Category Archives: School

Is your Lifestyle too Stressful?

In the society and world that we live in today, it is easy (and almost involuntary) to fall into a pattern of life that can be labeled as stressful. Since many of us nowadays are in full time studies or have a full time job and family duties, we tend to experience high levels of stress.

In some situations, stress seems inevitable, and it often is. However, constant and relentless stress can be mentally exhausting and disadvantageous for us in the short-term and the long-term. Work-life balance is what many of us aim for; however, when we fail to maintain this balance and end up working late evenings and weekends, we are putting ourselves at risk for burnout. There are going to be certain periods of our lives (e.g., during final exam periods or a critical period on the job), where it’s necessary to sacrifice our “rest” time in order to meet our education and work goals. However, if this is constantly happening then that might mean that we are taking away a considerable amount of our “rest” time. I am not saying that working hard and sacrificing some of your free time to meet your goals is a bad thing, but I am pointing to the importance of trying to maintain the work-life balance in order to avoid burnout. By nature, our bodies and minds need adequate rest in order to function at their best and help us achieve what we have always dreamt of achieving. Therefore, the work-life balance benefits us by re-fueling our body and mind with the ability to face all sorts of challenges and meet our goals.

One important thing to keep in mind is that it is a good idea to make time for you, which is what I like to call “me time”. This could be a break from a stressful task, which does not necessarily have to be a long break, but rather a break that we genuinely enjoy which helps us get our minds off the task for a while. This simple and enjoyable break will help you regain your focus and return to your task with a fresh mind.

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!

Happiness as a long-term Goal


What helps us stay motivated?
Most people in today’s society have an engrained reward valuation system that either encourages or prevents them from undertaking an activity. Often, a few of the questions that we sift through before undertaking an activity include: will this make me feel good; how difficult is it to attain the reward; what could I be doing in the meantime if I wasn’t engaged in this activity?

To put this in perspective on a small scale, think about the questions that cross your mind when you decide if you should go get a cup of Starbucks coffee:

  1. What effect will this cup of coffee have on my mood and productivity?
  2. How far is the nearest Starbucks and how much time will it take me to get there?
  3. Should I get a cup of coffee from the downstairs café instead?
  4. What else can I get done in the time that I would spend going to Starbucks?

Once we have executed this cost-benefit analysis, we are either motivated to go to Starbucks or dissuaded from making the effort.

Now, picture this on a larger scale. The average student or employed individual has a lot of important decisions to make related to long-term goals. For example, the drive to stay in school after you complete secondary or post-secondary education differs between individuals. While one individual might decide to take an additional 4 years of postgraduate education, another individual might decide to enter the workforce right after graduation and never return back to school.

I believe that societal pressures and cultural influences play a large role in this decision, which can lead someone to conduct an inaccurate cost-benefit analysis that misleads them down a path where they experience no passion. For example, in someone’s cost-benefit analysis, they may prioritize a stable income to support themselves in the future, expectations of their parents and/or culture, and what the current job market is seeking, over what would make them happy in the long-term.

If the justification for why you are gunning for a specific career path doesn’t involve any reason that includes your happiness and subjective well-being, then you might be engaging in faulty reasoning. I’ve seen friends slave away at a job that they hate just because it pays well and they want to move up in the company in the future. Conversely, some of my friends have continued with higher-level education because of parental expectations. Neither of these situations are ideal.

So next time you are making a big decision, consider how you can maximize your future benefits without making your well-being an afterthought in the process. Forty years down the road, you’ll be happy that you did!

By: Parnian Pardis

Parnian is a MSc Candidate at the University of Toronto, conducting research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Her thesis project involves investigating sub-types of treatment-resistance in schizophrenia, and the role of clozapine in their treatment. She aspires to encourage clinicians to adopt best practices within the individualized treatment of each patient. In her spare time, she is a food connoisseur and loves to travel to see new sights!

 

How to Have a Hard Conversation


One complaint that I often hear people making is “How do I speak to that individual?” As humans, we have a tendency to avoid tough conversations because we fear a negative outcome. These hard conversations can create a lot of anxiety, especially when the outcome can affect your work life, education, and/or involve family/friends. Within a professional context, there are all kinds of situations where initiating and engaging in conversation is absolutely necessary. I will list several factors that I believe are necessary for having a successful hard conversation.

