For many, going back to college or university every September can be a scary process. We worry about getting good enough grades, fitting in, making friends, balancing work and school, and so much more! Life for students is a stressful one, and we are hoping we can give you some tips before the school year starts to help you cope this semester.

When I was in school, I always found it difficult to balance school and work. No one is on the same schedule, and you’re supposed to be having the time of your life, while somehow also getting good grades and building your future. This can seem like an impossibility.

The social aspect of going to school can be difficult enough on its own, but for those individuals who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, this can be extra scary. Worrying about prejudice, coming out, being outed by others, and not fitting in are real concerns that can often weigh us down.

So, how can you make sure you stay sane, functional, and happy this semester? The answer isn’t a simple one, but these tips might help!

Emphasize balance

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it easily slips away when we’re overwhelmed. Whether you’re in school or in the working world, we tend to live for the weekend, our vacations, reading week, or the summer. While it’s great to have things to look forward to, this can often lead to a cycle of overdoing it, relaxing, then getting right back to negative or destructive habits.

Think about it: when you’re in school, you have classes, school work, friends, and work. In the summer, likely your schedule is a little more consistent and there’s less pressure to perform without school work looming over you. It’s easier during the summer to work in self-care activities and time with friends. During school, it might be easier to just cram in all work and no play (and we all know how that turns out!)

While we may not be able to do anything about the timelines of our lives, what we can do is try to sneak in some regularity and balance. Even if your schedule is all over the place, try to keep some things consistent, such as the time you wake up in the morning, or having a routine every day (even if it’s done at different times during the day). Something like getting in a 20-minute workout or talking to your BFF on the phone every day.

While this can seem like even more work in the beginning, it will pay off in the end. Later on, we will give you some tips on how you can balance out your days and weeks in a way that will work for you.

Surround yourself with positive people

This is so so so important for every stage of your life – not just as a student. We don’t have control over everyone we interact with, and sometimes we have to deal with family members and peers that don’t make us feel so great. This makes it so important to ensure you have a good group that you can go to when you need to.

Make a point to schedule time with family or friends that lift you up. Those people who you feel you can be your authentic self with, without judgement. People you have fun with, who love you and care about your well-being.

If you’re not sure you have many of these people in your life, I know it can be daunting to put yourself out there to find them. Being a student comes with anxiety over fitting in, but there’s also a huge opportunity to make new friends. Most schools have clubs for different interests and even identities, including gay-straight alliances, dungeons and dragons clubs, and clubs specific to your major.

While it can provoke some of your anxiety to put yourself out there and meet new people, it’s impossible to make strong connections if we don’t. Remember that your anxiety is temporary and that you can get through it!

Find safe places

This relates to my last point – clubs and groups within your school can provide great safe places for you to be yourself and express who you are or what your interests might be. Aside from these places, however, it’s important to have other places we can go to feel safe and secure.

These types of places can be as simple as your dorm room, or your room at home if you’re living at home while going to school. Maybe you find a park, library, or café near campus that you can go to sit and think or work on school work.

Take some time to explore your environment and see what speaks to you. You may be surprised at what you find! When I was in school, I found a café that was a little bit further from other spots and was often less busy, and it became my go-to. I’d go and have some tea and a bite to eat, put my headphones in, and get some work done.

Take care of yourself

Another no-brainer, I know! But again, something we often lose sight of. How do you take care of yourself when you’re so busy with assignments and trying to make money that you feel like you can’t even breathe?? It’s in the little things. Those things that we normally just do without thinking, that we completely neglect when we’re stressed.

Did you eat today? When was the last time you drank water? When did you last take deep, purposeful breaths? Have you been outside recently?

Sometimes these small things make the biggest difference. Take an extra 10 minutes in the morning to make a lunch with some healthy snacks to make sure you eat throughout the day. Carry a water bottle around with you to stay hydrated. Go for a 5-minute walk between classes. Check in with friends and family, and check in with yourself to see what you need.

Mindfulness can be a really helpful tool for when we don’t have time for bubble baths and manicures!

Plan, plan, plan

I’m sure that planning something else, or having to do more thinking, is the last thing that you want to do right now. However, scheduling your activities – even your leisure activities- can be extremely helpful. We’re much more likely to engage in an activity if we actually commit to it and write it down. So we can often accomplish each of the items above by implementing some planning.

Balance can be achieved by writing out your schedule (or looking at it on a computer) and planning leisure, exercise, and social activities in a way that makes sense. For example, if you want to work out 4 times per week, and Tuesdays you have school and work for almost 13 hours of the day – that’s probably not a day you want to schedule your workout for. Instead, maybe you commit to ensuring that you eat properly and spend some time alone on Tuesdays so you can rest and recuperate.

