T’was the week before finals

T’was the week before finals, when all across U of T 

Students were cramming, for the sake of their degrees

They read all night, unable to sleep in their beds

With visions of 4.0’s dancing in their heads

Picture of handmade card reading "happy finals"

Yes I made myself a motivational card. Deal with it.

IT’S HERE FOLKS. It’s what you’ve been dreading/waiting/prepping for all semester: Winter finals 2014!

It’s been a long ride. There have been tears, cramming and horrible midterms. There have been successful essays and aced tutorials. And it’s all been leading up to these next few weeks.

Ok, I’ll stop with the melodramatic hyping-up of finals.

I’ve worked hard all semester, and I know I may be very close to losing all my motivation and drive, but I’m hanging in there. I know the reward of finishing finals will be much greater than the stress of actually writing them.

What lies in the promise land after finals, you might ask?

  • All my old friends will be back in the city for the holidays.
  • Peppermint candy cane flavored Hershey’s Kisses.
  • Actual free time to spend time with my family
  • N  E  T  F  L  I  X
  • Other various peppermint flavoured sugary things
Picture of Hershey's candy cane kisses chocolate package

Peppermint everything <3

I’m convinced that the grass is greener on the other side. I know everyone studies their best in different ways, so I’m not really in a place to start giving out study tips. But I can request that we stay positive, and keep that morale up!

This my go-to final exams survival tip that I’ve been following for a while now. It’s been 2 years and counting since my last exam-related, stress-induced, panic ridden, night-before-the-exam break down and I owe it all to being positive. Common self-pep talks phrases include:

  • My grades do not define me
  • I am going to ace it. I got this.
  • Yeah yeah, we in dis BRUH. (my inner gangsta likes to make an appearance during pep talks)

So there you have it folks! Hopefully someone makes use of my personal exam survival to make positivity their ally in the war against finals.

Just remember: We are fabulous. We are fierce. We are in the number 1 university in Canada for a reason. We got this. So happy finals to all!

Picture of inside of card from first image. Reading "You go girl" with a hand drawn heart.

The inside of my motivational card. Treat yo’self. Love yo’self.

*Disclaimer: Not studying at all and then being positive usually doesn’t work. Please study <3

So what are you looking forward to after finals, U of T?

Exam Survival Guide!

It’s that time of the year again! Your favourite library starts to get a lot busier, your notice everyone you pass has bags under their eyes, and the line at your favourite coffee shop on campus is suddenly three times longer than normal. Welcome to Exam Season!

Whether you’re an Art-Sci in full-year courses writing mid-terms, or an Engineer trying to comprehend how you’ll be able to finish all these final assignments, exams are stressful for everyone.  While I don’t have any secret tips to help you guarantee a hundred in all your courses, I do have some vital tools to making surviving exams a little bit easier!

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 1.17.05 PM

1. Trail Mix – nothing is worse than mid-studying munchies. Don’t let your blood sugar drop, and keep this protein-packed snack in your bag! Eating something like trail mix can also help your concentration and focus by occupying your tactile senses.

2. Noisli App. – sometimes you just need to listen to something while studying – but Beyonce can be a bit too distracting. Try noisli.com, it lets you create the perfect custom ambient noise, or offers pre-made mixes for relaxation and productivity.

3. Backup Pens & Highlighters – this is a basic. Don’t let the convenient excuse of having a highlighter run-out justify your 3 hour study break. Pack some backups.

4. T-Card – you’ll need this to get into the stacks at Robarts, or to stay in a library after hours. It also has the double bonus of being able to be loaded up with flex dollars for those emergency Starbucks runs.

5. Earphones – this goes along with the ambient noise player. Earphones are the perfect way to shut out the world around you, or let you enjoy a study break by watching some youtube videos.

6. Water Bottle – hydration is key! All that extra caffeine and the dry library air can really dehydrate you and your skin. Drinking water keeps you stay hydrated, and more alert and awake.

7. Flashcard App. – this app is a gift to University students everywhere! You can create your flashcards online, then transfer them onto your smartphone and take them with you everywhere you go! It’s convenient and environmentally friendly!

8. Extra Chargers – finally, don’t forget your device chargers – after all, thats what all the outlets built into the tables are for!

Well U of T, did I miss anything? What are YOUR go-to exam essentials? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @Rachael_UofT – and happy studying! 

