Category Archives: Unhealthy Habits

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.

 

Eating Healthy For a Healthy Mind


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

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

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

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

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

  1. Start your day with a glass of water.

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

  1. Skip the sugary desserts.

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

  1. Never skip breakfast.

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

  1. Stop snacking 2 hours before bed.

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

  1. Cut the caffeine in half.

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

By: Eliza Watts

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

No Apologies – Why we need to stop Apologizing for Mental Health Experiences

“What words would you use to describe yourself?” This seemingly harmless question always left me drawing the same conclusions about myself: I was shy, quiet, reserved, and introverted. I was the girl on the sidelines, occupying the same seat in the last row, doing everything and anything to ensure that no unnecessary attention was drawn towards me.

When I was younger, I was never bothered by my shyness. I would just tell myself that it just took me longer to warm up to people and to jump into conversations. However, as I entered into adolescence, these definitive aspects of my personality began to warp into something bigger than I wanted to acknowledge.

After experiencing a loss in my early adolescence, I did everything in my power to remain myself. I tried to ignore my sadness and the gnawing feeling that I was different than my peers. This worked for a few years, but eventually the feelings I tried to suppress caught up to me. I was 15 years old when I experienced my first panic attack, which marked the beginning of my continual struggle with anxiety. The shyness I felt in social situations morphed into full-body panic, being called out in class resulted in shortness of breath, and class presentations left my heart racing and my throat closing in on the words I tried to speak.

My situation only worsened as my family failed to understand what I was dealing with, mocking my anxiety, preying on my insecurities. I no longer felt safe voicing my opinions and so I withdrew further into myself.

Living in an extroverted world, where class clowns and social butterflies are looked up to, I felt ostracized by my new anxiety. Stuck inside the confines of my own mind, I believed that I would be forced to resign myself to a life of constant fear and embarrassment, fighting a losing battle with the voices inside my head. However, with medication and therapy, I learned how to effectively deal with my mental health experience. It was not until this year, five years later, that I was finally able to acknowledge my experience as a social anxiety disorder.

I believe much of my shame surrounding this experience was due in part to the sense of illegitimacy I felt. I could not understand why something as trivial as a conversation posed such a challenge for me. I felt as if I had missed some secret lesson that everyone else had been taught, never able to catch up.

As I continue to grow and understand myself, I am now able to acknowledge that my mental health experience is not something I should ever feel shameful towards. My unique history has made me who I am. It may be that I always feel slightly apprehensive when I meet new people, taking longer than others to learn to fully trust a new person in my life, but that is perfectly okay.

The stigma surrounding mental health has yet to be broken. I am now able to understand that I had internalized the societal stigma which proclaims that mental health experiences are illegitimate, treating my suffering as something to be suppressed or ignored. This kind of internalization is dangerous, as it not only reinforces the stigma, but discourages those who are suffering from reaching out for help. I can only hope that as more and more individuals come forward to share their stories, our society will begin to recognize these lived experiences for what they are. My struggle with social anxiety is nothing I should ever apologize for. I will not apologize for the person I have become. Yes, I may still be quiet, shy, and reserved, but I am also courageous, empathetic and stronger than I ever believed I could be. I am done with the shame, and I am done apologizing.

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 Selfie Culture – An Invitation to Take a Break

“Authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It is a practice…a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real, the choice to be honest…the choice to let our true selves be seen.”
– Brene Brown

I meet many young people who answer the following questions in the following way. ‘Do you compare yourself much to others?’ ‘Yes, all the time.’ ‘Does it happen on social media?’ ‘Yes, constantly. On Instagram mostly.’ There is something going on in society today that is creating a lot of pressure for young people when it comes to their appearance, self-image, and emerging sense of self. While it would be wrong to make a direct link between social media use and rising anxiety levels, it would be even more foolish to believe that the growing use of social media, among young people, is not having an impact at all.

The selfie culture has become a normal part of life for teens and many pre-teens growing up in the 21st century. However, the constant posting and viewing of selfies can prevent a young person’s journey towards discovering who they really want to be in the world. When I speak to young people in therapy about selfies, a lot of what they are trying to achieve with their posts is approval from others and a sense of self-worth. But what if seeking approval from others was let go of for a while. What would fill that space? From asking young people, it is my understanding that a break from selfie taking and thus from Instagram, leads to lower levels of anxiety, which creates space for a more enriched relationship with the developing self.

