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.


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!

Spotlight: + Mental Wellness Month

Jack.Org U of T logo

This month is dedicated to raising awareness and reducing the stigma around mental health and illness. This month says, “Hey, it’s okay that you’re stressed… it’s okay that you’re not feeling well” and asks, “What can we do to help?” A student group on campus whose goal is to answer this question is I interviewed my friend Katie, Co-President of the U of T chapter, and asked her about and how she maintains her own mental well-being.

A photo of my friend Katie in her shirt and UC in the background.

Katie is a fourth year Life Sciences student and the co-president of the chapter at U of T.

Q: What is and how did this chapter come to be at U of T?
Katie: is an organization run by young leaders that serves to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. Jack is the name of a first-year university student at Queens who died by suicide. His family and friends got together after his death to talk to each other about the importance of mental well-being. Over time, what started as a conversation between a small group of people is now a national movement with chapters all over in Canada in universities, colleges, and high schools. pushes to reduce stigma around the topic of mental illness – we focus not just on the 1/5 people who suffer from mental illness but the 5/5 for whom mental health is important. 

Q: What are some of the things that the U of T chapter of has in store for this school year?
Katie: We are collaborating with other groups for an upcoming Art Therapy event. This is one of many midterm/exam destressor events we hold. Last year, we had a ball pit in Sid Smith! We will also be hosting a Satellite Summit in conjunction to the annual Jack Summit where 200 young delegates across Canada hold a conference to talk about mental health issues and how to enact long-lasting change around the way people approach mental illness. We also recently had a Speak-Out event (and will have more!) where students can share their own personal stories about how mental health or illness has affected them.

A beach ball with the words "How can we make U of T as a whole more stress free?" surrounded by smaller, colourful balls in the ball pit.

The U of T ball pit from last year!! (Photo courtesy of the Facebook page)

Q: How can students get involved and show support for
Katie: You can come to our events! To keep up-to-date, you can contact us through our Facebook page or email and request to be put on our emailing list. Every September, we put out applications for a volunteer sub-committee who help organize events. But the greatest show of support is to keep the conversation going about mental illness… reach out to your friends, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions like “Are you safe right now?”. And never forget to take care of yourself – again, is all about helping the 5/5 people – we need to be well before we can help others!

Q: If we suspect or know someone suffering from mental illness, what are some suggestions as to how we would approach them and help them cope?
Katie: Reach out to ask them how they’re doing and make sure that they know that you’re there for them. Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help but also remember that you shouldn’t push anyone to do or say anything that they’re not comfortable with or ready for. Keep in mind that their feelings are valid and try your best to point them in a direction to talk to a therapist – don’t try to offer professional advice about something you’re not qualified for. You can also even offer to go to their appointments with them, as a form of emotional support. If you’re really worried about their well-being, try and talk to a family member or someone they’re close with.

Q: What are some ways you cope with bad days and/or stress?
Katie: The first thing I do is talk to my family; my mom, dad, and sister are my biggest support system! I also try and step away from what’s stressing me out, then go for a walk, sit in a coffee shop, or take pictures. Or take a long shower and put on some comfy clothes! I like to get together with my friends – even something small like studying. We may not be talking but it’s still great to know that they’re there.

A tri-fold bristol board with the question "We all have mental health. How do you take care of yours?" with sticky note responses all over written by students.

An interactive board at the booth at Mindfest this past Tuesday.

So U of T, how do you handle stress? Caring for your mental well-being and engaging in this global conversation is the best form of advocacy for this month! Let us know in the comments or shout us out on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #BeWellUofT!

Making Group Work Work

“Teamwork makes the dream work”, or so I’ve been told. Some people might be inclined to respond that “Group work makes the nightmare work”. It’s a scary form of assessment which universities seem to be falling increasingly in love with. From an outsider glance, it’s easy to see why: future researchers need to be able to collaborate with people who have different knowledge than do they in order to continue advancing our understandings of the world, and anyone working or living in the world today needs to develop interpersonal and teamwork skills to survive.

Both in the real world and in the university, group work poses a few risks: someone might coast along with the team just to take credit, people might take control of the group,  and duties might not be distributed fairly, among other things. In the classroom, there’s the added weight that your grade usually depends on working with other people. It’s a scary trial that many people will have to confront before they graduate.

