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February is Canada’s National Psychology Month: Here’s How Far We’ve Come

One of the great drivers of human progress is our incessant need for reason.  Not content that lightning flashed across the heavens just because it did, our early ancestors crafted great myths of angry gods.

We looked inward too, developing philosophy that explained why we were here and how we should be. When our bodies exhibited symptoms of sickness or abnormality, early physicians pointed to imbalances in the medical humors as the culprit.

We’ve come a long way – we know that electrical charges, not deities cause lightning. Our fascination in what the night sky held eventually carried us over the divide and onto the moon.  In other quests, like medicine, we’ve also progressed nobly, including on our conceptions of mental health and disorder.

Thankfully, we’re no longer using magic spells to ward off ailments of the mind, caused by evil spirits – for the most part at least. Today, we count on the twin scientific fields of psychiatry and psychology for leading the way on studying and solving mental illness and behavioural issues.

In Canada, February is National Psychology Month. It’s a time to celebrate the contributions of psychologists and how the profession is helping make the world a better place, through research and practice. In this blog, we’ll outline a brief history of psychology and what a modern-day psychologist is and what they do.

Brief History of Early Psychology

As we touched on above, mental illness was blamed on supernatural elements for much of human history; however, some early Greek physicians like Hippocrates, considered the “Father of Medicine”, pointed to physical origins and worked to categorize mental illnesses. Similarly, the association of physical and social factors impacting mental health was being reasoned in other ancient civilizations.

Fast forward to the Enlightenment in Europe, the “Age of Reason”. A note: while there were advancements in understanding in the period between across many civilizations, in the European context, the theologically-oriented “Middle Ages” put greater value on religious justification than scientific rationalization. German philosophers like Christian Wolff and Immanuel Kant popularized the discussion of psychology, with the former identifying it as its own field of science.

As the scientific method and the need to explain phenomena surged across the continent, the field of experimental psychology – the branch concerned with the investigation behind basic processes like learning, memory and cognition –  was being born. While there were some missteps, like the inaccurate and racially-stained phrenology, the realization of experimental psychology can be attributed to Wilhem Wundt, considered the “Father of Psychology”, who founded the Institute for Experimental Psychology at the University of Leipzig in Germany in 1879. Wundt would define psychology as “the investigation of conscious processes in the modes of connection peculiar to them”.

From there and from many of Wundt’s students, institutes and laboratories dedicated to the study of psychology would spring up across the world, like G Stanley Hall, the first American to earn a Ph.D. in psychology, who would open up the first U.S. lab at John Hopkins University.

Other branches, like psychoanalysis, which counted the well-known Sigmund Freud among its ranks, also furthered the broader field. Psychology began to become a core part of medical and academic curriculums and be adapted into many other disciplines, including military, political and sociological thought.

That’s all for our brief overview – thousands more words could be said on the subject. If you’re interested in learning more, check out this list of famous theorists that advanced the field of psychology.

Psychology Today

Psychology has come a long away in more than a century of formal scientific research and practice. You might be surprised to learn that today, there are a multitude of subspecialty practices, from everything from developmental psychology focused on children to forensic psychologists, focused on criminality. Ultimately, a psychologist furthers their profession by either expanding what is known through research and/or by providing service to those in need.

In many countries, including Canada, psychology is a licensed profession through a regulatory body. Given the academically-intensive nature of the career, a significant amount of schooling is required – most psychologists require a master’s and/or doctoral degree in psychology to be accredited.

There’s often a little confusion between psychologists and psychiatrists. The key difference is that psychiatrists are medical doctors and are therefore licensed to prescribe medication. However, there are many synergies between the programmes and methods of psychologists and psychiatrists. If you’re trying to decide whether you should see a psychologist or a psychiatrist, you might want to speak to your primary care physician first to get guidance on what may be the best approach for your needs.


Shaking off the Winter Blues with Valentine’s Day

Plenty of things changed between 1960 and 2005—the 45 year stretch saw the end of paradigm-shifting conflicts like the Vietnam and Cold Wars, ushered in the Age of Internet, and unleashed Pop-Tarts on the world. But one thing has remained the same: in 1960 and 2005, Americans chose February as their least favourite month.

It might stem from the fact that it’s the shortest month of the year, or that it’s in the dead of winter, post-Christmas and New Year’s jubilation. But if the month has a redeeming quality, it’s one defined by care, tenderness, and community: Valentine’s Day.

