Finding Inner Peace at College

The middle of the semester sometimes feels as if a thousand tasks are coming at you from every direction – whether it’s assignments, clubs/organizations, a job, or imposter syndrome. Don’t forget to make time for the activities that keep you mentally balanced. 

Person sits cross legged on a rock in a lake at dusk

Be calm in the storm 

Inner peace means a state of physical and spiritual calm despite stressors. Finding inner peace is a process – it won’t happen overnight – but working towards it will help you focus and have a clear mind. 

6 Strategies to Maintain a Peaceful Mind 

  1. Spend Time in Nature. Take a short, mindful walk where you notice your senses – the breeze on your face, the ground beneath your feet, the warmth of the sun. Remind yourself to relax, take your time, and notice sensations – especially in moments when you feel stressed.
  2. Meditate.  You can try yoga or listen to a guided meditation on a podcast. Meditation has many proven benefits and can help you find your path to peace and happiness. 
  3. Give yourself time to worry.  Spoiler alert: You won’t be able to get rid of all your worries for good. In fact, the more you tell yourself not to stress, the more you probably will. What can help is to schedule a “worry time” during your day. Choose a small window of time to sit quietly. Let yourself go over all the things that have you concerned, as well as some ways you might solve them. You may find that this allows you to worry less — and ultimately feel more peaceful throughout the rest of the day.
  4. Declutter. Do you notice how your environment can be a reflection of your inner world? Create an environment around you that supports your goals. Organizing your space, tasks, and thoughts, can help your mind be more peaceful.
  5. Be accountable and take responsibility. Even when it’s difficult, admitting your mistakes helps you find peace and happiness. Criticisms are an opportunity to improve yourself, and accepting that you’re imperfect and make mistakes makes you more resilient.  
  6. Practice acceptance and contentment. Accept that you are imperfect and figure out strategies to deal with problems. Release yourself from self-criticism and comparison. Remember that your journey at UNC-CH is your own unique experience. Be kind to yourself.

Be grateful. Science says it’s good for your health!


Image courtesy of BK on Flickr

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
—Melody Beattie

Thanksgiving—it’s one of my favorite times of the year. This has nothing to do with Pilgrims, and very little to do with football or parades. It does, however, have a lot to do with the word Thanksgiving—literally, giving thanks. For me, Thanksgiving is a reminder to pause and consider all of the things in my life that I’m grateful for—friends, family, opportunities… the list goes on.

While gratitude may be at the forefront this week, perhaps we should consider practicing it every week. According to a study from UC Davis, having a grateful outlook on life significantly increases health and well-being. This same research group has found that gratitude can decrease blood pressure and feelings of loneliness, and improve sleep quality, attention, and self-control. Not convinced? Check out the HappierHuman website for a summary of 31 ways that gratitude benefits your health and well-being, compiled from 40+ studies of gratitude.

A couple of years ago, SoulPancake decided to try out gratitude as an experiment within their Science of Happiness series. They had individuals come into their lab and complete a happiness test. Then, they asked the participants to write a letter to someone they were grateful for, expressing their gratitude. Finally, the participants were asked to call these individuals and read them the letter. At the end of the study, they took another happiness test. Overall, expressing gratitude produced a 4–19% increase in happiness, and the person who came in least happy had the greatest increase.


Image courtesy of BK on Flickr

So, what are some ways you can practice gratitude?

  1. Express it. Like the participants in the Science of Happiness study, you could write a letter to someone you care about. Let them know how much they mean to you. Better yet, call them or go see them in person. William Arthur Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” When you’re feeling grateful for someone, tell them—don’t keep it to yourself! You can make their day and benefit your own health at the same time. Obviously, there’s an app for that.
  2. Write it down. Keep a gratitude journal. At the beginning or end of your week, think about what you’re most grateful for and record it in your journal. That way, when you’re having a bad day, you can look back at your journal and remind yourself of the people and things you appreciate most.
  3. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying attention, without judgment, to your thoughts, sensations, emotions, and the external world. Sometimes we go throughout our busy days without actually noticing what we’re doing, who we’re interacting with, or what the world around us looks like. When we start paying attention, we can live more authentically and express gratitude for what we have. Try adding this gratitude practice to your mindfulness routine.

Gratitude can do some pretty amazing things for your health, and it’s really easy to do. Use this Thanksgiving break to prioritize gratitude for the people, places, opportunities, and things you appreciate most.


