Making Friends Away from Home

When I first moved to Vancouver, all the way from Texas, to start my undergraduate degree at UBC, I was initially excited, nervous and unsure. Although these feelings dissipated in time, my first year in the city was still a bit of a challenge.

Despite coming from the not-so-far-away United States, Canada still took time to get used to. I missed my friends from home, I missed knowing where to grab food that would comfort me, and I missed big thunderstorms instead of Vancouver’s rainy drizzle.

However, I was delighted by the quickness of Vancouver’s transit, being able to sit on the beach and see mountains, and the thrill of eventually finding other people at UBC that shared my interests.

I’m a person who thrives with a lot of social connection and events, but it took me a long time to build the close friendships that now allow me to get the most out of student clubs, parties, and meet-ups. When I arrived here I knew it would take time to create a new network for myself, but hadn’t realized that I would also miss the support in going to a familiar farmer’s market, or going to a poetry slam like I had back home. In Texas, I was used to having a close group of best friends who were always around to vent to, work on quiet projects with, and go with me to events I was excited about.

I realized that a big part of making Vancouver my home involved putting in the work to meet new people, make friends, and find places and spaces to enjoy my hobbies (and find new hobbies as well).

For me, homesickness, the excitement of moving, and making friends were all interwoven in my first year experience. Navigating my anxiety, new people, my job and my classes was challenging at first, but I learned a few strategies along the way that I hope are as helpful for you as they were for me.

My Strategies

  • Take small steps
    Sometimes I can get overwhelmed if I set big emotional goals like ‘find community’. So instead I try to think about little ways to connect to others that feel good and simple to me. Small steps might look like signing up for a mailing list, joining a meet up for a movie night, or attending an open mic. All I really need to do is show up. If conversation flows, that’s great, if not I can still have fun just by getting out and doing something.
  • Practice self care
    Taking risks and reaching out to others in residence, in classes, or elsewhere can feel really intense. That’s why it’s so important to remember to take care of yourself and find a bit of balance. My own self care routine involves knitting, meditation, and other ways of spending time with just myself so I can remind myself that I’m already doing a good job.
  • Reminders of long distance friends
    Reflecting on what I find comforting was a great way to ground myself and allow me to start making my dorm room into a homey space. I brought cards and letters from friends, photos of a few my favorite memories, and one or two important books to my dorm to help make me feel safe and comforted. I also set up regular group Skype calls every few weeks.
  • Journalling and writing out goals
    Equally important was reminding myself that learning a new routine, becoming comfortable in a new environment, and making friends all are processes that take time. For me, a big part of this was thinking about what specific things make me feel connected to community and new friends. Writing out goals, strategies, and worries was also a helpful way to remind myself to be patient while also figuring out next steps.

Continue reading “Making Friends Away from Home”

Getting Involved in the Summer

"Aloe July 2009-1" by Alvesgaspar - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
“Aloe July 2009-1” by Alvesgaspar – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The days are getting longer and brighter, and summer has come to Vancouver and our UBC campus. I’m Syr and I’m just getting settled into my summer role as the Mental Health Outreach Assistant.
This is the third summer term I’ve spent in the city, and, sometimes I’ve found it challenging to stay connected to friends, my communities, and the rhythms, routines and opportunities I’ve created myself during the rest of year.  However, I’m excited to share with you some of the strategies that have worked for me in seizing the summer as a great time to get involved. After all, the sunny days and change in pace can also be a fantastic time to grow change, and get involved.

  • UBC clubs and organizations
    • Not all student organizations at UBC are active in the summer, or they may be relatively less active as they recharge for the upcoming session. However, in my experience, those that do still have meetings or occasional summer activities tend to be very welcoming and excited about new attendees and members in the summer. The group may be smaller, people may be more relaxed and connecting may just come with more ease. CiTR, the student radio station, is one example of an organization that is great to start being involved with in the summer.
    • An incredible number of events, conferences, meet ups and conventions happen at our UBC-Vancouver campus in the summer. Exploring these opportunities as they are organized is a great way to contribute and meet people!
  • The outdoors
    • Most of the year, Vancouver is rainy, which has it’s own charm, but taking advantage of the outdoor vibrancy is a great, new way to get in touch with Vancouver. Consider going on an organized walk or hike, visiting the rose gardens, or going to one of the many outdoor gardening, music, or film nights that occur in parks across the city!
  • The city
    • Summer is full of spaces and places in the city for events and festivals. From Vancouver Maker Faire to the Vegan Street Festival there are many free or low cost festivals happening throughout the entirety of summer to get involved with!
  • Volunteering & Internships
    • On campus and off I’ve found many organizations and clubs that are looking for summer volunteers. Right now I’m volunteering with the public library for a summer young adult book club, but there are plenty of other options.
    • There are also more formal internships which you might be able to find out about on UBC Careers Online or through other resources
  • Reach Out
    • Stuck on how to get involved? Check out UBC’s have some fun webpage for various opportunities to get involved!

