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Alcohol and Mental Health: 5 Ways Alcohol is Hurting your Wellbeing

People and alcohol have a long, complicated history. Archeological evidence suggests that we’ve been producing and consuming alcoholic drinks from as early as 10,000 BC. Since then, alcohol production and consumption has had a profound impact on the course of history across the world; in various times and places, it’s been valued as a gift from god, to a public health danger, which leads to violence and moral failure.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has worked to raise public awareness in April of each year to encourage discussion and promote a focus on tackling alcohol-related issues. The theme for 2018 is “Changing Attitudes: It’s not a ‘rite of passage’” – raising a spotlight on the hazards of alcohol use by youth including binge drinking and the aggravating effects of peer pressure.

In universities and colleges across America, it’s no secret that drinking is a significant part of student culture. Research shows that more than 80 percent of college students drink, with nearly half reporting binge drinking (4-5 drinks within a two-hour period) within the past two weeks.

Given this year’s youth focus, in today’s blogpost, we’re going to look at 5 ways alcohol could hurt your wellbeing and success in school.

  1. Alcohol alters your chemistry
    Chemically speaking, alcohol is a depressant, which means that it lowers neurotransmission levels, which reduces the function of the central nervous stem; reducing arousal, stimulation in the brain. Other drugs that fall into this category include sedatives, tranquilizers and anesthetics. The chemical changes that can result from the use of depressants can impair thinking, coordination, perception and more. At best, the depressant effects can lower inhibition and create feelings of euphoria. At their worst, depressants can lead to nausea (and vomiting), unconsciousness and even death. It’s important that when you consume alcohol, you understand it for what it is and the unintended effects it can cause.
  2. Alcohol can exasperate depression
    While we’ve covered that alcohol is a depressant, it’s important that we don’t assume that depressants inherently cause depression. That being said, the evidence shows that alcohol can antagonize and worsen depression. Regular consumption can lead to lower levels of serotonin – a chemical that helps to regulate mood. Becoming dependent, alcohol negatively affecting relationships and feeling physically weakened after drinking can also all cause or exasperate feelings of depression or sow the conditions for it. Depression can significantly affect your motivation and ability to complete your classes, maintain relationships and succeed. And alcohol can aggravate it further. On an even scarier note, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that more than one fifth of suicide victims had a blood-alcohol content at or above the legal limit.

 

 

  1. Alcohol can damage your memory
    Ever woken up after a night of heavy drinking without the foggiest idea of what happened and how you ended up here? Blacking out or alcohol related amnesia happens when your blood alcohol rises too quickly and your brain temporarily loses the ability to create new memories. Research shows that some people are more genetically predisposed to blacking out than their peers. Obviously, a lack of memory is a liability – not remembering what happened can cause serious stress and anxiety.
    It’s not just short-term memory either – alcohol can impact your long-term memory If you’re studying for an important exam while drinking, you’ll be facing an uphill battle.
  2. Alcohol can increase risky behaviour; injury
    Hold my beer! While we often drink because we want to lower our inhibitions and increase confidence, it’s important to remember that these behavioural processes are also important for helping us make smart judgement calls. High confidence and a lack of judgement spurred by alcohol can lead to an overestimation of physical prowess (can you even do a backflip sober?) to a false assumption that you’re sober enough to drive. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly one-fifth of emergency room visits in hospitals world wide have alcohol as a factor. While a few scrapes and bumps might not dampen your studies, a serious concussion or life-altering accident could.
  3. Those who drink more fall behind
    Research from the Harvard School of Public Health found that students that students that reported poor mental health and consumed alcohol were 29% more likely to fall behind in school work. A 2013 study corroborates these results and finds that “heavy episodic drinking” is very likely to have negative consequences on academic motivation and performance; citing knock-on effects like sleep disruption, memory loss and more.

