How to Stop Obsessing

Our ability to think and reflect on our experiences is a trait that distinguishes us from most other animals. It allows us to anticipate problems and plan for the future. It also allows to make sense of and giving meaning to the past.

The problem that arises for many of us is when we can’t turn off our thinking mind. It’s as if part of us believes that by ruminating on a problem we can solve it and get free of it.  Yet, in fact our mind can turn a problem or experience over and over again without ever solving anything or without seeing things more clearly.

We all have problems; adversity is part of life. But a tendency to ruminate about our problems can set us up for anxiety and/or depression. We can get so stuck in our heads that we miss the beauty or joy of life or the calm clarity that can come from noticing what is happening in the present moment — the smile of a friend, the drops of rain hitting the leaves outside the window, the way the setting sun sets the clouds on fire.

Just as it took some time to develop the habit of overthinking, it will take some effort to overcome it. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • The next time you are ruminating, stop and ask yourself: what do I need right now? Do you need to eat something? Do you need to move around a bit or go outside? Or get in touch with a good friend? The practice of noticing that you are ruminating and redirecting your focus retrains your mind to loosen up and not get pulled into the vortex of your thoughts.
  • Snap out of it. Place a rubber band around your wrist.  When you notice yourself ruminating, snap the rubber band and refocus on something else.
  • Get into a comfortable position and follow these breathing instructions. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and breathe out for a count of four. Repeat this for at least five minutes. Breathing replenishes the body and gives the mind something else to focus on.
  • Pull Over: This method came from Therese J. Borchard who wrote an online guide to overcoming obsessions. Imagine you are driving a car. Whenever you notice yourself obsessing, imagine pulling over to the side of the road. Then ask yourself: Is there anything I need to fix? Is there anything I need to change? Is there anything else I need to do to find peace with the situation I’m ruminating about? If the answer is “no,” then let go of the obsession and get back on the road. This is a way to teach yourself to focus on things you can actually change and let go of the rest.
  • Get out of your mind and into your senses. When we are in our heads, we tend to overthink things. Activities that get you out of your mind and into the physical world can help break the cycle. For instance, take a walk and notice everything that is the color blue or green. Ride your bike along the river trail and feel the wind in your face. Get out a recipe and prepare a dish that you’ve never made before. Light a stick of incense and put on some good music. You get the idea.
  • Learn and practice meditation. One simple practice is to follow the stream of sounds as they rise and fall moment by moment. When distracting thoughts arise, let the thoughts go and return to the stream of sounds. When we are obsessing about a problem or the past, it can feel like we’re in the grip of a force more powerful than us. But developing a well-established practice of systematically letting go of your thoughts will allow you to enter a more spacious state of mind, even in the face of challenging circumstances.

Thinking is a wonderful tool that allows us to plan for the future, anticipate and solve problems. But in order to live a balanced life and not waste our time worrying, we need to learn how to set the tool down, breathe and take in the world around us. Sometimes the greatest inspirations come when we stop thinking and open our minds to a deeper stream of experience.

Mark Evans, Ph.D.

Staff Psychologist

The Selfie and the Self: Slaying the Lying Dragon

I have just climbed the 450 stone steps to the top of Lying Dragon Mountain in Ninh Binh Province, Viet Nam. Near the top of this exquisitely beautiful setting I encounter a group of young people talking selfies. And I wonder — why are they so focused on taking pictures of themselves? Can they not see how beautiful and special this place is? Why must they focus on themselves, on their own images?

As I try to place myself into their mindset the answer that comes to me is something like: Look at me in this beautiful place. I’m beautiful too. (For beautiful, you could substitute the words important, significant, happy, etc.) Also, I gather that by taking a picture on this happy occasion, later they can look at the photo and re-experience a similar happiness, the same thrill of being alive.

