Category Archives: Health

The Weight of Eating Disorders


American Psychological Association defines eating disorders as “abnormal eating habits that can threaten your health or even your life.” The 3 most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. Anorexia nervosa is an illness in which a person fears weight gain resulting in a restriction of eating to become thinner and thinner. Bulimia nervosa consists of eating an enormous amount of food and then purging almost right after. Binge eating is similar to bulimia nervosa, but without the act of purging.

Although eating disorders only became noteworthy back in the 1980s, the rate of the disorder is on a steady increase all over the world. Eating disorders can affect any race, age, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. As a matter of fact, researchers have noted that there may be a fourth type called “compulsive exercising,” more commonly in men than women, where an afflicted individual may be prone to exercising obsessively. It is crucial to take note of this upward trend, as eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all disorders. One in five afflicted individual’s commits suicide, and every hour approximately one person dies as a result of his or her eating disorder. It is often extremely comorbid as well, specifically with anxiety and depression.

The disorder commonly manifests as an intense fear of gaining weight, resulting in symptoms such as dieting, restricting food intake, pickiness, and preoccupation with body weight and food. Due to a person’s intense fear of gaining weight, a common sign that someone is experiencing an eating disorder is having an excessive amount of measuring tapes and scales around the house, including the bathroom, living room, bedroom, kitchen, and even in their own purses. A research study asked people with an eating disorder to point to the photo that best represented their current body shape (one photo was of their actual current selves and one photo was altered to make them look fatter). They found that people chose the altered fattened photo of themselves, suggesting that a person’s cognitive distortion of their body shape reinforces the classic belief of “I am never thin enough.” Interestingly, although the word anorexia means a loss of interest in food, person’s with this disorder often become more obsessed with food via gourmet cooking, taking photographs of fancy food etc. Their obsession with food acts as a way to regain control and cope with intense emotions.

Eating disorders can be caused by multiple factors including genetic, biochemical, psychological, cultural, and environmental. An example of a prominent cultural factor is the way society has come to view women’s

body as an object of admiration and beauty. In the media there is an overwhelming and consistent depiction of how a woman should look like in order to be considered beautiful. In 2013 a short one-minute video showed an attractive woman with hair and makeup fully done by a professional team getting airbrushed after a photo shoot to the point that she almost looked like two different individuals before and after the photos. The video explicitly revealed the unrealistic and impossible standard regular women strive to reach for. Despite the fact that this clip went viral, the dietary culture remains intact. These societal pressures can lead a young child, who may be going through puberty or getting bullied at school, to develop an eating disorder in order to fit in with their peers and what society portrays as “normal.”

Thinking about environmental factors, it’s important to note that eating disorders do not occur in isolation. According to “Family Systems Theory,” the disorder can be understood by looking at the symptoms embedded within a person’s dysfunctional family structure. Families of children afflicted with eating disorders frequently exhibit the following characteristics: overprotectiveness, a great deal of enmeshment, and lack of conflict resolution. As a result, children do not develop independence or control over their life, leading them to seek control in other areas. The simplest solution is often to control their body shape by controlling what they eat.

The disorder requires meticulous attention to a person’s physical and psychological state. In order to appropriately address the issue of eating disorders, there should be initiatives at both the micro and macro level. Family therapy is a good treatment option because eating disorders affect the whole family, so it’s important to involve everyone’s voices. There should also be more campaigns that work towards redefining the definition of “beauty” to counteract the affects of current media portrayals of beauty.

By: Stella Hyesoo Pock

Stella is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major degree in Psychology and Neuroscience. She is currently working on three projects that focus on maternal mental health at the Mothering Transitions Lab at the University of Toronto under Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis. She has various research experiences that range from postpartum depression to LGBTQ members with schizophrenia. She is dedicated to help those who are afflicted with mental disorders.

Are you Feeling Stressed? Try Cooking!