How Things got Bad – Then got Better

Such was the advice I’ve needed over the past few days. I’m convinced that the most recent 25 views or so have been me hitting “replay”.

As suggested by my lack of (and tardy) posts, these past few weeks have been rough.

Assignments have taken longer than expected. I’ve felt unable to be at full strength for either of my two jobs. And just over a week ago, I received some failing test grades.

Now I have written about receiving poor grades, and preventing negative feelings, but this was so devastating that neither seemed sufficient to explain how I felt or help me get through it.

The course in question was my final pick of the term, a course I needed to even out my schedule, but didn’t necessarily need for my program requirements. But it quickly turned into my most demanding.

The lectures were hard to follow, and the course materials in an alternate format arrived a couple weeks into the course. This meant I had to rely on support from one of the course’s two Teaching Assistants. I also formed a study group of people I hadn’t met before to work through material and practice problems. Once I had access to it, I spent many a night reading the course pack and working through the examples it contained.

And I still failed the first test, and just passed the second.

The silly thing was that the tests didn’t feel too bad. I felt I was on top of the work and the material, more or less. To find I wasn’t — right when I needed to be splitting my focus between all my courses to accommodate mid-terms and finals over December — was a shock. What do I do now? How can I save this term? The final’s worth 60 per cent of the course grade — what if I don’t even pass that? And my other courses! They’re program requirements!

Needless to say, I didn’t handle it particularly well. It made my other posts seem flippant.

Here’s what I did after receiving the bad news:

  • Cried. To the course’s second TA whom I’d never met before (she had the test grades handy). To a friend I met for dinner afterwards. To my sister over the phone. To my mum over the phone. By myself. (I unabashedly cry in public; just ask the friends who went to The Fault in Our Stars with me…)
  • Got mad. Wondered aloud why I’d spent so much time on a course that wasn’t a program requirement at the possible expense of courses that were. Raged that I’d done solid (as far as I could tell) work and still come up short. Questioned why I left school in my hometown to come back to U of T at all. Hated that I’d even thought that.
  • Sulked. Tapped into my arsenal of therapy tools with some success. Finished an assignment for another course while questioning my intelligence. Did work but couldn’t concentrate well. Slept fitfully and napped for the first time all term. Watched too many Grey’s Anatomy clips on YouTube. Drowned my sorrows in a Grande Peppermint Mocha: my first Starbucks in a while. Spent too long flicking through my iTunes library to find an appropriately peppy song to get me going or reflective song to be in the moment with. Coldplay, The Dixie Chicks, Glee cast, Allison Hinds, Drake, Fleetwood Mac, My Chemical Romance, angry Taylor Swift, The Killers, Bedouin Soundclash, Lorde, and any non-Disney songs from the soundtrack to the Broadway production of The Lion King all made appearances on this week’s playlist. Considered adding Les Misérables, but figured that was getting too melodramatic. Found One Direction and Taylor Swift’s new stuff on YouTube. Questioned my claim to adulthood as a result.
  • Got sensible. Discussed matters with my parents, something I definitely didn’t do the last time I was here. Realized the gaping holes in my knowledge. Sought a tutor. Spoke to the instructor of the course in question and had a rational and productive discussion. Considered late withdrawal as a last resort. Went to lectures and took some of the best notes I’ve made all term. Used my very basic HTML  knowledge (just because I could) to write down a master to-do list of everything I wanted to get done over the next week for each course, my jobs, and any personal miscellaneous tasks. Noticed my rising panic and second-guessing ebb away as this list of concrete things to get done by a specific date came into being all in one place.

Though I constantly feared (and fear) a slide into behaviours of my past — where I eventually gave up on pretty much everything — this was not the case. It hasn’t been a great week by any stretch, but I’m slowly digging myself out of the hole I landed in, with much help from family, friends, and time.

I wanted to share this with you because it not only has absorbed my mental energy all week, but it also is a thumbnail sketch of how things can get bad, but then get better with the proper tools and a bit of rational problem-solving.

I will leave you with another inspiring classic movie quote to get you through the coming weeks.

Don’t worry, be app-y

I often find that I have the need to be on the grid to be able to keep up with the fast paced student lifestyle. Getting a smartphone was a complete game-changer because it allowed me to be productive while on the go. Over the last few years, I’ve grown attached to a few applications, which make my life as a student SO. MUCH. EASIER.

