Category Archives: Positivity

Loving You From A Distance -II


As weeks pass by, some things get easier while some only get harder day by day. I have become accustomed to not seeing my boyfriend on a daily basis. Surprisingly, this was not as hard as I expected, maybe because I was mentally prepared for it? However, as we embarked on this new journey, we still continued to face challenges with many aspects of our relationship, particularly our communication and trust. While my life has remained the same (minus him, of course!), he is now in a new environment with new people, which are two things that are foreign to me. Although I get a daily update on everything, I find it difficult to understand and empathize with him. I often have to be mindful when I talk to him that he is going through something that I don’t always understand. I try to control my emotions, but this has been the hardest part!

On a more positive note, I think the distance is allowing us to grow as individuals. We have always complemented each other in that we both made up for each other’s weaknesses. However, now that we have limited time to allot towards each other, we have to find our own way through things, and grow as individuals. We also seem to be becoming more patient with each other. As we both acknowledge that we are facing our own struggles due to distance, we are more understanding of each other’s feelings, and we wait for each other to express ourselves.

If you are also beginning a long-distance relationship with your partner, my advice would be to make goals with your partner. In the remaining 19 months we are apart, we have decided that he is going to visit me four times, I am going to graduate with a master’s degree, and we are going to ‘disclose’ our relationship to our families. Sometimes, it seems like 19 months may be too short of a period for all of these big milestones! Being a counsellor in-training, I would also suggest you be mindful about what you have right now. While our plans are not fixed, we hope that this distance is only temporary, which also means that I may only have a few more months of ‘freedom’ to spend time with my family. It is time for me to divert my attention towards my family and myself for a few months because who knows what’s next? I guess its time for me to count my blessings, rather than dwell on what I don’t have.

By: Nikita Singh

Nikita Singh is a graduate from the University of Toronto who is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in Counselling Psychology from Yorkville University. Her future goal is to have her own private practice specializing in marriage and couples counselling.

 

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.

Double-Marginalization in the LGBTQ Community

Until quite recently, we have been living in a heteronormative society, in which we take for granted the notion that men like women, and women like men. With the help of the recent LGBTQ movement, that has been raising awareness and ideas about sexual minorities, people these days are certainly becoming more aware of a non-binary world that has so long been disregarded. Indeed, Pride Month was established as a result of the Stonewalling Protest, one of the most famous LGBTQ protests, in the late 20th century.

“LGBTQ” is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual/genders, and Queer. The “LGBTQ community” denotes an inclusive space for sexual minorities, who live in a heteronormative society, to access support and wisdom from others who are in a similar situation. Although the community has been growing exponentially, several researchers have noticed a problem with this community. The community is predominantly Caucasian-dominated and many queer publications are guilty of portraying only white men and women as objects of beauty, while completely neglecting other races in the community. According to a survey by a UK magazine, about 80% of East Asian, South Asian, and African American men have experienced racism in the LGBTQ community. These ethnic minority LGBTQ individuals find themselves in a double minority, in which they are neither fully accepted nor understood by mainly white LGBTQ communities, nor are they accepted by their own ethnic group.

It is an important notion to remember that both ethnic groups and sexual orientations are social identities that many of these members cannot choose to hide from. The double marginalization manifests itself in two ways: either as a rejection or objectification. Many gay men have reported being rejected solely based on their race, as commonly seen on a popular gay dating app “Grindr,” where people explicitly write “no black,” or “no Asians.” Furthermore, Asians have reported being labeled as “passive and submissive,” while African Americans have reported being labeled as “masculine and aggressive.” This indicates that the LGBTQ members of non-white race encounter the exact same bigotry and favoritism of the heteronormative world that they were hoping to avoid by joining the community. This leads ethnic minority LGBTQ individuals to believe that the LGBTQ community may not be as safe and inclusive as it claims to be. Some researchers have noticed that racism and LGBTQ-based discrimination both directly and indirectly increase the risk for suicide, making ethnic minority LGBTQ individuals even more prone to danger.