 

The celebration, which is observed on February 14th each year, traces its earliest romantic roots to the 14th century, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the Valentine’s Day machine kicked into full gear with mass-produced cards replacing handmade tokens. A couple hundred years worth of chocolates, restaurant reservations, and rose bundles later, and Valentine’s Day has become a social and cultural institution in North America and the world over.

Traditionally, the holiday is marked for the expression of romantic love—a day where lovers spoil and shower each other with gifts and affection. Such as it is, the holiday can leave single folks feeling left out, even bitter.

 

But this needn’t be the case. Though the day centres love within a couple, it can be turned into an opportunity to show care for anyone in our lives. If we reposition the restrictive marketing around the holiday, we can make it a day to celebrate parents, siblings, friends, and—don’t roll your eyes—even ourselves.

 

Here are some tips for different ways to enjoy Valentine’s Day, and shake off the mid-winter doldrums.

For The Romantic…

In its most popular iteration, V-Day is for lovers. There are the classic accoutrements: flowers, fancy dinners out, flashy jewellery. While these are fine—some will prefer this classic fare!—they can also be a little vanilla; chances are your partner has experienced this kind of thing before. Valentine’s Day, in the old days, required more effort: meals were cooked instead of purchased, gifts were crafted rather than bought. There’s something to be said for the expenditure of effort in Valentine’s planning, because it reflects a certain kind of care and commitment.

-Try preparing an extravagant home-cooked meal. Even if it goes awry, it’ll be a good memory, and a fun spark—but keep a backup plan on hand if you’re no culinary whiz.

-Get some glue and glitter and construction paper and make a card. Hallmark cards with a non-descript message are nice enough, but handmade ones are better. It might be rough around the edges, but so is life, and there’s nothing more endearing than seeing someone try their hand at something new in the name of love.

-Talk with your partner as if it was a first date. If you’ve been dating a while, chances are there will be a lot to say that gets lost in the daily hustle and bustle of life. This can be a fun exercise if approached with an open mind, and it can bring you closer to your partner, too.

For The Platonic…

We tend to think Valentine’s Day activities like gift-giving and displays of affection can only be shared between lovers, but that’s false. Transforming it into a day to celebrate friendships is powerful and fun—Leslie Knope did it on Parks and Recreation with Galentine’s Day, an occasion to salute the women in her life. If a fictional TV character can do it, you can too.

-Go out to dinner. This doesn’t have to be fancy by any means, so agree on a comfortable, undemanding venue that feels homey for both of you. Cover each other’s bills—a symbolic gesture of, ‘I’ve got your back.’

-Pretend you’re back in high school. Order some pizza, get a pile of junk food and drinks, and watch movies and play video games. As we get older, it’s rare to spend time doing these things with friends—but these moments are precious and unpressured. Stay up extra late.

For Yourself…

Maybe you’d rather keep Valentine’s Day a personal endeavour. That’s cool, and kudos to you for putting yourself first. Self-care is important!

-This is a general purpose section, so do whatever it is you’d most enjoy. For some folks, a spa day is rejuvenating. For others, binge-watching a Netflix series is the pinnacle of self-love. For others, it’s getting outside and exploring. Take the day to prioritize yourself at each turn, free from the pressures of society.


This Black History Month, Dig into Your Community’s Black History

Black History Month is celebrated through February. The month-long observance is meant to recognize significant individuals and events in Black history, and while today it’s a noted international celebration (Canada and the United States maintain Black History Month in February, while Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom mark it in October), its origins are considerably more humble.

It began as “Negro History Week” in February of 1926, so chosen to coincide with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Black American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Black historian Carter G. Woodson initiated the idea, premised on the importance of cataloguing important accomplishments and people as a technique of community-building and tradition-keeping. This prompted a wellspring of Black history clubs and social groups rooted in these principles of strength and celebration, until in 1970, Kent State University celebrated the first official Black History Month. Six years later, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the occasion, encouraging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

This history is critical precisely because of the people and systems that fought—and continue to fight—to keep it from surviving. Acknowledging these histories, these victories, is to acknowledge resilience and brilliance in the face of genocides both cultural and literal. Black History Month is part of cultivating space and identity and accomplishment in a modern society built on Black subjugation.