What can be done?
For students, avoiding alcohol entirely can be a challenge. In these cases, moderation is key. Being aware of the risks of alcohol, avoiding binge drinking, seeking counselling when alcohol becomes a crutch are critical ways to ensure that you don’t let alcohol negatively impact your mental health.

If you feel that alcohol has become a problem for you, get in touch with your school’s counselling and mental health support services to see a counselor or see if there are alcohol abuse support programs in your community. Acknowledging you need help – and seeking it – are the first and most important steps to taking back control of your wellbeing from alcohol.

And as part of Alcohol Awareness Month, the NCADD encourages trying out an alcohol-free weekend. Give it a shot – you might be surprised about how well you can feel (and productive you can be) on a Saturday or Sunday morning!


taking your lunch break can actually make you a better employee

In our first March blog post, we took a look at how eating a nutritious breakfast can help ensure you’re starting your day with a healthier body and a healthier mind.

While hobbits and some others might subscribe to the idea of a second breakfast and even “elevenses” (Middle Earth’s spin on brunch) following breakfast, for the rest of us, lunch and dinner are the other cornerstone meals of our day. In today’s blog post, we’ll focus on how important these meals are as well.

Let’s start with lunch. For many of us during the weekday, lunch represents the first extended break during the school or workday, where we can sit with colleagues and peers and chat, grab a favourite meal at the restaurant down the road or escape the office, relax and eat a snack in the park. Not only is lunch important for keeping distracting hunger pangs at bay but taking your lunch break can actually make you a better employee. In a Harvard study of nurses, higher meal breaks were linked with lower psychological distress.

And as the Harvard Business Review explains, what you choose to lunch on can play a part in determining your productivity at your desk: eating foods that release glucose quickly, like fries or soda, can lead to mid-afternoon slumps. Choosing nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts or fish will leave you working smarter; not harder.

Another tip: if you have a cafeteria at school or work, try to choose what you’ll eat before you go to buy lunch (perhaps do some recon or find out the day’s menu ahead of time). This will help prevent you from submitting to cravings and spur of the moment decisions for foods that won’t give you the mental boost you need.

As for dinner, for those of us on the go, this can be the first meal of the day that we’re able to eat at home. With eating at home comes the benefit of a home cooked meal – but what if you’re not a culinary cavalier? Try taking a cooking class, which not only has social benefits but will equip you with the knowledge to take full advantage of healthy ingredients and whip up a nutritious meal. Studies show that people who cook and bake are more likely be happier and more enthusiastic about achieving goals. Similarly, a 2016 study found that teenagers with cooking skills were likely to have “better mental health, less depression and stronger family ties”.

Not to mention that on average, a home-cooked meal will cost less than take-out – reducing the mental health worsening effects of financial stress.

Another healthy dinner tip: try not to eat too late at night. In addition to several physical risks, like an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes or experiencing a heart attack, eating late can negatively affect your memory and increase your risk of “bizarre or disturbing” dreams.

Just like breakfast, lunch and dinner have an important part to play in establishing better mental health and helping you go further. Taking the time to eat right can help put you on the path to a happier and healthier you.

For some more healthy lunch and dinner ideas, check out the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s many resources here and take a look at the University of Waterloo’s handy student survival guide for studious snacking!


Healthy Habits: Cooking and Eating Your Way to Better Mental Health

Have you ever sat down to a nutritious, home-cooked meal and felt healthier, happier and inspired to continue eating right? What about being worn-out and hungry, indulging on fast food and feeling more irritable than you were before? As we explored in our last blogpost, a growing body of evidence is showing that the foods we eat can influence our mental health. Conversely, our mood and our emotions can affect our food choices and eating patterns – the sadder we are, the more likely we are to forgo wholesome choices for unhealthier “comfort” foods.

