Author Archive | Erica M.

Image by freefotouk, Flickr

Image by freefotouk, Flickr

University can be host to a wealth of triggers for mental health issues. Away from home and separated from their families, students are faced with the task of juggling their transition to university with personal expectations for academic performance, relationship complications, social problems, financial constraints, and concern about the future. Suffering from depression can make you feel helpless and weak, but is extremely common – one in four people between the ages of 15 and 24 will suffer a mental health problem of some sort – and is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.

What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder typically characterized by feelings of severe despondency, dejection, hopelessness and/or inadequacy. Depression can be accompanied by a lack of energy, heightened levels of anxiety, and difficulty in maintaining concentration or interest in life. Depression affects everyone differently, but symptoms may include:

  • social withdrawal; isolating yourself from friends, avoiding calls from home
  • feeling alone or distant from others; feeling like a burden to your loved ones
  • feeling overwhelmed, drained, irritable, guilty, worthless, numb, empty, sad, and/or hopeless
  • appetite loss or increase; weight loss or gain
  • changes in sleeping patterns, trouble sleeping, or insomnia
  • recurring thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • losing interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • worrying constantly; experiencing high levels of anxiety, restlessness, stress, or panic attacks
  • physical aches and pains
  • feeling as if you are functioning in slow motion
  • simple tasks take an inordinate amount of time to complete
  • reduced ability to concentrate, short term memory loss
  • experiencing frequent mood swings
  • fatigue, lacking energy or motivation

Seeking treatment
If you suspect you are suffering from depression, but feel that your circumstances are so bleak that nothing could possibly do anything to improve them, it is imperative to tell yourself otherwise. Learning about a) why you are feeling a certain way and b) how to alter certain aspects of your lifestyle or behaviour in order to feel better is a crucial step in becoming able to cope with depression. I know that the prospect of going out and looking for help seems laughable when the act of actually getting out of bed at all is a Herculean task in itself, but seeking some sort of treatment is the first step in ensuring that your depression doesn’t become debilitating.
If you are convinced that nobody else will understand you, the truth is that you might be right. Everyone may not be able to understand. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who will very much want to try.

Types of treatment
The good news is that there is a plethora of different ways to get help. The hard part is finding the right kind of help for you. People are unique. We have incredibly varied past experiences, family histories, personal beliefs, fears, insecurities, temperaments, and dispositions. We are different, and depression affects each of us differently as a result. Accordingly, the effectiveness of any given coping technique fluctuates from person to person.

If you don’t know where to begin, I recommend looking at the mental health page on your university’s website. This is a private and informative way to research which methods of help you are interested in getting. There will be contact numbers for your university’s mental health centre, which can direct you to find a psychologist or psychiatrist. The difference between the two, you ask? Both psychologists and psychiatrists are mental health specialists who are trained to assess and treat mental illness; however, psychologists provide ‘talk therapy’ to help you alter your behavioural habits and thinking patterns as a primary method of coping with depression, while psychiatrists generally view depression as the result of a bodily abnormality or chemical imbalance in the brain, and prescribe anti-depressant medication as a primary means of treatment.

Talking to a therapist
Showing up to an appointment with the express purpose of divulging intensely personal information to a complete stranger so they can help you overcome your depressive symptoms can be intimidating, to say the least. Try to keep in mind that you are in a confidential space, and that your therapist has the tools to help you – the better they know you, the challenges you face, and how you deal with those challenges, the better they will be able to advise you. Your comfort level will grow over time. Also, your therapist gets to know you by listening to the way you perceive yourself, your relationships, and the events in your life. Talking to a therapist allows you to have an objective opinion from someone whose relationship with you is not that of an acquaintance nor friend nor family, which can be extremely enlightening experience.

