The Juggling Act

The concept of “living a balanced life” has always been such an elusive one for me.

Growing up, I maintained a relatively erratic lifestyle, and I carried that into my first year of U of T. I’d sleep 3 hours one night, and crash for 15 hours another (no doubt after I had stayed up for at least 36 hours cramming for a paper).  I would go two days without a proper, substantial meal one week, or spend 4 hours in the cafeteria every meal, going back for fourths, and sometimes even fifths. One weekend I’d be out with my friends three nights in a row, but the next I’d neglect to do my laundry for fear that I’d waste precious “studying” time by having to fold clothes instead.

The worst of it was that I thought I had this lifestyle down to a carefully calculated system. To me, the “balance” I found was within two extremes, wrongfully thinking they’d somehow cancel each other out. Needless to say, everything started to take its toll on me – I started to get more severe mood swings, I started crashing for longer periods, and I frequently began to fall sick at least every two weeks.


How I ended up feeling most days.

Second year came around and many of my habits remained the same, but I noticed that subtle changes helped drastically improve certain aspects of my life.

I joined intramural volleyball again, but this time, I made it a point to attend practices and games weekly.  I hadn’t played competitively since my high school varsity team got cut back in junior year, but it didn’t matter – I still loved the game, and playing on a regular basis made me remember how good it felt to exercise. The endorphin rush was just what I needed to kickstart a day of studying after practice. I traded in going out every night of the weekend to give my body a chance to rest and recuperate from a hectic week of school.

Instead of listlessly doing mass sign ups for campus group memberships at the UTSU Clubs Fair (with my actual involvement going only so far as to just receiving the email updates), I decided to get more involved in Friends of MSF, a campus group that advocates for a cause I feel passionately about.

All these little changes began to make me feel better – as clichéd as it sounds, I felt more purpose day-to-day and it was refreshing to make friends with people who actually cared about the same things I cared about and who were actually excelling in school (not just getting by!).

The art of balancing life here at U of T often feels like a precision juggling act – we look to those who seem to have it all figured out as mythical creatures who have achieved the impossible and managed to maintain a life where “work hard, play hard” really does exist.

I’ll let you in on a secret – those people who seem to always get it right are not so different from you and I. They’re just doing everything they love with the right amount of time commitment to each endeavour.

I still struggle greatly with healthy eating habits, studying smart (not the same as studying hard!), and keeping an active lifestyle outside of intramural season, but my experiences have only taught me for the better (and I’ll definitely be keeping you guys updated on my progress along the way). Now that I’ve gotten a taste of a more balanced life, I’m determined not to let it slip away.


I’m still working on figuring out the magic formula to have all three.

P.S. If you have any advice to give incoming first-years on balancing academics with personal life, tweet us and don’t forget to hashtag #StartUofT!

The Mighty DIY

So I’ve never been all that handy of a person. Creative, yes, but handy? No. Case in point: I bought 5 simple wooden shelves from Ikea in January that are still merrily leaning against my bedroom wall. It’s (sigh) May.

Perhaps it was the home culture I grew up in – don’t get me wrong, my family is wonderful and have no qualms getting their hands dirty. But they work on things that need fixing or maintaining. Ask them to invent something new just for the sake of it? They would much rather “invent” another cup of chai. Extra strong, please.

Mmm Indian Chai

I was 13 when I sewed together some rather hideous scraps of corduroy together and created my very first wearable article. It was a simple corduroy purse, and I had made it from cutting up a pair of baggy, equally hideous pants that I had bought from Value Village (or, as we used to call it then, the VV Boutique).

I paraded my purse (might I add that it was this terrible brown colour) proudly to my parents and brother. Instead of the exclamations of wonder that my ear was ready to hear, I heard stifled laughter instead. My mom couldn’t stop laughing. And my brother? A lost cause. If I could see the purse now, I’m sure I would laugh too. I’m fairly certain that the stitching would be quite uneven, and the strap would be wider one side than another. Like the pants from which it came, it too would probably be, well, hideous.

The Treasures of VV Boutique

All the same, it was my creation, and I loved it for what it was. I told my mom the other day that if she had encouraged my spritely talent, I might have been a famous fashion designer by now. She dissolved into fits of laughter at the memory of the purse instead.