Black History Month, in popular contexts, is good. In schools, the words and deeds of Civil Rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are taught, and the evils of segregation and racism are established. While these are critical lessons, Black History Month is an opportunity to dig beyond these cursory teachings, and connect with Black histories outside the spotlights—ones that remain obscured and erased.

This means engaging with and researching your surroundings to uncover these histories. In the spirit of encouraging this work and connecting with unsung Black heroes, we’ve highlighted critical figures and events in Black history that have been left out of most history books.

 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Most rock histories will trace rock and roll to the likes of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis, but they’re overlooking a Black woman who could shred with the best of them. Born Rosetta Nubin in 1915 in Arkansas, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is credited as ‘the Godmother of rock and roll.’ Her mix of gospel and rhythm and blues precipitated the rumble of rock and roll music, and her use of distorted electric guitars influenced British guitarists like Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.

Coloured Hockey League

The Coloured Hockey League operated from 1895 to 1930 in Canada’s east coast provinces. Black men who traversed the Underground Railroad were brought to safety in the Maritime provinces, where a league was established for them that grew to include 400 players. The CHL is credited with pioneering not just the butterfly style of goaltending (in which a goalie drops down on their pads to make a save), but the slap shot as well. Canadian filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason highlighted this in his documentary Soul On Ice: Past, Present and Future, which notes that the slap shot originated as ‘the baseball shot,’ given the way that the players wound up to swing as they did with a baseball bat.

 

Donald Willard Moore
Donald Willard Moore was born in 1891 in Barbados, relocating to Canada in his 20s. He operated a dry cleaning service on Spadina Avenue in Toronto for over 50 years, during which time it became a gathering place and community hub for Toronto’s West Indian and Caribbean communities. In 1954, Moore led a campaign to change Canada’s then-anti-Black immigration laws. His work led to changes in these laws that allowed for the settlement and employment of many nurses and domestic workers from the Caribbean, establishing a community that is now an indelible part of Toronto’s fabric.


Helping Children Understand Mental Health: A Primer

Children are curious creatures: in a world full of promise, exciting experiences and new knowledge to be gained, who can blame them? As many parents can attest to, explaining the reasoning behind even the common of phenomena to a child can result in an endless slew of ‘whys’ – until you get to a point where even they’re a little unsure of the ultimate answer to it all. That routine isn’t made any easier by the need to provide the explanation in a way that’s elementary enough for the inquiring young mind to understand.

Now, imagine having to explain to your child why the man sitting on the street corner is yelling loudly at no one or why grandma can’t remember their name anymore. Given that even adults struggle to talk about mental health with each other, it can seem overwhelming to help your child understand the fundamentals behind what is often, a very complex subject.

In today’s blog, we’ll outline several key suggestions and considerations that can help make explaining mental illness to your child less daunting.

  1. Structure your answer with the child’s age in mind: This might seem like an obvious one – trying to explain the chemical and genetic theories behind depression to a four year old might result in greater confusion than they initially had. Children of different ages will have different abilities to contextualize what you’re describing with their existing knowledge. For toddlers, focusing on the “concrete information” or the basic cause and effect may be more appropriate. As BC’s Here to Help outlines, simplifying depression as “when daddy is sick, he has difficulty going to work” may be all the detail a young child, needs. Older children and teenagers will be able to understand more and could want more detailed information, so make sure that you’re equipped to help answer their questions. However, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” – it’s better to admit that you don’t have the answer than to misinform and mislead.

 

  1. Contextualize mental illness through physical illness: Despite the societal strides in understanding mental health, even today, we tend to treat physical pain as more legitimate than mental illness. While children might not understand the complexities of schizophrenia, contextualizing mental illness through physical pain or illness can be a useful stepping stone to help them understand why someone may be “sick” and demonstrating certain behaviours. Framing it as a part of the brain being sick, like a stomach ache or a throat infection that your young child has experienced can help provide the personal contextualization needed to better understand the symptoms of a mental illness.

 

  1. Don’t stigmatize – educate: There’s a lot of misinformation out there about mental illness; much of it serves to put already vulnerable people at greater risk – whether its getting fired from a job or getting shot by police. As a parent, one of the hats you wear is as one of your child’s educators and it’s important for their sake – and for those suffering from mental illness – that you don’t rely on tired tropes when explaining it to your children. For example, your child might encounter someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in one of their classes. Those with ASD often have difficulty communicating with people and may be more sensitive to stimuli. You would do the child with ASD and yours a disservice if you dissuaded your child from playing with them or if you described their behaviour in negative terms. Help your child understand that people have differences but that everybody deserves to be treated with respect and kindness.

