Category Archives: Students

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!

 

Is it a toxic friendship/relationship?

Many of us have friendships/relationships that are unhealthy for us and may not even be aware. I will list 5 ways that will help you know whether you are in a toxic friendship/relationship.

  1. Lack of trust. One of the most important feelings to have in a relationship is trust. If you feel like you can’t trust the other individual, then this is probably not the best relationship for you to be in. Trust gives you peace of mind when it comes to relationships. Take the trust away, and it is an unhealthy and emotionally draining relationship to be in.
  2. You are always the hero. Saving the other person in a particular situation is great if it happens only sometimes. I am not saying that being supportive is a negative thing, but being supportive at the cost of your own well being might not be the best of situations. If you consistently have to save the person, whether it be emotionally or financially, then you will likely not have enough time for yourself and it is likely not a relationship of mutual caregiving. We all have our ups and downs, so when you hit a low point in your life, it is important to guarantee that you have the ability and the time to nurture and take care of yourself.
  3. Being constantly judged and criticized. If the other person constantly criticizes you and points out your weaknesses, then that is a sign that you are being put down rather than uplifted in that relationship. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but if your weaknesses are constantly being pointed out and your strengths are being ignored, then that person might not be fully accepting of who you are.
  4. Not being accepted. If you constantly find yourself in a position where you need to defend your opinion or change your opinion in order to be accepted, then you might be in an unhealthy relationship. Feelings of acceptance and belonging are vital for healthy human functioning, and we all have a right to feel accepted without the need to constantly explain ourselves.
  5. Communication issues. Do you constantly feel like you are talking to the other person and they are not listening to you or not remembering what you said? If the answer to that question is yes, then it may be difficult to reach a mutual agreement in many aspects of the relationship or friendship. Furthermore, this could indicate that the other person is occupied with another aspect of their life and are not ready to be an equal partner in your relationship. This type of relationship could easily turn into an “all take and no give” relationship that is unhealthy, and even toxic, for you.

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!

How Movies can be used to Benefit our Mental Health


The different types of movie genres reflect the different effects that movies have on us. The emotions that movies trigger in us can be very real and have an effect that lasts longer than we might expect.

I consider the different movies that I watched as a repertoire. In different situations, I remember parts of movies that stuck with me. Even some of the movies that seem to be made only for entertainment can have a meaningful message that lies underneath their surface. Some movies seem to be packed with action and adventure themes, but in fact they might have important messages to tell. I tend to find a common thread in many of the movies that I have watched, and this thread is very often the emphasis on family and friends living a happy and healthy life. In terms of psychological significance, many movies stress the importance of sacrificing for your loved ones and the importance of standing by each other through difficult situations.

Furthermore, due to the variety of movies out there, we can easily find a movie to help us through a difficult or unpleasant situation. I will use myself as an example here. When I feel stressed out because of work piling up on my desk, I take deep breaths in order to alleviate my stress and, if time permits, I allocate 1.5-2 hours later that evening to watch a comedy movie. This strategy has generally been successful in alleviating my stress, making me laugh, and boosting my mood. This helps me feel more energized and continue my work with a more positive mindset.

I do realize that many of us have very busy schedules, so my intention is to not limit the positive effects listed above to movies only. I often resort to short (2-5 minute) comedy videos that are posted online, which tend to have the same effect as a longer comedy movie. In general, we tend to know what works best for us and what makes us the happiest. This differs across people and across the emotions that they are experiencing. In my personal life, laughter is the best medicine!

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!

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.

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.

Down the Rabbit Hole

As Alice, from the classic novel and film Alice in Wonderland, follows the well-dressed rabbit down the rabbit hole, one is left to wonder – why? Most advice would say to stay away from the uncertainty of the rabbit hole. However, the rabbit hole can be symbolic for one’s mind and how we sometimes let ourselves go down the rabbit hole of our thoughts, whether we intend to or not. For example, when your friend doesn’t answer their phone, you might begin to wonder why they didn’t answer, even though the first logical thought is to assume they are just busy. Your thoughts may wander to thinking that they are ignoring you, that they are hanging out with new friends and didn’t invite you, or that they don’t care about you to the same extent that you care about them. If you find yourself going down the rabbit hole here are some suggestions to stop your mind from wandering to these unwanted thoughts.