I think we can all agree that few things are more stressful than approaching deadlines when you’re in school or at work. This stress can often decreases your productivity without you even knowing it. You may still get an A on your paper, for example, but it probably cost you more time and effort because your body was stressed. As I started to look for ways to eliminate some of my stress, I found that cooking really helped. I used to never want to cook, thinking that it would distract me from all the work I had to do and thus decrease my productivity. But when I set a goal to try and fit a block of time each day to cook, despite having assignments and exams, I found that it actually improved my productivity.

So how does cooking alleviate stress and anxiety? Let’s consider briefly what you are doing when you’re actually cooking (that is, when your food is heating up in the pan). To ensure that your food doesn’t come out charcoal or raw, naturally you would have to monitor the cooking process. This process requires a lot of attention, which helps distract you from the stress. When your cooking, you become immersed in the current moment and it engages all of your senses – smell, taste, sight, and touch. As a result, your body naturally relaxes and releases some of the tension.

This state of mind closely resembles the state of mindfulness – the focused state on one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences at the present moment. Mindfulness has been shown to alleviate distress resulting from all sorts of life stressors. This makes sense because stress and anxiety are primarily produced by a constant contrast between the present and a set future, and the feeling that the progress toward that future is hindered or deviated. So naturally, if you immerse yourself in the present, you will feel less of the stress and anxiety.

Although there are many other ways to practice mindfulness, they usually take time to master. Cooking offers an instant source of stress relief, without the time commitment of mastering the task. So next time you are feeling stressed, ground yourself in the present and try cooking – it brings more than delicious food to the table!

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

 

How to Commit to Your New Year’s Resolutions


New Year’s Resolutions is a special tradition that has existed for years, dating back to the Romans and Babylonians who took this chance to renew themselves in preparation for a new cycle of life. In modern times, we still continue this ancient tradition by setting personally valuable goals at the start of each year. However, according to national polls and anecdotal opinions, at least half of people’s Resolutions fall apart fairly rapidly. So how do we ensure that we follow through with our New Year’s resolutions?

For starters, research shows that people who successfully attain their resolutions are those who believe they have the ability to follow through with their plans and achieve their goals. They genuinely desire and are prepared for the change to happen. Additionally, the beginning stages of the resolution play a vital role in its success. Research shows that strong willpower, self-rewarding, avoiding facilitators of failure, constant reminder of the goal, and sparing use of self-blame are especially crucial ingredients in starting your resolutions. Below are a few tips to help you stick to those resolutions and move from contemplation to action:

  1. Go after something you want, big or small. Resolutions are a chance to follow your heart and change yourself in ways you desire. This will give you the energy to pursue.
  2. Make it something you are ready to change. If you’re ready, then you’re more likely to have the motivation to maintain your goal.
  3. Like rewards for like efforts. Rather than focusing on everything you have not yet done, focus on the things that you have done and reward yourself for each small milestone you achieve.
  4. Know your enemies. Anticipate things that can impede your progress and try your best to avoid them. Try making them part of your reward if applicable.
  5. Make it part of your life. Put out a visual reminder, like a poster, of your goals and the steps needed to achieve them.
  6. Cut yourself some slack. If you deviated from your plan, reflect, don’t blame. Remember that change is hard and takes time.

Finally, I can think of no better route to enhance your willpower than to renew your efforts, especially when desirable results do not fall through. Armed with this, I hope we will all reach new distances on the road to achieving this year’s Resolutions!

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

The Power of Taking a Break from our Phones


In late November, my iPhone broke. For a number of reasons, I had to wait indefinitely before I could fix or replace it. At first, this didn’t seem like a big deal to me; it was hardly a significant lifestyle change. But then, as I thought back, I realised that I had never really experienced my day-to-day life phone-less for an extended period of time. The only time I really went without a phone was on vacation with my family. For the first time in 12 years, I would be living life cellphone-free, indefinitely. Fast-forward 6 months: I still don’t have a cell phone, but this time by choice. I made this decision about 3 weeks into my “phone-free life,” when the opportunity arouse to replace my old phone. In just 3 short weeks, I had seen positive changes in myself, my habits, and my ability to connect with others. My interactions with the world around me were becoming more authentic and mindful. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies; this transition definitely had its challenges. But for me, the improvements far outweighed the challenges.

