Category Archives: Students

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 Power of Taking a Break from our Phones


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

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

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

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

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

By: Meghan Thapar 

The Pressures that Students Face in our Society


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

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

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

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

By: Parnian Pardis

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

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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!

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.