While all of this is well and good, part of me does worry that by focusing on oneself and the social network in such a singular place, one might miss taking in the full scope of nature’s remarkable beauty.  Indeed, Lying Dragon Mountain is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been too on this remarkable earth. Yet, no real damage has been done, apart from a missed opportunity for quiet reflection. (Does the selfie take the place of self-reflection, the smart phone a replacement for the self-aware mind?)

Now imagine this — a photo app that disfigures every image that is taken with it. Let’s give this app a suitable name: Lying Dragon. Lying in the sense of making up a story that is fundamentally untrue. Dragon because it’s powerful and lives mostly under the earth. The Lying Dragon app turns everything beautiful in its essence into something ugly and shameful, an image that makes us turn our gaze away in disgust. And let’s say that the app is encoded into the operating system so that the user doesn’t even realize it’s there — or if they do, they don’t know how to upgrade the OS to a better version.

By this point you may be wondering: what on earth am I talking about? What do defective operating systems have to do with a blog on self-help? To put your mind at ease, I could draw a connection between Lying Dragon and low esteem, depression and social anxiety.  All of these, to various extents, can involve a morbid self-preoccupation, a distorted view of oneself baked into the firmware of our minds.

If you have read this far, I would not feel like I’m doing a very good job unless I could offer at least a partial solution to this corrupted operating system.

To remove this app that turns the image of yourself into something ugly you may need to look at it square in the eye and see the dragon for what it is — and what it is not. You may need to face down the Lying Dragon and say, You’re not real. You’re just a figment of my imagination. I am stronger than you. After all, the dragon is made up of your own thoughts and feelings and the story you tell yourself about yourself.

It may be helpful to also realize that the real self is not limited by words and stories, nor by the memories of what happened to you. The self — unlike the selfie — is unlimited, full of stories yet to be written. Some call it the silent observer, the witness who has been present through all of your experiences, yet not identified with any of them. You could also call the self a free spirit in that it is not shackled to the past nor to any imagined future. This may sound beyond reach for some of you, but there are practices and skills you can learn that will help you go beyond the dragon and connect with your real self.

And here is another tip.  If you get dragged down by negative thoughts about yourself, turn your mind — your smart phone — the other way around and focus on the beauty of the world. It’s true, the world can be painful at times. Imperfect too. But it is also beautiful. And remember, you are part of this beauty too, even without a selfie to prove it.

Let no one tell you otherwise.

Mark Evans, Ph.D.                                                                                                             Staff Psychologist

Who Listens to the Listeners?

In my role as Staff Psychologist at the UO Counseling Center, one issue comes up consistently.  Students will appear in my office who have never sought counseling before, but who suddenly feel overwhelmed by a stress and anxiety the likes of which they’ve never seen. They cannot pinpoint the reason for their current distress, which of course leaves them very confused and helpless.  I have noticed a common thread among many of these students.  When I ask them if they have a support system (i.e., friends and/or family whom they love and trust), most will answer yes.  I then ask if they talk to their support persons about their own problems and worries.  Most answer no.  Indeed, most of these students tell me that they tend to “bottle things up.” They avoid or suppress their own emotions.  They have difficulty opening up to others, even their closest friends.

Ask yourself if you identify with any of the following:

  • All of your friends come to you with their problems because you are a wonderful listener and give great advice.
  • You are the unofficial “therapist” of your friend group.
  • The thought of opening up about your problems feels incredibly scary and uncomfortable.
  • When people ask you how you’re doing, you say “fine” even when you’re not.
  • You worry that you will burden others by talking about your own problems.
  • You are concerned that you will feel guilty if others “have to” worry about you.

If you answer yes to some of these statements, perhaps you have found yourself in the role of “the listener” or “the caretaker.” This is the person everyone comes to for help, but who hates to ask for help in return.  Maybe this was modeled to you within your family — or perhaps a role you found yourself playing with a parent. Maybe you have played this role for so long, the idea of doing something new and different simply feels wrong.  Maybe you embrace personal, religious, or cultural values regarding selflessness and attending to others’ needs.