Most surprising was the positive impact it had on my mental health. As someone who struggles with issues of social anxiety, introversion, and major depression, I was worried about not having my cell phone to use as a coping mechanism. Phones have become like a crutch when in new and/or uncomfortable social situations to avoid the discomfort. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how I managed challenging social situations without a phone. I realized that my old ways of escaping the discomfort only reinforced my belief that I was unable to manage the experience of any discomfort. I realised that my phone was holding me back far more than it was helping me. Without my phone to shield me, I found myself learning to be comfortable in the discomfort that came from new social situations. My instinct to avoid eye contact and small talk was replaced by attempts at connecting with those around me. I spent less time trying to craft an impression of myself as someone who didn’t care to interact with those around me, and more time growing the confidence to be authentic about the social connection I was craving.

The other area where I saw improvements was in my reliability. I was surprised to find that giving up my cell phone actually improved my punctuality. Without my phone to enable me, I found that I no longer had the option to send a series of last-minute texts alerting others that I would be 5, 10, 15 minutes late. For me, not having constant access to communication forced me to be where I was supposed to be and when I was supposed to be there. This growth extended into my overall reliability, as I was less likely to change original plans without the quick and easy convenience of a cell phone. Through this experience, I realized that the flexibility that came with technology and being able to communicate at every moment also impeded my ability to honour and stick to my original plans. I started to feel empowered by my ability to follow-through on plans.

Without things like daily texting, I found that I actually had the opportunity to appreciate and miss the people in my life in different ways than before. I no longer clung to the false sense of connection that sometimes comes from communicating without connecting. Rather than a quick text or phone call, I held onto the things that were important to me so that I could share them in person with the people closest to me. An added benefit of this was that I was really able to enjoy and celebrate life events and achievements, by taking the time to honour them. Most of all, without my phone acting as a filter through which I experienced the world, I felt more authentic and mindful in my overall day-to-day experiences of my life and the world around me.

* Disclaimer: This was my own experience of being phoneless and I understand that it may not hold true for others. I want to acknowledge that for many, a cell phone can be a very necessary and useful coping tool: one that keeps them safe and comfortable. This post is not intended to dismiss or alienate those individuals and their experiences. My privilege also comes into play, as I don’t have the responsibilities of a caretaker or someone in a similar role whose lifestyle requires they have constant access to a cell phone.

By: Meghan Thapar 

The Pressures that Students Face in our Society


Students in today’s society are indoctrinated with the idea of improving their credentials, educating themselves further, and increasing the pedigree of their resumes. We are taught to weigh every decision we make with the best alternative action and choose the one that gives us the most benefit within the same time frame. We spend countless hours studying and volunteering to get accepted into the program of our choosing, or attain the ideal job when we graduate, so that we can avoid having an unstable financial status. Often this means that we forego opportunities to take breaks to do the things we love, make new friends, spend time with family, or maintain an adequate level of physical activity every week.

My friends who went on exchange last year to various countries in Europe realized the impact of cultural values on our current lifestyle. In our capitalist society, it’s common to desire more money to increase consumerism and obtain luxury goods. In order to do so, we need well-paying jobs to provide the required capital. Based on the sheer number of individuals who all have the same aspirations, any opportunity is extremely competitive nowadays. In comparison, the culture abroad was more laissez-faire and individuals were in tune with what made them happy. They spent less time worrying about their future and wondering whether they would be well off. As a result, their self-image was more compatible with who they wanted to become.

