Staying Organized and Having Fun: a de-stressing strategy

Last week the rest of the crew posted about mental wellness and their posts were all super awesome. My mental wellness week post is a bit late but A for effort right?

Wellness for me is about taking care of your whole self: sometimes that means that I make myself eat vegetables (although I often feel like Ori), while other times it means just taking a break from school stress and having fun with my friends.

My main way to keep myself from turning into a big ball of stress is to stay organized. I’m pretty type-A so i have list upon list that keeps me on track. What I’ve found really helpful is a tactic that I’ve done since first year: putting my schedule in the calendar app on my computer/phone/iPad like so

a screenshot of the week view of a calendar app showing class schedule from last year, all class times and places are in there along with the readings for each class for that week.

doing this helps me see what free time I have and lets me look up the readings for each week without having to go into the syllabus every time. Having my due dates in a bright colour helps me easily visualize when everything is due.

a screenshot showing the month view of a calendar app showing classes each day plus any due dates or important dates

I remember the week of the 9th-15th, assignment free bliss

In addition to this I have a weekly planner that I write assignments in, a big sticky note with all my assignment due dates, and a running to do list app on my phone and laptop.

screenshot of to do list showing that I need to do various readings, fun things like brunch, community crew panel, and disney movies are also scheduled in

This was a pretty light to do list as I did most of my readings on Friday. Setting myself a reasonable amount of work everyday helps me get it all done and makes me feel good when I see everything crossed off.

The second way I take care of myself is by taking breaks and having fun with my friends.DSCF4280After finishing the readings for two classes on Friday I took a break to read some blogs (this article in Vogue about Jony Ive was such a great read, and I really liked these pictures of flowers on vintage photos) and listen to records before starting to study for a test I had on Monday.

This little break, sitting on my window seat, looking at my plants, and hearing the lovely songs from Camelot helped me recharge from a busy morning and helped me study better; since I had already caught up with the internet I wasn’t tempted to take breaks after every 3 pages. By setting a specific to do list, I was able to keep myself up to date with my readings and pace myself, knowing I only had one more thing to do today helped me feel okay about taking a much needed break.

Going out for brunch for a friend’s birthday on Saturday was another great way to relax, I mean, food is a nessecity of life. picture of brunch food: fries, eggs, teaCommunity crew shenanigans post fall open house panel, knowing I only had a little bit of studying to do that afternoon meant I had time to frolic in the leaves with these goons. S0044314 community crew members holding food in front of a urban smoke food truck

Those are my strategies for keeping myself from getting too stressed but whatever strategy works for you is best! The important thing to remember is that a little bit of stress is healthy and keeps you motivated but if you feel you need help, there are a ton of resources availible at U of T (most of them were outlined in the crew’s posts from the last week).

 

 

Holistic Living for a Busy Schedule

My head can really get spinning. With so much going on, including schoolwork, tests, classes, extracurriculars and events, things can get crazy. Stress is a part of university life especially during flip-out times like midterms. But stress is natural and if you aren’t a little stressed about your university activities, you aren’t doing it right.

Let me explain; stress in controlled, healthy amounts is actually a good thing. Going into a mental tailspin, however, is not. If you have a balanced schedule full of activities you enjoy, the stress won’t feel like stress. It will feel like energy. This energy is good and there are many strategies to access it.

Two erasers standing vertically, with pop bottle caps for helmets and paper clips for rifles

Meed Bob and Ted, some veteran study soldiers from my first year. When you are overloaded with work, you can always count on your ability to distract yourself. (photo by Zachary Biech)

I’ll give you an example. Early October has been crazy for me. I’ve never spent so much time doing so many things all at once. In my opinion, it’s a little early in the year to have two midterms and a heavily weighted essay all in October’s first week. But here’s the strange thing. I’ve been working fifteen hours a day for a month straight and yet, my brain never went into code-red meltdown mode.

First reason: My schedule is full of things I love. There. Boom. Easy.

If you fill your day with your passions, it won’t feel like such a battle.

Second: My schedule is balanced.

Your schedule can’t be too heavy on the work and too light on fun and health-oriented activities and vice versa. All work and no play blahblahblah. But how much of each part of your life is necessary and what should actually be included in your day?