1. Remember that even though it may feel personal, it probably isn’t. We tend to have a bias towards the negative, which can often make us feel like others are criticizing us, ignoring us, or have some sort of complex plan to mistreat us. But more often than not, what may feel like a personal attack is just someone being preoccupied with themselves.

2. Acknowledge you have gone into the rabbit hole. When you start making assumptions based on insufficient information, take a step back and tell yourself not to worry until you have a chance to talk to the person. If you can’t detect that you have gone down the rabbit hole, you won’t be able to stop it.

3. Focus on yourself to identify the trigger. Notice how you are feeling right before you go down the rabbit hole? Often people go down the rabbit hole when they are feeling overly tired, anxious, stressed, or annoyed. Once the trigger is identified, try finding a way to calm down and distract yourself. I recommend writing a list of things that you can do when your feeling overwhelmed. For example, watching Netflix, breathing exercises, stretching, listening to music, or going for a walk. These can help center you in these moments.

4. Remind yourself of the facts and bring some context into the scenario. Referring to the phone example – what time of day is it? Does this person usually answer their phone? Is it possible they don’t enjoy speaking on the phone? Is there a productive way you can raise your concern about the lack of telephone response with the person? Do you always answer your phone when people call?

5.What can you do in this moment to be productive? This may be thinking about the situation more deeply, or it may be moving on to another task. You can almost always come back to a situation later, let time give you some perspective.

6. Forgive yourself and move on! Sometimes it’s okay to go down the rabbit hole, as it can be beneficial and sometimes even fun to consider multiple scenarios and let your mind wander. You shouldn’t feel guilty when your mind leads you to negative thoughts. Just accept that this will happen from time to time and know that it will pass. Be kind to yourself!

By: Sara Pishdadian

Sara Pishdadian is a graduate student studying Clinical Psychology at York University. You can follow her on twitter to hear more about her research interests https://twitter.com/sarapishdadian.

How to Minimize the Stress Around Valentine’s Day with all the High Expectations


Valentine’s Day is one of those special occasions where we begin to think about ideas of how to make our partner have an unforgettable day long before Valentine’s Day has even approached. As a result of this, we often tend to overthink plans and gifts, which leads to a high amount of stress that could get in the way of our enjoyment of this very special day.

I will give you several perspectives on how to make Valentine’s Day a less stressful and more enjoyable experience.

1. Always, always be yourself. When we go out of our way to impress our partner, we often fall short because we are trying to be someone that we are not. It is helpful to keep in mind that your partner is yours, and they chose to be with you for who you are, so why try to change yourself? Some people might say that change is good, and I agree with that as long as you preserve and maintain the essence of who you are, even if you improve certain aspects of yourself.

2. Stick to what is relatively familiar. Based on your romantic relationship, you start to know what your partner likes and dislikes. Plan out a special dinner or a special outing based on what you and your partner like and enjoy. You can use previous successful outings as groundwork for creating a novel idea. Valentine’s Day is the day to step out of the box and try something new and unfamiliar, but it is important to stay grounded in reality and accept the fact that your plan might not turn out to be exactly the way you wanted it to. By having this thought in the back of your mind, you are likely to feel less stressed out if your plan doesn’t go exactly as planned.

3. Plan ahead of time. If you leave yourself to the last minute to plan your day and buy the gifts, then you might be putting yourself under more stress, and you might start second-guessing yourself about what you have arranged. However, if you plan ahead of time, and arrange things piece by piece, then you are likely to have more time to think about what you might be missing (whether it is gifts or any other thing that you might need to have a splendid Valentine’s Day). This will help minimize the stress.

4. Trust yourself, and know that you have given it your best. At the end of the day, Valentine’s Day is about the feelings that you show your partner, more than it is about the plans that you arrange for them and the gifts that you give them. It is helpful to bear in mind that you have done your absolute best to make this special day as memorable as possible.

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!

 

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.