Evidently, unless a major transformation in our culture occurs, the inflation in different product markets will exacerbate societal pressures on students to do more and do better. The notion that “time is money” will continue to place mental health as an afterthought to these pressures. If time wasn’t of the essence, then we would not face this problem.

However, that is not to say that it is impossible for students to tend to their own happiness. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I learned that it’s okay to go out for food, drinks, or a fun activity on the weekend with my friends or family. I can spend an hour at the gym, three to four times a week, and I can squeeze in my favorite TV drama, all without getting a worse mark or giving up on a volunteer opportunity. Allowing myself to do these things gave me something to look forward to when I was frustrated with how much work I had to do. It motivated me to create effective schedules and follow them to ensure that I was putting enough effort into all my responsibilities. Even when I fell behind on schoolwork because I chose to partake in activities that made me happy, I was able to fully engage with my work afterwards. I recognized myself that I needed less time to do the same things I struggled with before simply because I was in a better mood. Ultimately, students need to realize that as important as the future is, they also deserve to enjoy themselves in the present.

By: Parnian Pardis

Parnian is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Human Biology and Psychology. In the fall, she will be pursuing her Masters of Science Degree at the Institute of Medical Science at UofT. She is passionate about improving healthcare by incorporating psychological and social factors into individualized treatments for patients, along with the traditional biological approach. She believes that mental health is an integral component to this mission and hopes to encourage other people to engage with healthcare in the same manner.

 

 

 

 

Mental Health and Your Skin: Tips for Emotionally Coping with Skin Conditions

One day when I was in my early 20’s,  I was getting ready for my summer job as a waitress when I noticed a small clump of red spots on my cheeks that looked like small blood vessels. I’d never noticed these spots before, and I was confused about what they were. After examining them, I covered them up with makeup which I hoped would prevent my coworkers from seeing them. The makeup worked for the first few days — but, to my mortification, these red spots began to spread over the next few months and eventually covered both sides of my face.

This was my very first experience of the chronic skin condition called rosacea, which is surprisingly common. Since then, I’ve worked with my dermatologist to find solutions right for me. It took a couple years to get it just right, but now my skin is clear! For me, the right solution was a combination of laser treatments and special products for sensitive skin.

The winter weather may be beautiful, but it can also bring on common skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and dry winter skin. In my years as a therapist I’ve seen firsthand the impact of healthy skin on a person’s confidence, relationships, and quality of life.

If your skin is acting up this winter, it can be uncomfortable to do simple things like leave the house and go to work! But skin conditions don’t just embarrass us and make us uncomfortable, they can also impact our mental health. In fact, a recent study by the Canadian Skin Patient Alliance showed that mood disorders are present in up to 30% of people with dermatological conditions.

Psoriasis in particular can have a crippling effect on a person’s mental health – since it’s a visual condition, it can affect people’s feelings, behaviour and experiences. It’s typically associated with a lack of self esteem, sexual dysfunction, anxiety and depression — up to 60% of people with psoriasis may develop depression.

I’ve worked with many clients who are dealing with psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea, and I understand the crippling effects that these skin disorders can have — even something as simple as dating can be awkward when you’re not sure how to talk about your skin condition.

So how can you feel comfortable inside and out? I have a few tips to develop confidence and feel in control of your skin this winter:

1. Empower Yourself: Skin conditions have the power to make us feel like victims. Especially because flare ups can be unpredictable, they leave us feeling like we’re not in control of the condition – but rather, that the skin condition is in control of us! Start the process of empowering yourself by making a commitment to getting help for your skin condition.

2. Talk to Your Doctor: A recent study showed that most people with psoriasis hadn’t visited their doctor in the last year, which means that they aren’t giving themselves the option to try new treatments as they become available. The treatment landscape for skin conditions is constantly changing, and so speaking to a health professional like a dermatologist can help you get educated.

3. Connect with Others: Psoriasis affects 2-3% of the world’s population, which is roughly one million Canadians. Why not tap into the collective wisdom of others? Visiting http://www.CanadianPsoriasis.ca can help you find support and know you’re not alone.