1. Manage your expectations. It is important to know that not everyone will always agree with what you have to say. Be open to being wrong and compromising, as the person may perceive the situation in a different manner.

2. Manage your nerves. It is important to know how to soothe yourself in a situation that may be distressing to you. Our minds will often imagine the worst-case scenario when engaging in something this is anxiety provoking. We need to know how to calm our nerves before engaging in the conversation. An approach that I find very helpful is to listen to relaxing music before the conversation.

3. Have an open mind. Enter the conversation with the attitude “I want to learn and get the best out of this conversation.” When you focus on the ultimate goal of the conversation, which is usually to learn about a particular subject, your nerves will subside.

4. Use attentive gestures. I believe that smiling and nodding from time to time during the conversation will signal to the other person that you are carefully and respectfully listening to what they have to say. This will show them that you are paying attention and will also ease the flow of the conversation.

5. Take notes. By taking notes on what the other person is saying, your mind will automatically generate more questions that you probably hadn’t previously thought about. As a result, you will be able to get as much information as possible out of the hard conversation.

6. Believe in yourself. Always know that you have given it your best and that you are a capable person. Even if you think of better ways to reply after the conversation is over, that’s okay! That is a signal that you have learned a new way of thinking about the topic of the conversation. Just by believing in yourself, you are already half the way through the hard conversation!

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!

Coming out: How to Support your LGBTQ Teenager


Coming out can be hard a hard experience, but not just for the person coming out, but also for their family. It is particularly hard when the person coming out is a teenager this is a time of identity development and there are often social pressures to just fit in and not stand out. Sometimes families can also add to the stress by not taking the right measures even if they want to help. Unfortunately, the stress from so many different directions leads teenagers to anxiety and depression. Here are some of the ways you can be a responsible parent to your coming out teenager.

1. Be a good listener: It is very important to give your child the time to explain how they feel to ease the coming out experience. They might not want to explain everything to you which is fine, but do encourage them to come to you if they feel unsafe as the result of coming out.

2. Learn about the LGBTQ community: It is extremely important to take some time to learn more about the LGBTQ community. Learn about what they stand for and what challenges they may face, so that you can be on the same page as your child. This will show that you want to be involved in your child’s life and are willing to go out of your way to know what your child is going through.

3. Be open-minded: This might be the first time somebody in your family came out and you might need a little time to adjust to this new reality which is understandable. However, make sure that your child does not take this as you not being supportive. Let them know that you need some time to process, but that you are willing to support your child along the way. Open communication is key.

4. Be patient: Nothing can be more important than being patient with your child to ease the coming out experience. Do not ask too many questions because your child might not have all the answers. Let them take their time to discuss things with you, as they feel comfortable.

5. Consider family therapy: If for some reason, you feel like your child’s coming out experience can be enhanced through family therapy then go for it. Make sure your child has everything they can to ease the experience.

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.

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Your Teenage Child


Because I’m only 20 years old, I’m in that awkward stage where I’m still trying to figure out what it actually means to be an adult. So while I may very well be as far away from being a parent as a person can be, when it comes to understanding the inner workings of the complicated vortex that is the teenage mind, I like to think I have a pretty good knowledge base. After all, I was still considered a “teenager” last year!

When I was younger, I remember wondering why my older sister always wanted to hang out with her friends, never missing a chance to escape any family plans we had. She was moody and mean, and always seemed embarrassed to be seen with us. As a 10-year-old, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why my sister was acting so strange. What could be more fun than hanging out altogether as a family, going on adventures, and spending time with each other? But a few years later, it became my turn to begin distancing myself from my parents. I distinctly remember that wave of embarrassment I felt when my mom tried to hold my hand while walking me in to my middle school orientation. I pulled away instinctively, not wanting the “cool kids” to see, afraid my social standing would be tarnished before classes even began. Being 12 years old, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being caught holding my mom’s hand.

Maybe you’re a parent struggling to understand why your child is growing moody and irritable, confused as to why he or she groans every time you suggest spending time together. But try to recall your own adolescent memories, and how you felt when you were around the same age. Put yourself in your child’s shoes, and try to understand that their main concerns right now are how many likes they received on their last Instagram post, and whether or not their crush likes them back. It is easy to lose that strong parent-child connection you once had when the world of new friendships, romance, and parties takes over. This is the time when your teenager is learning about what their passions are, what new hobbies they want to explore, and their strong sense of self begins to develop. It may be frustrating to feel neglected and abandoned, but try and remember that your teenager is not intentionally trying to hurt you. They are just absorbed in their own worlds, and haven’t paused to consider how these changes are affecting you.