Some of these do use Internet, so they might not be as accessible for an authentic “on-the-go” experience. But they’ve still been really useful to have because I can complete some of the tasks I need to do, without actually having to physically be at a computer!

So without further ado, here are some of my favourite student-friendly smartphone apps:

1) TTC Bus Map (And other related TTC Apps)

Screenshot of phone screen showing map with red indicator of 510 Spadina streetcar

For commuters who take buses or streetcars on the TTC, this app is a godsend. It has a real time map of where all the buses or streetcars on any given route are located. This app specifically is for iOS devices, but there are dozen of other TTC apps with similar functions that are available for both Android and iOS.

2) Adobe Reader

Phone screenshot of Adobe Reader App "add note" function. Note reads "I can add notes!"I love this app for those days when I forget to print out my lecture slides and I’m too lazy to bring my computer to school. If you go to your phone browser and open .pdf files with the app, then you can highlight, add text, underline, draw and even add notes to the file!

3) Google Drive

Phone screenshot of Google Drive App "add to my drive" page.

I only recently found out about the Google Drive app but it’s been so helpful, especially for some of the student groups I’ve been involved in! It’s great to be able to pull up files while on the go, and if you download the corresponding Google Docs/Sheets apps, then you can even edit files!

4) Any Calendar App

Phone screenshot of iOS calendar app. Reminder reading "Library time"

My calendar app of choice is the default one that’s on my phone and it is my number one organizational tool. My entire schedule is at my fingertips so I’m constantly aware of deadlines. I once thought it was a Wednesday (it was Thursday) and I didn’t finish my Thursday blog post, so yeah, calendars are my best friend.

5) Urbanspoon

Phone screenshot of Urbanspoon App homepage. It shows options for search, reserve table and hottest in Toronto.

You had to have known this was coming. I love food, and having Urbanspoon lets me look for different varieties of food at different price ranges in whatever area of the city I happen to be in. GOD BLESS.

Maybe one day, humanity is doomed because technology will turn on us and the robot uprising will wipe us out completely. But until that day, I will still trust my smartphone to be a fairly reliable companion in my life.  So remember all: be app-y.

Uh oh, I slept through my final exam!

“Mum, I slept through my final exam.”

Of all the horrors film can provide, and no matter what craziness happened on Friday night at the Hart House of Horrors Halloween Party, this will forever be one of my life’s more terrifying moments.

It was 2009, and after a rough term, I was woefully behind in my studies and tried to cram to the point where I ended up asleep on my bedroom floor. By the time I arrived at the Test and Exam Centre, it was too late.

I admit this is a First World problem, but when university feels like your whole world, one’s perspective gets distorted.

I’m not telling you this to frighten you. My goal is just to impress upon you the importance of sleep.

“But Sarah,” you may say, “finals are more than a month away! Why tell me this now?”

Because, if you’re like me, this time of year is when the rubber hits the road: tests have come and gone with more on the way. Essays and labs are due soon. Not to mention that any extra-curricular obligations still carry on in spite of your heavier workload.

If ever there was a time to consider skipping sleep hours, it’d be now.

Source, Flickr ,Lily Monster (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Source, Flickr ,Lily Monster (CC BY-NC 2.0)

We know that feeling well-rested makes us feel better about life in general. Our friends at Harvard tell us that sleep can also help with learning and memory, before and after learning a new task. So sleeping after a study session can help you remember what you learned or reviewed, and make it easier to get more learning done the following day. You also will be less likely to fall asleep in class and more likely to pay attention and take good notes.

But how much is enough? According to the Mayo Clinic, adults (yes, we do fit into that category, as scary an idea as that is) should be getting 7-8 hours a night, but more if we’re sleep deprived, which is probably most of us.

Is napping ok? As long as it’s short (20 – 30 minutes), it shouldn’t interfere with your nighttime sleep. The National Sleep Foundation has some great napping tips and suggestions for improving your nighttime sleep, too.

It’s easy to forgo sleep when deadlines creep closer, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not worth it. As much as you may think 7 hours of sleep would be better spent studying, you don’t want to end up fast asleep on your floor when you should be acing an exam.

Take it from me – get to sleep before the lack of sleep gets you! You will feel so much better for it.

When the Time is Right

I need to catch my breath! Just when I think life will slow down, I realize how wrong I am. If it’s not tests, essays or readings, it’s meetings, volunteering, events and the list goes on. In a perfect world, we would always get everything done. Wishful thinking, right?