Sometimes building connections and involvement takes time, but as I worked on it, it became easier to create the kinds of summers I wanted to have!


Storming a Different Wall

Sometimes things are out of our control. However, we may try to be intentional about our habits, centres or other personal motives; life sees us doing okay and it’s like ‘Nope. Here deal with this now’.

There is one thing we can control: how we respond to what happens to us.

This blogpost is my personal story of the last few months, and deliberates on my actions and reactions. It definitely does not represent the coping mechanisms of every person going through a temporary or permanent challenges, but I do hope that my account allows you the opportunity to reflect and consider your own life skills, and give you the resources to help you find your balance.

This week is one of UBC’s biggest campus events, Storm the Wall. Excitement! Intensity! Drama!

I stormed the wall in a team last year, and it was incredibly fun (that’s what all the people who don’t win anything say). But it got me thinking… I thought ‘Why not storm the wall myself? Why not do the Ironman?’ Of course I am under no illusions about my height, Super Ironman is definitely… out of my reach, both literally and figuratively. But I was excited, I was prepared to train hard; I really wanted to give it a good go.

So I got to work. I continued playing football like I always did, but now I was doing more. I was regularly hitting the gym with my buddies, I was running every week, I’d even talked a friend into giving me swimming lessons (I never got around to actually swimming, but it’s the thought that counts). It was all moving along like clockwork. And then…

Ugly story cut short. November, rain on a sunday morning, playing football at the Thunderbird field. Tackle! My left leg snaps outward, I crumple to the floor in a heap. Ambulance, Hospital. I tore two ligaments and the Medial Meniscus in my left knee that day. Reconstruction surgery strongly recommended. Anticipated rehabilitation period: 1 year.

Suddenly, no more running, no more gymming, no more football. Work, class, volunteering all came to a standstill. Instead I was in my bed for two weeks, wondering the fate of my future mobility. I’ll admit it was rather emotionally stressful. I felt like I was stripped of the things I enjoyed doing, and left with the daunting prospect of doing… nothing.

Storm the Wall was coming up. Disappointment! Frustration! Despair!

Suddenly, I had to storm a very different kind of wall.

The last few months have taught me a lot about pro-activity and resilience. I like how Helen Keller says it ‘So much has been given to me. I have no time to ponder that which has been denied’. It really helped me to focus more on what I can still do, rather than on what I can do less.

Thinking about solutions and options. I need to change my goals and expectations for a more sustainable way to balance post-surgery recovery.

New goal:

Successful rehabilitation after surgery. Also avoid re-injury.

New expectation: 

Take on only what you can handle.

I feel that once you acknowledge that change is a constant of life, you’ll be better off taking responsibility for who you are now. Since I’ve introduced the concept of balance, let me tell you a few ways in which my ‘balance’ in the last three months have changed.

I replaced football & gymming with physiotherapy and home exercise programs.

I kept my health and spirits up with cooking healthy meals, and making sure I’m getting enough nourishment.

Which brings us to groceries. It was incredibly difficult for me to ask my roommates for help while I was on crutches. But Trade-offs! I compromise my adamant independence, I prevent an injury.

I keep professors aware of my situation for help with notes if I ever miss class, or arrive late. And I always arrive late between classes because why is this campus so big.

I have learnt to delegate tasks at work, and not take on as much as I used to.

I take more time for myself.

And for my friends. So not all changes were necessarily compromising negatively.

There are many wellness and support opportunities available on our UBC campus. If you feel like you need some help navigating these resources, drop by the Wellness Centre. You will always find a Wellness Peer happy to speak with you, share helpful information and resources, so that you can storm your own wall.