4. Learn: There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are numerous treatments and healthy lifestyle practices that can help, and these things are unique to each person. For my own skin condition of rosacea, I learned that my skin responded differently to different environmental and social factors, but the summer heat and sun would cause the biggest flare-ups. Part of my own journey was accepting that certain activities like hot yoga or outdoor sports would need to be replaced with other fun activities if I wanted to stop my skin from being constantly irritated. Learning what causes your own flare-ups can help you plan your own lifestyle in an empowering way!

By: Dr. Kimberly Moffit

Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination has been around for quite a long time. We are all familiar with this bad habit that causes us stress and anxiety as the deadline approaches. But why do we procrastinate? One of the individual factors that may make you susceptible to procrastination is low self-esteem or self-confidence. This refers to a gap between the demands of the task or of the person who will evaluate your performance and your self-perceived ability, from which anxiety arises. To cope with this negative affect, your mind tries to relocate your attention to other tasks. Another reason we procrastinate is we often hold this irrational belief about what the world expects from us. In other words, we believe that people expect us to go above and beyond our assigned task and when we can’t meet these unrealistic expectations, we find ourselves feeling incompetent, which in turn causes us to procrastinate.

Based on my personal experience, here are some suggestions to help you overcome procrastination:

1. Try being more mindful and monitor your feelings and thoughts when you’re tempted to procrastinate. If it turns out that every time your in a bad mood you tend to procrastinate, then focus your efforts on self-care in order to get out of that head space, before you attempt to complete the task.

2. Start today, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. When people think of completing a task they tend to focus too much on the final product. My suggestion is to focus instead on the minuscule steps that lead to the end goal. Plan out the steps and aim to accomplish ONE at a time. This will make the task feel less overwhelming.

3. Turn off all distracting stimuli and focus on the task for 30 minutes to an hour, followed by a short break. It is better to work in smaller intervals than to work for longer durations of time, such as working for 6 hours straight. Our brain naturally goes through cycles with peaks and valleys, so it’s important to follow this rhythm in order to maximize output.

4. Visualize yourself starting the task at the last possible moment and what that would feel like. Likely just the thought of doing something last minute will elicit feelings of panic and anxiety, which will hopefully be motivating enough to start early.

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

 

How to Improve Your Mental Health as a Student

As an undergraduate student, I know that the first year of university can be both physically and mentally exhausting. Even though we’re always told to “take care of our health”, “eat properly,” and “sleep well all the times”, sometimes it can be really hard to manage everything. Not sleeping properly, not eating well, and not exercising can result in mental distress. Here are some of my tips to help you take care of your mental health during those stressful times in university:

Do something that relaxes you: Whether it be going for a run or listening to your favourite music, doing something for yourself will help your brain not only relax, but also recharge for later.

Finding a hobby: I know during the semester it can be very hard to find time for anything other than school. But even a 10 min break will help. For example, I like to do henna, so during my study breaks I do henna or draw something to take my mind off of school. Hobbies can also increase your creativity.

Treat yourself once in a while: Go for lunch or dinner alone or with friends. Even a half an hour lunch can improve your mood and mental health.

Do meditation: Meditation is not only good for mental health, but it will also help you focus more in school. A lot of universities have free meditation session, so take advantage of them. I personally found meditation extremely helpful in relaxing me.

Go out with friends: It is extremely important to socialize, even when we feel like we don’t have time. We are social beings and taking a break to socialize with friends can reduce stress.

Get good sleep: I know we have all heard how important sleep is, but sometimes it is hard to get proper sleep when there are billions of things going on. I personally cannot function properly without good sleep and it is really hard to focus when you are sleepy throughout the day. Sleep is extremely important not just for recharging our bodies, but also for consolidating all the things we have learned throughout the day.

Ask for help: This point is the most important one that a lot of students barely pay attention to. There is help available for everything. If you are struggling with something that is causing you distress whether it is a low mark in a course or a personal issue, ask for help on campus.