Being a friend, a support, a listener is not a bad thing. In fact, being a good listener is a wonderful quality. However, the important thing is balance. If the helpers are always helping, they are prone to stress, exhaustion, and burnout.

So, here’s the question: Who listens to the listeners? In my clinical (and personal) experience, bottling things up comes at a price. While avoiding our emotions can provide some short-term relief, we often suffer longer-term consequences.  Invariably, when I challenge my clients to open up to others, even if it just sharing one problem they are having with someone they trust, despite the newness and awkwardness of the experience, they often report an instant sense of relief.  The pressure valve has been released and there is more room to breathe. They often notice a decrease in anxiety and an increased ability to cope with stress.

If you are someone who often assumes the role of a listener or caretaker, consider engaging in the following experiment.  Identify a friend or family member who you trust and who you know is a good listener.  Someone you know to be supportive and validating.  Challenge yourself to tell them about one difficult thing that is going on in your life. Most of my clients tell me that simply initiating the conversation is the hardest part because it is so new. Since it’s not in your repertoire, it can feel weird and scary. See if you can let yourself tolerate this discomfort and awkwardness. Try to imagine the situation from your friend’s perspective. Is it safe to assume that they would want to know if you were having a hard time?

So, if you are someone who tends to play the role of “listener,” someone who rarely talks about your own problems, consider experimenting with something new.  Social support helps build resilience, a force field to help us navigate life’s challenges. Sharing our feelings/struggles with others helps lighten the load so that we do not have to carry it all ourselves. Life’s problems don’t disappear, of course, but they sure feel more manageable when we are not facing them alone.

Chandra Mundon, Psy.D.                                                                                                    Staff Psychologist

Support for International and Undocumented Students

Recent political decisions and rhetoric affecting international students and undocumented students and Dreamers have caused many of our students and other campus community members to feel unwelcome and unsafe. Mental health professional organizations have released and posted statements about these issues. These statements reflect the commitment embedded in our code of ethics to respect the rights and dignity of all people and promote social justice.

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released a statement regarding the harm caused to refugees, immigrants, academic research and international exchange by the president’s recent executive orders. The statement begins:  “While safeguarding the nation from terrorist entry is of critical national importance, the Trump administration’s proposed restrictions on refugees and other visitors are likely to compound the stress and trauma already experienced by populations at risk for discrimination, limit scientific progress and increase stigma.”

The Oregon Psychological Association (OPA) also stated that “we welcome people of all faiths and religious backgrounds irrespective of race, ethnicity, national origin, and immigration status. Additionally, we remain committed to upholding the APA Ethical Guidelines which make clear we must advocate for and protect the civil rights of others. We are steadfast in our commitment to standing with and as people; people of all races, ethnicities, immigration statuses, religions, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, ages, education levels, abilities, and sizes. You are welcome here.”

The Counseling and Testing Center explicitly expresses its commitment to providing culturally competent programs and services to marginalized and underrepresented members of our university community. We understand that some of you may feel physically and/or psychologically unsafe. We want you to know that you are valued and you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. When individuals feel unsafe or unwelcome, they sometimes doubt whether they have a right to ask for assistance, or whether asking for help might put them at risk. You deserve to have access to resources to answer your questions and to provide other types of support – please reach out to the many university offices and staff members who care about you want to help you achieve your educational and life goals.

If you are struggling with the impact of government decisions and/or public discourse that demeans your worth, value, and contribution to our campus or society, don’t hesitate to contact the Counseling Center.

Shelly Kerr, Director

Spring Festival & Adjusting to a New Culture

January 28 is the Chinese New Year Day. Happy holiday to those who celebrate this holiday!

Chinese New Year, also known as the “Spring Festival”, is the first 15 days of traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. Celebration of the Spring Festival traditionally runs from Chinese New Year Eve to the Lantern Festival which is the 15th day of the first month on lunar calendar.  Traditional celebration of the Spring Festival often involves thoroughly cleaning the house to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make room for good incoming luck, paying respect and honoring ancestors, getting together with extended family for the annual reunion dinner, and giving money in red paper envelopes as a sign of passing on good fortune.