If you think about it, these emotions and dietary choices can lead to a perpetuating cycle; meaning it can be difficult to break out of a bad food habits when you’re already feeling low. Never mind that many of the salty or sugary foods that we eat can have addictive qualities that can make it harder to break out of an unhealthy rut. So, how can we escape the junk foods that are making us feel like junk and start eating for a happier future? In today’s blogpost, we’re going to explore some small steps that you can take to help to build better nutrition habits and achieve a healthier body and healthier mind:

Stay Hydrated
We all know that we really should drink more water but why don’t we? In 2013, 40% of Americans were drinking less than half of the recommend amount of water daily. Instead, they’re drinking sugary or artificially sweetened sodas, which in addition to being bad for your body, are bad for your mind as well. Research shows that heavy soda consumption can lead to a smaller hippocampus – an area of the brain important for learning and memory. Even mild dehydration can alter our mood and make us more irritable. The solution: drink water throughout the day to keep your brain working at its best.

Simply, Substitute
As the title says, this one is quite simple: instead of abandoning your favourite foods, find ways to improve them with healthier ingredients. Love dipping potato chips in sour cream? Try veggie sticks with Greek yogurt. Can’t start your day without some toast? Instead of white, try some whole grain out for size. With healthier ingredients, we can transform our guilty pleasures into hallowed habits without totally abandoning our favourite meals.

Follow a Meal Plan
As a collection of our habits, routines for better or worse are responsible for our mood patterns over a period of time. Healthy routines will help sustain motivation and wellbeing; unhealthy routines will keep you in a funk. To escape the bad groove, set up a new routine and follow it, like a meal plan. Planning healthy meals in advance and sticking to it can ensure you maintain your healthy habits and avoid falling off the wagon. You can also try cooking your meals in advance when you’re not busy to stay on track when you’re pressed for time. Take a look at Harvard’s 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating for some examples.

Stick to Regular Meal Times
Life comes at you fast. Admittedly, we’re not always going to be able to keep our schedules flowing down to the minute. But when you can, try to eat your meals around the same times everyday and you’ll be ticking towards better mental health. As we explored in our last blogpost, consistent meal times can also lead to a healthier heart. And when possible, try to share your mealtime with a family member, friend or colleague: eating together can help improve your wellbeing and your partner’s wellbeing, too.

Big changes can be daunting, but the first paces don’t have to be. Making small steps can ultimately lead to bigger and better strides into healthier habits and a happier life. For some more healthy eating habits, check out the Mayo Clinic’s 5 Key Habits of Healthy Eaters.


Go Further With Food

Spring has arrived and soon, slumbering creatures will emerge from hibernation, ready to fill their bellies with nature’s bounty.

Which makes it fitting that March is National Nutrition Month. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has declared this year’s theme is “Go Further with Food”.  In our March series of blogposts, we’re going to explore the link between diet and mental health and how eating right can help you go further with your wellbeing and achieve more. Today, we’re going to look at breakfast.

At one point or another, perhaps as we’re running out the door, late to class or work, we’ve all been cautioned not to skip breakfast because it’s the most important meal of the day – but is it?

Yes – according to a 2017 study, foregoing breakfast could be hurting your heart. In response to hunger pangs later into the day, those who skipped breakfast were more likely to eat more and rely on fast food alternatives throughout the work day to meet their caloric needs. Those who ate breakfast at home generally consumed healthier alternatives to fast food and were sated longer, leading to more moderate eating throughout the day. And it seems that the American Heart Association agrees: people who adhere to regular meal times, including eating breakfast are less likely to have high cholesterol and blood pressure than those who skip breakfast. As we’ve explored in other blogposts, there is a strong link between a healthy body and a healthy mind – some food for thought.

So, we now know that having breakfast is important but what about what we’re choosing to eat in those early hours? Luckily for you, nutritionists and researchers have been working hard to crack the code on what you should be consuming to start your day off right.