Taking time off 
Your therapist may recommend deferring your exams, reducing your course load, or taking some time off school. Do whatever you feel comfortable with. Taking a break to relax, reflect, and heal may do a world of good. To prevent slipping into even more of a rut, plan out your leave of absence. Continue with whichever form of therapy you feel comfortable with, keep a regular routine of sleep and exercise, and take up some activities that you didn’t have time to do before. Read. Write. Rest. Paint. Build. Explore. Do anything that reminds you of the beauty in the life we live. Also, as important it is to practice mindfulness and be reflective and thoughtful, it’s important to focus on the outward as well as the inward. Volunteering in the community might give you a sense of routine and purpose.

Mind and body
Your state of physical health can influence your state of mental health all too easily – a good thing if you take care of yourself physically, and a bad thing if you don’t. Follow these tips to ensure you are staying healthy at university!

Coping with any mental health issue is an immense struggle. Overcoming depression is neither quick nor easy, but it is far from impossible. When you are thoughtful about the way you perceive and feel about the events in your life, you become more sensitive and insightful to the world around you, and this will enable you to grow. You are given the chance to examine yourself critically without being critical of yourself. You learn to change the things you can and adapt to the things you cannot. I wish you all the best.

Internet resources
Student Health 101
The Jack Project
Kids Help Phone
Mental Health Commission of Canada
Mind Your Mind
Canadian Mental Health Association
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Teen Mental Health

Image by mastercabinetmaker, Flickr

Image by mastercabinetmaker, Flickr

If you’re worried about getting wrinkles, I highly recommend visiting your parents back home – you’ll feel the years flying off your life in no time.

In all seriousness, going home after a period of time away can be as much of a transition as it was to move out in the first place. The return to family life – living according to your parents’ routine, helping out with chores, obeying curfews – can feel a little infantilizing after months of freedom. Your parents have had to adjust to your absence, and might clash with the sense of independence you acquired during your time away and subsequently feel entitled to exercise upon your return.

Here are some helpful tips to reduce tension and keep your family visit feud-free!

Set a positive tone for the visit.
Planning is key. If you are honest about going out (inform your parents where you are going, who you’ll be with, and agree on what time you will be home), this will set the tone for the way any subsequent outings are treated. If all goes well the first couple of times, your parents might be less likely to clamp down. However, try to remember that your family hasn’t seen you in months. Hang out with them! Sleeping in late and spending a lot of time out of the house right away are not exactly conducive to catching up with your parents and siblings.

Choose your battles wisely – avoid whining about doing chores.
Keep in mind that you will have to negotiate with your parents over the course of your stay. Choose your battles wisely – if you just do the laundry or mow the lawn instead of putting it off or complaining about it, your parents might be more receptive to the idea of you staying out later to catch up with friends. Also, griping about having to pitch in to wash the dishes is probably not the ideal way to send the message that you have become a responsible, polite, and mature young adult. If you live off-campus, you’ll know how much work goes into keeping your home a nice place to live – when you go home, there are more people to cook for and pick up after, so try to help out in addition to pulling your own weight.

In times of conflict, REMAIN CALM.
Nothing makes you resemble an irrational teenager quite like bellowing at your mother. Do yourself a favour and try to keep your temper in check, no matter how difficult it is to rein in. Maintaining a calm demeanour will demonstrate that you are capable of handling a situation with reason and composure, and you need to seem reasonable in order for your parents to take you seriously when you are upset by something.

Try to communicate how you feel while considering things from their perspective. You have had many new experiences while at university, and have grown a great deal as a result, but your parents still see the same kid who left home a few months ago. Just because your parents have an outdated idea of who you are doesn’t mean that you have to revert to the same habits you had before you left. Take the opportunity to show your parents how much you have matured in the time you’ve spent away from home. They’ll worry a (tiny, infinitesimal) bit less if you seem capable of helping out, cleaning up after yourself, and being polite.

Be strategic about seeing friends, staying out late, and extending your curfew.
Campus life offers this surreal alternate universe where people wake up when they feel like it, come and go as they please, have friends over as late as they want, and Nutella is practically its own food group. While it can be a bit of a rude awakening to come home and surrender your Nutella spoon at the door, you don’t have to sacrifice everything. Be prepared to compromise – and again, negotiation is key. If you have been helpful, present, and polite, your parents will be more receptive to letting you exercise more independence at home.

