Breaking Out of Your Shell – How York Supports Personal Development

Posted by Megan on October 30, 2014

Journey to the Centre of York

One thing that I’ve always loved about York is all the different ways the university offers support for students. This fall, Counselling & Disability Services (CDS) rolled out a bunch of new services and initiatives including the Disability Services App, the Personal Development Certicate (PDC), and  new workshops. I decided to embark on a mission to attain the PDC and try a newly offered workshop series entitled Breaking Out of Your Shell.

The Personal Development Certificate

The PDC is a new certificate offered by CDS, much like the Passport to Success certificate that Learning Skills Services offers. Both are excellent achievements that can be included on your York Co-Curricular Record (which can be found on YU Connect), resumé, and LinkedIn profile. To attain the PDC you only need to complete five workshops. Remember to have the workshop leaders sign your checklist so that you qualify for the certificate at the end of the program.

Reads: Personal Development Certificate Checklist.
This is what part of the front cover of the checklist pamphlet looks like. It also include descriptions of all the great workshops being offered. You can access the pamphlet here, and see what workshops are running this month.

Breaking Out of Your Shell

I decided to go with the Breaking Out of Your Shell workshop because I’ve always been a relatively shy individual, and as I hit my teen years I also struggled with social anxiety. Social anxiety is something that plagues me off and on, and the less I challenge it, the harder it becomes to do so. While I currently have other supports in my life, I thought doubling up with this workshop could bring even more self-awareness so I pushed through my anxieties and jumped in.

Before the workshop

Before the first workshop, I could really feel my anxiety building. My anxiety is always worse with larger groups of people, so I used positive self-talk to rationalize the situation and go over the pros and cons. I thought about how much I wanted to get the Personal Development Certificate and I decided to set a goal of participating at least once in each workshop.

Session 1 – “What is shyness/social anxiety? You will be given the opportunity to evaluate your difficulties & identify personal goals in this session.”

During this session the workshop leader, a clinical psychologist, introduced herself to us. She explained what the workshop series would be about, what to expect, and stressed the importance of confidentiality. Personal stories that are shared with the group, stay with the group.

We then introduced ourselves and shared our major. The psychologist explained what shyness and social anxiety are, as well as their common symptoms. She passed out sheets on which we could list some situations that give us difficulty, asked us to rate how anxious the situations make us feel (out of 10) and how we normally handle these situations.

I found it extremely helpful to see that many of listed situations and reactions were shared. The workshop leader then asked us to try to set at least one personal goal that we could work on during the four workshops. I already had a goal ready. Perfect. The best thing of all? I was able to participate even more than I initially suspected I would feel comfortable to do. Success! The series was off to a great start!

Session 2 – “You will explore the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.”

An image of a young woman biting her nails.
Nail biting is just one way peoples anxiety’s can be recognized. I usually wring my hands or move my feet around. Image Source.

The second workshop built on the first. There were a few new faces, but many of the original participants were also there (and most of them made it through the series). Our workshop leader reiterated the importance of confidentiality, something she made sure each late entrant was aware of and for all the following workshops too. This really helped to create a safe and secure atmosphere.

From there, we went over the relationship between feelings, thoughts and actions and how we make our own self-fulfilling theories by not challenging our thoughts. The psychologist basically explained it by saying that our bodies are much older (primal) than our brains our. So when our fight/flight reaction is produced, it often doesn’t make logical sense why and so our thoughts try to rationalize it. Those rationalizations include thoughts such as “these people think I’m stupid”, “everyone is judging me”, “they know I’m fake”, etc. However in most cases these thoughts don’t have any validity, and by confronting them we can make them disappear. (This is after much work of course, it doesn’t happen right away.)

The psychologist also asked out to think about what we miss out on when we avoid situations. Not only does it back up those illogical thoughts, but we often miss amazing opportunities to try something new, to better ourselves, and in worse cases, we can even miss classes and risk losing marks.

Session 3 – “You will explore your thoughts and practice relaxation training.”

An image of Buddha.
Buddha, commonly associated with meditation and Buddhist philosophy. Many religions offer their own variations of mindfulness and meditation however many forms, such as those featured in this workshop series, are removed from a religious context. It’s amazing to think that a practice we’ve had for over a thousand years is still useful today! Image Source.

What I really appreciated in this workshop was that once the psychologist told us about the link between our feelings, thoughts and actions, she told us she knew that was only part of the problem. So she also shared some tips to relieve anxiety in the moment. We were asked to share our tips of how we try to push through difficult situations. Positive self-talk was one suggestion that I shared.

What ended up being the most recommended was deep breathing and mindfulness, due to the amount of research supporting it. The psychologist then lead the group into a breathing exercise and I would say that the majority of us came out of feeling blissful and quite relaxed. A few of us, myself included, got a body buzz (tingly feeling everywhere). The hardest part, we were told, is training yourself to do this on a regular basis to form a habit. This is a skill that needs to be practised when you are well, so that when you are overcome with anxiety, you can access the tools to calm yourself down.

Session 4 – “You will learn to better cope with life problems and improve your social skills.”

Unfortunately I missed this workshop due to being sick, but I enjoyed the series so much that I’m going to try to attend the final session during the next time it’s run – this month. If you would like to try this series it is starting up again on November 5th (Wednesday) and will be running for four weeks from 9:30 to 11 am in N204B Bennett Centre.

Conclusion

This was a great workshop series, and while I’m disappointed I missed the last session, I had an overall amazing experience. I noticed after the first two weeks in particular, that I was far more critical of my thoughts in social situations and I was also able to challenge myself more. I still have a lot of work to do before I’ll feel free from the grasps of social anxiety, but I feel like I’ve made some massive leaps in the right direction. The best part is, I only need to attend two more workshops to get my certificate! I’m thinking of doing the Stress Management and Staying Motivated & Conquering Procrastination to finish it off.

Which workshops are you interested in trying?

Megan
Megan

Megan is a third-year Psychology student. Follow her on her journey of self-development as she explores and ventures through campus.

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