First Nations House has an Elder-in-Residence whom I’ve visited a number of times. His name is Andrew Wesley and he is Omushkego Cree from Fort Albany. Elders have invaluable, immense knowledge to share. The teachings I’ve received include protocol for ceremonies which have greatly helped me. At FNH as well as the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto there is plenty of help finding whatever medicines you may need. Also, you can talk with FNH’s Learning Strategist, Bonnie Jane Maracle.

http://www.ncct.on.ca/giftshop.php

Four small medicine bags, made of yellow, red, blue, and white cloth all pointing outwards in the four directions.

These are medicines of the four directions placed in my apartment to ensure it is a safe place to be. The entire atmosphere changed instantly when I put these up. (photo by Zachary Biech)

A small dream-catcher with dark red, white, and teal beads and a multicolour cloth from a Métis sash

My special dream-catcher. The cloth is a small piece of a Métis sash, given to me by Bruce Dumont, President of the Métis Nation of British Columbia. (photo by Zachary Biech)

Elders in Toronto have also really helped me grasp the value of the medicine wheel in balancing life to maintain healthy relationships with the four parts of our beings. You can definitely explore teachings like these at university. There’s more to learn than I could ever teach.

http://www.fourdirectionsteachings.com/main.html

A small living room with tall white bookshelf cubes and TV stand, with a red coffee table and red doors in the white furniture, and with a white with blue ripples in the fabric

The original colour scheme of my apartment: balanced but needed one more colour of the four directions. Can you tell which one? (photo by Zachary Biech)

Here’s a beginner’s guide: life is a continual four-part cycle of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves. Only you know what fills these areas in your life, but rest assured, they all should be respected.  Every Saturday, I spend four hours or so scheduling my week. Though massive, these schedules are balanced in the four areas and allow me to maintain physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness. They’re even colour-coded. Thus, I get more done, I’m healthier in the four areas, and the stress isn’t all that stressful.

A large agenda book with one page of colour-coded daily schedules and the other filled with notes for action items

A relatively light week (photo by Zachary Biech)

A close-up view of daily schedules with colour-coded action items and symbols that only I can understand

When in doubt, colour-code EVERYTHING. My system has become so elaborate, I have a whole new symbol language in there too. (photo by Zachary Biech)

A small memo booklet open to a page with meal plans for each day of the week

An example of my personal management system: The meal plan for this week from the meals section of my memo ledger. (photo by Zachary Biech)

My strategy for balance may not be a perfect match for you, but I think the idea of balance definitely is. If you approach university life holistically, and you fill your days with projects that you love, it’ll go way smoother.

A list of personal action items (music, exercise, ceremonies, reading) and a medicine wheel drawn in my large agenda book

Balance is a big part of my schedule. (Photo by Zachary Biech)

What do you do to maintain your wellness?

pictures of home, cloths for medicines, and a mezmorizing blue lava lamp

Some tools for balance: pictures of home, cloths for medicines, and a mesmerizing lava lamp. (photo by Zachary Biech)

Confessions of a Stress Queen

I’ve previously mentioned that I like to keep busy. I know it seems counterintuitive, but it keeps me at the top of my game!

Throughout this year’s Mental Wellness month at U of T, the campaign has revolved around coping and seeking help if you are experiencing mental health problems, as well as building coping strategies for staying mentally well. Feeling somewhat stressed or anxious about upcoming evaluations is completely normal.

This info card from Health and Wellness sums it up pretty well:

FullSizeRender (1)So yes, I like to keep busy, but here’s my crazy confession #1:

I am not Wonder Woman. I don’t always fly through my tasks with ease, grace and a killer positive attitude. I have been stressed out.

I don’t need to tell you that university can be overwhelming at times. I am on sleep-deprived night #3. The time is currently 4:17 AM. This blog post is due in 8 hours. And I still have to do the works cited page of my paper that was due yesterday.

This may seem like the textbook definition of stressed out, but to be honest, I don’t feel insanely overwhelmed. I mean, I’m stressed about meeting my deadlines, and I’m stressed about not getting any sleep, but even in this last minute, night-before-it’s-due frenzy, I still know I can accomplish the task at hand. I have come a very long way since the days when being stressed out resulted in crying a lot and extreme levels of procrastination. This Tumblr post signifies everything I was about in first year.