For many international students from countries where the Spring Festival is an important festival, the actual celebration may be very different than the tradition. These students are forced to adjust because their families are thousand miles away, and they are not able to return to their home in the middle of a very busy academic term.  Instead of reuniting with their family for the dinner, they often get together with friends to celebrate. Instead of giving or receiving red paper envelopes in person, they may give or receive virtual “red paper envelopes” online via social media such as Weibo or WeChat.

Studying abroad and adjusting to a different culture can be both rewarding and stressful. Figuring out how to celebrate a traditional holiday while studying abroad is not the only adjustment that international students have to make. Many of these students, who were used to lecture-based teaching style in their home countries, have to adjust to more interactive, discussion-based classroom in the U.S. Oftentimes international students have to navigate a different set of social norms such as asserting oneself with authority figures or learning how to make friends from other cultures.

Here are some tips that may assist international students in adjusting to living and studying in the U.S.

  • Be patient and give yourself permission to make mistakes. The process of adjusting to a new culture takes time. No one can understand everything overnight, and it is inevitable and understandable to make mistakes while exploring a new culture. Be patient with the process and don’t beat yourself up for not knowing something or making a mistake.
  • Use your observation skills. While you are trying to figure out the social norms, it is often helpful to observe how others respond to certain situations. Pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal behaviors.
  • Find a cultural ally and ask questions. An American friend, faculty, or staff whom you can trust can be a great consultant on cultural norms and expectations.
  • Seek support from your family, friends and other international students. It is important for all of us to have people with whom we can talk about ups and downs. Stay connected to your family and/or friends in your home country. They may not fully understand your experience in a new culture, but they do care about you. Sometimes knowing someone is there for you can make a big difference. It is also helpful to make friends with other international students and support one another in navigating the process of adjusting to a new culture.
  • Utilize resources on campus. There are many resources on campus that provide support to international students in their process of adjusting to a new environment. International Student and Scholar Services is often a good starting point. Also, the University Counseling and Testing Center offers a support group for international women on a weekly basis. There also are a variety of international student groups.
  • Keep in mind that in spite of the frustration or loneliness at times, your time at UO can also offer you a rich, cross-cultural life experience that goes well beyond the classroom.

Jingqing Liu

Staff Psychologist

Creating Healthy Relationships

Relationships – there are thousands, perhaps millions of movies, stories, self-help books, songs, online assessments, videos, messages and blogs about them. We have, build and maintain – and sometimes lose — them with so many people around us: parents, siblings, friends, partners, roommates, advisers, hair stylists, mechanics, RAs, professors, neighbors. The list goes on and on. Most important, of course, is your relationship with yourself. Needless to say, the kind of relationships we have with others differ. How much effort, time, and stress we incur in these relationships varies. However, most of us tend to crave good, healthy and reciprocal relationships with the people we encounter and spend time with.

So, what makes a healthy relationship? How do we recognize when a relationship isn’t healthy? What steps can we take to ensure that the relationships we are in can be as good as possible?

Although there isn’t a magic formula to ensure that your relationships are healthy, here are some things to think about in order to create well-balanced and fulfilling relationships:

DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOURSELF: This is arguably your most important relationship. How you think of and treat yourself plays a very important role in what your other relationships are like. Be kind to yourself, cheer and motivate yourself on, be gentle and encouraging when you make a mistake, set realistic goals for yourself and reward yourself and take credit for your accomplishments. Set aside some time to assess what your needs are and practice asking for your needs to be met. Stand up for yourself when you need to. Let go of any expectations to be “perfect”. Learn to be vulnerable with others and to allow others to help you. Treat yourself the way that you wish others would treat you. When you respect and love yourself, you make it easier for others to do the same.