Appreciate the limited amount of time you have left together.
As much as a stint at home can test your patience, keep in mind that the amount of time you spend together is ultimately finite. You’ll be on your way back to campus soon enough, and then there will be nobody around to stock the fridge or steal socks from, let alone provide the kind of unconditional love and support that family members can offer. As much as a parental overload can feel stifling, you’ll really miss them when they’re far away. No matter how grown up you feel, your parents will always see you as their child, and that is incredibly special.

Image by caribb, Flickr

Image by caribb, Flickr


Are you moving to a whole new place to start school this fall? Uprooting yourself to go live in a different city or country can be totally thrilling, but it can also get a little lonely at times. Feeling unsure of your surroundings can be incredibly daunting and disorienting; however, this period of uncertainty is one to be enjoyed, rather than feared. Once you begin to explore your surroundings, each step you take will carry you closer to feeling settled in your new home.

Be a tourist in your own city
Abandon any pretensions of not wanting to do anything “touristy” and embrace being a tourist wholeheartedly while you still can. You’re not a local, it’s not a secret, and it’s time to do your research. Buy a guide book, read the entertainment section of local newspapers or magazines, and fire up the Google. Websites like Lonely Planet, Google Maps, Yelp, CitySearch, and Urbanspoon will not only help you find your way around, but might lead you to your future favourite spots to eat, shop, and hang out.

Google Maps actually has a feature where you can input your address, type an asterisk (*) into the “search nearby” bar, and the map will retrieve a list of establishments indicated near your location. You can also browse through some independent local foodie or fashion blogs, or even search the name of your city on Instagram, if you can distinguish photos of cool places or beautiful scenery from the ocean of selfies.

Bring a bit of home with you
No matter where you go or how much you change as a result, it’s important to remember who you are, where you have been, and where you came from. Plenty of incoming students think of university as a fresh start, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, the desire for change and the desire for familiarity are not mutually exclusive terms! For example, my first-year roommate was used to moving around. Having spent her childhood living in a new country every two or three years, she had gotten into the habit of decorating her bedroom – regardless of the house, city, or country in which it happened to be – with the same posters, framed photos, art prints, and knick-knacks. Wherever she went, her room was a constant. Here are some other ideas to decorate your room.

Another great way of incorporating your old life into your new one is to keep your hobbies active. Doing something that you a) enjoy and b) are accustomed to doing is a great way to help you feel happy and comfortable in a new place, not to mention meet people in the community with similar interests! Join a local yoga or dance studio, tennis court, running club, swimming pool, electronic music scene, gaming shop, soccer club – the possibilities are endless.

Get acquainted with your surroundings
Exploring a new place does involve stepping beyond the perimeter of your apartment, and you might have to get comfortable exploring solo. My only recommendation would be to arm yourself with some sort of map or navigation device before you go (although getting lost and bumbling your way around is one of my favourite ways to explore a new place! Some of the best things in the city can be hidden in plain sight), and not to worry about walking around or eating out alone. In a new city, it’s understandable that cruising around flanked by a complete entourage of friends would be a bit of a luxury. Relationships take time to build, and you’ll make friends eventually. In the meantime, the anonymity of being a nameless face in the crowd can be incredibly liberating. Embrace being able to do what you want, when you want to do it.

First, get the essentials down by finding your local grocery store, pharmacy, walk-in health clinic, tech repair shop, and train station or bus terminal. Establish your favourite haunts – a coffee shop with a cookie you like, a bookstore without any aggressive salespeople, a movie theatre with the plushiest chairs, a quiet study nook beside the window in the library, a restaurant with cheap brunch on weekends, a park to relax in and people-watch on sunny days. These places will become familiar and favourite haunts over time, and one day you will be there with company.