 

  1. Keep the conversation going: There’s a few conversations that a parent ultimately knows they’ll have with their children at some point in time. Despite foreknowledge and preparation, some of us never seem ready to broach the conversation about the changes that are happening in our children’s bodies and what we mean when we say, “the birds and the bees”. Like those conversations, it’s not an open and shut case – the subject matter is too vast and evolving for one discussion. Mental illness, and more broadly, mental health, is just as large and it’s important that we don’t appear to be closing the door on our willingness to discuss it. You could explain what’s happening to someone else but if your child senses that you’re apprehensive or unwilling to discuss it again, who will they turn to if they ever need to talk about their own mental health issues? As a parent, be ready, be there and be proactive on the information and conversations that your child needs to hear.

How to Stick to Your Resolutions

There’s a general consensus around New Year’s resolutions: making them is fun. Sticking to them is not.

This wrestle can continue all year long. We want to have the proposed end-point of the resolution, the light at the end of the tunnel, but we falter in executing (or even creating) a plan to reach it. This is why, year-in and year-out, people will chuckle about how soon they ‘failed’ at their resolutions.

But it’s not that simple: if every resolution were destroyed each time we got sidetracked, nothing would ever be achieved. We’d do well to remember the motivational posters tacked up in our grade school homerooms: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

This is the most important item to remember when setting and working towards your resolution: you don’t need to abandon it if you momentarily fail at it. This is where discipline and commitment will be tested. It’s easier to say, ‘I failed, I’ll do better next year,’ making it next year’s issue and leaving you off the hook for the rest of 2019.

 

But sticking to your resolutions is just that. It requires perseverance, hard work, and a sense of responsibility—not to others, but to yourself. At times, it’s helpful to view a resolution as a technique of self-care. Rather than a rigid, martial, all-or-nothing rule, it’s an annual chance to implement new practices in looking after yourself. This will look different for each person: maybe you wish to be in better shape, or perhaps you wish to up your protein intake and reduce your sugars. You might even just want to keep your workspace clean and organized.

Regardless of what the goal is, the most critical difference between a successful or unsuccessful resolution is our ability to commit ourselves to that change. That, of course, depends on how badly we want it.

Writer Brandon Stosuy recently described success as “having the discipline to do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, even if nobody’s watching you, and you’re only saying it to yourself.” This gets at the core of our struggles with new year’s resolutions: unlike at work, in most cases no one will be monitoring our progress or ensuring we complete tasks and hit deadlines. It’s on us to either succeed or abandon our resolutions.

Luckily, there are certain strategies that can help you stick to your guns and accomplish your goals for the year. One of these is to do things step-by-step: draw up a game-plan that breaks your resolution down into manageable bits, and cross them off as you go. (Rome wasn’t built in a day, etc.) Another helpful technique is to talk about your experiences with your resolutions. Solidarity and community discussion is a helpful tool for not only pushing us towards success, but assuaging our anxieties about struggling.

 

This public outreach need not be limited to discussion. It’s important to assess when we need help. Although resolutions are largely a personal endeavour, this doesn’t mean we can’t ask for help in attaining them. It is a fool’s errand to push ourselves to extremes in the name of independence. We build community so that we can lean on each other. Sometimes, sticking to your resolution means using a lifeline.

New Year’s resolutions can be draining, but they can also be enriching, pushing us to discover more about ourselves and those around us. This year, set resolutions that will encourage you to work year-round to accomplish them, and then hold yourself accountable for them. If you enter next year having made changes, then you’ve stuck to your resolutions.

 


Making Better New Year’s Resolutions for Healthy Living

For many people, New Year’s resolutions are a curse. They’re bars that we set too high, ones that we can’t possibly overcome, and so we give up trying altogether. But of course, this is to miss the point of a resolution: it isn’t a pass-fail test, but rather a year-long practice, a mantra we set and work towards, a carrot dangling ever-ahead. Resolutions shouldn’t be a curse, but a constant nudge.

 

In this spirit of slow-and-steady-wins-the-race, it’s actually healthy and encouraging—rather than burdensome or depressing—to set resolutions for the year ahead. This time of the calendar year offers an opportunity to adjust our course by orienting ourselves towards a healthier lifestyle. This notion of a healthy lifestyle isn’t one-size-fits-all, though. Each person’s health is different, and so too are the changes they require in order to live healthy.