Writing things out might help you decide which commitments you want to take on as well. If you have a few clubs in mind that you want to join, maybe you balance it out by only joining the ones that aren’t going to be at times that will extend your day by an unreasonable amount. Similarly, you may choose to skip out on a social engagement if it means too much running around. It’s okay to say no! To others, and to yourself at times.

We know how tough it is to be a student – we were there at one time and had our struggles as well. We know that you can get through it, as we did! You’ve got this! Keep your head up, be confident in yourself, and keep moving forward.

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT, FNS

The summertime is when many of us take vacations from work – whether it’s a staycation, camping, or somewhere exotic. Sometimes, it is the case that even after a vacation, you still feel stressed, fatigued, down, or unmotivated. You may begin to ask yourself – am I burnt out? Is burnout even possible following a vacation?

YES!

Burnout is characterized by symptoms such as low motivation, stress, feelings of anxiety or depression, fatigue, and an overall loss of interest in work or other activities. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently categorized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon”, further recognizing how widespread this problem has become.

action-adult-advice-1120344

So how did I become burnt out?

Burnout occurs when an individual experiences chronic stress, usually from the workplace, that has not been well managed.

Someone who experiences burnout is usually someone who works long hours, does not take many breaks, eats lunch at their desk while still working, and has troubles disconnecting from work even after getting home. This may look like checking work email or voicemails during personal time, or finding yourself thinking about work while a loved one is talking to you. Does any of this sound familiar?

The good news is, burnout is reversible and you do not have to live this way! The first step in working to heal burnout is recognizing that it’s present – so you’re already one step closer to doing something different!

If you’ve identified burnout as a problem for you, it may be helpful to try out a few of these tips to help get your burnout back in check.

  1. Take your breaks.

Believe it or not, we get breaks at work for a reason! Even short breaks at work can be extremely effective in giving your brain some downtime and feeling refreshed.

Make optimal use of your breaks by taking them at a place that isn’t your desk or your workstation. Go to the break room, take a walk outside around the building, or visit a surrounding park or café to get a change in scenery.

While on your break, do something that is truly pleasurable to you such as walking, reading a book, meditating, or a hobby. Make sure that you also give yourself time for the necessities, such as eating lunch or a snack and staying hydrated.

2. Turn off the phone.

It can be so tempting to check your phone during a break or even after work for work emails, text messages, or voicemails. adult-annoyed-bar-105472Unfortunately, when we are constantly checking our phone, we aren’t allowing our brains time to just rest and relax which can increase our chances of feeling burnt out even more. If you have a work phone, turn it off during your breaks and when you get home from work. This allows you time to truly unwind, and be more present with your personal life.

3. Separate work time and personal time.

As I mentioned in my last point, turning off your work phone while at home can be a great way to separate work time and personal time.

Other ways to separate work time and personal time may include adding a transition ritual to your routine between the time you leave work and arrive home. child-couple-cyclist-1128318A transition ritual may look like changing out of work clothes and into more comfortable leisure clothes, completing a mindfulness practice, or stopping for a workout at the gym between work and home. These types of rituals can be a great signal to yourself that the workday is over and that the time ahead is for your own personal enjoyment.

 

4. Reconnect with what’s important.

There are many reasons why we work so hard at our place of employment. Some of the obvious ones may be that we want to please our employer, that we want to earn a promotion, or be somebody that others at work can count on.

However, work isn’t the only thing we have going on in our lives! Many of us have friends, families, hobbies, communities, sports, and spirituality that is important to us as well. If you are feeling burnt out, it can be invaluable to reconnect with these other values, recognizing that although work is an important thing in many of our lives- it is not the only thing.

active-activity-beach-40815

In sum, if you are feeling burnt out you are not alone. Almost all of us experience points in our lives where we feel overwhelmed and stressed about work. I hope that these tips are helpful in finding ways to help cope with burnout, so that you can get back to living the life that’s important to you!

If you feel you are still struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to find out how individual counselling may be helpful for you. I can be reached by email at Kayleen@rootsinwellness.ca or by phone at 289-689-7194.

Kayleen Edwards, MA, RP

Sources:

World Health Organization (WHO): https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/

 

How to Focus More on Health, Wellness & Happiness, and Less on How you Look in the Mirror

Well, here we are – the final installment of Overcoming Negative Body Image. So far, we’ve discussed:

  • Negative body image
  • How to stop being so hard on yourself
  • Appreciating your body
  • Re-framing self-talk
  • Myths and facts about healthy eating

Now that we’ve talked about some of the psychological aspects of body image, I want to talk about what we can do from a physical standpoint in order to move towards being healthy. Of course, working on how you view your body is important, as is working on your food intake, but what about exercise?

