Archive | Wellness

Image by UrbaneWomenMag, Flickr

Image by UrbaneWomenMag, Flickr

Everyone has exactly 24 hours in a day – how do you spend yours? Studying, eating, sleeping, daydreaming, talking, texting, Facebooking and networking are all frequented activities, but it’s often exercising that gets pushed to the backburner. You’re aware of this, and you keep telling yourself, “I need to find time to go to the gym.” But with a busy schedule, this isn’t always easy. The good news is you can turn everyday activities into quick and easy exercise routines – ones that you can do daily to make sure you don’t let those late-night snacks get the best of you.

  1. Take the stairs

  2. Yes. Put one leg in front of the other and off you go. While you clutch a steaming hot Starbucks beverage with your left hand, reach for the stair railing with your right. Climbing a few flights of stairs is not much, but it certainly counts as exercise if you do it on a regular basis. It doesn’t need to be for 10 flights at a time either; it makes sense to take the stairs for short trips in either direction, rather than waiting for the elevator.

  3. Take over the tap

  4. Sitting for three hours straight while studying in the library can be tiring both physically and mentally. Take five minute breaks every 45 minutes. Brief walks to the nearest water fountain or tap give you time to stretch, hydrate, and clear your mind. Short breaks keep you alert and help you concentrate – you’re also able to retain more information. Take advantage of the breaks your professors give you in class as well – leaving the room for a few minutes does wonders for your energy level.

  5. Get off the bus at the wrong stop

  6. It sounds counter-intuitive, right? You’ve only imagined getting off at the wrong stop after falling asleep or being deep in thought or conversation. It’s good for you! Getting off the bus or train one stop earlier gives you a longer distance to walk, and can be a very enjoyable form of exercise when the weather is nice. When the sun is shining, it can improve your mental health as well.

  7. You are what you absorb

  8. Exercise without proper diet is like a Ferrari without an engine – it looks good on the outside, but won’t get you anywhere. You’ve heard it before – you’re not just what you eat, you’re what you absorb. Oats, vegetables, nuts, fish and all the other healthy food you tend to avoid are vital. Pizza, fries and burgers may be pocket-friendly meals, but they mostly contain empty calories, meaning they keep hunger away but fail to adequately nourish your body. For more insights on your diet, check out 5 ways to stay healthy at school, or the top 10 food items you should have in your kitchen. Remember that eating healthy does not need to be an expensive or time-consuming activity.

  9. Turn your house into a gym

  10. With a little improvisation, you can create your own – inexpensive – home gym. Conduct a quick tour of your kitchen, and chances are you’ll find one or two cans of baked beans or chick peas. With your imagination, you can turn those into dumb bells. They won’t help you build remarkable biceps, but it’s a good starting point. You can eventually graduate to using real weights at the gym or purchasing your own set when you have more time. In your bedroom, challenge yourself to 10 push-ups and sit-ups every morning before stepping out.

Maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet is something that most students find to be challenging. Preparing healthy foods can often take time, which is hard to come by when catching up on readings, preparing for a huge presentation, pulling an all-nighter to complete an assignment, or studying for an exam that is worth half your grade. Nevertheless, it is important to make healthy choices when it comes to eating in order to provide your body with the energy and nutrition it needs to carry you through these hectic times.
Here are ten food items that any college or university student should have in their kitchen to make healthy eating as easy and enjoyable as possible:

Image by alexlomas, Flickr

Image by alexlomas, Flickr

1. Vegetables
Vegetables – especially dark greens such and kale, broccoli, and green leaf lettuce – contain vitamins, minerals, fibre, and plant-based substances that help to improve one’s overall health. A deficiency in any of these nutrients can cause problems for the brain, which can lead to a lack in productivity. Eat them raw, in a salad, sautéed, or by incorporating them into more substantial dishes.
Image by rumpleteaser, Flickr

Image by rumpleteaser, Flickr

2. Fruits
A perfect snack for students. They can easily be consumed on the go and contain healthy sugars that can curb a sweet tooth. In particular: bananas are rich in potassium and make a great accompaniment to breakfast; blueberries are filled with antioxidants, and help to improve one’s learning and memory; and, as the old saying goes, an apple a day keeps the doctor away!
Image by s58y, Flickr

Image by s58y, Flickr

3. Nuts
A great source of protein – especially for vegetarians! They are a quick, easy, and surprisingly filling snack. Moreover, there are numerous types to indulge in depending on your personal preferences, including almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and cashews.
Image by Neeta Lind, Flickr