Is it any wonder that I can now make an amazing cup of chai?

Can't have chai without snacks

All this to say that I have chosen this summer to challenge my rather complacent attitude towards DIY projects. Carrying on with my commitment to do and not just think, I’ve decided to see what things I can create or reuse rather than buying everything new all the time.

To help myself along, I’ve been checking out resources on campus that promote DIY adventures. My findings so far: U of T has an impressive array of places to go to if you want to learn a new trade. For instance, want to learn how to repair your bike? U of T’s Bikechain is the place for you!

Stay tuned for next week’s post, as I delve into where to explore hands-on activities on campus, from cooking and gardening, to creating interactive displays and even android apps.

As for keeping my commitment, I suppose I should begin with those Ikea shelves…


On Zen Frogs and Creating Happiness

It’s 10 minutes to five o’clock on a sunny, beautiful afternoon in May. Just a couple of moments ago, I was sitting in the chapel at Hart House, immersed in a mindful meditation workshop hosted by Cheryl Champagne from Health and Wellness at U of T. I feel calm, happy and, well, a bit surprised.  Who knew that 20 minutes of breathing could transform me from frazzled to zen? I guess I forgot how amazing meditation really is.

In the spirit of wellness and renewal (part two!), today’s post will be all about workshops, events, and resources on campus that can help you keep positive in this journey called Life.



Dare to Self-Care?

It took me years to figure out that in order to be at my best, I had to care for myself as much as I cared for other people. So I was pretty delighted to discover that U of T’s very own Health and Wellness Centre offers a workshop called Dare to Self-Care. Hosted by Jill Cressy, the workshop explores a variety of self-care practices, including stress management strategies, mind-body techniques, and 10 keys to happier living. Jill usually asks the following questions in her session:

What do you care about?

What are your values related to health and wellness?

How can you best support Happiness in your daily life?

Try your hand at them! I sat down and attempted to, but as usual, when I try to answer questions, I come up with a bunch of them instead: What does it mean to be mindful?  How can we go about creating Happiness?

My quest led me to Sutha Sathananthan, a Masters candidate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at U of T. Sutha took a Cognitive and Psychological Foundations of Effective Leadership class last fall, and became hooked on the concept of ‘happiness’. The outcome? Sutha founded Engineering Happiness, U of T’s first on-campus Happiness Initiative.

Sutha, founder of Engineering Happiness at U of T

“I started researching a lot about happiness, and I learned that there is a lot of negativity out there” says Sutha. According to her, people don’t start by thinking ‘well, what really makes me happy?’ Instead, they try to find ‘happiness’ when they are faced with depression, anxiety, and other mental health or emotional challenges. Engineering Happiness is all about providing the space and the tools for others to create awareness about the things that bring them balance, contentment, and joy.

Engineering Happiness draws its ethos from the field of Positive Psychology, which seeks to make normal life more fulfilling. Think fostering joy, creativity, and authentic happiness as ultimate goals.

U of T’s Health and Wellness also offers some amazing workshops that explore similar themes. In fact, there is just so much to be explored in the realm of wellness right on campus. Did you know that U of T actually has a Happiness Webinar Series? It’s true!

Not only that, the Multi-Faith Centre is currently offering a class on Mindful Meditation every Wednesday afternoon. Later this summer, you can even participate in a Happiness Challenge, brought to you by Engineering Happiness. You’ll be able to go out in the world an document whatever makes you happy using any medium, then submit your creation for a prize.

My foray into meditation, happiness and self-care kicked off Mental Health Awareness week. Did I get the answers to my questions? Nah…but I did learn a few meditation techniques, and learn a bit more about Happiness. Am I happy? Yes, I can safely say so.

Check out Jill Cressy’s Dare to Self-Care workshop on May 10 from 10-11 am at Charles St. Residence. Engineering Happiness is also hosting a free Laughter Yoga session on Wednesday, May 8th from 7-8 pm at Hart House, 2nd floor Debate Room.

Come out and flourish!