Image courtesy of Sandra Marie on Flickr

Kaitlyn Brodar is the Program Assistant for Resiliency Initiatives at UNC Student Wellness and a Master of Public Health graduate student with a focus in Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She previously worked in cognitive psychology research on post-traumatic stress disorder after earning her bachelor’s in Psychology at Duke University.

How Being YOU Can Reduce Stress

I always joke with my coworkers that they have to watch what they say around me because I believe everything that I hear.  And, although I think it is important to draw on other people’s experiences to shape your own success, at the end of the day you are the only person who knows what is best for you.  As a follow up to last week’s stress-free blog, I’d like to leave you with four more tips focused on how being YOU can lead to a productive and carefree school year. Continue reading

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: In Someone Else’s Words

Sometimes the best advice – the most meaningful nuggets of information – are all packaged up in a sentence or two. So with midterms upon us (eek!), I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes, some funny, some serious, some motivational. Thus, today I’m not actually really going to write anything (apart from this introduction that is), instead enjoy someone else’s (wise) words:

 “Happiness is anything and anyone that is loved by you.” — Charlie Brown, of Peanuts

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Some days even my lucky rocketship underpants won’t help.” — Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes

“We learn wisdom from failure much more than success. We often discover what we will do, by finding out what we will not do.” — Samuel Smiles

 And of course, the CWS favorite: “Don’t stop believing” — Journey

PS. I lied, I am going to write more (but just a little more). If you enjoyed these, there are tons of quote databases online (like this one) with a wealth of great quotes. Also, please share your favorites with us via comments!

Loving Your Long Distance Relationship

“I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more…” But what are we walking for?

It’s a question that crosses a lot of minds when we hear “long distance relationship,” as though the sacrifice is too much. For some people, that may be true, but for others LDRs aren’t that much of a sacrifice.

People in LDRs can still have a relationship with their partners. We still hear about their long days at work, their awkward conversations with their parents, their bad jokes… The intimacy and the romance is still there, it’s just a little more spread out or creatively communicated.

The distance can be good for both partners, as it gives us some room to be with ourselves. This could mean sorting out our own emotions or stress, or working on our careers, but the point is that we have the space to do it.

And if we do reunite with our partners, it’s always a treat. It’s like a mini-vacation from our day-to-day lives with someone we truly enjoy spending time with. That weekend may even be the motivation you need to get through an especially hard workweek or paper.

Image by Eileen of Flickr Creative Commons

Perhaps the most important thing, though, is that our LDRs make us feel good. Even with the distance, our partners make us happy and bring joy to our lives. They can support us through a rough patch, and we can brag about them to our friends. The distance doesn’t seem to matter so much when we’re still being fulfilled.

Some of us may know exactly what we love about our LDRs, while others may be struggling to determine if it’s actually worth the stress. All relationships can be stressful at certain points, but distance can further complicate things.

For example, while maintaining an LDR, both partners may be faced with the increased financial burden to maintain their relationships. This doesn’t stop at paying for a plane ticket or gas, it includes taking time off of work – time which you otherwise would have gotten paid for.

Partners in LDRs can also have a hard time maintaining close friendships. This could be the result of not being able to partake in “couple activities”, or even dealing with the lack of free time to develop those relationships so you can contribute to your romantic one.

And finally, what are we? It can be difficult to assess the state of a relationship when the two partners are separated by distance. How do we know our roles in the relationship when we’re living week-to-week, or month-to-month? Partners in LDRs tend to set such high expectations for their time together that the roles can be unclear for time that is spent apart.

All of this added stress could make a person wonder: Why are we doing this?

It’s an important question. Why are you doing this? What do you enjoy about this relationship? It’s important for both partners to know why you are in a LDR, to clarify the logistics of the situation, the timeline, your feelings, and your expectations.

When partners feel as though they are out of sync, it can be easy to lose focus and to develop feelings of blame, resentment, or even personal guilt. These are feelings that can come up again and again.

So, you’ve decided you love being in your LDR, and you want to keep it going strong. Here are some relationship-maintaining strategies to help keep your LDR happy and healthy:

Positivity. An optimistic attitude about your relationship is invaluable to ensuring the security of your relationship. Always look for the best in your partner. Relationships can really suffer if we start searching for the other person’s flaws.

Assurance. It’s normal to have doubts every now and then about your relationship, but communicating your commitment and support frequently and verbally can really help both you and your partner to feel confident in the status of your relationship.

Openness. Let your partner know how you feel—don’t expect them to guess what’s going on with you. It will save you a lot of time and a lot of pain to be open and honest, even if that means spending your only two days together fighting.