How do we move towards our goals of being healthy without going overboard or being unsuccessful? What if we get too obsessive about it? What if we set our goals too high and we fail?

These questions can be daunting, and I think we’ve all experienced some form of this. When I first started running to help supplement my weightless efforts and improve my cardio fitness, I went too hard too fast and injured myself, which meant I had to take some time off. This was terrifying to me because I was so afraid of gaining the weight back. But I just kept in mind what my goals were, and really put my energy into focusing on my nutrition. Once I was healthy, I went back to running and gradually increased what I was doing instead of doing too much too fast.  

There have been a few things I’ve learned along the way (some the hard way!) that I think might be helpful:

Reframe Your Goals

Sometimes the goals that we set for ourselves can be unrealistic or be difficult to quantify or attain. We may want to be ‘skinnier’ or ‘curvier’, or want to have the body we had in high school. These types of goals are difficult to quantify or measure as we go, and it’s hard to tell when we’ve reached those goals.

While it’s okay to have a general goal of wanting to lose or gain weight, reframing your goals to be more in line with what your values are might be more effective. For example, if you want to be able to go hiking with your friends without getting winded, perhaps a walking program would be a good start, and the goal could be more focused on your performance in terms of walking or hiking.

If you’re thinking right now that you’d like to be healthier in general, think about what that really means for you. Do you want to eat more veggies? Move around more?

Focusing more on increasing these behaviours can help us move towards specific goals that are less focused on how we look or the number on the scale. In turn, we may be less likely to be critical of ourselves if we’re less focused on our appearance.

Set SMART Goals

You may have learned about SMART goals in school, but if you haven’t, it’s just a way to think about our goals that breaks them down and makes them a little more specific. SMART goals are:

  • Specific: the goal is not vague (I want to run 2km)
  • Measurable: you can measure your progress (I can use a GPS watch to measure my distance)
  • Attainable: within the confounds of what you can do; not unrealistic (I can run 2km in 3 months)
  • Relevant: it’s something that’s important to you (I want to run to play soccer again)
  • Time-based: it’s not open-ended (I want to run 2km by September 1st)

The difference between a SMART goals and a ‘regular’ goal may be the difference between success and failure. It’s important that we are clear with ourselves about our expectations, and that we set goals that are realistic.

Consider the difference between these two statements:

  1. I’ve never run before but I’d like to run a marathon some day
  2. I’ve never run before, so I’m going to start training to run a 5km race next year

The first one almost sounds like a dream; something you’d daydream about while sitting on your couch. The second one sounds actionable. It’s something you can realistically see in your future. The best part about these types of goals is that you can break them down even further!

Running a 5km race by next year may seem really daunting if you haven’t run before. But if you break that down over the next 52 weeks and map out a plan to gradually increase your running distance, you can focus on each week as it comes. The ultimate goal doesn’t change; you’re just helping to set yourself up for success.

Make changes because you love your body, not because you hate it

This is a big one. We often talk about how much we dislike our bodies and wish we could change them. But why not make changes because we love our bodies instead? That doesn’t mean you have to love every inch of your body, but maybe you can work on appreciating your body, and reminding yourself of the importance of self-love.

Start running because you’d love to see the amazing things your body can do. Eat more veggies because you know your body deserves to be nurtured. Cut down on snacking on junk because you know that healthier snacks make you feel good, and you deserve that!

Again, consider the difference between these statements:

  1. I need to be more healthy so that I can lose weight and not be so fat – I hate my body
  2. I’d love to lose some weight and start moving more so that I can nurture my body and really use it to its full potential

The first sounds discouraging and intimidating. Everything about it is negative. You need to do it, instead of you’d love to do it. The second one sounds almost exciting. Imagine what you can do and how your body might feel if you can make these changes? Sounds better than self-depreciation, if you ask me!

If you had to choose one of the above to say to a friend or family member, which would you choose? Likely you’d choose the second one to try and encourage them and help them move forward with compassion and love. It’s important that we treat ourselves with the same level of love and compassion.

It doesn’t have to be about beating ourselves up. If we can start to reframe our goals and reframe the reasons that we do things, we give ourselves so much power to make meaningful changes in our lives.

It takes some time and it’s important that we be patient with ourselves. But if you keep working on it, you can make some meaningful changes in your life and start moving towards your values – and loving yourself even more!

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT, FNS

Relationships are hard!