From The Think to The Do

The first of May is here – finally! And so begins my summer. I can store my school work away and leave my books in my room, instead of letting them carve perma-holes in my backpack. It’s been a whirlwind of a year for me here at U of T – new people, new ideas, new stressors, and an interesting dynamic between sameness and constant change. At times I’ve felt like Kramer, a few (very few) times like Sheldon but mostly like Samwise  – a bit of a wanderer in this strange new space called U of T. Sam always craves potatoes. I always crave tea. We are not so different!

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog about spring and renewal, which got me thinking about my own life. One of my goals for this year and beyond is to focus on Doing and Being, instead of just Thinking. Hmmm. A tricky thing for someone like me, who gets lost in thought. Correction, lost in Many Thoughts. I’m pretty sure that my mind is a leafy labyrinth filled with comfy chairs, cozy throws and west-facing sunny rooms designed for Great Thinks.

I took an Aboriginal Worldviews class with Professor Jean-Paul Restoule at OISE this semester, which was rather life-changing. It moved me from the Think to the Do. Each class began with a Smudging ceremony, which is all about using the Sage plant to cleanse a space of negative energy. I usually entered class a bit frazzled, my mind jumping between to-dos and must-haves and what-nots. And yet, by the time each of us had drawn the smoke from the Sage over our hands, hearts and faces, I always felt grounded and calm. Professor Restoule would end the ceremony by giving thanks for the grass, for the trees, for winter, for the opportunity we had to gather together again, and so on. We were all brought to the present moment. That’s a beautiful way to start, well, anything, isn’t it?

I decided to start be a bit more grateful for regular things every day. It’s a curious thing: the more I gave thanks, the more content I was with who I was and how my life was taking shape. The less I looked at how others around me were doing and the more I focused on what I could do to create change. You know that paralyzed feeling you get when you realize just how much more you need to get done?   Well, those moments came fewer and further between. And, the more I did. I started taking a bit of time to draw and paint again. I started to take a few minutes to close my eyes and breathe in silence in the morning. Bit by bit, I started on a journey of renewal and change.

I have always been focused on next steps. When is the next paper due? What am I making for dinner that will last me a few days? How can I best plan my day/week/month/year? The act of writing these words makes me feel rushed. It is no secret that the life of an undergraduate or graduate student can often be stressful, scattered and difficult. So it was a beautiful gift to learn to be grateful for what just is.

Being grateful for even the smallest things (It’s sunny! I can feel my fingers! My taste buds can still taste this ghastly coffee!) helped me get through was must be the longest winter I can remember. Expressing gratitude is a form of doing. It is giving positivity back to a world which throws a lot of positivity my way too.

You have all written exams, handed in papers, and completed final labs over the last few weeks. Some of you have four months of Summer. Others of you are closing your chapter at U of T, and heading onto other wondrous things. Good Luck. Take a moment to create renewal for yourself (it feels great!).

In the spirit of Spring Cleaning, Happiness and Mental Health Awareness, check out MindFest at Hart House next Monday, May 6th. Activities include exhibit booths, an art crawl, film screenings, workshops, guest speakers (Steve Paiken!), free food, stand-up comedy, and prizes.

- Aziza

Ms. Worrier vs. Ms. Warrior

So here I am. My final post of the school year. This year has been …surprising, to say the least. And having to write blog posts on a weekly basis has compelled me to reflect on the events in my life more consciously than I normally would. Of all the things I’ve learned this school year (in and out of the classroom), the one that sticks most with me is this. I’m a worrier. I’ve always stressed about everything more than the average student. But this year, I realized that I live in the future too much. I spend so much time worrying about things that may happen that I miss out on many great opportunities.

I like knowing what will happen. What does my mind do with the unknown? It predicts what will happen. And my inner cynic dictates that most predictions are negative, creating more anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle.

But this year, I’ve figured out that control is an illusion. I can’t “control” what happens to me but I can manage my reaction. If I keep doing what I’ve been doing, I’m always going to be a worrier.

That’s why my goal for year’s end is simple:

To live in the present as much as possible.

I want to get out of my own head and stop losing time in the future (and the past). I realize it’s important to think about the possibilities that the future holds and marvel at the memories that the past carries but being in the present is definitely something I need to work on.

