. They take their toll. You might find yourself reaching for yet another energy drink (or something else) just to get through, thinking "it's 2012; isn't there an alternate way to wake your mind up to meet challenges robustly and still maintain your balance?" Is it even possible? Let's take a look.

Jetting Off Your Emotional Rollercoaster Start with this self scan. Ask yourself:
  • What am I feeling exactly? Name the emotion.
  • When do I feel this way?
  • How do I behave when I am under the influence of these feelings?
  • Is my behavior congruent with where I am and with my goals in that situation?
If you discover that your thoughts and actions are inhibiting to your goals, then ask yourself:
  • What should I be thinking and doing to align myself with my goals, in these specific situations? How far away am I from this optimum mindset?
You'll need to do some close inspection here. Ask:
  • Do I need to be or get alone to sort things out, cool down my feelings or at least get them to lukewarm, or do I need to connect with others who can offer up some feedback.

If you need one or the other, don't allow yourself to get shackled into the scenario you don't need.

You can use music to help you do this. Find songs that lyrically send you the message or anthem you need to be to hit what you identify as your optimum mindset, set your iPod to repeat, and begin playing your selections often (10-12 minutes worth).

One individual, let's call her Anne, found her semester being caught in the throes of a needy boyfriend. Robert, the boyfriend, wanted to consume essential time she needed for her studies as well as time she needed to simply "get her head together."

His phone messages and texts started to pop up, uninvited, during classes, evenings, mornings and throughout her weekend. She did several things to gain back some of her "space" and nurture her mind back to health. But her anxiety over the matter had turned to fear, fear of constant interruption, fear that she would not perform well in her classes and fear of a relationship that had grown out of control.

Anne found herself longing for the simple comfort of feeling safe in her own space. She resented that she didn't have this. She was new to the city. She didn't have anyone to talk to nearby nor did she particularly care to talk to anyone.

She always had a great relationship with her great-grandmother, Dora. One day noticed that in just thinking of her, she felt a bit stronger. She began singing 0- to herself -- a song she used to sing with grandma when she was a child. It was the holiday song, "Baby, Its Cold Outside." She remembered that she would sing one part and her grandmother the other. This gave her the idea to download an entire playlist of holiday music she used to listen to when she was a child.

Now as she played them, she would re-create family scenarios in the form of little narratives in her mind. Playing these songs over and over, she found herself coming out of her negative emotions and into a better place. So she played them every day. She also made a playlist with songs that sent her empowering messages to unshackle herself from this guy who was creeping in on her vital time and energy. In the end, the positiveness she was fueling herself with gave her the psychic energy to "show up" academically, and meet her semester challenges with a robust and optimized mind. And in the end, it also gave her the energy she needed to confront her boyfriend and back him off.

Another individual had to deal with very hectic apartment living. In the past, whenever he felt down or blah, he would play fast tempo tunes with raunchy lyrics, just what he needed to lift him up. So he tried it here, and to his surprise they had the opposite effect. They only made him more irritated and angrier and his judgment when right out the window. What he discovered was that playing a tune that he and his girlfriend used to listen to when they first started dating and fell in love worked wonders. So he would put it on repeat and play it all the way to his classes, sometimes putting on his earphones when out of the car and listening to his song right to the classroom door. Doing this allowed him to enter classes in his best frame of mind, instead of over-anxious -- and reeling with negative ruminations.

Things happen. We pick up the pieces and strive to get back on track. There is an old Taoist saying, "Keep one eye on where you are and the other on your destination." Know where you are, take a good look at where you want to be, and decide how to get there. Music can help.
Sometimes the answer is as close as your iPod.

Remember, however, if your personal situation seems out of your control, you may wish to find some individual or group counseling to provide additional support toward re-organizing and re-balancing.

To learn more about how to use playlists to transform your life, check out of my newest book, Your Playlist Can Change Your Life. To learn more about increasing your focus and memory for finals, check out my book, Can I Have Your Attention? -- How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Concentration.

"Sonata In C," Haydn
"Four Seasons," Antonio Vivaldi
"Ode to Joy," Beethoven
"These Are Days," 10,000 Maniacs
"The Power," SNAP!
"Welcome To The Jungle," Guns N' Roses
"Angel Standing By," Jewel
"I Wanna Be Sedated," Ramones
"Who Says You Can't Go Home," Bon Jovi
"Baby, It's Cold Outside," Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting