What is important to you?

“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!”

And each day, it’s up to you, to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say “No. This is what’s important.” 

―from  pleasefindthisI Wrote This For You by Iain Thomas

This week is UBCO’s designated reading break.  Yet, while we call it a “break”, I am almost positive that many of us will still struggle with balancing our academic, social, and personal lives during the next few days.  Let this be a reminder to you – to be mindful of your values/priorities; as well as self-compassionate as you find the fine balance for yourself during this time.

Let’s talk!

I’ve been seeing a number of ads and promotions for Bell Let’s Talk Day (happening tomorrow on January 25) these last couple weeks.  It’s not my first time coming across this initiative, but I was surprised to find out the movement began in 2010, when the topic of mental health–at least to me–seemed far less publicly discussed.  One of the goals of this initiative is, of course, to get people talking about mental health, thus promoting awareness, reducing stigma, and improving understanding of mental health challenges many of us face.  All very great things!

So I started to wonder whether “talking” about issues such as depression and anxiety is sometimes difficult not merely because we don’t want to share our struggles and our experiences– but because we don’t know how to talk about it.  Explaining the experience, describing the struggle, attaching words to the feelings we barely understand ourselves can sometimes be the hardest part.  That’s when I came across this lovely little comic.  It doesn’t answer all of our questions or explain every detail, but it does effectively provide a window into the experience of depression and anxiety for those of us who may find it hard to express or understand.

Depression and Anxiety

Click on the image to read “A comic that accurately sums up depression and anxiety–and the uphill battle of living with them”

Learning self compassion

Closely related to the practice of self-care (which we’ve discussed on this blog) is the practice of self-compassion.  Dr. Kristen Neff’s pioneering research on the importance of self-compassion describes the sheer importance of honoring and accepting our pains and struggles as a part of the human condition.  Instead of judging or criticizing ourselves when we fail, fall short, experience hurt, feel inadequate, or are challenged in this life, the practice of self-compassion urges that we treat ourselves with kindness, warmth, understanding, and a mindful approach during these tough times.  Having compassion for ourselves during our pains and struggles eliminates resistance and frustration with imperfections, prevents over identification with our negative feelings, and encourages healthy processing of our emotional responses to the array events in our lives.

Self compassion is not merely self-esteem, self-pity, or self-indulgence.  It is not based on self-evaluations as self-esteem is.  Self compassion is not pitying ourselves, immersing ourselves in our problems; self compassion emphasizes that pain is a human experience that connects us all and thereby emphasizes the broader human context of our suffering, allowing us to achieve some perspective and some distance from our problems.  Practicing self compassion does not mean indulging in every whim, either, especially if it is unhealthy; instead, self compassion encourages us to take care of ourselves in a manner which promotes growth, positive change, and overall wellness long term.

I personally find self-compassion most tangible when I meditate.  There is a guided meditation on Dr. Kristen Neff’s website which I particularly love and want to encourage you to try if you’re struggling or suffering in parts of your life.  And it is only 5 minutes! Check this self compassion guided meditation out!  And if you prefer to read the guide instead of following the audio, this easy to follow exercise is also available.

Thoughts are just thoughts

“It is remarkable how liberating it feels to be able to see that your thoughts are just thoughts and that they are not “you” or “reality.”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn

When I find myself caught up in a slew of self-depreciating thoughts, I often find comfort in this quote.  It reminds me that thoughts do not represent my worth, my abilities or my future.

Between 50 000 to 70 000 thoughts scroll through our minds each day with the content often depending on our mood.  When we’re angry we tend to create thoughts that keep us stuck in that angry state; when we’re worried, we find more things to worry about.  When we’re upset our thoughts often pretend to be rational questions such as “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why am I so stupid?” or “Why am I feeling this way?”  These questions fool us into thinking that if we repeatedly keep asking, we just might find an answer, and thereby a solution.  So we keep asking….and asking…and the answer we find is usually some sort of flaw within ourselves.  The real answer to these questions is that thoughts are just thoughts.  They are not facts!

The next time you notice yourself in a bad mood or negative mental space, take a moment to notice the thoughts entering your mind.  View these thoughts from a distance, not as facts, but as words passing by.  Ask yourself: Would I have thought about this differently if I were in a better mood? Does this fit with the facts? Am I jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about what others are thinking?

As we learn to see thoughts just as “occurrences in the mind”, we begin to understand that thoughts just come and go like the scroll on the bottom of a TV screen.  This realization takes the sting and weight out of those negative thoughts and helps that scroll, and our overall sense of well being, feel a little more positive.

Sadness, Anxiety, and Depression can help you!

Sadness, anxiety, and depression…guess what? These feelings may actually help you.

Many of us try to avoid these negative feelings and do anything we can to get rid of them– but what if we changed the way we viewed these feelings? What if we saw these feelings as examples of our courage and our resourcefulness in getting through the difficult times? What if we saw…

depression as a chance to slow down

sadness as an opportunity to find out what really matters

anger as a source of energy

anxiety as a sign that we need to check in with ourselves

and, shutting down as a way to keep ourselves safe.

What if we saw these feelings that we most despise as our body’s best and most creative way of managing a difficult situation or a negative experience in our past? Would that change the way we think and feel about our experiences of sadness, anxiety, and depression?

No one wants to feel sad, anxious, or depressed, but when we can observe and even honour the feelings as our body doing its best to manage something difficult, or our body’s way of saying “Hey, listen to me! Something’s going on and I need you to make a change,” our relationship with these feelings also begin to change. We begin to welcome the information we are provided and can use it as a way to stay on track with our values, goals and important relationships. We no longer see sadness, anxiety, and depression as terrible symptoms, but instead as a source of information that can guide us toward a more fulfilling life.

So, how do we welcome these intolerable feelings? It starts with a breath. Take a big one now. Let out a big sigh and just notice what feelings are there. Don’t push the feelings away, but instead welcome them with gentle curiosity…”I wonder what that is? Hmm, I wonder what that feeling needs.” It’s important not to judge what comes up here, just notice it, and take another breath.

When we don’t push our feelings away but instead gently welcome their messages, we create space between the feelings and our reactions. When we sit with the feelings and just observe them, our behaviours such as avoiding, lashing out or engaging in unhealthy ways of coping become less reactive and allow us to shift our behaviours from automatic reactions to conscious choices. The depression, sadness and anxiety become new sources of information about what we need in our lives, and the changes we need to make.

So the next time you start to push away the unwanted feelings, take a moment, and a breath, and see what you can discover.

Treat Yo’Self!

Stressed. Panicking. Tired. Worried. Did I mention stressed? If you talk to any UBCO student during finals season and ask them how they are feeling, you are more than likely to hear a few of these adjectives (and others that may not be appropriate to say). Finals week is always one of the most stressful period during the university school year, dreaded by every student.

With finals coming up, students may sacrifice their well-being in hopes of getting better grades. Ideally, students try to prevent an end-of-semester avalanche by planning ahead, but sometimes work piles up for even the most organized student. It is not unusual that some students will feel overwhelmed with final exams, projects, and final papers. You may stop sleeping, your social life may seem more in shambles and you probably don’t shower as much, right? Yes, I know no one wants to admit to the shower thing but you know it’s true! So, what if I told you there is hope? Are you intrigued now?

How exactly can you make it to the end of the tunnel after finals week? To quote Parks and Recreation I say “Treat Yo’self”. I know it doesn’t sound like an easy thing to do during finals. We live in a world where productivity and efficiency are constantly pushed, especially as a student. I know many of you probably feel the same way I do, but even though I might be a stranger trust me, self care is one of the best ways to prevent you from crashing and burning. Self care is one of the best ways to reduce the crippling anxiety and stress that you may be experiencing during finals. Throughout the past five years at UBCO I’ve come to realize the importance of self care during finals so I thought I would share some of my tips with you all:


Snuggle a puppy
Take some time out to cuddle an adorable puppy from B.A.R.K. Who can resist the adorable face and the beautiful personality of the puppies. B.A.R.K. has a room full of adorable puppies every Friday from 4:30 to 6 PM in EME 1123 and they will always put a smile on your face.