Image by College360Degrees, Flickr

Image by College360Degrees, Flickr

People love to tell students that they will look back upon the years they spent at university as the best years of their lives. They praise the unencumbered freedom of those youthful years as a sort of golden age – a time of being too young to care about a mortgage, but old enough to buy beer.

However, the freedom and flexibility that comes with university can be a double-edged sword. You have more independence, but more personal responsibility and less direct support than you used to have. Also, there are many instances in university (not to mention life in general) when you feel that you have to gain the approval of people you respect. The weight placed on the importance of your accomplishments can be difficult to bear at times, especially in a competitive academic environment.

While a healthy degree of pressure and competition can be incredibly stimulating and help motivate you to rise to a challenge or achieve your personal best, too much pressure from an overwhelming demand to succeed can result in an unhealthy amount of stress, exhaustion, and anxiety. Learning how to cope with these common sources of pressure will help both your state of mind and your academic performance. Good luck!

Self-inflicted pressure
Are you a perfectionist by nature? Try not to be too hard on yourself when something doesn’t go according to plan. You’re only human, and being critical of yourself is only useful if you treat failure as an opportunity to learn how to correct problems and develop resiliency in the long-term.

External pressure
Trying to satisfy the demands of your professors, parents, and peers all at once can be hard to handle, but remember: you aren’t the only person in the world who wants to see yourself succeed. You have the support of your family and friends, and they want what is best for you as well. It’s okay to ask your professor for help or rely on your family, close friends, and academic advisors for support. Everything feels easier when you know you aren’t alone.

Peer comparison
Some students are naturally adept at remaining calm under pressure, but everyone feels the pressure and deals with it in their own way. There is a popular metaphor that compares students to ducks – “seemingly calm on the surface, but paddling furiously to stay afloat.” Students tend to try and maintain a facade of composure, because to accomplish a great deal using a minimal amount of effort is typically admired. There will always be that one person who boasts about the time they slacked off in a course, didn’t go to class, didn’t do the readings, finished their assignments last-minute, and still got an A, and everyone else got a C. Ignore them. The reality is that sometimes you can put minimal effort into a class and still do well. Sometimes, you can’t. Just because you have to work hard to do well doesn’t mean you aren’t every bit as bright as your classmates who appear to be brilliant without even trying.

Unhealthy competition
Healthy competition is about achieving your personal best; nothing more. If you do not feel satisfied with your accomplishments unless you consider them to be superior to those of your classmates, check yourself. Try not to regard your classmates as threats. Your success does not come at the cost of their failure! Enjoy the accomplishments of your friends, and cheer them on without using them as a stick against which to measure your own success. On the other side, dealing with someone who needs to do everything better and faster than you did is never easy, but it can be done. Sometimes, a person who is overly competitive among friends might be dealing with some insecurity issues of his or her own. Your self-worth should not be tied up with external validation that you are consistently outperforming your peers. If someone is repeatedly trying to one-up your every success, keep in mind that their success does not come at the cost of your own, and vice versa.

Sharing your grades
People who are loudly competitive – the ones who always ask you what grades you’re getting, not out of genuine interest, but as a desire to confirm that they are doing better than you are – are the worst of the bunch. Whether or not to tell someone how you did on your midterms is your prerogative. It isn’t really anyone’s business but your own, after all. Telling this person that you don’t really talk about your grades is a good way of making sure it doesn’t happen again, because they will either a) think you’re a weirdo or b) feel snubbed – both reactions which will most likely result in them leaving you alone. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you can always be vague (in response to “How did you do on the midterm?”, either a “Well, I didn’t do as well as I thought I would!” or a “I’m really happy with how I did” should suffice).