When we’re five years old, our parents are our entire world. They are our superheroes, always to the rescue, saving us from the monsters under the bed, and waking us from bad dreams. As babies, we are entirely dependent upon our parents for our basic survival. But as we grow and develop, we slowly gain a new sense of independence. As humans we like to feel needed, to know that our existence is important. So it hurts to acknowledge that your child no longer runs to you to save them. But its because they are slowly discovering that they can be their own hero, and are capable of rescuing themselves.

As we know, life is a crazy unexpected rollercoaster, and we will never be able to fully anticipate the ups and downs that we inevitably face. So as a parent, your presence is still enormously needed. Regardless of age, people need to feel supported and understood, and as a parent, this support is something that you can offer your child. While you may no longer need to wake your child up from a bad dream, what you can do is be there for when, for example, their first crush breaks their little teenage heart. You can let them know that it’s okay to not know who they are, and help them understand that while they may feel misunderstood, that doesn’t change the fact that you will always love them unconditionally. They may not know it now, but they will later appreciate that they were lucky enough to grow up with parents who cared for and valued them.

By: Talia Main 

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

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.

 

 

 

 

The Social Media Trap


Stuck in a long line, I whip out my phone to refresh Instagram, waiting for the all too staged “candids” to pop up on my feed that I know took half an hour to edit, filter, and craft. I am no innocent bystander to this societal norm. Every double-tap is a confirmation that my life is one worth living. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat: pick your poison. No one can escape this constant, almost impulsive desire to be seen or heard, the instant gratification of approval and acceptance captured in a little blue thumb. I don’t think this is what they meant when they said to “live your life out loud.”

I struggled enormously with different insecurities throughout my life. I have two sisters, and I am truly grateful that our relationships have only strengthened with time. But in middle school when I was chubby, had acne and braces, wore bifocal glasses, and had frizzy hair, compared to my gorgeous sister who was a cheerleader, it was difficult to look in the mirror and not wish I were someone else. Oh, and I was also in a marching band. I mean, come on! But in all seriousness, I had a tough time accepting how I looked, and much of my difficulty stemmed from my destructive tendency to compare myself to my sister, and to those around me. My self acceptance was linked to the approval of my sister. I can now look back and understand that I had an unhealthy relationship with myself throughout my adolescence because I was so consumed by what other people thought of me. I’m nowhere near perfect, and I still catch myself comparing myself to my sister sometimes, but when I find myself caught up in that, I remind myself of how different we are, that I cannot expect myself to be like her. Without those embarrassingly awkward years to figure myself out, much of who I am now would be lost. I probably wouldn’t be studying psychology, or living in a different country, or writing this.

Social media makes it almost impossible to remove yourself from the toxic trap of comparison. The “mindless” scrolling we engage in silently reinforces the belief that we are not enough as we are. We aren’t tan enough, skinny enough, fit enough. Our lives aren’t exciting enough, or bright enough, or good enough. But for who? At the end of the day, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Are you happy with your body? Do you think you could be having more fun? Is this the life you want to live? Those same people we envy also struggle with insecurities, and their lives are probably not all beaches and sunshine, and candids in the sand. My gorgeous cheerleader sister also struggled with her own personal insecurities. The personas we present online are rarely ever the full picture of who we are. Social media wouldn’t be nearly as popular if people showed the true versions of themselves: the heartbreak and the pain, the insecurities and confusion.

So next time you’re standing in line, scrolling through Instagram, and you see that picture of your acquaintance from high school looking all cute at the beach, remind yourself: that person’s life extends way beyond that silly picture. They are human, and probably compare themselves to others, just like you. We won’t ever know the entirety of someone’s life history, their struggles and failures, from a post on social media. But we carry our own personal history with us, and this is the one that matters. Be your own benchmark. Compare yourself to yourself. Be better than you were yesterday. You are the only person on this planet that can make an accurate judgment of how “good” your life is. So make it the best you can, not for the likes, or the followers, not for the insecure middle school you who has something to prove. But for the you in the mirror today.

By: Talia Main

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

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.

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!