Fight fair. Speaking of fighting, remember that while arguments inevitably happen in relationships, it’s important to fight fair. Listen, be gentle, and be kind. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt — or if nothing else, at least a chance to explain what they think.

Sharing tasks. Support one another through bad days, and look forward to future plans. Check in with one another throughout the day. Something as simple as sending a text and saying “thinking about you, hoping your day is good” can go a long way in helping us to feel confident in our relationships.

Share social networks. Talk to your partner about your friends and talk to your friends about your partner. By integrating the different areas of your life, you are likely to feel more comfortable with the relationship and the role it plays in your day-to-day routine.

Intimacy. Each couple does intimacy differently. Find what works for you and your partner and enjoy it! (Note: Sometimes our access to technology can do more harm than good.)

It may be difficult to implement all these strategies, especially right off the bat, so it’s important to remember that it takes time. Dealing with the stress of a LDR can be frustrating, but if we know why we’re doing it, it all becomes a little more manageable.


For additional reading see:

Compete to WIN a $1,000 GRAND Prize at LDOC HeelFest–Auditions start this Week…

That’s RIGHT–your or your student group could win $1,000 at the very first LDOC HeelFest!!!

LDOC HeelFest will be an end-of-year talent show extravaganza. This is the first year UNC is doing this event and it is a collaboration among multiple campus departments and student groups. It will be held at Ehringhaus Field from 4-8pm on LDOC, which is Friday April 24th. The talent show will feature a showcase of UNC student talent, and the students at the event will get to vote on the winning performer/group. The Grand Prize will be a cash amount, TBD.

Come to auditions this week and next…Let’s see what you got!

LDOC HeelFest audition schedule
LDOC HeelFest audition schedule

Wake Up To Music

Alarm Clock 3
Photo: “Alarm Clock 3.” Alan Cleaver. Flickr Creative Commons.

Today I woke up to the sound of music. I’m not talking about Julie Andrews in Austria. I’m talking about my alarm. It wasn’t a terrible beeping, though. I hate those types of alarms. They scare me out of bed and put me into a panic. I would always be waking up thinking I was late. My morning monologue was something like “holy crap”, “this sucks”, “why me?”. I would feel resentful and annoyed. It wasn’t until I started waking up to more peaceful kinds of music that I noticed how that was really affecting me. Those blaring alarms were actually affecting the way I experienced my entire day. I would see class as a chore and a burden. I would feel rushed to the point where I would either physically speed around to get myself ready, out the door, and to wherever I needed to be, or I would become insufferably slow, as though I was at a silent protest against the morning.

So I changed my routine. What a relief! It’s way better, trust me. Music soothes me awake, just as it used to soothe me to sleep. Though, I guess it depends on the kind of music you choose to wake up to. Hold on, people, we’re about to take a step into the world of science (and by science, I mean YouTube). Click here (don’t listen to the whole thing)—>>>> .

Welcome back. So, that was kind of nice, huh? That’s the kind of soothing I’m talking about. That can get me through the day. It sets the pace for me. Okay, let’s imagine how music is used in film. Without music, some of the most terrible, scary movies would be only mildly frightening and even humorous in some cases. The music in suspense/horror flicks is intended to affect my breathing, heart rate and ultimately my emotional response. It causes me to react with fear.

Where am I going with this? Good question… What I’m getting at is this: how can we become more aware of our emotions? Better yet, will becoming more aware of our emotions allow us to practice a certain level of control over them? For example, I like being happy, content and excited over being angry, afraid or sad. Knowing that, what is one way I can set myself up to experience more of the emotions that I prefer to experience?

If I want to feel happiness, I can listen to some Sara Bareilles or Jason Mraz. If I want to feel calm and motivated, I listen to some classical guitar music. That’s just me. But seriously, there are physical and emotional responses to musical stimuli. If you’re interested in exploring the topic in greater depth, do some research into music psychology and mood regulation. Check out some books from the library, listen to music, make music, share music and study music. And visit my favorite source of science… YouTube!

Start your day off right. Get your heart beating to the rhythm of your choice. Your emotional wellbeing is important and it could affect others as well, and may ultimately have an impact on the Carolina community. So, be conscious, deliberate, and systematic in your music choices.

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” -Billy Joel

Jazz Band
Photo: “Jazz Band.” Kevin Dooley.