The imposter syndrome
Sometimes, you might look at your brilliant, articulate, confident, self-assured, and experienced classmates and feel like a total ‘imposter’ among them, as if how you ended up in a room with them is a mystery. You feel pretty inadequate, incompetent, and inferior in comparison, and you’re convinced that you don’t belong – your accomplishments must have come about through a stroke of sheer luck or some sort of divine mistake, rather than as a result of your own ability. Know that this sentiment is actually a pretty common feeling among many students and adults in the workplace. Thinking down on yourself will only get you into the habit of setting low standards. Isn’t that the opposite of what you want to do? Don’t let fear of inadequacy stop you from trying to achieve your goals. Also, feeling pressure is a natural response to being challenged. Avoid comparing yourself to others, and just try to focus on the best work you can do. Accept the opportunity to learn and grow – chances are, you won’t regret it.

Image by hyperakt, Flickr

Image by hyperakt, Flickr

There are few things more exciting than having the opportunity to pack your bags and set off to explore a new place! While nobody really plans on getting sick, injured, or pickpocketed while on holiday, it’s best to be proactive and prepare for events which might pose an inconvenience to your adventure. Before you leave, check out this list of things that will keep you covered in case something goes wrong:

Keep copies of important documents.
Make two photocopies of your passport, flight tickets, hostel or hotel reservations, credit card, and driver’s license. In the event that any of these items are misplaced or stolen, you will still have access to your personal identification. Leave one set of the copies with a close friend or family member, and take one the other set of copies with you. Make sure to keep them separate from the original documents. You can also keep an electronic copy by e-mailing yourself a scan of the documents.

Update your address book
In case you have to make an emergency call, look up the phone numbers and contact information for your insurance company, credit card issuers, or health professionals, and put them in your phone before you leave.

Consider getting travel insurance
Nobody plans on getting ill or injured while on holiday, but unfortunately, it can happen. As someone who once ended up in a Belgian hospital with a broken nose, I’d recommend taking the extra cost into consideration – you never know what will happen.

Read a guidebook
Abandon any pretensions of not wanting to do anything “touristy” and embrace being a tourist wholeheartedly. You’re not a local, it’s not a secret, and it’s time to do your research. Travel websites like Lonely Planet and other travel blogs will not only help you navigate your way around the city and help to tailor your trip to your specific interests – they will have a lot of useful information about the culture, laws, and customs of your destination.

Bon voyage!

Image by uniinnsbruck, Flickr

Image by uniinnsbruck, Flickr

Getting to know your professor is a great way to distinguish yourself among the crowd and demonstrate that you are keen and interested in his or her class. While the prospect of introducing yourself to a professor might seem uncomfortable at first, the academic relationship you build with your instructor will help you to adjust to university and ultimately feel more comfortable throughout your degree.

Introduce yourself
An easy way to catch your professor alone is to show up during their office hours. This time is scheduled for the purpose of meeting with students – take the opportunity! If you are nervous, simply prepare some questions beforehand. Your professor will likely offer some valuable advice on how you can improve your work or research techniques.

Go to class
If you have introduced yourself to your professor in office hours, he or she will be able to recognize you, and it’s usually a good thing if your professor can put a face to the name of the student whose paper he or she is marking. Attending and participating in class demonstrates that you are invested in the course. It’s best to establish your reputation with a professor early on – sit near the front and be attentive, and in classes where participation is encouraged, try to contribute to the discussion at hand.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Approaching a professor for help is nothing to be ashamed of. They tend to enjoy discussing class material and will notice that you are making the effort to understand, even if you are convinced that your question is stupid or obvious. If you performed poorly on a test or assignment, taking the time to consult the person who grades your work shows initiative, and can help you to improve the next time. If you have fallen behind in class, need extra time for an assignment, missed out on lectures, or feel overwhelmed, it is always better to be honest and proactive about it. Set up an appointment with the professor to discuss your options, the earlier the better. When the alternative is to cross your fingers and sail into your final by the seat of your pants, you’ll find that asking for help is far more effective.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice
If you are considering graduate school in the professor’s area of expertise, you may benefit from the advice of someone who works in the academic field. You might want to ask the professor for a letter of recommendation in the future – something that would undoubtedly be easier to obtain if you have already established a positive relationship with your professor.