Evidently, the LGBTQ movement is very new and fresh. However, it is increasingly gaining more support and awareness from the world, evidenced by the most recent legalization of gay marriage in the United States of America and Taiwan. It is time for the community to not only focus on the external factors, but internal factors as well. It certainly still has a long way to go in order to rectify the discriminations of the world, but it is time for the community to reflect upon itself and work towards inclusivity and making every single member of the community feel comfortable and safe. Instead of homogenizing all the individual differences, it is important that LGBTQ communities begin to address the individual needs and concerns of ethnic minorities in the group.

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.

Getting Through a Transition Phase

Throughout our lives, we all go through transition phases. Some of these phases are major, like the transition to parenthood, while others are a bit more subtle, like getting through a long day or a challenging situation. However, we tend to place a greater focus on the bigger transitions in our lives, and oversee the smaller ones.

Throughout my university years, I learned how to appreciate my ability to not only strive, but also thrive in situations that I had previously dreaded. I believe that the main reason behind this ability is the fact that I learned how to see every challenge (big or small) as a transition phase. The words “transition phase” imply changing from one phase to another. Although, change can be scary, sometimes it can be for the better, especially when we believe in can be.

When a situation presents itself as a challenge, it is beneficial to wrap your mind around it and perceive it as an obstacle that you will benefit from once you’ve passed through it. By perceiving a challenge as a transition phase, we enter the challenge with the belief that we will learn from it and become stronger and more resilient people afterwards. However, if you perceive a challenge as something you just want to get over and done with, it can be difficult for you to shift your focus to the potential positive results that can come about once the challenge is overcome. In other words, dwelling on how bad the present challenging situation is can make us miss out on the benefits of the transition.

The way we perceive a situation has a large impact on whether or not we will benefit from it afterwards. By perceiving a challenging situation as a transition phase, we can free ourselves from the mental constraints that cloud our judgment and be able to appreciate the lesson that resulted from the challenge.

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!

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!

Creativity — Standing On the Shoulders of Giants

Creativity has always been one of those things that people assume you either have it or you don’t. Even though in more recent years people have been advocating for fostering creativity in individuals, creativity still strikes many as a gift that is fixed and born within This may prevent many people from seeking out creative tasks and activities, when in fact they can become creative by furthering their glance on the shoulders of the most creative minds in history.

Although certain personality traits do tend to correlate with elevated creative potentials, creativity may not be as fixed as people believe. We need to stop seeing it as a trait or quality and instead see it as a pattern of thought and behaviour. I am not asserting that I know the way of innovation, but in reading about some of the most creative minds in history, I noticed a pattern in how they achieved some of their glorious triumphs and brilliant ideas.

1. They engage frequently. From the lives of the geniuses I’ve read about, they all immerse themselves in their work on a daily basis. Depending on what area they’re in, they may have different ways of working, but they never stopped thinking about or doing their work. Perhaps this is why they tend to get inspirations from practically everything around them.

2. They utilize history. In reading some of Carl Jung’s writings about artists and their works, I’m convinced that inspiration is only possible with the help of either education or experience or both. The more you know about a topic and the more you think about it, the more connections are being built and the more efficient you are in processing relevant information. This may make it easier for them to draw parallels between daily happenings and their work in progress.

3. They cast an extensive net. Their information comes from a vast range of different sources. This also helps with the fact that they think cross-disciplinarily, so to speak. These creative minds seem to be naturals when it comes to borrowing ideas from other disciplines that don’t seem relevant to their primary work. This is only possible if they have learned about multiple subjects or they have a rich life experience, or both. These ideas manifest themselves in all kinds of forms throughout their creative work.

4. They play around with the problem. One of the most common conceptions of creativity is the ability to find an unusual solution to a problem. Many people get stuck on the solution part of the task and when they can’t find one, give up altogether. However, the most creative minds don’t usually bother too much with finding the right solution. Instead, they seem to be most concerned about the questions they ask, which are often followed with “eureka” moments after being able to redefine a problem. For example, Einstein had the inspiration for his general theory of relativity when he transformed the problem of gravity into a problem of acceleration (in his theory these two are equivalent). So maybe the problem with us not-so-creative people is not to jump outside of the box, but to stop thinking of it as a box.

