#GOALS

Like a new year (hello 2016!!), a new semester never fails to get me in the mood to reflect on my goals. Goals forgotten, goals achieved, #goals that I aspire to move from the murky depths of my Pinterest board to real life and goals that are relevant to what I hope the new semester might hold for me.

At the beginning of last semester, I spent one particularly quiet night shift at work outlining the academic hopes and dreams that I would ‘surely’ have no trouble fulfilling   the steps that would have me on the road to university success in no time. However, upon revisiting said list, I can now safely say that my list was pretty unauthentic and maybe even impractical. My goal for this semester? Setting realistic goals.

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The Breaking Point

As I was walking down St. George the other day, I heard snippets from other peoples’ conversations. I promise, I wasn’t eavesdropping; I just forgot my headphones and I was bored. Anyways, these are the kinds of things I heard:

“Blah blah blah blah stressed blah blah blah failure blah blah forget blah tired blah blah I can’t blah blah blah…”

UofT, it seems we are in a sorry state of affairs at present. Of course, it’s to be expected at this time of year. We’re all just trying to put in that final hustle and make it to winter break.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m actively trying to face my final assignments with a more positive outlook; I’m trying to use my stress as a motivator. I want to appreciate every moment that I have as an undergrad student. However, I want to make something very clear:

None of that makes the work easy, and it certainly doesn’t make it go by any faster. Continue reading

It’s the most arduous time of the year

At about this time every year, I despair. I start to wonder how I am going to finish what seems to be a never-ending list of assignments and tasks. I start to wonder why I even came to this school; I must have a masochistic streak. The stress gets to me and I find myself resisting the urge to RSVP to a number of preposterous Facebook events (Dropping out of school to become a potato is a viable life decision, right? RIGHT??)

To make matters worse, the rest of the world does not seem to have gotten my memo. Don’t they know that I, along with all of UofT, am a big puddle of exam nerves? All I do is wake up, go to Robarts, go to class, return to Robarts, go home, and sleep! I am not feeling the Holiday cheer. Yet, everywhere I go, I hear sickeningly joyous holiday tunes, everything is pretty and sparkly and lit up, and there are tons of amazing events going on. Why is all of Toronto rubbing its holiday cheer in my face? I feel personally victimized by all this hollying and jollying and carrying on.

Pictured: My Christmas tree and some Christmas records

The cheer is even invading my own apartment!

I know what you’re thinking; this girl is a classic Scrooge. You may be right. I’ll have you know, however, that I have been trying to embrace the spirit of the season. Last night, I went to Christmas High Table at Trinity College. Despite my best protestations—”I have too much work to do,” “I hate carolling,” “I don’t like cranberry sauce”—my roommates would not take no for an answer and they dragged me along. Continue reading

First Years – Unplugging on Campus

The start of the ’gap’ between midterms and finals is definitely a good time to find more opportunities to de-stress where possible. As I’ve been emphasizing the importance I’ve placed on striking a balance between work and play, I’ve decided to find out where my fellow first-years have been going to relax on campus. Specifically, I’ve been looking for places to ‘unplug’ and unwind without keeping a constant eye on my phone.

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Getting over a bad grade: A personal memoir

Happy end of October! Hopefully many of you have reached the closing round of midterms and are either eagerly or miserably anticipating your grade. While studying for U of T tests is stressful, getting your mark back afterwards can bring on its own type of stress. Continue reading

Sometimes You Need a Break

I was sitting in the lower lounge of  E.J. Pratt library last week when I looked outside and realized that there was waterfall just outside the glass, and that somehow I had been completely oblivious of it despite having sat right beside it for four days in a row.

photo of the pearson garden behind EJ Pratt library, featuring the elusive waterfall

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Powering Down The Stress

Feeling stressed out at university is natural. There are deadlines, midterms, relationships to keep up, moms to call, birthdays to remember and somewhere in there you are supposed to get eight hours of sleep?! It’s understandable why university life can be a little overwhelming.

Have no fear, friends. With a little planning and some stress-savvy tricks up your sleeve you can handle all the craziness U of T may throw at you like a well-seasoned pro. If this is your first time at the university rodeo of stress, here are some Madeline tested stress relievers that may help you through midterm season once you add your own personal twist. 