We have all heard that before, but what does that mean? Why are they so hard? Should they be? Must they be?  You know the old saying “the best things in life are free”, but ‘free’ doesn’t always mean easy! Some of the hardest things in life take the most care and effort, and consequently, bear the sweetest fruit.

So, the story goes: once upon at time, we grew up, built relationships, fell in and out of love, made mistakes, made them again (and sometimes again), picked ourselves up, and kept going. That is a far cry from fairy tales we grew up with about some enchanted forest, magic spells, and white horses that bring us to our ‘happily ever after’. The truth is, real relationships don’t work like that, and we tend to learn that the hard way because nobody writes stories about never-ending compromise, flexibility, and more patience and understanding than sometimes feels humanly possible. Doesn’t exactly make for a great bedtime story, right?! But the reality of love is that those are often the very qualities it takes to make things work – not glass slippers and fairy godmothers! The fact is, there are many great and wonderful things about love and relationships, and there also challenging and difficult aspects too. Commitment, trust, understanding, partnership, communication, sacrifice, and intimacy come with both concerted effort and great rewards.

As we build a relationship with another person, we contribute to the dynamic with parts of ourselves. In the beginning of a new relationship, we tend to choose the best parts to put forth. Perhaps as we become more comfortable with another person and build trust and security, we begin to share the less desirable parts and dissonance can arise within the relationship. We may ask ourselves, “Who is this person?”, “Why didn’t I see this before?”, “What happened to us?”, or “How did we get here?”.

It is important to remember that each person in a relationship is a WHOLE person, not their partner’s ‘other half’, and that we contribute what we have to offer (or not) to the relationship between us.

So many times, we make the cardinal mistake of believing we can change another person. The truth is, we can’t force a person to change, and ultimately, we have no right! We are only in control of ourselves, and the contribution we make to our relationship with that other person – not the other person themselves! Perhaps better questions to be asking if we can to make changes are: “What am I bringing to this dynamic?”, “How have I changed over time?”, or “What could I do to make things better?”.  It is a basic human need to be heard and understood. There are many therapeutic approaches to couple and family counselling that aim to deal with the hurt, anger, resentment, defensiveness, and boundary and communication issues, that come along with managing relationships. The Gottman Method and Emotion-focused therapy are two of the most well-known and aim to get to the core of the emotions involved in loving relationships. Many of the issues that lay deep in the heart of problem relationships are hidden and masked by symptoms like arguments, nagging, lies, betrayal, blame, manipulation, lack of intimacy, hurtful words, and accusations.  

Healing the relationship between couples and families in therapy takes effort and commitment from all parties, and starts with getting to know each person, both as an individual and as a member of a partnership. Therapy offers no magic spells or potions, but tools for understanding and helping a person putting forth the best they can to make things work. The journey through therapy isn’t always easy but, like relationships, it takes hard work and has the potential for great rewards. It all starts with aiming for everyone to simply be heard and, more importantly, understood.

If you feel your relationship may benefit from counselling, you can contact me here.

By Chelsea Avram, MACP Candidate

Body Positive, or Unhealthy?

Being body-positive is so important to ensure that we are caring for ourselves, but what happens when it goes too far?

If someone is severely underweight or severely overweight, but happy with their bodies, is that okay? What if they have underlying health problems as a result of their weight?

This problem often arises because we don’t always have a good picture of what it means to be a healthy weight, and the idea of what our bodies are supposed to look like can be extremely distorted. While measures such as BMI can be helpful in determining a healthy weight range for someone of a given age and height, the reality is that everyone’s body is different, and certain weights may not be realistic for some people compared to others.

So what does all of this mean? The crux of it is that while we want to be body positive and love ourselves regardless of what’s on the outside, we also have to be realistic, and we want to strive for healthy lifestyles.

That leads to the next question… what does it truly mean to be “healthy”? While this may seem like a complicated question, it’s actually quite simple.

In order to be healthy, it is recommended that you eat a variety of different foods (balancing macro and micronutrient intake), and exercise regularly. There is a lot of misinformation about health and nutrition out there, so I want to take some time to dispel some of these myths.

Myth: I have to eat a low carbohydrate diet in order to reach or maintain a normal weight

This is a very common myth that many people believe. With diets like Atkins and the Keto diet, there has been a lot of talk about low carbohydrate diets being the only way (or best way) to lose weight and be healthy.

While this is certainly an option for many people and many are successful using this method, it’s not recommended by most professionals. There are a few reasons for this, especially that it’s likely not a sustainable diet. As time passes, people are more likely to gain the weight back later on once they stop eating low-carb, as is the case for many diets that include dietary or food restrictions (Insel, Ross, McMahon, & Bernstein, 2013).