FullSizeRender

Source: http://ernbarassing.tk/post/58314048103/if-im-on-tumblr-more-than-usual-that-means-i-have

Crazy confession #2: I still experience stress all the time. Even without midterms (SHOCKER! I know.) So, when I do feel like I’m returning to that state of tears and extreme procrastination, I use some of the coping strategies I’ve learned along the way. Here are some of my ways of staying calm and cool in the heat of midterms:

  1. Use your support system! – Friends, family, loved ones, school services, professors. You name it. Sometimes all I need is to text a friend and blow off some steam by complaining about things.

    FullSizeRender (2)

    My friends are very supportive and encouraging of me <3

  2. Take a break! – Even with a time crunch, I like to take breaks because it calms me down. I let my mind wander. I watch an episode of my favorite TV show. I go out to eat with friends. Anything goes!

    IMG_5473

    Food is my favourite break <3

  3. Constantly self-assess – I went to a Mindful Monday session, and the instructor talked about being mindful of yourself. Similarly, I always try to think about where I am in the stress spectrum. Can I handle everything? Do I need to step back and take on less? Do I need to seek further help because it’s getting out of hand?

I know this doesn’t quite make me Queen of Stress, because I’m still coping and learning new ways to manage all the time, but it’s definitely a start! Maybe for now I’ll be the Princess of Stress?

Prepping your Patronus

For the few, unfortunate souls who are not familiar with Harry Potter, Dementors are creatures which “… drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them … get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you … you’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”

It comes as little surprise to me to learn that J.K. Rowling created Dementors based upon her experiences with clinical depression.

dementor

A Dementor as seen at Warner Bros Studios. Sara de Prado (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Like depression, Dementors can be repelled. It takes a lot of skill, but a defense (called a Patronus) can be conjured. It is “a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the Dementor feeds upon -— hope, happiness, the desire to survive — but  it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so the  Dementors can’t hurt it.”

What does this mean for mere Muggles (non-magic folk) like us? We have no wands (so unfortunate) and although we may attend classes in buildings that resemble Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, we sadly did not get our letters at age 11.

But as surely as Dementors were created from the memories of depression, Patronuses have a real “Muggle” element too. After all, we cannot feel hopeless when we arm ourselves with lasting happy memories and joy.

But happy memories and joy can be hard to come by sometimes: mid-terms can see to that. And if your mid-term stress and hopelessness makes you feel like you may never pass an exam again, or that you aren’t “enough” in some way and doesn’t leave when mid-term season is over, they can start to appear invisible.

What is a student to do?

Only you know what brings you joy, but I can offer you the things that may make these happy memories easier to find; maybe some of my suggestions will allow your mind to clear enough for you to recognize them for what they are.

All of the Community Crew will be writing about Mental Wellness Month this week, and we as a collective have many experiences. But we’re not you, and we know that not everything that helps us will help you in every circumstance. However, we hope some of our advice will be of benefit.

All of that said, here are the tools I use to “prep my Patronus”, or remind myself of the joy that is present every day for the experiencing.

Reach out

This is where I got into the most trouble in my experiences with anxiety and depression. I reached out to Counselling And Psychological Services (CAPS), but not to my registrar, family or many friends. I got some therapy and medication, but nothing that was getting to the bottom of my issues. It took four different therapists and a two-year break from U of T to get me to a place where I could return here, medication-free. Opening up to those closest to me is something I continue to work on, but it is not nearly the struggle it once was.

I can’t encourage this enough: you need to reach out. Whether your family is 15 minutes or 15 hours away, they care about you and want to help. Your friends will want to help you too, and it’s best to keep them in the loop as well. Your College Registrar can direct you to other campus resources, and can help you navigate the system should your health get you into academic trouble. If you feel you need help talking to any of these groups about your challenges, discuss this with any one of the following on-campus options for a support network.

For supports, there are several options. CAPS takes students as patients throughout the year: you just need to call them or pay them a visit in the Koffler Student Services Centre and they’ll set up an in-person or over-the-phone screening interview to see where you need help. Then they’ll match you with an appropriate professional: a psychiatrist or psychologist for one-on-one therapy on campus, or they’ll recommend other options. If you can’t get into CAPS, or prefer a virtual experience rather than a face-to-face chat, Good2Talk (for over-the-phone help), or Counseline (for online or over-the-phone support) are available. For a less formal group discussion facilitated by students, consider Peers are Here.