These were some of the common patterns I observed among the most creative minds. Of course there are other traits that underlie each of these behaviours and thinking patterns, but the above points help paint a rough sketch of a creative mind. Becoming more creative is certainly feasible. By taking a glance on the shoulders of creative giants, let’s hope we now all have the courage to stride as one ourselves.

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.

Depression Among Students

Last week I read a news article that devastated me. Robert Chu, a 25-year-old medical school graduate, took his life on September 2016 after failing to land a residency spot twice. Being an undergraduate student myself, who wants to apply to medical school afterwards, this news devastated me. The path to medical school is such a long and exhausting one that it can often cause you to lose sight of your self-care and wellbeing. The application process is extremely competitive and requires both a combination of exceptional grades and valuable experience. Furthermore, once medical school students complete their program, it is not guaranteed that they will land a residency spot. This can cause someone to feel defeated, as if all their hard work and money did not amount to anything.

What surprises me the most is the lack of awareness about the depression that students in medical/graduate schools experience. According to research done by Dr. Douglas Mata, 27 % of medical school students go through depression, compared to 8 to 9 % of the general population. Only about 16 % of students who suffered from depression actually went to see a doctor about it. Unfortunately, if this depression is left untreated, any trigger can result in a fatal choice, as observed in the case of Chu. Chu’s case is just one example of how schools are failing to recognize and address the mental health issues that students often experience. Schools should start prioritizing the wellbeing of their students by ensuring that there is enough access to mental health services.

Students are under enormous pressures and everyone expects them to figure everything out on their own. Even though medical students are taught to take care of others and the importance of good physical and mental health, a lot of students fail to realize that their mental and physical health should come first. As someone who did not use to care about health and focused solely on school, I can totally understand the pressure. However, at the end of the day, your physical and mental health should always come first. If you are not feeling well, you cannot function at your full potential. So please make sure that you are taking care of you health and no that you are not alone!

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.

Is Self-enhancement a Positive Thing?

Self-enhancement is pivotal to our mental health. It is defined as “the desire to maintain and preserve positive feelings about ourselves.” Self-enhancement is closely related to the idea of self-esteem and self-worth, in which maximizing positive ideas about ourselves is an important cognitive process. The classic “Self-Serving Bias” is the tendency for people to view themselves as better than average by attributing good events to our own credit and bad events to external factors. Whether we like it or not, when we are faced with moments where we experience failure and disappointment, such as getting a low grade on a test, not getting promoted, or even simply having a bad fight with your friend, we become very focused on appraising the situation in a favorable light. This is because we are all motivated to view ourselves in a positive light. Below is a list of strategies that we employ to continuously maintain this positive outlook.

1. Downward Comparison. This is when you compare yourself to someone who did worse than you. For example, when you get a C on your test, you take comfort in knowing that there are people who failed the exam.

2. Upward Comparison. This is when you avoid those who did better than you. For example, you might avoid talking to people who received an A on the exam because, as a comparison, your C does not look so great.

3. Compensatory Self-enhancement. This is when you acknowledge that you’ve done badly on a given task, but remind yourself that you have other valuable skills. For example, if you do not get your promotion, you may think to yourself: “at least I have a really great social life,” which, in your mind, might make up for the promotion you did not get.

4. Discounting. This is when you reduce the perceived importance of the domain in which you have performed poorly. A classic example of this is when people claim they “do not care because it does not mean anything.”

5. External Attribution. This is when you blame somebody else or something else for your poor performance. For example, perhaps you may think about how your professor or supervisor was a terrible communicator and therefore it only makes sense that you did not perform so well on the task at hand.

6. Bask in the Reflected Glory. This is very common when you think about people who get very enthusiastic about their favorite sports team. For example, you may be disappointed about something, but then remember your favorite team won and all of a sudden you feel a sense of success and pride.