Let’s start with coffee: a 2017 meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal reviewed research that concluded coffee consumption had a “consistent association with lower risk of depression and cognitive disorders”. Additionally, a 2012 study found that drinking two to three cups of coffee a day was correlated with a 50 percent reduced risk of suicide. According to Psychology Today, coffee’s benefits on wellbeing can be traced on its effect on dopamine release – a neurotransmitter linked to the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

Eggs, a long-time breakfast staple, have also been evidenced to enhance cognitive performance and can help pregnant mothers reduce the risk of developing schizophrenia in their babies. Yogurt and other fermented foods contain probiotics (healthy bacterial cultures), which have been linked to reduced anxiety and stress hormones. Breakfast favourites, like whole grain toast or oats release glucose slowly, providing steady fuel for the body and mind throughout the day. Fatty fish, like salmon, contain omega-3s, which can also benefit your mental health by reducing symptoms of depression and ADHD, while boosting learning and memory.

With all of these healthier options, there’s no better time than now to put away other traditional breakfast choices, like processed cereals and fruit juices, which loaded with added sugars, spike blood sugar and insulin, leading to an energy crash and irritability later in the day.

While the field of nutritional psychology is relatively new, there are thousands of researchers studying the link between diet and mental health and a growing body of evidence is helping connect consumers with options that are good for the body and the brain. We’ll explore more of these links in the rest of our March blogposts. Until next time!

 


Paws and Claws Deserve Some Applause: Pets and Mental Health

Earlier this month, a UK meta-analysis of existing academic research concluded that pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions. Led by the University of Liverpool’s Dr. Helen Louise Brooks, the analysis reviewed 17 separate studies, which in total included data from 1727 pet owners. The studies covered a gamut of pets, including dogs, cats, birds, horses and more.

Among the psychological benefits provided by pets, Brooks’ review pointed to studies that evidenced the significant benefits of canine companionship for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Physical activity and exercise, a strong mental health management tool, was also correlated with dog ownership, leading to better quality of life outcomes and increased social interactions – important things to keep in mind, next time you feel like skipping out on walking Spot.

As the meta-analysis notes, despite the identified benefits of pets, they’re often overlooked as effective tools or seen as “additional work” by health professionals. Brooks’ calls for a “cultural change” that allows pets to be considered and included as part of the support systems provided through formal service provision.

While Brooks’ recent study is an important confirmation of the healing power of pets, a growing trend recognizing the psychological benefit of animals has been popping up on campuses for years now.
Across universities and colleges in the United States and Canada, “puppy rooms” have been organized to give students a respite from studies and the opportunity to destress in a positive, furry environment.

Students are also increasingly seeking to bring their own pets to school with them to serve as “emotional support animals”. A 2016 article from the American Bar Association identified that the rise in mental illness on campuses is also correlated to the rise in emotional support animals by students –creating at tricky legal and housing landscape for schools and students to navigate. One interesting way to address, creating designated “pet” floors, was raised in a 2015 University of California, Berkley article.

Ultimately, while this study is further proof of the power of pets, it seems that the secret has been out for quite some time: approximately 63% of households in the United States have a companion animal. Dr. Maggie O’Haire, Assistant Professor of human-animal interaction at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, also notes that outside of our homes and campuses, the presence of animals in our workplaces can also help reduce stress.

Dr. O’Haire is also currently managing a study looking into the health, emotional and social quality of individuals and families living with service dogs versus those on the waitlist to receive a service dog. If you’ve read the rest of this blogpost, the results so far shouldn’t come as a surprise: individuals and their families that already had a service dog showed better social and emotional functioning compared to those without.

And for all those reading along that have felt that this post was all bark and not enough meow, the UK’s Mental Health Foundation 2011 study found that of 600 people surveyed, 87% of cat owners felt their felines had a positive impact on their wellbeing and 76% reporting that they helped them cope better with everyday life.

There’s no doubt that pets can help us achieve mentally healthier lives. For some people, their pets’ unconditional love and companionship is the reason that they continue to be, and work to be, happy. While the old adage, “dogs are a man’s best friend” still rings true today, the growing evidence shows that it’s not limited to canines: wings, scales, claws and fins, whether 2 or 4 or 8 or no legs at all, pets can be a profoundly powerful tool for helping us realize our best selves – for us, and for them.