Get in some zzz
I cannot emphasize this one enough! Multiple studies have shown that sleep deprivation actually make a student do worse during exams. I always thought that if I stayed up and studied more I would do well on my exams and have just a little bit more time to study. I was wrong and it took me four years to realize it. Learn from my mistakes! Being tired while studying does not help retain any of the information you are trying to learn and decreases your performance during exam time.

psnTake advantage of the resources you have on campus
Remember you are not alone! Many students are going through the same struggles that you will be going through during finals season. Make sure you take your time out to go talk to someone if you are stressed out. Come talk to one of your fellow students at the Peer Support Network on campus. We are a resource centre completely run by students for the students and are always here to listen. We are not trained professionals but rather provide a listen and refer service for students. If you are intrigued feel free to email us at psn@ubcsuo.ca. Don’t forget we also have the wonderful counsellors at the Health and Wellness!

Take breaks
Know your limits, play within it. Your brain can only handle so much information at one time. Don’t torture yourself by studying for hours on in; take a break! No one will benefit from you being locked up in your room all day. One strategy that has always worked for me is 25 minutes of intense studying and a 5-minute break to look at my phone. This is often very effective, but make sure you put your phone away after the break, turn off that show on Netflix and get off Facebook or Instagram or any form of social media you may be using.

breatheJust Breathe
I know you hear this time and time again, but it helps! When you are feeling overwhelmed just breathe in and breathe out. If that doesn’t help, find other healthy ways to relax. Take a bubble bath or go to the gym.

Remember Your Basic Needs

At the end of the day we are all humans and your body needs some attention as well. A human needs food, water, and sleep. Don’t forget to eat healthy and shower. Some times people just need a reminder so use those colourful sticky notes and write a reminder to yourself!

-Naaz Grewal
B.Sc Student | PSN External Coordinator| QPR Instructor

Stressed out? One step at a time…

This week, I want to remind students of the big and small steps they can take towards reducing stress and improving wellness in their life.  Here is a video that briefly outlines some of the practical and fundamental skills you might want to try! You may be someone who’s already using some of the skills included in this video – if so, feel free to comment below to let us know how it’s working for you and/or let us know if you’ve discovered any new skills you want to share with your peers!

I hope this helps you or points you in a promising direction.

The struggle of mental health on TEDTalks

October through November are typically months of the school year where most (if not all) students are preparing for midterms and trying to meet multiple assignment deadlines.  It’s a high stress fast paced extremely busy time of year on campus; reduced (or irregular) sleep, unhealthy meals (and/or skipping food altogether), and limited time to connect with friends and loved ones all become too common.  Depression, anxiety, and various struggles with mental health is an especially relevant topic during this time.

So, during your next study break, lean into the conversations regarding mental health on TEDTalks to gain eye-opening and powerful insight into these issues.

(And keep in mind, taking breaks during study sessions is a healthy habit! It can improve productivity and boost sense of mental wellness– just make sure breaks are brief and planned strategically!)

On Healthy Living: A Student’s Perspective

When Roger, the director of Health and Wellness, asked me to write a post for their blog, I enthusiastically said yes.  Seven years ago, if I had the knowledge I have now, I would have been much more successful during my time at university.  Not many of my friends and family are aware of the extent of my struggles during my university years; I was so often anxious and down.  I hope sharing my story with you will help you recognize the importance of exercise and nutritious eating as a part of your self-care routine.

It was September of 2009 when I stepped off the plane into British Columbia, ready to take on the next challenge: university.  I remember walking down the hallway of Nicola Residence Building, running into my roommate, who is now a lifelong friend, and introducing myself.  At this point I was approximately 185lbs, and excited for life after high school: partying, having fun, going to class and living off the meal plan!

Living in residence, I would walk down to a campus food service when hungry, buy breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Whenever someone else on my floor felt hungry, it seemed like normal practice for everyone to walk down together.  Too often, it turned out that I would have a second dinner, which was also often pizza from the late night menu at The Well.