Ultimately, getting to know your professors can help you to stay motivated in your work and dispel any fears about approaching them with a problem too late in the semester. Taking advantage of office hours allows you not only to discuss course matters but also to learn more about each other as individuals – the academic interests you might share, your future career plans – and give you valuable advice and support during your semester.

Photo by ollesvensson, Flickr

Photo by ollesvensson, Flickr

Trying to cook, but stumped by your recipe instructions? This glossary of cooking terms is here to help!

Bake Cook with dry heat in an oven.

Blend Mix two or more ingredients together.
Blanch To immerse in rapidly boiling water, allowing food to cook slightly.
Boil Heat until bubbling, usually on the stove.
Braise Cook slowly in fat in a closed pot with small amount of moisture.
Broil Cook on a grill under strong, direct heat.
Chop Cut into small pieces.
Cream Blend ingredients until soft and smooth.
Fry Cook in bubbling oil or fat, usually in a pan or griddle on the stove.
Garnish Decorate a dish, usually with herbs, in order to enhance its appearance.
Grate Rub the food against a grater to create shavings.
Julienne Cut into long, thin strips.
Knead Press and fold dough with the hands until it is smooth.
Marinate Soak or brush food with a sauce or liquid mixture of seasonings for a period of time.
Mince Cut or chop food into tiny pieces.
Melt Heat a solid food (like butter) until it becomes liquid.
Pan-fry Cook in a small amount of fat.
Pare Slice off a thin layer of skin, usually when peeling fruits or vegetables.
Poach Cook in simmering liquid.
Purée Mash foods until perfectly smooth.
Reduce Cook or boil down until very little liquid is left.
Roast Cook meat or poultry in the oven by dry heat.
Sauté Fry rapidly in a small amount of oil on high heat.
Sear To brown very quickly using intense heat.
Sift Pour dry ingredients through a sifter to mix them thoroughly together.
Simmer To cook in liquid that is just below boiling point.
Skim To remove fat or scum from the surface of a liquid during cooking.
Stew To simmer slowly in a small amount of liquid for a long time.
Steam To cook over boiling water.
Toss Mix ingredients together lightly with a lifting motion.

Image by CollegeDegrees360, Flickr

Image by CollegeDegrees360, Flickr

If you ever wish to forewarn your professor of an absence from class, clarify a question about an assignment, or arrange an appointment to discuss lecture material, you will need to send your professor an e-mail. Don’t worry! As long as you write in a concise manner, state your purpose clearly, and sign off politely, you can’t go wrong.

1. Make sure you are sending the email from your academic e-mail account.
Your school address has a better chance of allowing your professor to identify you and avoiding spam filters than your Hotmail account from the sixth grade.

2. Use a concise but informative subject line.
Include the title or course code of your class, and let the professor know what you are going to talk about in the e-mail. Subject lines like “HIST201 Question about research sources for project” or “BIOL211 Absence next week” should suffice.

3. Read the course syllabus.
Read the material your professor provided you with at the beginning of the course carefully. The syllabus might include specific guidelines for e-mail etiquette – rules regarding content may restrict the length of your e-mail. Also, the answer to the question you plan on asking might already be in the syllabus, which would save both time and effort on your part as well as that of your professor.

4. Address your professor formally, introduce yourself briefly, and try to be as specific and to-the-point as you possibly can.
“Dear Professor [Last Name],
I hope you are well. My name is [Your Name], and I am a student in your [Name of class] class…”

Professors get a lot of e-mails every day, and it can be frustrating to comb through a long-winded ramble to decipher what a student is actually trying to say. In the content of your e-mail, only give as much information as is absolutely relevant to the situation. If your e-mail is longer than four or five lines, you may want to request an appointment to further discuss your situation with them in person.