Musings of a Wellness Peer

Let’s take a small detour from the life centres that I have mentioned in my previous posts (read this in case you’ve forgotten) and talk about another Centre: Wellness Centre. 
The UBC Wellness Centre is now accepting applications for Wellness Peers! 

2014-12-05 12.22.46

What Wellness Peers do:
The mission for Wellness Peers is to enhance campus wellbeing at UBC and we do this by: (1) Delivering responsive service at the Wellness Centre, (2) Working within a team to help raise awareness on health topics and resources, and (3) Role model student leadership on campus.
Together, we try to promote a holistic approach to healthy living by providing peer-to-peer support. And this is where you come in. If this is something that you think you would really like to do, this can be an excellent opportunity for you to make an impact on students’ wellness. Here are some helpful steps in applying for this position:
  1. Review the Position Description. This is a key step to learn more information about the role and if this is a great fit with your interests, skills and values.
  2. Complete the Online Application available on the page above, along with the other documents (Resume, Written reflection). When completing the online application, take some time to thoughtfully answer and reflect on why you might be interested in this position.
  3. Attend the Open House scheduled for this week of January 26th-30th. Attending is not a requirement but it is encouraged. This is a great opportunity for you to learn about the role, the expectations but also talk to current peers!
  4. Don’t forget to apply before the deadline. The deadline to apply for new peers is February 2nd at 11:59pm.
Why I like being a Wellness Peer.
Knowledge. Wellness peers undergo rigorous training to familiarize themselves with concepts focusing on student wellbeing and resources. I have picked up an immense amount of information on popular topics such as nutrition, mental well-being, and sexual health while providing students with on-campus and off-campus health resources.
Giving back. There is a certain accomplishment in knowing that you’re making a difference, even if it is the life of a single student at a time. I like being that support, and having access to resources that can assist students to making better decisions when it comes to their health.
Camaraderie. There is a wonderful sense of community among the wellness peers who are driven by their enthusiasm for student wellbeing. I learn something new from my peers every day, and it their passion that motivates me to do my best.
A UBC Wellness Centre haiku, because why not!                                                                
We ask tough questions,                                                                                                  
We challenge preconceptions,                                                                                    
Your health’s our mission.
In general, being a Wellness Peer is a continuous learning experience. At the same time, it is an ongoing opportunity to further connect and learn with our fellow peers at UBC about some very relevant health and wellness. If you are interested in these aspects of personal and campus development, please do apply! I love meeting like-minded individuals and the possibility of working with you this upcoming academic year.

Back to basics: Life Centres

My journey at UBC has been about finding balance. Finding balance… sounds like a phrase a person in a white yoga outfit with an eerily fixed smile would throw at you from a meditation tutorial on Youtube. With a backdrop of soft jazz music. A sunny day. On the white sands of a beautiful beach.

But everyday isn’t a sunny day on white sands, is it? Especially as a university-going student, our days are more aptly described by this fella.


So what can we do, to feel a little less like this and a little more… in control? We can find small balances which move us in the right direction towards wellness and a healthier lifestyle.

Here’s a concept: life centres. We give importance to different aspects of our life. We have a few which we give more importance to in terms of time and effort; we centre our lives on these. A few common ones we can be are self-centred, relationship-centred, family-centred, friend-centred, health-centred, academic-centred, or work-centred. The challenge is to not let any centre (or two) overpower our other life centres to a point where we start neglecting them.

Of course everyone has their own way for finding a balance in their centres, sometimes unconsciously. But personally, I have realized in the last few years that investing too much in one centre and ignoring my other centres has caused me more distress than I’d like to ever experience again. So we learn to be intentional about our habits, and we move forward.

Over the next few blog posts, I am going to discuss the ways in which I found small balances in my centres, and I hope that you can learn from it. From what I did right, and from what I did horribly wrong. That’s all for today, see you in the next post!

Stress as a Positive?

My name is Conor and this is my first opportunity to blog to all of you this school year. I can’t believe that it is already October. Hopefully everyone has had some time to adjust to the school year and have had some fun. Particularly those of you in first year, many of who are dealing with living away from home for the first time.

Now…the school year is in full flight, meaning that midterms are upon us!

Many of you will be experiencing stress as you begin to study for your midterms. Stress is determined by the balance between the perceived demands of the environments and an individual’s resources to meet those demands. Stress is a natural feeling during exam time. Common cause of stress (or stressors) during exams include expectations to perform well, and lack of time to study.