Work Hard, Feel Good: Exercise and Mental Health

In our last blogpost, Don’t Go it Alone: Relationships are the Key to Mental Health and a Long Life, we unpacked the affirming revelations of Harvard’s Longevity Study and its conclusions on the power of strong social relationships for achieving a long and happy life.

This week, we look at another important tool for building and maintaining optimal mental health: exercise. A growing body of research continues to illuminate the importance of caring for your body as a way to care for your mind.

Studies show that physical activity can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, in a number of ways, including:

Release healthy biochemicals: If you’ve ever heard of “runner’s high”, you’ve heard about endorphins. These “feel good chemicals”, are released naturally during high-intensity exercise and can help improve brain function and boost your sense of well-being.

Build your brain: As Harvard also notes, low-intensity exercise sustained over time spurs the release of proteins called neutrotrophic or growth factors. Studies show that the hippocampus region of the brain tends to be smaller in those that are depressed. Exercise, however, can boost nerve cell growth in the hippocampus and improves nerve cell connections, helping relieve depression.

Boost self-esteem: Sadly, those with intense dissatisfaction with their appearance are “more likely” to be depressed, anxious and suicidal than those and poor mental health. While we should strive to ensure those around us are comfortable with their appearance and provide support to those that are not, exercise can be a potent tool to helping improve positive self-image and self-worth.

Fight off addiction: As the New York Times notes, those who exercise more are much less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, if compared to inactive people. In a 2012 study, exercise was shown to help those suffering undergoing addiction treatments improve their health and increase confidence in the ability to remain clean and sober. Some experts also point to the benefits of replacing “artificial highs” from drugs and alcohol with happiness and euphoria inducing biochemical, like endorphins that are released during exercise.

Make new friends: We’ve already discussed the power of social relationships to boost happiness; so naturally, team sports can be a great way to build supportive relationships and experience camaraderie. In a recent German study, researchers found that individual athletes were more prone to depressive symptoms than those who played on teams. That’s not to say you should pass on participating in solo sports but instead, find ways to ensure you experience that companionship with your competitors.

We’ve all heard the old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. While that might not be true, there is growing evidence that shows exercise can help alleviate or keep poor mental health at bay. So whether it’s starting to go for daily walks or joining your hometown sports league, it’s never too late to get moving and get happy.


Colleges are finally taking student mental health seriously; but more must be done.

It’s been nearly 15 years since Congress passed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (GLSMA) in 2004, in response to the suicide of Senator Gordon Smith’s son Garrett Lee a year earlier, while attending college in Utah. He was 22. The bipartisan supported Bill recognized the growing mental health crisis on college campuses and created and funded programs to address mental health in the young, including a Campus Suicide Prevention program. Since then, the GLSMA has bolstered campus mental health and suicide prevention programs across the U.S.

Today, the evidence shows that America’s postsecondary institutions are recognizing the need for greater mental health awareness and ensuring that staff have the resources they need to support students. In 2016, the majority of college counseling centers reported an increase in funding from their universities. Schools are enhancing important mental health resources like 24/7 crisis counselors and online therapy assistance, as well as other approaches, like therapy dog sessions and other wellness oriented activities. Other campuses are partnering with non-profit programs, like the Jed Foundation, which provides participating schools with a framework to better equip schools to help solve mental health issues.

And more and more, faculty and students are taking another crucial step in building a more supportive environment for students experiencing mental health issues by raising awareness and working to end the stigma. This is an important evolution at colleges across the world that must be celebrated.

However, it is clear that more can be, and must be, done.

While mental health resourcing has increased at colleges across America, so too have student enrollments and students seeking mental health services. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that while enrollment grew by 5.6% between 2009 and 2015, the amount of students seeking mental health services increased by 29.6%. There was also a marked increase in medication, hospitalizations and suicide attempts between 2010 and 2016.