Since I’m not accustomed to living in the present, I took it upon myself to do some research. See what the experts were saying about the Here and Now. After some research, I’ve come up with an action plan.

How I will live in the present:

1. BREATHE (deeply).

2. Smile.

3. Forgive the past.

4. Dream big but work hard.

5. Do less.

6. Do one thing at a time.

7. Be flexible.

8. Dress comfortably.

9. Volunteer.

10. Spread the love.

I’ve printed off two copies of this list. I’ve put one on my bathroom mirror and the other in my binder. I’m going to make an honest effort to live in the present from now on. To remind myself that the present moment is just as precious as the future I’m trying to build. After all, “If you worry about what might be, and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is.”


March Madness Madder Than Ever

It’s March again. The end of the school year is approaching and it’s crunch time. Everyone I know (myself included) is up to their necks in midterms, assignments, and essays. It’s hard enough as it is to keep track of deadlines and due dates and to work ahead. But this March, I find myself more swamped than usual. Not only am I balancing the regular workload of my courses, it has seemed that my personal life is (a lot) more active than it generally is. My relationships have been a little rocky as of late. Friends and family are snappier than I remember and I’m having a hard time keeping everyone satisfied. On top of that, my family is moving and the pressure and inconvenience that comes with selling a house are definitely starting to take their toll.

During these days, I often wish that I had the ability to stop time so to sort through my responsibilities and emotions. The world moves so fast and as a student, it can be hard to catch your breath. Where’s the manual that teaches us to balance the work at school AND the work at home? The work we do professionally and the time and effort we invest into our personal lives? Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be one. So we’re expected to “adjust” as we go along. We’re expected to “deal with it.” And normally, I find that I deal with it just fine. But this March, I’m overwhelmed and frustrated. How do I make the expectations stop? Sometimes, it feels like no one notices the stress we’re under. Everyone seems to be on top of their work while you’re struggling just to keep up. But this week, I learned that people do notice. And more than that, they do care.

This Tuesday, I bumped into my professor on my way into class. He held the door open for me and in an attempt to make small talk, he asked me how I was doing. Completely unintentionally, I burst into tears. I don’t think that that was the reaction he was expecting to get but he offered such genuine concern that I’m almost glad it happened. Students often joke at they are “just a number” at UofT but I find that there are many shoulders to lean on if you reach out.

So reach out!

- Use your friends and family as support. Talk to your professors and your registrar. You’ll be surprised to learn that more people care than it initially seems.

- Learn to change your expectations and priorities. Set boundaries and say “no.” There’s a limit to the number of tasks you can juggle so cut yourself some slack.

- Take yourself out.

- Smile.

- Splurge on a massage or a better printer. Or on whatever will help you get over the slump.

- Attend campus events, like those held by St. Mike’s: March Forward (  Remind yourself that there are living, talking, walking people out there!

It can be so uplifting to realize that the people around us recognize that we’re not essay-producing, midterm-writing, responsibility-fulfilling machines. And we need to recognize it too.

Till next week,


exam jammin’

Hey U of T! Hope this week wasn’t too stressful for you. Remember, only a few more weeks until you get to dance your way out of the Exam Centre. Yes, it’s a dreadful paradox. Freedom is so close, but as it inches ever closer, so too does the impeding doom that is the E word or the thing that must not be named. Because every year it’s like this:

To prepare, you have a few options.

  1. Listen to R&B heartache songs at 3 AM and grieve with NeYo about the impending stress event. True, NeYo is probably singing about a girl — but you can pretend he’s “so sick of exams” instead of love songs.
  2. Go raid your nearest Metro and prepare the bunker. Your soups, your crackers, your nuts, your dried fruit and your coffee/tea. Also; make sure to get fresh fruit and veggie and store them in your bunker fridge – because otherwise you’ll get scurvy. And scurvy sucks.
  3. Organize your stuff. I did this today, I feel proud of myself.
  4. Go to Robarts. Don’t open a book or anything. Just sit there. Sit there for a while. Observe how many people look at you.
  5. Tell yourself that YOU ARE FIERCE.
  6. After studying very hard, head on down to the most fun place during exams .. Sidney Smith!
Wait what? You’re probably saying, they put those fancy banners on Sid Smith and now he thinks the place is the salt of the Earth. Full disclosure: I spend a lot of my time at Sid Smith, so after a while, you do come to appreciate the brutalist architecture. Somewhat. But no! I’m talking about Exam Jam!
Exam Jam is an event held jointed by ASSU and the Faculty of Arts and Science, as well with Hart House, MoveU, UeaT, the Faculty of Kinesology and Phys. Ed, Health and Wellness and the Academic Success Centre. It’s in its second year and is a day during exam period meant for distressing. We had it last semester and they are bringing it back for you on Monday April 8th.