Image by Neeta Lind, Flickr

4. Salmon
The ultimate brain food. This type of fish is filled with omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that help to develop the brain and enhance its function. Unlike tuna, salmon does not contain large amounts of mercury, making it a healthier option. If purchased pre-seasoned, it can be very quick to merely grill or bake.
Image by SodanieChea, Flickr

Image by SodanieChea, Flickr

5. Yogurt
An excellent source of calcium, which is a vitamin that aids in bone development and preservation. This delicious food can be eaten for breakfast, as a snack, or even as dessert. Opt for a low-fat variety and add some granola and/or fruit on top to make it more satisfactory.
Image by SweetOnVeg, Flickr

Image by SweetOnVeg, Flickr

6. Quinoa
Quinoa is among some of the newest health food trends. It is said to be a super-grain, and offers incredible health benefits such as protein, fibre, and iron. Iron deficiency can lead to energy loss, which is why it is important for students to keep their iron levels up. Quinoa is a great alternative to white starches, and can be prepared in an endless amount of ways to accommodate different tastes.
Image by jenn.b, Flickr

Image by jenn.b, Flickr

7. Granola Bars
One of the easiest, tastiest, and least distracting snacks to bring to class. They are high in fibre, and can be rich in protein if they contain nuts. Purchase ones with a light chocolate drizzle over them and you have a great way to satisfy your chocolate craving without going overboard.
Image by jeffreyw, Flickr

Image by jeffreyw, Flickr

8. Eggs
Eggs can be prepared in so many different ways, each of which is quick and simple. Again, they are a great alternative to meat. If made into an omelet, you can even mix in some vegetables for added health benefits and a more filling effect.
Image by USDAgov, Flickr

Image by USDAgov, Flickr

9. Whole wheat bread
It’s much healthier for you than white bread, and is a versatile food to have in the kitchen. It can be eaten for breakfast with some natural peanut/almond butter, or for lunch and/or dinner in a sandwich.
Image by veggiefrog, Flickr

Image by veggiefrog, Flickr

10. Healthy, savory snacks
Non-buttery microwavable popcorn and kale chips are perfect for when you get that salty craving. Although they are not the absolute best for you, they are substantially healthier than buttery popcorn or regular chips, and can still do the trick in satisfying your craving.

By having all of these items readily available in your kitchen, you can easily maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet, as well as increase your brain function, energy levels, and overall productivity.

Image by stevendepolo, Flickr

Image by stevendepolo, Flickr

Post-secondary education is all about finding and grabbing onto opportunities. Recognizing and taking advantage of opportunities can lead you to where you want to be in a surprisingly short amount of time. Extracurricular activities are full of opportunities that can help you get ahead, and certain clubs and societies you choose to join can have an impact on your professional portfolio even after you leave your post-secondary school. But, is it worth your spare time?

Extracurricular activities are the key to enhancing your university experience. They are the places where students gather to share their interests, and it is where many opportunities and relationships are formed. If you’re a new student, extracurriculars are a great way to get involved with not only those your own age, but students in the upper years. Depending on the type of person you are, this can help you get comfortable and adjust to post-secondary life much easier and faster, and it can very much prepare you for your future.

Though they may seem like ways to have fun and do what you love, extracurricular activities can also be great for networking. That doesn’t mean you need to walk in on your first day and start asking about jobs, but the connections you build and relationships you form could one day lead there. For example, joining the university radio station could introduce you to various contacts in the radio industry, while at the same time, give you experience you can present to potential employers. Participating in a club or a society is the easiest way to create these networking contacts because of the social interaction that comes along with the activity. People within these networking circles are looking for others with potential, and doing your best in such a place can present you with a good employment or educational opportunity that could make your professional career so much better.

Seems great, right? Here’s the “beware” disclaimer: Remember that you have to juggle your lifestyle. Too much focus on extracurriculars may not leave enough time allotted to your schoolwork, part-time job, or other aspects of your life such as family and friends. Don’t overburden yourself by joining too many clubs and societies; it can have a negative impact on your studies. However, this is entirely individual. Some students thrive off joining different societies and it helps them stay motivated to do well in their studies. If you’re already feeling swamped with work and school, and you have club meetings to attend, it may not be worth the sacrifice. Plan carefully and don’t overburden yourself; ultimately your grades will get you your degree, and if you can balance your commitments, extracurriculars could land you your job.

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 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, 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.