As students, we are very lucky in that we have a much easier time accessing support than the general public. Wait times are weeks rather than months. CAPS also has a coping skills group session for students on their waiting list, which is a step in the right direction to get as many students helped as possible. If you are prescribed medication, your UTSU health plan will likely cover its costs. If you’re apprehensive about taking medication, discuss this with the psychiatrist who prescribed it: it’s essential you’re on the same page as often as possible. Note that medication is not a solution unto itself (you will have additional supports to deal with root causes of your problems), but it can be a good stepping stone to allow you to see the rationality and possibility behind those treatment options.

As I said earlier, family and friends are essential resources, too. You don’t want the anxiety of keeping things from them adding to your already burdened brain. They don’t have to become therapists themselves though, if you don’t feel comfortable telling them every gory detail of your emotional state. However, having someone there when you need a tea break, a laugh, a hug or encouragement will never go unappreciated.

Whether you’re facing a major emotional battle or not, maintaining contact with the outside world is good for anyone, as I discovered in last week’s post. It serves as “maintenance” for mental wellness, as do all of the following suggestions for me.

Alternative Therapies

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) take explanation beyond the purview of this post, but I’d encourage you to look them up. CBT is a clinically proven method to take extreme thoughts like “I will fail everything” and neutralize them to “I have lots of work to do, but I’ve done well enough so far so will likely pass with C’s at the very least”. It’s a popular tool for psychiatrists. EFT is not so clinically proven (and can appear really wacky if you’ve never seen it before), but works for me. I don’t believe it can cure diseases as it’s alleged, but I do know it works for pain, anxiety, panic, procrastination, and creating motivation. Mantras (a certain phrase one can repeat to oneself for encouragement) are handy. Four-part breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can be almost miraculously good at slowing one’s pulse (and anxiety along with it) and relaxing one’s body under high pressure.

Get Enough Sleep

This is the most over-looked coping mechanism available to students. It’s the one thing we need most but the first thing to go when times get busy. It gives our bodies the rest we need, and helps convert anything we’ve studied into long-term memory. Just ask anyone who has done an all-nighter: it might get material into their brain for a morning mid-term, but I can almost guarantee that knowledge is gone by the afternoon. Getting enough sleep takes planning of one’s day and one’s study schedule: make sure you see someone at the Academic Success Center if this is an area you struggle with.

Get Some Exercise

When you feel like crap there is little motivation to do anything. But moving is essential for good health: even jumping jacks or running on the spot in your room (or public study space, no one will judge) will do the trick. Take a walk with a friend. Find a gym buddy. Drop in or sign up for a Hart House fitness class or a class at the Athletic Centre and take something new. Your possibilities are endless.

Eat Well

We’ve all heard the various adages and good advice about eating all the right things: fruit and vegetables, protein, fiber, and on and on. But why then must it be so HARD? My head knows that an apple and almonds will fill me up better than a chocolate chip cookie or a muffin, but my taste buds don’t see reason. The reality is though that poor physical health and mental health go hand in hand: you feel good because you eat well; you eat well because you feel good. You eat badly because you feel badly and your brain says that fried foods and refined sugars will make you feel happy. They might for a time, until they don’t and you feel sad and sluggish again. Treats are great, don’t get me wrong, but daily doses of unhealthy foods won’t do you any good.

Make Music

Usually this means singing, but playing the piano or violin (if available) can help. I can’t explain why this works, but it changes something in me: I can go to a choir rehearsal completely stressed out and doubting the wisdom of taking two hours away from my study time, and can leave feeling ready to tackle my work. In the absence of formal rehearsing, singing with one’s headphones on is a good standby. As is air drumming to Paul Simon’s The Obvious Child or similar, or air-violin/air-conducting to something like the Third Movement of the Summer concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Listen to Music

Whether it’s Drake, Alison Hinds, Bedouin Soundclash, Adele, classic U2, or a recording of a Hart House Chorus concert of which I was a part, there is a song or an artist for any given mood. Whether I need inspiration to be more motivated and ambitious, am feeling reflective, or am downright sad, music is where I turn. It allows me to feel something visceral for a while, until I can work it out in my head or reach out to others for help in doing so.