Over the next three years, academic pressures increased and I got more involved on campus, which meant more meetings and constant deadlines. I began to find excuses not to exercise and, very soon after, exercise altogether became an afterthought.  When third year of university came around, I was 248lbs, my grades dropped, and I frequently visited the doctor and nurse on campus.

I continued through my third year without thinking twice about my decisions on a day to day basis. I regularly ate in the cafeteria, ordered takeout or delivery, and quickly scarfed down food while I was either studying or working.  One of my friends even took me aside to tell me sternly that they were concerned about my habits and health.  Yet, it was not until the end of my third year in the management program that I decided to make a drastic change.  To be honest, I didn’t think that I would make it far, but I thought: “let’s see where I get this time.”

I committed to an exercise regimen and started to adopt healthier eating habits; it was two of the most difficult things that I have done in my life! Yet, with hard work and dedication to these decisions, at the beginning of my fourth year , I noticed some of the unhealthy weight start to shed.  Now, two years later, I am back to a healthy weight for my body again.  While the numbers on the scale are markers I am proud of, what I am happiest about is the realization that I can be so much more productive and positive in my daily life when I eat nutritious foods and exercise regularly.

What I realized from this experience was that while parents, professors, and peers can tell me what they believe is good for me, I had to make the decision and commitment to prioritize my own health first; for me, this was through committing to eating a balanced diet while being active and exercising regularly.  Doing so allowed me to accomplish my other priorities as a student a lot easier, too.  My grades drastically improved, I woke up energized and ready to tackle the day, I showed up to class on time, and most importantly, I became a happy and positive individual.  So this is what I want to emphasize: make your health a priority, take care of yourself.

– Curtis Tse
UBC Okanagan Alumni 

The Ps are the Problem!

Imagine it’s the beginning of term and you’re attending your first class.  You arrive early and take a seat.  A few minutes later you see one of your friends walk in. You’re excited to see her and wave thinking she’ll come sit with you.  Instead she walks right by and takes a seat on the other side of the room.

How do you interpret this event?  Do you wonder if you’ve made her mad and start ruminating about what you might have done?  Do you assume that she hates you and doesn’t want to sit with you? Do you spend the rest of class wondering what you did wrong?  Many of us automatically assume the worst: “She hates me, I must have done something,” or “I’ve lost a friend, I’m flawed and no one will ever like me again.”

Interestingly, if the same situation happened to another person, they might explain it differently.  They might think, “Oh, she didn’t see me wave. I’ll go over and sit with her” or “I wonder what’s up. I’ll ask her after class,” or maybe even “Hmmm…I wonder she’s mad at me, I’ll check in with her later.”  This person would likely then focus on class with the intent to connect with their friend later.

It’s fascinating how a single event can produce such an array of responses.  Depending on your automatic response your mood follows suit.  If you tend to interpret events like the first person, you’ll likely be upset for the rest of the day and have trouble concentrating in class.  You might find it difficult to enjoy the rest of your day and begin to see everything else that happens that day through a negative lens.  Feeling upset may even effect your appetite, your sleep and your relationships with others.  When this happens, we start to isolate ourselves and may even start to show some signs of depression.

Martin Seligman, the guru of positive psychology, has completed numerous studies on what he calls a person’s “explanatory style”.

People with a more pessimistic explanatory style tend to think with the three P’s: Permanent, Pervasive and Personal.  In the example above we see the person perceive the situation as permanent (I’ve lost a friend), pervasive (no one will like me again) and personal (I’m flawed, I must have made her mad).  This pessimistic explanatory style causes us to see even the most benign event as negative.  A person with a more optimistic explanatory style would see the same situation as temporary (I’ll check in with her later), as just one part of their lives (I’ll focus on class now, and then see if she’s upset with me), and attribute the situation to a variety of situational factors (Oh, she didn’t’ see me wave! i.e. not totally personal).

Fortunately mastering an optimistic explanatory style just takes practice.  When you find yourself getting swept away by a slew of negative thoughts, check in on the 3 P’s.  Ask yourself, if I was feeling good today or at least a little more optimistic, how might I explain this event differently?