  1. I hang out with my kitty. Yes, it’s true. If you followed last week’s blog about my bad week, you will know I have been wanting a kitten for a while now and I was surprised by my lovely boyfriend and his sister with a little baby cat for my 19th birthday. (She even likes to study with me, which is appreciated this time of year.)

    Little kitten, staring over a book - "helping" with homework.

    This my birthday kitten, Poppy. AKA my fuzzy study buddy.

  2. I make myself tea. I like having a water bottle with me while I’m at school but I also love tea in the morning while I wait for my bus/streetcar. To combat this dilemma, I use a glass water bottle with a sock to keep my hands from getting burnt, which I can later use as a water bottle! #TeaSolutions. Sidenote: Staying hydrated is a really good way to stay alert and ward off stress-related headaches throughout your day!

    Madeline holding a glass bottle full of tea. She uses a sock as a tea cozy.

    Tea in a sock; it’s somewhere in between uber-hipster mason jar and regular old thermos.

  3. I talk to my best friend. Nothing makes me feel better when I’m down than ranting to my BFF about our problems, which generally include lack of sleep, being too poor to go to Sonic Boom (again) or inordinate amounts of weekend readings.

    Madeline taking a selfie with her best friend, Michaela.

    Having a friend that is always there to chat is a blessing during stressful times. I’m lucky to have a friend like Michaela around!

  4. I study in a new place. Sometimes studying in the same place day after day can make me feel like I haven’t been progressing with my work! My new favourite spot to sneak in a great study session is at Hart House Library.

    A photograph of Hart House Library; with a cathedral ceiling and wall to wall bookshelves.

    I truly believe this library is UTSG’s best kept secret….Until now. Spread the word on this beautiful library, just save a window seat for me, ok?

  5. Indulge in a Netflix break; I try to choose funny sitcoms that don’t have a really serious plot; it’s so much easier to stop at just one episode. There is nothing worse than getting to a cliffhanger in Grey’s Anatomy and ending up binge-watching when you have an essay to do!

    Madeline making a grumpy face next to a textbook.

    My face when I have to stop watching The Office to return to my #StudentLife

  6. Plan out my day. When I have enough readings to fill up my whole weekend with non-stop homework, I plan out study times and then breaks where I can enjoy having a life outside of school. Taking a tip from Tiffany’s post about time management, this year I indulged in an extra small planner so I can always have it with me!

One of the best ways to de-stress, is to avoid it in the first place. I’m guilty of procrastination (aren’t we all??), and if I know that I have a crazy week ahead of me than I will often write encouraging “Plz do your homework” notes to myself just to boost my own morale and keep myself on track.

Happy midterms U of T, de-stressing in five.. four.. three.. two.. one..

De-stress Complete.

Sometimes stress becomes too much. If you’re starting feel like your school-life-work-social load balance is becoming seriously tippy, there are resources on campus that can help you sort it out. Your mental wellness comes first. 

 

Bearing the Weight – In and Outside of the Gym

I went to my second Olympic weightlifting class last week. What is Olympic lifting? Well, it’s pretty straightforward really. Olympic lifts are the ones you see in –you guessed it- the Olympic Games. Someone walks up, makes a lot of noise, and throws a few hundred pounds over their head. No big, right?

Wrong. It’s really hard! I consider myself reasonably experienced in the art of lifting things and putting them back down… Apparently there’s a lot more to it.

So far, we’ve been working on two of the three Olympic lifts: “the clean” and “the snatch.”

I tried!

I tried!

While throwing barbells around is hard, the less-tangible weight of being stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted has been far more of a challenge lately.

You see, I like to pretend I’m Wonder Woman most of the time:

I actually had this picture prior to writing this article, it was my uniform for work one day. I coach gymnastics and we run a superhero-themed meet for the non-competitive athletes.

I actually had this picture prior to writing this article, it was my uniform for work one day. I coach gymnastics and we run a superhero-themed meet for the non-competitive athletes.