Last time there were puppies, there was a BUTTON making machine (most fun of life I am telling you), there was free coffee and not just any coffee – SECOND CUP coffee. There were free snacks, yoga sessions, free massages, life sized Jenga, among other things. Exam Jam is a drop in event, so you can drop in when you feel tired of Robarts, or you can utilize the open study rooms located in Sidney Smith.


So, make sure to come on out to Exam Jam on April 8th to destress! The puppies will be waiting for you. :)


The Numbers Game

I often hear myself telling friends that university is a numbers game. Some weeks it is simply impossible to finish all the required readings and assignments. Often, we’re forced to choose one task over another.

The equations and ratios that are constantly swirling through my mind are migraine inducing. I am not a natural mathematician. I am always trying to figure out of which assignments will weigh more weigh more heavily towards my GPA, and which assignments I can afford to let fall below my normal standards.

For example, last week I had a midterm for a H1F class that was worth 10% of my grade in the class. On the same day I had a twelve page paper due for a Y1Y course that was worth 30% of my grade. Simply mathematics  proved that I designate more time for the essay than studying for the midterm. The morning of the midterm, I was just finishing up my essay, so I never had the opportunity to study for the midterm.

As I was writing this midterm, that I didn’t study for, I was mildly panicked that I would earn a mark in the 20-30% range. However, I somehow pulled off a B+. I’m not sure if this was just dumb luck or if it was because I always attend the lectures and tutorials for the class. I was able to work my way through the test in a jigsaw pattern, starting with the dates and events that I remembered from lecture and then guessing my way through the rest of the test.

In a perfect world I would have had time to write the paper and study for the test, but as the end of March approaches and time starts speeding away I think we are all finding ourselves in these situations. Don’t even get me started on the cruel reality of daylight savings time and how it has robbed me of a needed hour of schoolwork!

If you need to pick and choose between assignments and studying then make sure you’re picking the right item to concentrate on. It is easier to recover from a loss of 10% than a loss of 30%. Don’t forget that Y classes count more heavily towards your GPA than half classes and try to spend the most time on the assignments that matter most.

It really is a numbers game and understanding how to spread your efforts in the most pragmatic manner possible will save you time and stress!



Dear Mom and Dad:

The other day, my mother walked into my room and saw me sleeping next to my laptop, with a textbook as my pillow surrounded by laundry to be done, paper plates to be thrown away and garbage yet to be taken out. I was the ultimate hot mess after a failed all nighter. Why? Because I’d JUST caught up with school after falling a week behind with the reading week madness. She got so worried about my condition that she booked a doctor’s appointment for the next day about my odd sleeping and eating patterns (which I obviously will be skipping because of school commitments). From this point on, I have a few more 15 pagers left, but they are all political theory papers which I ENJOY working on, so stress levels are lessening. But nonetheless, ESSAY SEASON is among us, friends. And everyone knows how annoying parents can be during this stressful time of the year…so to help you out, forward this letter to your parents.

Dear Mom and Dad:

For the next two months, I need you to LLEAAAVVVEE ME ALOOONNE. This is how I feel when you express your concern during this time of the year.

I know my eating schedule is messed up. I know I haven’t been sleeping. I know that I’m behind on my vitamins. I know I look like the Undertaker.


So please stop nagging me to clean my room, to take a shower or to start eating healthier…

at least for the next few weeks. I promise to listen to you after this madness because frankly I am concerned by my behaviour too.