Smiles or Tears? How to Beat Summertime Sadness With Optimism


Welcome to a new week! I hope you jumped out of bed with a purpose in mind, ready to live exactly how you want. If not, that’s ok too – maybe it’s more sleep you need! I hope that the summer has given you time to focus on your overall wellness. Maybe you’ve been working hard to eat more healthfully, be more active, or quit smoking.  Along the way, you may have hit some unavoidable roadblocks stopping you from reaching your goal. When bad things happen – do you recognize them as a passing storm cloud, or do you believe that the universe is wholly aligned against you? The answer matters – a lot! We’re going to begin this morning with a look into optimism, and why it’s an essential aspect of a well-balanced life.

First, let’s take a closer look at what it means to have an optimistic world view. Let’s be clear- there are several things that optimism is not. Optimism is not happiness, as happiness is an indefinable and subjective emotion. Optimism is not forcing a smile, mentally chanting “cheer up buttercup,” or prancing through a field of daisies. These behaviors could be a natural byproduct of experiencing optimism in your life, but they likely will not bring you a sense of inner peace in of themselves. Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something. By extension, optimism allows you to believe that your life is worth living.

Sounds great, huh? Here are a few behaviors you can use in your life to achieve a greater sense of optimism:

  1. Create and purse your own goals: This is the foundation of a meaningful life. People who get things done and laugh along the way don’t have access to some secret elixir – rather, they know what they want from their life and they work hard to make it happen. Do you want to lose weight and feel better about your body? The drive must come from within – not a nagging parent or a concerned counselor. You’re much more likely to cultivate personal inspiration if you are invested in the achievement of your goal. Start small – drinking more water, being active 30 minutes a day, and adding more vegetables to your plate. This is a simple example of a goal that an optimist might create! Optimists are also persistent; they don’t let setbacks define them or their life.
  2. Solve problems proactively: It’s easy to run on autopilot in life and react to challenges with indecision and disengagement. Optimists, however, do things differently. When a storm strikes and a problem arises – take action immediately. Grab a pen and paper and write the problem at the top, followed by a list of possible solutions with pros and cons for each. Then, weight the options and take action. It’s easier to lay in bed and watch House of Cards all day, but taking small steps to fix a problem will actually make you feel a lot better. Take the optimistic route!
  1. Think of the worst possible outcome: That’s right, a healthy dose of realism could actually make you more optimistic. Anticipating failure, THEN making changes to ensure that these outcomes don’t happen will help set you up for success! You may have heard the trite phrase – “stop worrying, everything will be ok.” Instead of forcibly blocking thoughts, brainstorming practical solutions to possible problems will help pessimists achieve a more optimistic mindset.

How optimistic are you? If you’re still unsure after reading through these behaviors, take the optimism quiz to find out once and for all.


Giving your mind a break: the benefits of mindfulness and how to start a meditation practice.

Just about 10 years ago, I was bored and uninspired. I started to ask myself those age old questions: What would be my career path? What are my values? What’s important to me?

Because I didn’t have a great way to answer these questions, I needed to figure what my next move was going to be.

In the midst of scrambling to apply for any job I could get, I came upon an advertisement for the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at Duke Integrative Medicine. The words “stress reduction” jumped off the page. I had almost no knowledge of mindfulness or meditation, but I did have curiosity and time on my hands. I was skeptical that it would do anything to help me, but I was willing to at least give it a shot. So, I registered for their 8-week foundations program.

The program required a lot of time and effort, but it is still one of the single greatest set of skills that I’ve learned in my life.

I still practice every single day.

I’m not one to use these words lightly, but it changed my life in ways that I could not imagine at that time.

Since that time, I have given a talk about mindfulness and its benefits, created a Youtube video on the subject, served as a research coordinator for a study examining the biological, physiological, and psychological benefits of mindfulness meditation, and even developed a mindfulness workshop for UNC undergraduate students with Student Wellness.

You might be wondering at this point, “Mindfulness? What is this dude talking about?” Well, I’m glad you asked!

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment with intention, without judgment, and with an attitude of acceptance of present moment experience.

It could be something as simple as focusing on how your breath feels, noticing that you’re feeling tired, noticing how the warm sun feels on your skin. You don’t need to do anything about your experience, you just need notice it and then simply turn your attention to whatever comes next.