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR FEELINGS AND BEHAVIORS: When you realize and accept that someone you have a relationship with cannot “make you” feel something or “make you” do something, it becomes easier to feel empowered within the relationship. For example, many people feel anxious around conflict. But it helps to recognize that you can choose how you react, and this is what determines how you ultimately feel about it. For example, you could choose to not say anything and feel resentful; or you could choose to respectfully address the issue and feel relieved if the conflict is aired and hopefully resolved.

HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS ARE RECIPROCAL: All healthy relationships include some amount of reciprocity. If you are constantly “giving”, but never “receiving” or never “allowing yourself to receive,” that is not a healthy relationship. It takes two people to create a healthy relationship. Another indicator of whether a relationship is healthy is decision making. If the relationship is healthy, the responsibility of decision making is shared. Decisions are mutual rather than being thrust upon one person by the other.

HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS HAVE HEALTHY BOUNDARIES: Relationships are healthy when boundaries are clearly established and understood by all parties. This includes physical, emotional and sexual boundaries. Healthy and appropriate boundaries create a safe and comfortable environment that allows a healthy relationship to thrive. An example would be that while it’s natural to seek support from those we feel close to, it can be unhealthy when one person turns the other into their “therapist.”

HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS ARE COMPASSIONATE: Healthy relationships are not abusive or traumatic. Relationships thrive when members in the relationship are kind, accepting and empathic. In healthy relationship, both parties have mutual respect for each other. Differences in culture are accepted and celebrated. Conflicts or disagreements are compassionately addressed rather than being avoided or weighed down by blame.

HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS INVOLVE OPEN AND RESPECTFUL COMMUNICATION: The importance of clear, open, genuine communication to creating healthy relationships cannot be stressed enough. We build good relationships with others when we don’t hide important feelings, when we give honest feedback, and when we step out of our comfort zone and are emotionally vulnerable.

HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS TAKE WORK: It takes work to do all of the above. It is difficult to be vulnerable, to lean in to conflict, to be compassionate when we are hurt, and to trust others — especially if we have been hurt before. But the rewards for putting in the effort to create a fulfilling, compassionate and reciprocal relationship are profound. The delightful thing about it is that as you start to create one healthy relationship, it is much easier to start to transform your other relationships along healthy lines as well.

If you would like to learn more about your relationship with yourself and with others and start to identify ways to start to improve your relationships, consider joining a “Creating Healthy Relationships” therapy group. Call 541-346-3227 or go to our webpage  to see how you can join.

Asha Stephen, Ph.D.
Staff Psychologist

Everyone Belongs

I know that this has been a very difficult time for some UO students – particularly students of color and other groups that feel under siege right now. It is to those students that I primarily speak  – but also those who identify as allies or are just concerned with the suffering of fellow ducks.

Many students wonder what future holds for themselves and their loved ones. I have heard several stories about UO students being harassed by strangers on the street simply for the color of their skin. This saddens me, and as white male, it makes me very disappointed in those who share my gender and skin color.

At the same time, I have seen wise elders — and wise youth — stepping forward and offering words of hope and inspiration. This seems like the best response during periods of fear and uncertainty. Isolation in times like these can sometimes be a recipe for despair.

As a psychologist I’m aware of the power of the darkness. If we don’t get lost in our suffering, then deep hurt, fear and anger can become a powerful force for transformation and change. People don’t usually seek out experiences that are confusing and painful. But it’s not the victories in life that shape and reveal our character. If we can explore such experiences consciously and with compassion for ourselves and others, then the darkness deepens us and reveals our strength.