Many of us don’t realize that stress is not necessarily a bad thing. There is eustress and distress. Eustress is positive, whereas distress is negative. The relationship between eustress and distress can be seen in the graph below.

From the American Institute of Stress via creativecommons
From the American Institute of Stress via creativecommons

The graph shows that moderate stress leads to an increased level of performance. However, too much stress will lead to a decrease in performance.

Now here are a few ways to manage stress:

Exercise. Even during exams, 20-30 minutes of exercise, whether that is a run or resistance training, is very doable. Exercise helps reduce stress by releasing endorphins and improving sleep. Additionally exercise is proven to improve academic performance by increasing oxygen flow to the brain and by increasing brain neurotransmitters!

Nutrition. Make sure you maintain a balanced diet.

Sleep. Get at least 7-8 hours a night. Not only does sleep reduce stress, it also improves your brain ability to function.

That’s it from me. Good luck with your midterms! Study hard and stay healthy.


Life’s Unexpected Moments

There are times we face waves of unexpected moments (Photo credits: Cordelia Mejin)

Winter has gone, spring has come and summer is on its way. Cherry blossoms have bloomed and fallen to the ground. They are not here forever, and- to put it bluntly- neither are we, which makes it all the more important for us to make our lives count while we can.

“I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow” – Casting Crowns

Continue reading “Life’s Unexpected Moments”

My healthy mind is a work in progress

I’m sitting here in my office, a.k.a. my bed, wondering if I’ve been honest in the blogs I’ve written this year. I’ve shared some of my struggles with depression and anxiety and some resources I’ve used to feel better. And it’s true, I do feel better than I once did, but I’m not sure I have completely shared how dark and fragile my mental state can be.  Continue reading “My healthy mind is a work in progress”

The Unbearable Lightness of Being A UBC Student: A Social Experiment

UBC is a community. It’s a diverse community that can seem to big and impersonal to some and way too intimate for others (don’t ask). That’s why we, the Wellness Balance team, are planning a series of social experiments to learn more about what connects UBC as a community. We want to explore the barriers to the interconnectedness that is vital to building a community, in feeling rather than just fact. Continue reading “The Unbearable Lightness of Being A UBC Student: A Social Experiment”

The Courage to be Authentic

Can you pinpoint a moment in your life that changed the way you relate to and interact with people to this day?

When I was in elementary school, I lost a friendship close to my heart, and attributed this friendship loss to my weaknesses. Since that day, I have found it rather difficult to be completely me when I am around my friends. There were times when I was afraid of losing my friends if they see who I truly am – with my imperfections and weaknesses.

Photos used with permission from Flickr commons

I was aware that this struggle was hindering me from bringing my friendships to deeper levels. That said, I am very close to my family and boyfriend because with them I feel the freedom to be myself – they know my weaknesses yet still accept me. But, I greatly desired to feel this sense of freedom with my friends too.

Continue reading “The Courage to be Authentic”

If You’re Going to Have Sex…

I never quite understood just how positive and empowering good sex could be until my first clinic visit for sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing. Once I got tested, I understood how knowing my status could help me feel comfortable and confident with my partners and teach me how I could help them do the same. So now I tell everyone who will listen not only about how important STI testing is, but also how great it can be! This is why we at The Wellness Centre have teamed up with Student Health Services to promote on campus drop in STI testing on Wednesday March 12th, from 2-4 pm. Continue reading “If You’re Going to Have Sex…”

How co-op has helped me define myself

What do you want to do after you graduate? Are you planning on going to medical school?” As a science student, I think I’ve been asked this way too many times without being able to provide any solid answer.

I am currently in the third year of my Combined Major in Sciences program, and one of my main goals is simply to fulfill the requirements of the program and graduate with a good academic standing. Of course I’ve thought about what I want to do after I graduate; med school was an easy answer but I wasn’t exactly set on it. My mind was lost in a pool of jobs (half of which I didn’t know about), and deep down, I hoped that the perfect job would just find me. This past year, I came to the realization that I’ve already finished half my undergraduate and still had no answer to what I’d be doing afterwards. I needed to get hands-on experience with jobs related to my field that could potentially steer me towards a career I’d like to pursue. The UBC Science Co-op program helped me do just that. Continue reading “How co-op has helped me define myself”

Innovate youBC Culture – 2014 MH Symposium

*Update: January 22, 2014 – We have reached full capacity for the Symposium. You are welcome to register for the event; however, you will be added to our waitlist and we will confirm your attendance by Wednesday, January 29.