In conclusion

I use all of these strategies to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the situation in which I find myself. Not all work in all circumstances. I hope at least one of them will help you.

Until next time, EXPECTO PATRONUM!

How to Deal (2003) with Stress

Okay guys, let’s be real: University can be stressful.

And the award for “the biggest understatement of the year” goes to me!

A picture of me wearing a cap backwards, and pointing at the webcam.

I’m a winner!

Seriously though – university can be stressful; I’m not lying about that. Between your exams, assignments, tutorials, iClicker quizzes, extracurricular activities, friends, family, and everything else under the sun – it’s pretty difficult to find time to just, you know, breathe.

Trust me, I know. In honour of Mental Wellness Month at U of T (and midterms), I thought it’d be good to take a moment to talk about my experiences with stress. I want to talk about how I deal with stress – not how I dealt with stress – because stress for everyone is honestly an ongoing battle.

As someone with Depression, stress has always been something that I have dealt with, whether it is being stressed about things I should be stressed about, like exams, or being stressed for the sake of being stressed. Hi, my name is Ondiek, and I’m a stressed-out individual.

I won’t sugar coat it; it’s a struggle. Depressive moods, stress, and apathy are enormously difficult for me to avoid, despite how proficient I’ve become at masking it. I’ve learned since I started University being able to hide it not enough. I learned that as much as I wanted to; I couldn’t just lie down in melancholy waiting for my meds to kick in forever.

I’m pretty much Cameron Frye, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try my best to be a Ferris.

There are many things I do to deal with my stressful moods. First and foremost, I like to entrench myself in comedy. I love funny and ironic things even when I’m not stressed. Whenever I find myself in dark situations, the first thing I do is find something to entertain my trashy mind. Whether it is watching the 1995 masterpiece Showgirls starring Jessie Spano, or singing along to pre-“My Heart Will Go On” Celine Dion power ballads – I feel better.

If that doesn’t work, then I bake. Oh God, do I bake. I can’t tell you just how many loaves of chocolate chip banana bread I made while cramming at 2am. Baking just feels right when I’m stressed, y’know? For a few minutes I’m free from my stressor (stu-dying), and then I can get back to it while knowing that I have a treat waiting for me in 30-40 minutes. Sometimes I like to combine my love of irony and baking. While listening to the entire Jagged Little Pill album, I can eat my banana bread with a bowl of ice cream in angsty solace.

And if all else fails, I take a nap. For some people, sleeping while stressed is difficult, but not for me. I can fall asleep pretty easily, and I’m thankful for that. Sleep is a nice temporary escape from my troubles, and I rarely wake up in turmoil. Still, I always make sure that a nap is just a nap. There’s a fine line between taking a nap, and then oversleeping because you just don’t want to be awake, and I still struggle with that, so, I save napping as my trump card.

In the end, I still get stressed, but I know that it doesn’t have to be that way forever. I can take active measures to reduce that stress. My efforts make me a happier and healthier individual, and that’s good enough for now.

That Human Thing Where You Meet New People: My Social Anxiety and the Importance of Being Selfish

So here is the thing, I am really awful at meeting new people. I don’t know what it is, but anytime someone introduces me to their friend/significant other, I get all manic and loud and just, well, hyper. Keep it at small-talk level, add in a “oh WOW that is so fascinating” along with some terrible self-deprecating jokes here and there, and you have me.

And while it may seem like I am just really interested in whatever you have to say, I am really just trying to make it through the awkwardness of it all. In fact, as you are talking, my mind is usually all over the place with negative and intrusive thoughts such as:

“Did I really just say I hate wearing bras? Why did I just tell her that I ran out of shampoo two days ago? Haley, pull it together and stop being so loud. Just try to be normal. Gah, can it be anymore obvious that I have generalized anxiety disorder?”

What I wear to work (note the nervous eyebrows).

What I wear to work (note the nervous eyebrows).

 

What I would much rather be wearing...

What I would much rather be wearing…

To be clear, this is not just nerves. For days or even weeks, I replay past conversations in my mind because I am beating myself up over how annoying/abrasive/arrogant I was. I just laugh when people say I have a good memory because that is precisely the problem: I can almost never let anything that I did “wrong” go.