I take on A LOT. I train, work two jobs, I’m the president of two clubs, I’m a mentor, a volunteer –oh, and a student! I’m a campus tour guide and on a recent tour a prospective student asked her mother how I could possibly have time for it all. I laughed when her mother replied that I probably don’t have Netflix.

It’s certainly not easy, and can be super taxing on my mental and physical health often times. This semester has already been especially hard. The struggle however, has helped me to develop better study habits than I’ve ever had and motivated me to explore my options and resources on campus.

When –at the gym- the weight on the barbell is too much, you do one of four things:
1. You take some of it off –duh!
2. You put it down –double duh!
3. You call for help.
4. You drop it –and risk hurting yourself.

The same applies to those things that weigh on my mental health. First, I have the option of taking some of the weight off. If I can’t handle keeping up with everything I’ve signed on for… I need to give something up. It’s hard for me to do because I hate quitting and I really hate letting people down. I know however, that I’m better off with some extra time to decompress at the end of a long day or to study when crunch-time comes around. I think the important thing to remember is that we’re all human –as much as I’d love to be Wonder Woman- and we have limitations.

Stick figures are not my specialty.

Stick figures are not my specialty.

My second option is putting everything down. I do this when I’m trying to gain some clarity to evaluate my situation objectively. It can be hard to think when I’m balancing a ton of weight over my very breakable toes. Some people call it a mental health day. For me, it’s sometimes only a few hours. Again, it can be very hard. When you’re completely swamped, not studying, not working on that assignment, can induce a lot of anxiety. I’m getting better at it though and I find those few hours “off” -doing nothing that I need to do- do a lot of good for me.

Calling for help is another strategy. One thing I love about being in a big city and on a big campus is the number of resources we have at our fingertips. Help is always steps away. This week I had a lovely chat with someone at my registrar’s office. Not only did I gain some insight, it really helped to just “talk it out.” I have a tendency to go over things in my head again and again. And it’s exhausting. When I speak my mind to someone else, I can quiet the internal monologue.

Now my go-to for academic advice! I recommend the Registrar’s Office 100%. Plus, Woodsworth College is beautiful, I should spend more time here.

Now my go-to for academic advice! I recommend the Registrar’s Office 100%. Plus, Woodsworth College is beautiful, I should spend more time here.

The last option is to wait until I’m completely burnt out and the weight comes crashing down on its own. Obviously, this is far from ideal. t I want to avoid it and  I’d love for you to avoid it too! Sometimes it’ll happen regardless of the measures you take to avoid it. Life can be unpredictable. Having said that, I find that most of the time if I take advantage of the other options I have, I can complete the lift –so to speak- and stand tall.

 

First-Years and Midterm Stress

Fall is in the air, but for us university students, that just means that midterms have arrived. Personally, this past long weekend consisted of studying for a term test and a midterm, getting work done for other courses, and giving thanks for the extra day to pull it all off. Naturally, I’ve been curious to see how other first-years have dealt with the stress of exams here at U of T, so I went ahead and asked some of my fellow engineers how they are finding ways to remain calm heading into them.

“Engage in recreational activities that require minimal effort or concentration! I personally stop playing online video games around exam time, and it’s been great as I don’t get nearly as worked up.” – Anurag

This is actually a pretty sound piece of advice, one that I’ve been subconsciously doing anyway. I’ve found that sticking with simple things, be it putting on an easy listening playlist, or reading a good book, have been effective methods of unwinding after a hard study session on the eve of an exam.

DSCF5394

Listening to some music and catching up on the news in the common room right before an exam helps keep me centered.

“I don’t spend the day of the exam still cramming and reviewing – at that point, my retentive abilities are next to zero. Instead, I try to relax.” – Dhanyaa

Relaxing with classmates right before a midterm, crazy as it may sound, actually put me in a calm frame of mind heading into the test. As Anurag cautioned against, I didn’t do something potentially strenuous. I planned my week so that I had ample studying done for the exam, and thanks to Dhanyaa’s advice, ended up spending the hour before sitting around and talking with friends as if we were just waiting around for the next class. I didn’t get too confident about it, but ensured that I wasn’t pulling my hair out immediately prior to an examination. Seeing a friendly face can do wonders when it comes to keeping stress levels low.