5. Be polite and use formal language.
Avoid slang, casual language, or contractions. At the end of your e-mail, thank your professor for his or her time and consideration, and sign your full name.
“Thank you for your time and consideration.
Your Name”

Image by, Flickr

Image by, Flickr

Do you know what really causes the “freshman fifteen?” Hint: it’s not just about what you eat! What you drink has a lot to do with unhealthy weight gain, and being sedentary and sleep-deprived just pack on the extra pounds. Due to the myriad of social and academic obligations of university life, the variable schedule of the average student can wreak havoc on one’s diet, sleep pattern, and exercise regimen. Staying healthy, however, will boost your mood and energy levels, which will bolster your academic performance and help you to maintain a positive mindset. Here are some basic ways to stay healthy at university:

1. Sleep well

Good sleep is essential for your physical and mental wellbeing – it will help maintain your metabolism, improve your memory, and heighten mental clarity. Poor sleep, on the other hand, reduces your energy level and ability to concentrate, and results in higher levels of irritability, anxiety, and depression. Moreover, sleep deprivation causes an increase in appetite, which may result in weight gain. Try to establish a regular sleeping pattern of eight hours each night, going to bed and getting up at the same time.

2. Exercise frequently … and sneakily
It’s easy to lead a sedentary lifestyle at school. What do you do in a lecture hall? You sit. What do you do in the library? You sit. What do you do in the cafeteria? You sit. While university seems to require a lot of sitting, it is important to be active in order to stay healthy. Establish a routine of regular exercise – treat your gym time like an extra class in your schedule, or split your workouts into shorter and more frequent increments that will fit into a busy schedule. If you don’t think you can muster the self-discipline to make it to the gym alone, sign up for an exercise class with a friend. Try something interesting and new – kickboxing, squash, yoga, tennis, or Pilates are all great ways to get moving. Don’t forget the little things that you can do in between workouts to maximize your level of activity – walk to class, take the stairs, and stand up to stretch your legs for every hour you find yourself sitting in the library.

3. Watch your beverages
There are four types of beverages that can have an impact on your health: alcohol, soda and soft drinks, caffeinated drinks, and water.

Alcoholic drinks contain empty calories and no nutritional value whatsoever. The excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages can have serious physical effects – if it isn’t enough that a single shot of vodka contains a whopping 100 calories, studies show that regular consumption of alcohol impairs your ability to absorb nutrients and burn fat over time.

Soft drinks, sodas, and sweetened fruit juices also cause unhealthy weight gain and slow your digestion. They contain high levels of sugar, and their diet equivalents simply substitute the sugar content with chemicals that are just as toxic for your system. Soda should be a treat, not a habit. Substitute your sugary fix with a refreshing cup of tea (chamomile and mint tea promote relaxation and digestion, and sweeter flavours such as strawberry, peach, ginseng, or lemon keep it interesting). You can also switch your soda for a sparkling water.

Keep an eye on your caffeine consumption, too. Caffeinated drinks are often dehydrating – remember to drink two glasses of water for every coffee or energy drink you consume. Also, drinking coffee too late in the day might disturb your quality of sleep at night. Most importantly, watch out for the unhealthy additives in calorie-laden lattes or specialty drinks at your favourite coffee shop – one chai tea latte from Starbucks sounds innocent enough, but even its smallest size packs an incredible 240 calories (not to mention 41 grams of sugar).

Make sure you drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is essential to maintaining general health and energy levels, and helps to control your weight and appetite, improve your skin, flush your system, and improve your quality of sleep. Try to drink a glass of water every hour and before each meal.

4. Everything in moderation
Don’t be afraid of bread, pasta, and cereals – in moderation, they can be part of a healthy diet. Avoiding them completely can have a negative impact on your metabolism, which is essential to fighting that freshman fifteen. Just keep in mind that dessert should be a treat, not a habit. Make sure you fuel up on nutrient-rich foods with plenty of fibre – whole grains, lentils, spinach, broccoli, beans, and zucchini, among others. Add avocado, lettuce, and tomato to your sandwiches. In the cafeteria, avoid fried or breaded items, and choose the grilled option instead. Add chicken to your salad for a protein boost. Substitute brown rice for white rice, mustard for mayonnaise, whole grain for white bread, and olive oil and vinegar for creamy salad dressing. For motivation and inspiration, look to food blogs and Pinterest recipes to get you excited about eating healthy.