And this is me on medication.

And so, what is the point of me telling you avid U of T blog readers this? Well, I think the fact that I am so self-aware of one of my many anxiety triggers and that I am comfortable telling you all this (albeit, behind a laptop) is a MAJOR step from where I was in first year. Back in the day, I had no idea what and who were my triggers. Now, I know that I will get anxious when I meet new people and that is okay. More to the point, I know it is okay to step out of those unavoidable schmoozing situations for ten minutes and to say no when I feel like going out is too much for me. Plus, I know my psychiatrist at CAPS will be there for me at our next appointment.

Plus, I like talking to my friends who "get it" and understand my struggles :D

AND I like talking to my friends who “get it” and understand my struggles :D

For me anyways, I have found that being self-aware about my mental health and knowing my limitations is what keeps me on track. No matter how many degrees someone has, the person that knows you the best is you. So take advantage of you and be selfish when it comes to your mental wellbeing. Talk to folks who “get it” (yes, there are people out there), use the resources on campus, and don’t feel ashamed to go to your college registrar to ask for an extension. I am telling you in all cerealness, putting myself first was the best thing I could have done.

Cheers,

Haley

 

My Mental Health Story

It’s been 18 weeks since I wrote my introduction post on this blog. I remember sitting down at my computer to draft it and thinking that I wanted to portray the best image of myself. I wanted to be the epitome of the “perfect U of T student”, and I thought that maybe if I pretended to be that person long enough – eventually I would actually become them.

Unfortunately, that’s not how things work. I’m not perfect. 

U of T Graphic Reads: October is Mental Wellness Month. Learn ways to balance responsibilities, find relaxation, engage with your community, and be mindful. See the full schedule of events at uoft.me/mwm

U of T has dedicated October to Mental Wellness month. So, some of us on the crew have decided to share with you our own stories. Whether that’s how we deal with stress, what resources we utilize on campus, or just where we can go to clear our heads, we hope that it can bring you some comfort in knowing you’re not alone, and remind you that we’re more than just typing fingers behind a computer screen. We’re humans too.

Group shot of the community crew at an orientation event.

See! Real proof that we exist out from behind your computer screen!

My story begins when I was very young. I remember being in grade 6 and beating myself up over not getting the grades I thought were  mandatory. This obviously escalated in high school, and as the work load increased so did my anxiety.

But when I came to U of T, I started to be more  anxious about my social life. I worried about who I would run into in the hallways of my dorm or about what the person who was staring at me (albeit probably aimlessly) was thinking about me. If they hated me even though they had never met me. I grew distant from my new found friends and closed myself off from the world I had only just begun to feel comfortable in.

 

Just because someone looks happy, doesn't mean they are. It took my friends a long time to notice I wasn't well, because I insisted on putting on a happy face.

Just because someone looks happy, doesn’t mean they are. It took my friends a long time to notice I wasn’t well, because I insisted on putting on a happy face.

It took time, but eventually I reached out and found the help I needed. It started by telling a friend, who helped me tell my parents, who helped me find a professional I felt comfortable talking to.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. So for that reason, I don’t feel that sharing what specifically helped me, will necessarily help you.

Instead, I want to share two things; 

1. Talk to Someone. Talk to a friend, a family member, or one of the amazing counsellors  at U of T’s Counselling & Psychological Services. They offer amazing resources including in-person counselling.

2. I’m okay. I survived and dare I even say, flourished, in the rest of my first year. I got help I needed, and I’m still getting the help I need. I know it may feel like it’s never going to get better, but it will – I promise.

Left Photo: Rachael laughing with friend in hallway. Right photo: Rachael and female friend buckled-over from laughing outdoors in front of trees.

Eventually that fake smile turned into a real smile, and with time it even turned into a laugh.

So I guess my story should end with an ellipses and a “to be continued”. It’s still something I’m working on every minute of every day. Sometimes it means I skip a class on Friday to go home and see my parents, or sometimes it means I skip a social event to go to the library and do my readings. It’s about finding what works for you, and accepting that “perfect” isn’t an achievable goal. 

So stay tuned for the rest of the week here on the Life@UofT blog for stories, tips, and tricks from the rest of the crew. While you’re at it, make sure to check out the U of T Mental Wellness Month activities.