 

However, before setting your new year’s resolutions, you have to figure out what is you’re hoping to achieve—regardless of what the goal is, a resolution is only as sturdy as the end-point it’s committed to reaching. No need for hair-trigger decisions; take a week or two to work out where you’d like to be come January 2020, and go from there.

 

With that in mind, we’ve assembled some suggestions for working towards a conception of healthy living in 2019. From consumption habits to screen time to physical activities, our lifestyles are dictated by our routines in these little sectors of our lives. Here are some ways you can modify those routines in the coming year.

 

SCREEN TIME

It’s almost undeniable now that we spend a lion’s share of our day staring at screens. Modern society necessitates a digital screen for virtually every job, and who doesn’t want to turn on Netflix after a long day of work? A recent study found that American adults spent over 11 hours a day looking at various screens—laptop, cell phone, television—and doctors have already warned of the health problems associated with excessive tech use: poor posture, neck pain, headaches. Cutting down screen time is essential for not just physical improvement, but mental wellness. Try implementing screen-free periods, both at work and at home. This requires discipline and accommodation (allot some basic organizational or writing tasks for this period at work, or some reading or exercise activities at home).

 

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

This is a popular resolution, but it’s a valid one nonetheless. In 2016, Time reported that a study found that only around a quarter of adult women and men were satisfied with their appearance and weight. Physical activity is one way to work on body image issues, but it also shifts over into other aspects of life: confidence, self-esteem, and general physical health all have positive correlative relationships with increased physical activity. This doesn’t just mean time on a treadmill—find an activity that’s right for you, and practice it this year.

 

EATING

Most resolutions around consumption habits carry a negative connotation: stop doing that, cut this out. This is where feelings of shame can intrude when we fail. Instead, it’s more constructive to put a positive spin on these resolutions. This strategy can mean replacing rather than removing; for example, replace a bag of chips with a fruit and vegetable. This sounds bland and obvious, but there are lots of ways to make this an enjoyable change. Take a look at your eating habits, and work out a personalized plan to rearrange your diet based on your needs and goals.

 


This Christmas, think about what it means to give

It’s said that Christmas is a time of giving. This is true: the holiday season falls at year’s end, when we are awash with the promise of a new year and the endeavours of an old one behind us. We want to give; we want to end the year on a high note. And giving is one of the most rewarding and encouraging things we can do. Life was not meant to be lived in solitude—it’s best when it’s shared.

At Christmas time, this giving traditionally takes the form of gifts, tokens of our affection and gratitude and love. This exchange is also almost exclusive to intimate relationships. It’s rare that we will give gifts to those with whom we don’t have a connection. But, as observed by the likes of The Grinch, the season has a tendency to lend itself to avarice and unfettered consumerism.

Rather than lean into these, we should focus on the fact that Christmas offers an opportunity to contribute beyond your circle of loved ones, in ways that are potentially more valuable and impactful. When we think of how we can help folks who need it most, we tend to think of bringing someone food or dropping a bit of change in their cup. While these are good gestures, there are many other ways to give this Christmas. Consider the following this holiday season.

Give The Necessities

When we think of frontline giving, we think of money or food, but there are other, harder-to-come-by necessities that these offerings can be coupled with. Consider purchasing or donating clothing items, like wool socks, long underwear, or winter outerwear: boots, coats, toques, mittens, etc. Approach these interactions with sensitivity and warmth and patience—give your time, too. Get to know the people in your community and your city who might need help. Perhaps you can help arrange lodging, or employment. There are many ways to give.

 

Volunteer

Giving your time extends to volunteering. There are plenty of ways to do this, each with a different focus, and depending on your community, needs will be different. Get in touch with your surroundings to see where your efforts would be best directed: at the soup kitchen, at the shelter, at the overdose prevention clinic, at the safe injection site. There are folks at each who will be happy to receive your time and your companionship this Christmas.


Donate

If your holidays are too crammed to spend much time away from family, donating to charitable organizations is a simple and effective way to give to those in need. Once again, the needs of your community will vary from place to place, so do some reading beforehand to see where money is needed most. Some programs receive plenty of funding and community support, while others struggle, week over week, to stay afloat. Focus your donating on these places.