5. What you eat is just as important as when you eat it.
Between classes, assignment deadlines, exams, parties, and going out with friends, it can be difficult to plan a regular meal schedule. Remember to eat breakfast (it starts your metabolism and gives you a boost of energy, which will help control your appetite and prevent overeating throughout the day) and pack healthy snacks to bring to campus (baby carrots, pretzels, apples, and almonds are all great ideas) to tide you over until lunch (a sandwich with a soup or salad is always a healthy option). Avoid midnight snacking, ordering pizza at two in the morning, or grabbing a greasy bite after a night out with your friends – studies show that eating late at night can cause unhealthy weight gain. Stress can also have an effect on how you eat, so try to avoid unhealthy and excessive snacking when you are bored or worried about something, and do not skip meals – a diet of regular meals and nutritious snacks is important to the maintenance of your overall health.


According to the AP Canada website, the Advanced Placement (AP) program is a rigorous academic program which “provides opportunities for motivated and prepared students to experience college-level courses while in high school, thereby fostering critical thinking and college persistence and success.” Created by the College Board in the United States, the AP program was designed by university-level educators and experts with the intention of administering university-level curriculum and exams to high school students. Since its debut in the United States, the AP program has also been introduced to select Canadian schools over the course of the past decade.

How do I choose which APs to take?
Choose your APs based on how you would choose your regular courses. Examine your personal academic interests and strengths, or experiment with a subject you might consider pursuing in university.

Will taking an AP exam qualify for university course credit?
Be careful. Not all universities recognize AP exams for course credit. Individual university websites will often specify which AP subjects they accept (spoiler: not all of them) and may stipulate that you achieve a certain score in order to be eligible to receive course credit. However, if you fulfill the given requirements and qualify for course credit, you will save both time and money later on!

Are AP exams like university exams?
The AP exam period resembles the university exam period in its capacity to evoke a brief yet intense state of stress which is tempered only by frequent snacks and the sudden camaraderie that develops between you and your peers in the throes of your collective suffering. They are also like university exams – and most exams, perhaps – in the sense that they require hard work, but can yield rewarding results upon completion.

Be prepared for an adjustment that might be difficult, rewarding, or both.
The AP program is designed to prepare you for AP exams, which often means incorporating new exercises into your usual academic routine. For example, my AP French exam involved a speaking component, in which my verbal observations of an image depicting a certain event were recorded on tape. After years of studying French through conjugation charts, vocabulary lists, and gentle conversational exercises, the prospect of soliloquy terrified the entire class. However, we spent a great deal of class time practicing speech exercises, which ultimately improved our confidence actually speaking the language.

Are AP courses more difficult than regular high school courses? Are they as difficult as university courses?
One of the most touted values of the AP program is its exposure of students to learning material of greater depth and quantity. The workload for AP courses is generally heavier than that of regular high school courses, which might be a valuable experience to have before you careen into university and become overwhelmed by the weight of your unread readings, only to watch them build up and eventually crash down on your GPA.

Whether or not the critical depth and quantity of AP course material is equally stimulating as a university course is difficult to judge, as the difficulty of a university course can depend on many factors aside from the material itself (your personal strengths and interests, the demands and temperament of the instructor, the work assignments involved). While university course material may be more challenging in its requirement of a greater deal of critical thought for excellence, many students seem to struggle with the amount of material there is to tackle, rather than the critical depth of said material.

Regardless of the level of difficulty of the work you have in high school, one thing you can usually count on is that there will just be more of it in university. Ultimately, a big part of the academic transition to university is adjusting to the difference in workload, and the AP program might help you improve your work ethic early on.

Good luck!