Think of Rosa Parks who refused to go the back of the bus in Montgomery. Think of Martin Luther King at the Birmingham City Jail. Think of Cesar Chavez fasting for 25 days at the Forty Acres gas station. These men and women faced as great, if not greater, challenges than the ones America faces today, and yet they emerged from the storms of hate and misunderstanding only more committed to their cause. For as Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

This may sound naïve – but imagine what your life and the world would be like if for every act of ugliness you hear or read about, you and others engaged in acts of beauty. This could mean reaching out to a friend who is going through a difficult time. It could be volunteering for those who can benefit from your help — or smiling and saying hello to a stranger who appears burdened or alone. Or it might be listening to the vision that stirs in the quiet waters of your soul and bringing it out into the light so that the world becomes better place for all of us.

So in this season of winter and darkness, I encourage you to kindly tend to the darkness and also to the flames that light up your life.

Mark Evans, Ph.D.

Staff Psychologist

Home for the Holidays

As end of the quarter builds, having time off around the Holidays can be a much needed chance to rest, recharge, and reconnect. For many students, trips “home” can be simultaneously enjoyable and frustrating. It can be particularly challenging to enjoy a sense of freedom while living away from home and then lose some of this freedom when you re-encounter rules or expectations. It might be helpful in this case to have a frank conversation with your parents in which everyone’s needs and hopes for the break are taken into consideration.

For students who struggle with family relationships, returning to home can be stressful. Sometimes the holidays can remind us of what is missing in our family life – or even loved ones whom we have lost. If you will be traveling home and find yourself struggling, it may be time to attend to self-care.

Sometimes, all it takes is a few minutes to refocus and ground yourself and simple strategies such as:

  • Listening to music
  • Texting/calling a friend
  • Taking a short walk
  • Taking out your art materials
  • Petting your family dog or cat

At other times, it may take more effort and time, and you might find it useful to reconnect with a local friend, see a movie, take yourself on a date, or go for a longer hike. Having strategies in mind can help decrease distress and anxiety and allow you to enjoy more of your time at home.

Finally, for some students going home can feel like your personal identities are rendered invisible — particularly those who have salient identities that differ (and are not accepted by) family members. In this case, make plans to connect with others who know you and understand you, even if it’s via text or Snapchat. If you feel overwhelmed, call the support line (541-346-3227) for more immediate support.

Going “home for the holidays” can be a wonderful break and a time to reconnect. But it can also be difficult and overwhelming for some. Either way, know you’re not alone and give yourself permission to take care of yourself and re-engage with the people and activities you enjoy.

Stacie Rowan, Ph.D.

Staff Psychologist

What is This Title IX Business?

You may have heard the phrase “Title IX” tossed around campus — it sounds big, it sounds important, but it also sounds vaguely like something that should be left to the tweed-adorning professors of yore. Well it is important, and it is meant to protect you as students!

Title IX was first enacted in 1972 nationwide by the federal government in an effort to eliminate sex and gender discrimination from education. However, the long and short of it is that this was widely interpreted as “have women’s sports.”

In 2011, federally funded educational institutions were further advised to reduce barriers to education for women, in part, by addressing issues related to dating violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination. The University of Oregon, as a federal institution, honors Title IX and works to reduce the impact of gender discrimination on your college education. One of the ways the university does this is by mandating all staff and faculty to report any Title IX incidents that they hear about to the university, including sexual assault, gender based harassment, intimate partner or relationship violence, stalking, gender bullying, and gender discrimination.

Sexual assault on college campuses, an all too frequent occurrence, is finally starting to get the attention it deserves. However, as millennials, this may be the first time we’ve participated in these discussions, and some of us might not even be clear on what constitutes sexual assault. The UO SAFE website defines sexual assault as, “unwanted sexual penetration” or “nonconsensual personal contact of a sexual nature.” These definitions may not clearly portray what sexual assault actually looks like, for instance: too many drinks to properly give consent, when a trusted friend suddenly takes what they feel is “theirs,” or when someone decides in the heat of the moment that this is not what they wanted and withdraws their consent — only to be ignored. Make no mistake, these are instances of sexual assault. These experiences deserve to be voiced and responded to by your campus community.

