Be the Master of Your Own Life

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Submitted by SangHee Jeong, sanghee.jeong@duke.edu

Is there anyone who has never had any stress at all? Well, we can keep searching for such a supernatural person, but the odds are slim that we can actually find one. We all get stressed out from time to time and more so if you are from a foreign country trying to adjust yourself to a new environment as well as speaking English that might not be your native language. Unmanaged stress can impact your performance in whatever you are doing, and if you are stuck there for long it can be really dangerous. So, how should we deal with stress?

The International House hosted a workshop right on that topic last Thursday as part of its Connect, Learn, Grow (CLG) Series. Dr. Yan Li and her colleague Joo Shin from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) helped participants identify the uneasy feelings newly arrived foreigners may feel in the U.S. and explained how to get out of the trap of negative feelings.

It is very natural to feel uncomfortable in a new social setting as a foreigner, but at the same time, it is very important to “recognize” your feeling before your negative feelings become facts in your mind. People tend to internalize the cause of an unpleasant situation (“People ignore me because I cannot speak English well enough”: It is my fault) or externalize (“People here don’t understand me. They are ignorant”: It is their fault). However, we must come back to our center and watch the feeling as it is. To do so, you must recognize your feeling first rather than be fooled by it. For example, if you feel incompetent speaking in English, you just need to recognize your feeling and move on to improve it by trying to practice more with others instead of getting deeply soaked up in that feeling and further isolate yourself. 

The participants listened carefully, and we had a short guided-meditation session at the end. By noticing your breath in and out at the tip of your nose, you practice to be aware of yourself enough to recognize your emotions rather than be captivated by them and react helplessly. Once you recognize your feeling and watch it objectively, you can decide what you want to do about it. After all, you are the master of your life, and you have to power to make the change.

Tips for stress management:

  • You might “feel” incompetent. Don’t mistake it as a fact that you are.
  • Watch your feeling as it is, and give it a name. (ex. “sadness”, “frustration”)
  • Recognize it. 
  • Remind yourself that you are the master of your life. 
  • Be present, and turn the current situation into a learning opportunity.

Learn more abou the CLG Series for International Students and Families.

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