The Life of a University Smoker: Why I Decided to Quit

Let’s face it: University is crazy stressful. With exams, assignments, and school clubs, not to mention juggling work, family, and friends, it is hard to manage everything. In the TL; DR version of my story that is why I started smoking: I was doing a 30-hour internship, five courses, and a lot of extracurricular activities. It was just WAY too much. My anxiety hit a breaking point and I had heard smoking helped alleviate the immediate stress that comes with millennial school life.

And for me, it worked…at least for a while. I was able to step out of the situation for seven minutes, walk around aimlessly, and be away from all my responsibilities for just a little while. That was the appeal, with the nicotine being just an added bonus/minus (depending on how you look at it).

So why did I quit? It was certainly not because my family was nagging me to do so, although they do take the credit for it now (hey Mama O’Shaughnessy).

No, I quit for a simple reason: I got super sick. The flu bug flew around my college and I ended up with a massive cough. As I went outside with a cigarette, coughing like nobody’s business, I thought to myself, “This is just dumb: I am prolonging my sickness because of this addictive and expensive garbage.”

I should also mention just the blatant hypocrisy what I have been doing with you all: I am the Health and Wellness blogger! Was I really following my job title when I walked down to the store after I got my first paycheck? I don’t think so.

And so, eleven days later, here I am, writing this post smoke-free!

“Quitting is that easy, Haley? What are all these smokers complaining about?”

Okay, okay, okay, I will be honest: quitting sucked a lot. I was a half-a-pack smoker, so I guess you could say that is pretty average. Yet when I quit, I felt tired, irritable, and hungry all the time. Just ask anyone from my college – they saw it was hard work!

First Day- Feeling okay

First Day- Feeling okay

Second Day- How this is awful- All I am thinking about "maybe I should cut down." I pushed through, perhaps because I could write this blog with this glamour shot. ;)

Second Day- WOW this was awful- All I was thinking about “maybe I should cut down.” I pushed through, perhaps because I could write this blog with this glamour shot. ;)

Second Day

Third Day- I was probably the worst person to be around that day (I literally yelled at my friend over whether subways or LRTS are better… and I live on residence).

Sixth Day- Feeling better good! Third day was definitely the worst and ever since then I have been thinking less and less about those darts, bud.

Sixth Day- Feeling pretty good! Third day was definitely the worst and ever since then I have been thinking less and less about those darts, bud.

So here’s my suggestion: get some nicotine gum. As a U of T student it is free through the Koffler Drop-in Clinic or through the CAMH. There are also some amazing support systems through the “Leave the Pack Behind” campaign. The university is huge and so I am telling you now, you are not alone. One of the main reasons I stuck with it was because I was telling my friends my progress via Snapchat (who knew disappearing photos could be a tool for quitting smoking)

One of the Pamphlet you will get with your free Nicotine gum through Leave the Pack Behind!

One of the pamphlets you will get with your free Nicotine gum through Leave the Pack Behind!

Follow those directions when taking your gum!

Follow those directions when taking your gum!

Another pamphlet! I read these when I get stressed and feel the urge to smoke.

Another pamphlet! I read these when I get stressed and feel the urge to smoke.

Now, I am no longer revolving my schedule around smoking breaks and in fact, I actually can breathe much better (which I didn’t realize was a problem until after quitting). Those first few days were a small price to pay for my mental, not to mention physical, well being

All for now,

Haley

Here Comes The First University Assignment! A Story from Not-so-Long-Ago…

So it’s the first of October, which means your first essay/test/some other form of evaluation is near. Before you freak-out because you just realized a month of school has already passed, never fear: I will tell you a little story from my first year that you may perhaps learn from.

My perma-face from first-year

My perma-face from first year

I remember my first class very well. It was seminar connected to the notoriously difficult TrinOne Program. But being from far, far, far away (aka Edmonton, Alberta), I knew none of this.

I sat down and I immediately felt awkwardly underdressed. Many of the folks in class where wearing nice sweaters and dress pants, if not ties and “casual” suit jackets whereas I was wearing my blue cheetah pants with a some-what plain flannel shirt.