 Additionally, low-carb diets may be ineffective because of how our bodies work. Carbohydrates are actually quite useful! Our bodies use carbohydrates for fuel and many internal processes, including digestion and absorption of important vitamins and minerals.

Not only do most health professionals not recommend a low-carbohydrate diet, but the golden standard ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), suggest that the majority of your calories should come from carbohydrates (Insel, Ross, McMahon, & Bernstein, 2013).

If you want to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, the best way to do so is to eat a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fats from a variety of different sources. If you want to lose weight, decreasing your overall intake of food is the best way to lose weight and stay healthy. MyPlate is a great resource to help you pick meals and foods that balance essential nutrients for our bodies. Stay tuned for part 3 of this blog series for more tips on how to lose or gain weight, depending on your goals.

Myth: I have to take up running or other high-intensity exercise to be healthy

General recommendations for adults and exercise is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and get a gym membership – there are many different things that you can do to stay active! Some of these include:

  • Walking at a moderate to brisk pace
  • Cleaning
  • Working a job that requires physical labour, such as housekeeper, mechanic, or factory worker
  • Doing yoga
  • Swimming
  • Gardening
  • Shoveling snow
  • Cutting the grass, and many other household chores

Getting enough exercise is important to ensure that our bodies are strong. Moderate exercise helps us maintain bone, joint, and muscle strength, flexibility, cardiovascular health, and increases endorphins that make us feel good!

Not only that, but studies have shown that getting 30 minutes of exercise per day can help reduce your risk of health problems, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and even many types of cancer (Mayo Clinic, 2018).

Myth: I have to be within a certain weight range to be healthy

It’s true that BMI (body mass index) is a common method of determining whether or not someone is in a healthy weight category based on their height an age. While many healthcare professionals use this as a baseline to determine if someone is over or underweight, it is important to note that it is not a tried and true method to determine someone’s overall health.

Tom Brady
CJ Anderson

In reality, there are many factors that contribute to someone’s weight, including genetics, body-fat percentage, and bone structure. Consider this: Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, is 6’4” tall and weights approximately 225lbs. Based on BMI, he is overweight. However, Tom Brady is an elite athlete who has 6 Superbowl rings; we would be hard-pressed to suggest that he is unhealthy. The former running back for the Los Angeles Rams, CJ Anderson, is considered obese by BMI standards, and he played against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl last year!

Of course, most of us are not Tom Brady or CJ Anderson, and are not elite athletes. However, what this illustrates is that BMI is not always the best way to determine whether or not someone is healthy.

Instead of using BMI, try setting some goals for yourself based on the performance of your body, what you’d like your body to be able to do, or goals you have for your future.

Myth: I can’t have treats or eat the food I like if I want to be healthy

I think this myth scares a lot of people because honestly, food is SO GOOD and the thought of having to restrict or cut out certain types of foods can be upsetting. But I have good news! You don’t have to cut anything completely out of your diet in order to be healthy!

As I mentioned before, being healthy is all about getting a variety of nutrients from a range of different foods. Health is all about balance. Do you have to cut out McDonald’s from your life and give up those sweet, sweet chicken nuggets? No! Should you eat chicken nuggets every day? Also no.

Have a sweet tooth? Eat some chocolate. Just don’t each excessive amounts of chocolate every day. If you’re trying to lose weight, a big part of the difficulty can be training your body to eat smaller portions. In addition to portion control, it can be beneficial to get a better balance of different types of food in your diets, such as fruit, vegetables, protein found in meats or meat alternatives, and whole grains.

Myth: I have to be skinny and look like models and actors in order to be considered healthy

The media fills us with images of thin women and muscular men, suggesting that that’s how ‘normal’ or healthy people look. But this isn’t always the case, and the goals and ideals for one person may vary drastically from another person’s.

Consider the body image differences between an NFL linebacker and an acrobat. Both are arguably fit and healthy, but the physique goals for the NFL linebacker are likely going to be very different from that of the acrobat. The linebacker may be focused more on size and strength, whereas the acrobat might be focused on strength and flexibility, and not gaining size.

Again, health is about what you do, not necessarily about how you look. Think about what you want from your body, and what you want it to do. Is that in line with how you envision yourself looking? As always, you should consult with your doctor before making any food or exercise changes.

In our next edition of this blog series, we will explore how you can work to focus more on health and your personal goals, and less on how you look in the mirror.

References

Insel, P., Ross, D., McMahon, K., & Bernstein, M. (2013). Nutrition (5th ed.). Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC.

Mayo Clinic. (2018, December 14). Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT, FNS