There is freedom in switching off from the constant viewing of celebrity air-brushed pictures. It allows space for a more coherent view of what it means to be ‘you’, a person of value in your own right, a person who does not need the approval of others in order to know their worth. There is something very freeing about making the choice to be authentic. However, many young people are faced with the pressures of trying to fit in and needing to be like somebody else (i.e., the popular ones or the rich and famous ones). In idolizing these superficial features in others, young people can lose sight of their own value and never feel fulfilled with themselves.

Teenagers are at a sensitive stage of their psychological development. They are in the stage of identity development, which makes them extremely self-conscious and constantly in tuned with feedback from others, especially their peers. You can imagine then how difficult it must be for teens to take a break from the selfie culture, as it gives them so much feedback and information about themselves and others.

This Summer might be the perfect opportunity for you to take a break from this selfie culture and focus on yourself. Even coming off just one social media site for a while can have an impact on how you begin to feel about yourself. If you believe that Instagram boosts your self-esteem because of the positive feedback you receive, it is worth noting that it’s not healthy to become reliant on social media for self-confidence. Confidence should come from within and not be influenced by anyone or anything. Anyone who believes that their worth is dependent on the feedback they get on their selfies is at risk for negative psychological consequences. So be careful and take a break. Your self-esteem will thank you for it.

By: Anne McCormack

Anne McCormack is a Psychotherapist based in Dublin, Ireland. She is the author of ‘Keeping Your Child Safe on Social Media: Five Easy Steps’ available here http://www.easons.com/p-4740342-keeping-your-child-safe-on-social-media.aspx.

Talking to Loved Ones about Unhealthy Lifestyles

When someone has an unhealthy lifestyle, their habits don’t just affect them personally, but can affect the people around them as well. It’s not only hard to tell someone that they are hurting themselves, but it’s also hard to be the one hearing it.

Habits that seemed acceptable a few decades ago – smoking, consuming cholesterol heavy foods, failing to regularly hit the gym – have been openly denounced by medicine and public health. When the Surgeon General reported on the negative effects of smoking in 1964, it took the world by storm. People realized for the first time that with every match they struck against their cigarettes, they were making their lives a little bit shorter. As research on cholesterol gained traction in the 1950s and 1960s, people realized that their dietary choices might not be ideal for increasing their lifespans. The 21st century then brought with it the adage “sitting is the new smoking” – a sedentary lifestyle is doing us no good.

With science bringing forth these new and well-publicized findings regarding just how unhealthy our lifestyles really are, it may come as a surprise just how few people are willing to change. It’s difficult to plead ignorance with the dawn of social media, so it seems to hurt us more when we see that our loved ones are reluctant to make changes. How then can we, as individuals, call out our loved ones on their self-destructive tendencies without causing offence?

It isn’t easy to get a smoker to quit. The last time I tried, I didn’t get the results I was looking for. It’s far less easy to tell someone they are gaining an unhealthy amount of weight. How do we tackle this then? Here are a couple of tips to help you talk to your loved ones:

  1. DO wait for the right moment: Chances are that your loved one has already been exposed to the negative consequences of their unhealthy lifestyle. If they bring these up, there is no better opportunity to start a dialogue.
  2. DON’T shame them: The more you criticize and degrade your loved one, the more likely they are to get defensive and not listen to you.
  3. DO use empathy: Acknowledge how difficult it can be to change. Remind them that you are not perfect. You can use personal stories of a difficult adjustment you may have made in your own life. The concept of reciprocity can go a long way.
  4. DON’T monitor them: No one likes to be constantly watched. Instead, help your loved one make a plan of action and keep providing support and encouragement.
  5. DO exploit the media: Tread with caution when you do this. You want to use comprehensive and helpful resources to help your loved one move in the right direction. Make use of documentaries, self-help articles, and YouTube videos, but only after vetting them to make sure they are appropriate for your loved one’s needs.
  6. DON’T give up: Chances are the changes you want to see will not be immediate and your loved one is bound to slip up every so often. The key is to suppress your urge to express disappointment and frustration, as these are the moments they will need the most encouragement.
  7. DO provide incentives: People love incentives and prizes. Reward your loved one for their efforts, but don’t punish them for their transgressions.
  8. DON’T be a hypocrite: If you are committed to helping your loved ones, now is the time for introspection. You may have unhealthy habits that are different from (or the same as!) theirs, so you can work on them side by side. Seeing you make the effort can help mobilize them. If you love them enough to help them change, they probably want to do the same for you!

By: Sumayya Saleem

Sumayya graduated from the University of Toronto in Psychology. She is about to begin her Masters in Education in Developmental Psychology and Education at OISE. She is interested in counselling and increasing access to mental health services in third-world countries.