Flannel is a Lifestyle

Flannel is a lifestyle

And then my prof came in. Now, to preface this story, my professor for this class turned out to be one of my greatest mentors (where I am today is thanks to him). Nonetheless, when he walked in, I felt incredibly intimidated. The room was dead silent.

He starts introducing himself.

“So you may have heard that I used to interview terrorists for a living.”

For the record, I heard no such thing.

 

“And although it was not a sort of James Bond type of job, that is a hundred-percent true…oh and by the way, I take plagiarism very seriously.”

EEEEEKKKK

EEEEEKKKK

“How am I going to make sure I don’t plagiarize? I mean there are millions of books out there! Someone somewhere is bound to have said what I have said at sometime, right?”

Now obviously I didn’t really understand what plagiarism meant, So when my first assignment rolled around I placed a footnote in every second sentence…meaning only half of the work would be considered my own analysis and thoughts. That problem, along with a bunch of grammatical errors and factual misconceptions, led to a pretty low mark. To be sure, I worked my little first-year tail off but I still ended up hugely disappointed and incredibly stressed out.

So, why did this happen?

 

The classroom that taught me how little I knew

The classroom that taught me how little I knew

Although it certainly had to do with my nerves from the first class, that essay could have been a lot better had I gone to a writing centre, the Academic Success Centre , or had I understood the concept of time-management.

Of course I did poorly because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fix what I didn’t know.

And so I took that first assignment as a learning opportunity to do better on the next one. I bought some grammar books, I went to the writing centre, and I went to my professor’s office hours, and WHAM! I ended up with a fantastic mark at the end of the year and I was far happier and far less stressed.

More to the point, staying organized and being aware of the resources, helped me to maintain my mental well-being (and alliteration!) and ensured that I would not get all nervous and anxious every time I got a new assignment put on my desk.

 

Okay, my perma-face still in third-year

Okay, my perma-face still in third year

All for now,

Haley

 

The Not-so Healthy Wellness Blogger: Haley and the Simplicity of the Unhealthy

Hey Life @ U of T blog readers!

My name is Haley and I will be your Health and Wellness Blogger for this upcoming year. Now, before you say “Oh another health guru, let me just look at someone else’s post,” let me be straight up with you now: I am not your typical “health” blogger. To be frank, I am a chip eating, wine drinking, cigarette-smoking (my boss is probably horrified by this admission), anxiety-stricken queer person who has never thought of dental dams and “the bedroom” in the same sentence.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 11.39.54 PM

Now you might be thinking: “But Haley! I drink wine and eat chips, and sure, I may smoke a couple cigarettes at a party, but you can still be healthy if you keep it in moderation.” Thanks friendly reader but here is the problem: moderation is not as easy as it sounds. Not to make excuses for myself but when I am stressed, which is often, I am not thinking to myself, “I really should be doing some meditation while I eat some kale.” No, I am thinking, “Pass me those Pringles so I can get me through (insert stressful essay/activity/event here).”

Eating a lot of terrible things are often “quick fixes” to terrible student problems. We all know that. But it seems impossible to get out of this mindset of reaching for the fast and often unhealthy food. Although I am making it through in public with a smile on my face, I am still struggling just as hard as I did in first year. Resorting to smoking, if anything, has made it worse because all I think about during writing an exam/essay is “when can I go outside for a cigarette?  I just can’t seem to focus without one in my hand.”

I have not actually solved the underlining problem of WHY I get so anxious. Yes medication helps, but the brain is an organ folks- it needs proper nourishment too.

It is hard, I know, but there really is no quick fix. Healthy eating and occasional exercise is something to work for, one little step at a time. I know treadmills are not my friend (fast walking for the sake of getting sweaty and tired, why?), but tap shoes are!  Cheesecake is definitely my friend but so is stem-cooked broccoli and baby carrots. Come April 2015, I want to look at health and wellness as something other than the “miracle pill” or the “lose weight on your couch” garbage that is seen on television. I do not want to see these options as “compromises” but as an additive to a better and happier lifestyle.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 11.40.41 PM

That is why I want to write for y’all and that is why I need your help to take the initiative to put my body and mind first. It is not easy and if people tell you it is, they are probably trying to sell you some green “health” mush from a late-night infomercial.

Help me, fellow students! Let’s get a little bit better together.

All for now,

Haley