Yet, despite so many students harping on group work at UofT and around the globe, a google search for how to make university group work actually work shows almost no results: mostly just resources for teachers trying to make group work worthwhile. But what about us students? Where are the guides for making group work work? Good question. It will depend on the kind of group work assigned and the discipline it’s for. But I think there are some answers on a broader interpretation. Continue reading:

1. Introduce yourself. Even in small classrooms, it’s very easy not to know the people around you. It will be a lot easier to work with people if you know their names, and it helps to break the ice. Even if your group work is only going to last ten minutes, it only takes a few seconds to introduce yourself.

2. Exchange the best contact information. A lot of students feel obliged to give out their utoronto email accounts, even though a lot of them don’t use their accounts too frequently. This makes it hard to keep touch. Go ahead and share your sk8r_h8r1998 hotmail account if it’s what you use most. Or, try Facebook groups or third party applications. Whatever is going to keep your team in touch.

3. Don’t be too modest. Everybody has their own skills. A team works best when it’s using everybody’s skills together. If you’re good at presenting, let them know. If you have great research skills, great! If you have strong penmanship, well you’re likely a total keeper. It will make assigning any jobs easier, and will make it easier for you to do your part when you’re already good at it!

4. Break out but don’t break up. It’s easier to work on projects in smaller groups and way easier to schedule! (Not to mention, may be helpful with productivity). But be careful that you don’t wander too far: your break out groups should stay accountable to your whole group. I can only tell you what happens when the people supposed to do section X disappear on presentation day, and nobody knows what their part was.

5. Get [a] stranger. If you have the option to pick your own groups, consider bringing in a stranger. It can be comfortable to study and work with the people you know, but (a) it also means conflicts can be even worse, and (b) some studies show that bringing new people into a group setting improves the creativity and productivity of the group. Who knows what your peers have in store for you!

6. Bonus: Ditch the doodle polls for group scheduling; when2meet has made my scheduling life so much easier in every way.

Have any other tips for surviving group work? Let me know in the comments!

A Beginners Guide to (almost, kind of) Surviving Statistics

Throughout all the trials and tribulations of university, whether it be cramming for 5 midterms in one week, or starting a 3000 word essay the night before, there is only one thing that actually, genuinely terrifies me:


picture of Api with a face palm

Stats = eternal face palm :(

Unfortunately, the introductory statistics courses are required for my major. Of all my courses, it’s the one lecture that I don’t find interesting and engaging. To me, it’s like statistics has become the lone MySpace page in a sea of artfully crafted Facebook profiles.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always found understanding statistics difficult. Maybe it all the “analysis” or whatever that’s involved, but my brain does not work that way. In the summer, I managed to get through the first introductory statistics course here at U of T (STA220, PSY201 or their equivalents) but I had a very specific system that made getting through the course a little bit easier.

I thought I would be done with statistics, but my best friend the Course Calendar kindly informed me that I still needed another half credit.

Api looking disconcerted

Statistics. Honestly.

There I was, once again terrified of numbers, so I knew it was time to refer back to my statistics game plan. I’ve also met many classmates who share the same anxious feelings towards to statistics, so hopefully this helps not just me, but everyone who’s tackling the course this semester (and in semesters to come)!



I remember on the first day of my first statistics my professor telling the class that we had to constantly do practice questions to keep up, and I’m not going to lie: I scoffed. DO THEY UNDERESTIMATE MY ABILITY TO SUCCESSFULLY CRAM INFORMATION INTO MY HEAD THE NIGHT BEFORE? No. No they did not. It took me a full three-day library session at Robart’s to actually catch up with the small amount of material I nonchalantly didn’t do.

2. There’s a Statistics Aid Center!!! 

It didn’t know about the Statistics Aid Centre until after I took statistics, dropped the course and then finally buckled down and took it the second time. They have people on hand to help you and it’s an amazing resource to make use of!

3. Finding statistics software 

My stats course included assignments and homework that were done on statistical software, and I found out that Robart’s Library has computers with statistical software installed on them! There’s also a computer lab at Sidney Smith with computers as well! I designated a weekly time to use the computer labs, so not only was I saving money on purchasing the software, I was also making myself have at least a few hours of stats practice each week.

Api giving a thumbs up


So there you have it folks. That was my statistics game plan, and I’m hoping it’s going to work again this semester. Good luck everyone!

If you have any other tips, let me know down in the comments or on Twitter at @Api_UofT!