Anxiety and depression continue to be the biggest mental health issues afflicting students. Between 2011 and 2016, undergraduates reporting “overwhelming anxiety” rose 12% from 50% to 62%; overtaking depression for the most common reason for students to seek counselling services. The American College Health Association recently reported that nearly 37% of students declared they were “so depressed that it was difficult to function” within the last 12 months. This data represents a significant recent increase in mental health issues and service needs on campuses.

With increased student demand for mental health services and an insufficient supply of therapeutic resources, more and more professors are stepping up to plug the gaps. As Slate reports, some schools are offering faculty development programs and training instructors to recognize symptoms and to assist students in crisis. While the training is beneficial, it is unsafe to assume this model can effectively substitute for professional therapy and support services.

While schools must get better at ensuring sufficient supports are available, they must also ensure they’re collecting data to better understand and prevent the consequences of significant mental health events, like suicide. In early 2018, the Associated Press’ annual suicide statistic survey revealed that nearly half of the largest public universities in the United States are not tracking student suicides –an omission that makes it harder to adapt campus policy and save lives.

Ultimately, it is clear that while schools are taking steps to address student mental health, more must be done if we’re going to solve the crisis on our campuses. School faculty and management must continue to work to ensure sufficient mental health services are available to meet student needs. Students must continue to fight to end the stigma around mental health issues and assist classmates that are in need. Together, we can help build an educational experience that is safe, supportive and leaves no one behind.


Relationships are the Key to Mental Health and a Long Life

In 1938, Harvard University researchers began tracking the health of 268 sophomores in a study that would extend through their entire lives. The purpose: to determine if there were key psychosocial predictors of healthy aging and happiness through life.

The Grant Study, and the subsequent Glueck study tracked participants’ as they graduated into careers, to marriages, children, divorces and other milestones, through medical records, in-person interviews and questionnaires.

More than any other factor, including pre-existing health conditions, IQ or wealth, satisfaction with one’s close relationships was the best predictor of a long and happy life. Closely linked was marital satisfaction, which had a “protective effect” on the participant’s mental health.

Not surprisingly, the study also found that those who lived longest avoided smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. While the physical dangers of cigarettes and alcohol use are well known, less acknowledged are their correlations with mental illness.

Scientific American recently reported that while overall smoking rates have dropped from 42 per cent in 1965 to 15 per cent in 2015, those suffering from mental illness or substance use disorders accounted for “nearly 40 per cent of cigarette consumption by US adults in 2009 and 2011”.

For Robert Waldinger, current director of Harvard’s longitudinal study puts it, loneliness kills, and it’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.

For many, the answer is simple: continue to work to maintain good relationships with friends, family and colleagues throughout your life to help achieve a happy and long life.

For those feeling isolated and lonely – it’s not too late to nurture new relationships and to watch them flourish. Harvard also recommends exploring community social activities as a way to meet new people. Whether it’s volunteering or joining a sport’s team, new friends and better health could be just around the corner. It’s not just your health either – reaching out to someone might just help improve their quality of life as well.

And according to researchers from Northwestern University and the University of California, having different friends to help with specific moods can lead to greater well-being and life satisfaction. So treat life like a garden, nurture your relationships and help them grow and while you’re at it, cultivate many different friends for all of life’s moments. Can you dig it?


Social Media and Mental Health: What do you need to know?

It’s no understatement to say that social media has revolutionized the world we live in.

The way we meet, engage, discuss important issues, do business with each other, fall in love and stay connected can all be conducted on the many platforms and offerings that the digital realm of social media has provided. Today, over three billion people – approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population – use social media daily, cataloguing their lives and observing others. Since the first social media site in 1997, the social media community has grown exponentially, resulting in users spending hours online digesting social content, which has been good for site traffic and the bottom lines of social giants like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

But is it for us? A new series by BBC Future is exploring how social media’s impacts our mental health, for the better or the worse. As the investigation acknowledges, our ability to examine the long-term effects of social media are limited by its relatively recent arrival and mass acceptance. But there’s a growing body of science that is dissecting what social media is doing to our brains and what that means for our wellbeing. Here are a few of the studies the investigation has shared so far:

STRESS: A 2015 Pew Research study found that while Twitter can be a significant contributor to stress, the more that women used Twitter, the less stressed they were. While the study also found women reported higher stress levels than men, the de-stressing effects of Twitter usage were only concluded in women.