Create goals that are achievable: Although it is never wrong to aim high, your goals have to be achievable. For example, not studying the whole semester and aiming to get an A+ by just studying the night before is definitely not a realistic goal. It might work for some people, but not for most of us. As long as you are willing to put in the effort required to achieve a goal, it is very likely that you will get it. However, just know if you do not end up getting it, you at least tried your best and there is always a second chance.

By: Maleeha Khan

Maleeha is currently doing a double major in Human Biology and Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the sex differences in factors predicting conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. She is interested in pursuing MD after her undergraduate degree and helping third world countries dealing with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Simple Breathing Techniques to Calm Down

Often when we become stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious, the simple act of breathing can become difficult. When our bodies experience these symptoms, muscles that help us breathe tighten and in turn make our breathing faster and shallower. Breathing has the power to affect your entire body. Controlling our breathing, by slowing it down, helps relieve our muscles, lowers our blood pressure, and relaxes our nervous system, which all help us to feel calm!

To feel the benefits of controlled breathing, try out a few of these simple breathing techniques and implement them in your daily routine!

  1. Breathing through your belly: This one is best felt when lying down (especially before bed). Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Inhale, expanding your belly, and count to five before exhaling, collapsing your belly. Continue for 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Alternate nostril breathing: This technique is best felt when at work/when out. Close your right nostril, breathe in, and count for 5 seconds before breathing out. Repeat this step 3 times with your right nostril closed and then alternate nostrils by closing your left nostril and repeating the same steps.
  3. In through your nose, out through your mouth: This technique is best felt at home when lying down or while out! Breathe in through your nose, count to 6, open your mouth and let out a long exhale! Repeat 5 times.

If you find that these breathing techniques are working and you would like to practice longer, more controlled breathing, then you can pull up a breathing video and follow along. These videos are created to provide a visual breathing pattern and are great for focusing on your breathing and nothing else! A great example can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXItOY0sLRY

By: Eliza Watts

Eliza graduated with a degree in Psychology and a specialization in research from Wilfrid Laurier University. She is a passionate mental health advocate whose goal is to help others through her own personal experience.

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Calm Down When You’re Angry

The next time you feel angry, try these 5 simple steps to help you deescalate your anger and feel calm.

1. Step Back and Ask Yourself. When we’re angry, it might be difficult for us to take a step back for a second and think about the situation. But in attempting to do so, it can help us find the source of our anger. Try to figure out WHY you are angry, and in the process of doing so, you are likely to calm down. By finding the source of your anger, you might come up with some strategies that work for you to regain a sense of calm.

2. Think of the Bigger Picture. Sometimes we are faced with situations that might be stressful. When this stress builds up inside of us, we are likely to get upset about things that we usually find trivial. By thinking about the bigger picture, we might realize that we are actually stressed out and not even angry to begin with.

3. Problem-Focused Approach. Some of the anger that we feel is often a result of a problem that we are facing. So in order to get rid of the anger, it is beneficial to focus on solving the problem that is the root cause of the anger that we are experiencing.

4. Listening to Music. Listening to music (any type of music that you like) is always helpful at getting your mind off of your anger. After you’re done listening to music, it is highly likely that you will feel relaxed.

5. Take a Walk in Nature. Studies have found that nature boosts happiness and reduces stress and anger. Most of us have busy lives, so even if it is just sitting down and looking at a river or some stress in nature, it is completely worth it. Feeling happy and relaxed is what we owe ourselves!

By: Ghinwa El-Ariss

Ghinwa El-Ariss holds an Honors Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology and Environmental Studies from the University of Toronto. She will be pursuing her Master of Science degree in Psychology at Trent University starting September 2017. She is passionate about Psychology and the Environment. She hopes that her blog posts help you learn a bit about her and her take on certain things. Most importantly, she hopes that you enjoyed what you read!