Looking straight upwards through the yellow leaves of a large tree in Queen's Park, towards the blue sky above

We can sometimes have many things hanging over our head, and we aren’t sure exactly when they’ll fall on us (Photo by Zachary Biech)

University can be hectic though. We’ve already discussed balance, maintaining health, mental rest and the like. Sometimes however, this means things don’t go exactly according to plan.

Brown and golden maple leaves lying on the lively green grass of Queen's Park

All of a sudden our schedule can fall to pieces like so many leaves (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Looking East over the red and yellow trees of St. George Street  towards some of U of T's largest and craziest buildings all stacked on top of each other

“Campusopolis” really is a bustling place, it’s no wonder things can get so hectic (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I attended the You Beyond New student leadership conference on October 24th which ran from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. but I had to maneuver around classes as well. Despite having to run around campus like a hummingbird on Red Bull, it was worthwhile. I had meaningful conversations, learned about managing groups and even found insight on my future studies.

http://www.newcollege.utoronto.ca/studentlife/leadership/

Yeah, I had to pull out all the stops to make that crazy day work. But so what? It still went great. I actually like when things go awry and the plan goes out the window; that’s when things get a little more exciting, don’t you think?

My name tag from the You Beyond New conference

(Photo by Zachary Biech)

It can be daunting to wade beyond the shallows of your schedule into murkier waters where you can’t see the bottom. Don’t worry; I want you to know that it’s alright if things don’t go as planned.

Peering through crimson red maple canopies up at Soldier's Tower

Something just felt so right about this view, though it was only by chance I looked up at that moment (Zachary Biech)

At First Nations House, I attended a Lunch and Learn session with Learning Strategist Bonnie Maracle about Indigenous perspectives on time management. At U of T, time is money, time is a tool and time is short. Sounds a bit rigid, right?

Looking North up St. George, with a very dark sky looming above in the distance

Sometimes there is a darkening sky before us, yet we have no time to prepare for the storm. These even happened while I was taking pictures! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Luckily, we can apply a different perspective. We don’t use or spend time; we only live in it. What you do is the real key. We can schedule all we want, but we can’t control everything. When the time is right, things work out. When the time isn’t right, we just have to accept it. Sometimes all we can do is roll with it. Go with the flow. Make it up on the fly.

One of the great big cannons sitting next to the UTSU building

This big old cannon rolls with it when it blasts away, hence the wheels (Photo by Zachary Biech)

For example, I stayed overtime at the Lunch and Learn and showed up a bit late for a tutorial. I would’ve loved to have made it when class started, but the time wasn’t right. I was busy having valuable discussions and connecting with peers! Though the original plan went the way of the Dodo, I learned about this important life strategy, enjoyed new friends, and was thus reenergized by the time I made it to class. See??? When things don’t go according to plan, it doesn’t mean it didn’t go the way it was meant to…

http://www.fnh.utoronto.ca/Current-Students/Academic-Support.htm

(Monday – Friday 9:00am to 5:00 pm Learning Strategist Bonnie Maracle is available to see students)

(Thursdays 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Elder Andrew Wesley is available to see students)

(Mondays & Fridays 12:00pm to 5:00 pm Traditional Teacher Lee Maracle is available to see students)

Red, orange, and green vines climbing up the wall of a Victoria College residence

If it’s good, it’ll grow when the time is right (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Remember, it’s alright if things don’t always go as planned. When something doesn’t work out, it wasn’t the right time. We can’t control everything, and sometimes we just have to roll with it. Though it may not happen when you expect, things eventually go how they’re supposed to when the time is right.

The real fun begins when we discover what’s really meant to be

A canopy of vines completely covering the wall of a Victoria College building, but with one odd patch of the vines coloured green instead of orange like the rest of the canopy

When something good grows, it might not look exactly like you’d expect! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

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.

On Saturday I knew I had to go out for brunch for a friend’s birthday, participate in a panel for fall open house, review for a test, and do a few housekeeping things.

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Community 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.

Going out for brunch for a friend’s birthday on Saturday was another great way to relax, I mean, food is a necessity of life and hanging out with friends is a great way to start the day. After brunch and the panel I buckled down and did some review before having a fun disney movie marathon that night.  picture of brunch food: fries, eggs, tea

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!