It means the world to me that you care so much about the quality of my existence, but right now all I need from you is emotional support. I am so scared I won’t be able to meet these deadlines. Do you know what missing a deadline or failing to perform on an assignment/test this time of the year means? Thirty or more per cent of your mark or opportunity to do better in the class GONE. Do you know how huge some late penalties are in university? Do you know that everything is like magically due around the same time of the year which means that there is no way to have enough time to prepare enough.

Please don’t yell at me about where I am going to, or not, end up in my life by behaving like this. I don’t know. And the last thing I need to think about when trying to stay sane in the madness is my future. Also, please refrain from criticizing the way I look because my self-esteem is already dwindling because of that horrible paper I just handed in.

But you can do the following:
1)Tell me how amazing you think I am for enduring modern day university pressures and for not giving up when times get tough. I need all the external validation I can get right now. Good-morning, have-a-good day text messages, funny stories, pep talks…I need them more than ever to survive the home stretch.
2)Cook me meals. The reason I’ve been skipping meals and just snacking is that I don’t have time to prepare the meals. Coming home to a cooked meal after a long day of S-T-R-E-S-S is quite possibly one of the best feelings in the world. Food always tastes better when someone makes it for you.
3)Surprise clean my room. I’m not asking you to clean my room or organize all of my stuff (don’t do that, there’s a certain logic to everything and messing it up will get in the way of my morning routine of getting ready in 2 minutes). Coming home to a bed that’s been made is a really good feeling because it’s nice to know there is some order amongst all the chaos.
4)Be supportive.
I assure you things will be back to normal in May and I’ll be that beautiful, happy daughter of yours with healthy glowing skin, clean hair and fabulous outfits. But for now, just look at pictures of me from the past or something to make up for the lack of me in your life.

Your Child at U of T


- Sarah

So that’s how the pros do it..

Have you ever watched professional athletes on TV in awe, wondering how on earth their bodies could be so fast and strong? Watching them amazes me, and I’ve often wondered what goes on behind the scenes – what do they eat? How much rest do they need to recover? It’s made me think about my own exercise and health habits… Are there specific foods I should eat after a hard workout? Do I really need to stretch? Am I drinking enough water?
Well, earlier this week I learned about all of this and more, thanks to the Hart
House Recreational Athletics Committee
.  They hosted the seminar “Keys to Recovery and Regeneration” featuring Dr. Greg Wells, an established human physiologist and assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (FKPE) here at U of T. I’m glad I got there early enough to snag a front row seat with my friends, as the room was packed!

Source: Hart House Recreational Athletics Committee Facebook Page

The lecture was very interesting and informative – Dr. Well’s didn’t talk just about exercise or training, but about how other key factors can influence our performance as well. One of the first things he mentioned was how crucial it is to constantly hydrate your body throughout the day. He also talked about how food is essentially our fuel and that we need to replenish our bodies with the right stuff – lots of whole foods!


Along with proper nutrition, Dr. Well’s emphasized getting enough sleep and de-stressing our minds as well as our bodies. Unsurprisingly, these are areas where many of us busy students often fall short (myself included!). But as he explains in this video, taking a little bit of time out of our day to meditate, do some yoga, or walk through a park can really benefit our health and well-being in the long run.

This was the first time I went to a Hart House Recreational Athletics Committee event, and I’m looking forward to attending more seminars. If you missed out, you can connect with Dr. Well’s and check out some resources via his website, Facebook or Twitter.

Also, March just so happens to be Nutrition Month, and to celebrate the FKPE is hosting some FREE talks on nutrition and exercise in the upcoming weeks! The one on Friday, March 15th will be all about healthy eating habits, and Monday March 18th will focus on proper nutrition for exercise/sports. Check out the Facebook event for more details!


PS: Once you hit up the links and events I mentioned above, there’ll be no more excuses to skip exercise – and that’s exactly what the MoveU Crew wants to hear this month! Every Tuesday they will tweet an excuse NOT to work out. And they want students to tweet back (#Excuse Eraser) their excuse-busters for a chance to win some cool prizes! If you aren’t on Twitter, no problem – you can find out more details on Facebook too.