ANXIETY: A 2016 US study concluded that people using seven or more social media sites were more likely to experience high levels of general anxiety symptoms, compared to those who used up to two platforms.

DEPRESSION:  According to two studies that involved more than 700 students, the quality of online interactions, including social media were linked to depressive symptoms. Poorer interactions resulted in more severe depressive symptoms.

SLEEP:  In a 2016 study, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that the more often 18-30 year olds logged into social media, the more likely they were to suffer from disturbed sleep. Evidence has shown that the blue light emitted from device screens can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin – a hormone that enables sleep.

SELF-ESTEEM: Call it selfie sadness? Penn State University researchers found in a 2016 study that looking at strangers’ selfies resulted in a lower self-esteem for the viewer. The phenomenon was linked to viewers comparing their own state to the seemingly happy demeanor of the person in the selfie. In addition, frequent selfie viewing was linked to decreased life satisfaction.

RELATIONSHIPS: In a 2009 survey of 300 people between the ages of 17 and 24, researchers from University of Guelph in Ontario found that women were more likely than men to report Facebook induced jealousy after their partner added an unknown member of the sex.

So should we sign-off from our social media accounts for good? Hold on – while there’s a lot of evidence out there demonstrating that social media’s ills, there’s also reason to believe that it can have a positive impact. Like anything, it seems that moderation is key – a 2017 evidence review by the Education Policy Institute found that a moderate use of social media can have a “beneficial impact on young people’s emotional wellbeing.”

Social media platforms are also taking note of the growing concern about how social media impacts our mental health. In December 2017, Facebook announced it was enacting changes to its site to help improve the site’s effect on our wellbeing, including enhancing news feed quality, introducing suicide prevention tools and allowing us to “Snooze” a person, page or group for 30 days without having to permanently unfollow or unfriend them.

Social media has become an important part of our daily lives but that doesn’t mean we should let it control our lives. Go ahead and log on once in a while and focus on having positive interactions online and you’ll be much happier for it.


Mindfulness training can help students keep calm and carry on in exam season

A new study from the University of Cambridge recommends that mindfulness training can ward off mental illness and boost student mental health over the demanding exam season.

The practice of “mindfulness” has captured many minds in recent years as a capable approach to focus attention on the present, achieve calm and combat depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.

One group of the study’s participants took part in an eight-week course, guided by a certified mindfulness teacher and were also encouraged to practice mindfulness activities, like meditation, mindful walking, eating and more. The other group were only offered traditional university support and counselling services. The study’s results showed that that while students without mindfulness training experienced increased stress throughout the academic year, distress scores among the mindfulness group fell below their baseline levels, even during exam season.

Researchers designed the program to optimize wellbeing and mental health resilience for students by promoting values like self-compassion, self-discovery and empowerment. Over 600 Cambridge students took part in the study.

The study comes at an important time. As the Guardian reports, students seeking counselling services rose by 50 per cent between 2010 and 2015 in the UK. The need for greater access to mental health services across campuses is growing, and the need for new strategies, like mindfulness training, could help.

In Canada, the American College Health Association’s 2013-2016 survey of 25,164 Ontario university students found that cases of anxiety, depression and suicide attempts have all risen approximately 50 per cent. A Toronto Star and Ryerson survey also found that the average increase for mental health budgets across 15 Canadian universities and colleges reviewed was 35 per cent.

Researchers concluded that mindfulness training could be an effective component of a wider student mental health strategy. While the study suggests that mindfulness training is a potent tool for students to maintain and improve their mental health, findings on its effects on exam results were inconclusive.