Even if mindfulness is not a life altering experience for you, there is mounting evidence to suggest that mindfulness can be beneficial to physical health, like reducing blood pressure and enhancing our immune system. There are also mental health benefits like reducing anxiety, depression, and stress, and an increase in overall wellbeing. Here are just a few articles on the subject:

Brown University Health Education (in collaboration with Harvard Medical School)

Greater Good – The Science of a Meaningful Life at UC Berkeley

You really want to increase your mindfulness and start enjoying all of these health benefits, but aren’t really sure about how to do that? Well, I’ll give you a hint, it starts with an “m” and ends with “-editation”. That’s right, meditation! You might be saying to yourself, “but I thought meditation were just for people who wear dreadlocks and play in drum circles or for monks?” The good news is that you do not have to be part of a special group to start a meditation practice. You can practice alone or with a group of friends.



Despite what this picture might suggest, you don’t have to be near a lake or even have your legs in lotus position.

Basic Meditation

  1. Find a comfortable place to sit, whether it’s in a chair, on a mat, on the floor, just wherever works best for you.
  2. Make sure not to have your back too rigid and straight, but not so relaxed that you’re slouching. You should sit in a dignified manner.
  3. You can keep your eyes open or even half open. You can also close them if that’s comfortable, but this may encourage you to fall asleep.
  4. Now, bring your attention to the sensation of your breath. Notice how the cool air feels as it enters through your nostrils.
  5. Now move your attention down to your chest and belly. Notice how the chest and belly expand out with each inhalation, and contracts or flattens out on the exhalation. See if you can count at least 5 exhalations.
  6. If you notice that your focus starts to drift away from your breath and to your thoughts, for example, just notice that this has happened and slowly, without any judgment, bring your full attention and awareness back to the sensation of the breath. Just be sure that you don’t beat yourself because your mind wandered
  7. Try and keep your attention on the breath for just 10 minutes. It’s not easy, but keep at it!

Walking Meditation

You can do this as you’re walking between classes, or anywhere on campus, and no one has to know that you’re doing it (unless you want them to know).

  1. Bring your attention to your feet, and notice what it feels like to have them firmly on the ground. You may notice how your shoes and socks feel on your feet.
  2. While lifting each foot and leg off the ground, try to notice how it feels to lift your foot and leg into the air.
  1. While alternating each foot and leg, notice the experience of your weight shifting as you move forward.
  1. Bring your awareness to your upper body and pay attention to your arms as they swing and any other motion you feel in your upper body as you walk.

Moving Meditation for Individuals in a Wheelchair

Use a wheelchair? No problem! You can do this too!

  1. Bring your attention to your arms and hands as they move back and you get ready to push your wheels.
  1. You may notice how the muscles in your back squeeze together or how your shoulder muscles stretch.
  1. Notice what your hands feel as they grip your wheels.
  1. Finally, see what you experience as you start to push your wheels. You may feel the muscles in your biceps and triceps flexing and stretching. Don’t worry if you don’t notice this. Just bring your full attention to what you do feel.

You’re now on your way to having your own mindfulness practice. Now, go out there and start giving your attention to each moment! You never know what you might discover.

Originally posted in 2014, this post has been updated for clarity. In 2014, Dennis Carmody was an MPH candidate in the Health Behavior department at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and enjoying his summer practicum with the great folks at UNC Student Wellness.

Bring in Positivity with Your ONYEN Password

I just received yet another email reminder that it is time to change my ONYEN password again. I don’t know about you, but trying to remember all of my passwords and access codes can be challenging, especially when I am regularly required to change one I use ALL the time. Every time I change my ONYEN password, it takes me a few days to get used to the new one.


At one point about a year ago, I became very frustrated with the requirement to change my ONYEN password along with my inability to come up with something I could remember. That day, my new passcode included the phrase “Ihatethis” along with the obligatory numbers and symbols. The moment I changed it, I felt really good about the decision – even a little bit vindicated, like I had somehow won over the technology.

What I quickly learned is that typing “Ihatethis” multiple times every single day became a problem for me. It reminded me of the negative feelings I had when I changed my password! Part of emotional health includes optimism and the ability to experience and cope with feelings independently and interpersonally. When I created that password, I wasn’t coping with my feelings well – I instead channeled them into a simple task which actually impacted me every day.

Needless to say, I changed my ONYEN password again before I received the 90 day reminder from ITS.

Today, I am looking at the opportunity to change my password as a small thing I can do to build more positivity and happiness into my life. I can choose to make this a password which brightens my day every time I enter it.

What words, symbols, phrases, or ideas bring you happiness? Without getting a password that is too predictable like “sunshine”, how can you make positivity part of your ONYEN password?