When our positive self-view is challenged, we are all guilty of exercising a combination of these six common strategies. Although it is very normal for us to self-enhance, and usually the lack thereof can easily lead to depression and anxiety, it is important to note that it is not the answer to all of our disappointments in life. As a matter of fact, several research findings suggest that an excessive amount of self-enhancement is received by others as deceitful and egotistical, and can also be a leeway to narcissism (i.e., a mental health disorder that is characteristic of a grandiose concept of oneself). Although self-enhancement is a good mechanism to help us maintain a positive perspective, it should only be employed short-term. In order to prevent us from feeling a discrepancy between our enhanced self and real self, we must eventually address the issue at hand by analyzing what to improve upon and accepting that occasional failures are a part of life.

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.

Eating Healthy For a Healthy Mind


Over the past decade scientists have been delving deeper into how our stomachs and our brains are connected. Asking questions such as: What types of food can help healing? What should we eat to help our brain function better? Why are some foods better than others? Scientists have yet to pinpoint exactly how eating unhealthy affects our ability to function, but the link between eating unhealthy and the health of our mind has been seen time and time again. In fact, scientists have discovered that with the presence of an unhealthy diet, symptoms of depression and anxiety increase dramatically. On the contrary, when we fill our bodies with healthy, nutritious food, studies have shown a positive increase in mood and a decrease in depression and anxiety.

One hypothesis assumes that the bacteria found in your stomach after eating relays messages to various areas within our brain through our vagus nerve. The body then reacts to these messages by activating or suppressing specific neurotransmitters within our brain. Depending on the reaction that this bacteria elicits, we can either be helping our bodies function or hindering it. That being said, this is only one hypothesis!

I encourage you to spend some time researching ways you can regulate your gut and find foods that will make you feel good from the inside out! Below I have included a few tips to help kick-start your way into a healthier lifestyle that will make your mind, your gut, and your heart feel good!

  1. Make a list of all your favourite fruits, vegetables, and meats.

Many people associate eating healthy with tasteless food that is hard to enjoy. But eating healthy doesn’t have to mean cutting everything you enjoy out of your diet. It’s all about moderation. Start by making a list of your favorite foods and then looking up the health benefits of each one. If you find that it’s good for you, look up some recipes that include those foods. If you like the taste of what you’re eating, you’ll be much more inclined to eat it from day to day, so pick your favourites!

  1. Start your day with a glass of water.

Someone gave me this tip about a year ago, and nothing has ever made me feel better! Drinking water when you first wake up helps wake up your organs and helps their functioning throughout the day! Try drinking a gallon of water a day and I promise you will start to feel the benefits!

  1. Skip the sugary desserts.

Like most people, skipping out on desserts can be the hardest thing to change. But the recommended daily intake for sugar is 6 teaspoons because increased sugar intake has been linked to depression, anxiety, fatigue, difficulty thinking, and compromised cognitive abilities! At first it will be hard to cut out that sugar, but eventually your body will stop craving sugary foods. A tip to help with your sugar craving is to eat fruit, since fruit contains natural sugars. 

  1. Never skip breakfast.

Breakfast is SO important! I remember when I first started learning about our brain and its caloric intake. One of my professors noted that most people think they are eating enough in the morning to sustain their bodies, but they don’t realize that only specific parts of the brain get fed! The last part of our brain to receive nutrient is our prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, thought processes, and social behavior. So you’re compromising all of these functions when you skip your breakfast! But you want to make sure that your eating a nutritious breakfast. Studies have shown that people who eat a nutritious breakfast show a significantly more active prefrontal cortex! 

  1. Stop snacking 2 hours before bed.

Eating close to your bedtime throws your bodies’ natural rhythms off! It affects your hormones, your quality of sleep, and studies have shown that you may actually be hungrier the next day!

  1. Cut the caffeine in half.

The last and likely most difficult tip of them all is cutting your caffeine intake. Adjusting to lower levels of caffeine WILL be hard, but it will ALSO be rewarding! Quitting coffee or at least reducing the amount you have little by little will eventually decrease anxiety, increase your mood, increase your quality of sleep, increase productivity, and lower blood pressure! This takes time, but I have to say that this is one of the most noticeable differences I have felt when I made this change in my own life. I no longer feel as if I need coffee to get through my day, and have finally slept soundly during the night! A feeling I haven’t felt in a very long time!

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.