“Go on a walk after the exam, clear your head, and just get lost in the city of Toronto” – Ibrahim

Go for a walk, take a basic tourist-y shot of the CN Tower, check and check.

Go for a walk, take a basic tourist-y shot of the CN Tower, check and check.

I wouldn’t quite recommend getting lost, but going on a brief walk is a fine way to unwind after two hours in an exam room. Last week, I took a quick walk around King’s College Circle, and just relaxed there for a bit to ensure that I wouldn’t fixate on the term test I had just written. Since the weather is still nice enough to remain outdoors, taking a walk is truly a convenient way of de-stressing. When finals roll around, the weather probably won’t be as forgiving; I’m considering cafés as a good alternative for the greenery. Mental well-being is not something to be taken lightly; by arranging my time to allow for periods of rest and ample downtime in the hours leading up to a midterm, I’ve found myself feeling significantly more tranquil.

A Soul’s Ballad: The Blessing of Reflective Writing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife university students write—a lot. At some point, the word ‘writing’ might elicit an instinctive groan because it just meant finishing that reflection piece for English, that chem lab report, or that [insert energy-sucking work here]. As a result, being entrenched in mid-October, you’ll likely witness your friends partaking in stress-relieving activities, such as dancing, crocheting, binge-watching Orange is the New Black, or in my case, writing.

Now, you may ask, how exactly is writing going to relieve you of your stress . . . from writing? Here’s the thing: I’m talking about writing for self-reflection. I’m not penning down an analysis of The Iliad, but personal things, such as academic anxieties, relationship problems, Am I really real and in control of my own body, or am I just a figment of another person’s imagination/imagining I am real but am really not? moments—the usual.

Recently, though, I haven’t been writing to de-stress myself. In fact, writing has been the cause of my stress! As such, I decided to go to a program called “Write Now!” where upper-year/graduate students host bi-weekly sessions for reflective writing to try and reconnect with writing for leisure, and boy, not only did it relieve me from my super stress-filled week, but I ended up feeling calmer than I’d felt in a long time.

After springing from my class in UC, I came running to the Friday session at 11:30 am and entered a room that emanated stress-free vibes.

The Sidney Smith room used for the Write Now workshop.

A room filled with shades of blue. Blue walls, blue desks, blue chairs. If I I had the chance to look at the Mirror of Erised, this image would’ve filled it.

The room was small and cozy, which was a nice change after having so many classes where I was surrounded by hundreds of other people. Now, there might be the misconception that everyone in the room was an English major, but that wasn’t the case. In our group, there were students from across all disciplines, including Psychology and Physics. Everyone was welcome, regardless of what they studied.

This week’s writing session focused on the theme of time. We were given creative prompts, such as such as interpreting combinations of prepositions with the word ‘time,’ and tasked with writing for an allotted amount of time. It could be a poem, a creative piece, or even a splurge of incoherent musings. Ultimately, the goal was to write without overthinking. We were allowed to write badly because this writing wasn’t going to be labelled with a percentage defining its worth—this writing was for ourselves. My prompt was ‘besides time,’ which I can definitely say yielded to . . . interesting results (I made the strangest comparison between time and a fleeting doe).

My notebook and pen I used for the workshop.

My cheesy notebook, which I filled with the strangest contemplations.

Throughout the duration of the workshop, the ball of stress rattling in my chest unraveled. The atmosphere, the quiet moments, the release of words onto the page, and the relaxed discussions that followed left me feeling lighter. Once I tackled my work afterwards, I no longer saw it as Way #28 to punish uni students, but instead, Way #28 to punish uni students, but will, over the long run, be worth it (in non-Tiffany terms: I viewed my work with a clearer, less-stressed and cynical mind).

I’m sure that, like me, some of you have put off your personal loves to keep up with schoolwork, but this month, I challenge you to treat yourself to something stress-relieving, and I highly encourage you to drop by one of the writing workshops, since you never know, expressive writing might be your stress-reliever, too!

Details about the “Write Now!” program can be found here. They also post their weekly writing themes on their Facebook page here.

 

Do you write as a stress-reliever, and has this activity every yielded to strange thoughts and/or revelations for you? Let me know in the comments below or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!