Furthermore, sexual harassment, assault, and gender discrimination are not exclusively female experiences. Male-identified, female-identified, as well as transgender, genderqueer, and agender students experience harassment, bullying, and discrimination based on their gender identity. Perhaps classmates or teammates call you homophobic slurs or constantly imply you are not masculine enough. Perhaps another Graduate Employee at your campus job constantly makes sexist jokes or sexually inappropriate comments. If it’s weighing heavy on your mind, it is impacting your right to an accessible education.

So, what happens when these incidents are reported to the university? Perhaps you opened up to a professor or an RA about a sexual assault, and they are mandated reporters. This information will be passed along to the Crisis Intervention and Sexual Violence Support Services here on campus, where advocates work to meet your needs. They will reach out to you, and you can allow them to outline resources for you, let them walk you through the entire process — or you can tell them to, “go way and leave me alone.” The level of support you want or don’t want is up to you, but this protocol is in place so that you know what options are available to you.

Options include but are not limited to:

  • Anonymous reporting (if the incident has not already been reported)
  • Implementing a no-contact order with the perpetrator
  • Academic accommodations if a class is feeling too overwhelming
  • Connections to legal support

Don’t want the university to know what happened? Here are ways to seek support and maintain confidentiality:

Regardless of the choices you make regarding a sexual assault experience, please know that support is nearby.

Kendall Thornton

Doctoral Intern


Do You Have ADD?

Are you easily distracted? Do you struggle with getting organized when you have a paper to write? Do you tend to forget appointments or frequently lose your keys or phone? Do you feel like your mind is a motor that is constantly revving?

Then it’s possible that you have ADD. The only way to know for certain is to be assessed by a mental health professional. This typically involves a few interviews, some psychological tests, as well as an interview with a parent or someone else who can describe your early school history.

Other conditions exist that produce some of the same symptoms of ADD. A few examples are anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and bipolar disorder. A formal evaluation is usually able to tease out ADD from these other disorders. And it’s possible for ADD to co-exist along with other mental health issues.

Many students do not discover that they have ADD until they encounter the lack of structure and increased demands of college. Prior to college such students are often able to do reasonably well in school through sheer intelligence and persistence. The good news is that most students with ADD are able to be successful in college by developing good coping strategies and work habits and accessing proper support. Many go on to earn graduate degrees or other professional degrees. You shouldn’t let ADD stop you from aspiring to do great things.

Edward Hallowell, M.D., a psychiatrist who himself has ADD, says that one of the keys to a successful life for those with ADD is to find a career path that one feels passionate about. The intrinsic interest provided by a passionate pursuit can help a person with ADD overcome their difficulty sustaining attention and motivation. In fact, Hallowell believes that many of the most creative people have ADD.  Just google “famous people with ADD” and see what you come up with. You may be surprised.

While medication may not be for everyone, it is the most effective treatment for ADD. I have witnessed amazing results in students with ADD once they start taking prescribed medication. It’s as if a switch is turned on, and suddenly they are able to sit still in class, focus and sustain attention. One current challenge is the fact that the illicit use of Adderall has made it less available to those who really need it. Keep in mind that drugs like Adderall have a different effect on those who have ADD and those who simply use it to write a paper or cram before finals.

Lifestyle changes also can be very helpful for those who have ADD. Exercise, good nutrition, and getting enough sleep all help improve a person’s ability to focus — especially those with ADD. Some students with ADD find that they can sit down and hammer out a paper much more easily after a good workout. The opposite is also true. When a person with ADD isn’t getting enough sleep, gets little to no exercise, and eats a diet rich in carbohydrates and sugars instead of protein, their ability to focus will deteriorate even further.

The Counseling Center is a good place to start if you think you might have ADD. Another helpful resource on campus is the Accessible Education Center (AEC). If you have documented ADD, the AEC can help with adaptive technology and academic accommodations.

Don’t let feelings of discouragement stop you from seeking resources that can help you achieve your ambitions and enjoy your time in college.

Mark Evans, Ph.D.

Staff Psychologist