On Saturday, February 1st, students, staff, faculty, community members, and parents will be coming together to engage in a dialogue that raises awareness and fosters collaborative action toward a shift in campus culture that values and supports mental well-being. 

YouTube Preview Image

When: Saturday, February 1st, 9 am to 4:30 pm
Where: Brock Hall
Cost: FREE (a hot lunch will be provided)  Continue reading “Innovate youBC Culture – 2014 MH Symposium”

What Worked For Me

Image used with Creative Commons permissions

I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time, but when I started at UBC two years ago things took a turn for the worse. I couldn’t step on campus without regretting the decision to leave my house. I often turned right around and went home. My head was filled with negative thoughts and I found it harder and harder to function.

It was a dark time to say the least. I can say now that it spurred me towards addressing my problems and I would like to think that I’m better for it. I realized I needed help and I went searching for it. I started going to therapy, joined a support group, and adjusted my anxiety medication. This process did not “fix” me, but it did set me on the path towards positive mental health.

Here are some resources that helped me. If you’re feeling down there are resources (right here on campus!!) that are there for you. Bolded items are things I have personally used or participated in.

Continue reading “What Worked For Me”

How to Respond when your Friend is Facing a Tough Time

Picture from Flickr with CreativeCommons licence

There are times when we need our good friends to be there for us and just listen to us talk. But there are also times when we are on the listening end – when our friends come to us and need us to be there for them.

Honestly, there are moments when I have felt worse after sharing my problems with my friends and there are times when I feel like I’ve made my friends feel worse after they have shared their problems with me. Why? Because sometimes it’s easy to respond to our friends with a lack of empathy and understanding. Or we minimize another’s problem because we only care about our own. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to just listen.

So what should we do when friends tell us about their troubles? From my experience, I learn that it is important to: Continue reading “How to Respond when your Friend is Facing a Tough Time”

Let’s talk about Sex!

What do you think of when someone brings up the topic of sex?

Photo from Flikr with Creative Commons licence

In talking with my friends or others, it is obvious that everyone has their own understanding and comfort level surrounding this subject. Sometimes it can feel like the messages we get about sex are more negative than positive. A new idea that I’ve been learning about is the concept of “sex positivity.”  Thinking of sex positivity is important in both personal development and society. Sometimes I forget about the enlightenment of sex because I get weighed down hearing about all of the the negativity surrounding it. It has helped me to equally think of the positive features such as sexual pleasure rather than complications such as disease, sexual assault, or unwanted pregnancies. Here are some sex-positive facts that I found useful to know, and to share with others:

Continue reading “Let’s talk about Sex!”

The Courage to be Vulnerable

Almost every day we are asked the question, “How are you?” If you’re like me, you probably respond, “I’m good thanks, how are you?” There are days, however, when that isn’t the truth. Days when I’m not okay, but I put on a smile, and hide my struggles. Days when I may have cried a bucket of tears due to something troubling me, but to everyone else I still look okay.

Behind every smile there is a story

I’ve spent a lot of time hiding tears. I didn’t want to show people moments when I was not at my best. I wanted to appear strong. I did not want to show my weaknesses, for fear that people might think of me differently. Sometimes I feel like we live in a society where vulnerability is weakness, and where by showing our true selves we become ‘imperfect’ in the eyes of others.
Continue reading “The Courage to be Vulnerable”

Back to School… Back to Distance Love

In September, campus was buzzing with excited students anticipating the new school year. For many students not from the Vancouver area, however, September meant having to bid our loved ones farewell. It was time to once again hop on a plane, hold back difficult feelings, and brave the many challenges ahead.

Fast forward the days and we are now almost halfway through October. Perhaps, like me, you are in a long-distance relationship. And perhaps, like me, you have felt the challenge of being away from your partner. I have been in a long-distance relationship for over a year now and have often wondered how successful couples cope with long-distance relationships. To help answer this question, I developed an online survey on long-distance relationships and gathered information from long-distance couples.

Here are just a few of the things which I learned from the survey, through reading professional relationship advice, and from my personal experiences:
Continue reading “Back to School… Back to Distance Love”