Lobby and Organize

Giving need not be limited to a three-week period in December of each year. You can give year-round with your voice, which you can lend to causes that too often are voiceless. Strike up dialogues with your municipal, provincial, and federal representatives, and remind them of the importance of considering, caring for, and giving to people who are experiencing homelessness, addiction, and other issues. Vocally support policies and funding that would further these causes. This work is crucial, and—coupled with other tactics—suggests a generosity of spirit befitting of the Christmas season.


How to approach ‘National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women’ in the workplace

December usually marks a time of frivolity and cheer, but like November before it, the month also brings with it a time of solemn and painful remembrance. Each year, December 6 marks the anniversary of the mass shooting at Montreal’s École Polytechnique in 1989. 14 women were murdered during the shooting, which was carried out by a radicalized anti-feminist Quebecois man who died by suicide at the scene. A note from the shooter identified feminism as the source of the shooter’s rage.

 

Two years later, in 1991, Member of Parliament Dawn Black introduced a bill to dub December 6 ‘National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.’ The bill passed, and for the past 27 years, the date has marked a solemn, traumatic, and critical recognition of violence against women in Canada.

With the violence at the Polytechnique mass shooting, as with most attacks that target women (like the murders carried out by Elliot Rodger in California in 2014, or Alek Minassian’s van attack in Toronto earlier this year), it is important to recognize that the violence is rooted in a belief system that subjugates women. These attacks, and their perpetrators, have been steeped in misogyny at its most violent and grotesque forms.

But of course, misogyny in any form is violent and grotesque, and the ideas that lead to these attacks are present more often than we might think. Perhaps they’re whispered or veiled, or presented as a joke. Whatever the case, if we are to remember and respect the violence of December 6, 1989, we have to confront these attitudes wherever they appear.

This includes in the office, and offices—spaces historically dominated by men and masculinity—are a place where power structures can make it difficult to effectively challenge and uproot misogyny. For example, if a boss uses misogynistic language or jokes, it creates an accepted dynamic that employees are less inclined to confront (lest they suffer professional repercussions).

Effective eradication of misogyny in the workplace begins from the top-down, an essential framework for creating an office culture that is respectful, inclusive, and non-violent. A common and frequently-heard counter to this is when individuals lament the rise of an ‘ultra-politically-correct’ culture in the office. But it’s typically a lament for a time when one could crack jokes at the expense of others, or make belittling comments to coax a chuckle out of a deskmate. Expressing dismay over attitudes becoming too ‘politically-correct’ is, in those cases, equal to mourning one’s inability to be openly sexist. A coworker’s personal comfort and dignity is more important than a joke or a word. If these need to be erased, it’s a small price to pay.

Even this might seem trivial: surely a joke here and there has nothing to do with the sort of extremist violence that played out at Polytechnique. But the two are inextricably linked. Language shapes attitudes and views, so when we employ words—even in jest—that degrade women, the idea behind it trickles through. Diligence and respect with words is the first step towards diligence and respect in all aspects.

At the heart of sexism and misogyny is an utter lack of respect that hurtles towards increasingly toxic rhetoric. The only way to erase these attitudes is to stop them where they start.

 


Exam Season Strategies to Maintain Your Mental Health

With the first semester of the school year coming to a close, there’s one final obstacle that remains, separating you from a peaceful holiday respite with family or friends: the dreaded exam season.

Depending on your major, you might find yourself facing a series of multiple-choice exams or a number of essays with daunting word count requirements.

Don’t fear: if this is your first pass through the gauntlet, know that with a bit of hard work and organization, you’ll emerge victorious. If it’s not your first, even more reason to be rest assured: you’ve conquered the syllabi before and can do so again.

It’s no secret that exam season can be overwhelming for students, including those that haven’t reached post-secondary education yet. Many schools have begun adopting approaches to planning increased mental health service availability based on their arrival. Take advantage of these resources if you need them – they’ll help make sure that you get through your exams and be stronger for it. Here are some other tips and tricks that’ll make sure you can head into your post-exam holiday with some swagger in your step:

Healthy Body = Healthy Mind

In the quest to conquer our exams, we sometimes take a single-minded approach to studying and neglect the thing that matters most: our health. Late-night cram sessions, fueled by Red Bull and Snickers Bars isn’t a recipe for success, it’s a recipe for sleeping in past your exam time with a stomach ache, to boot.

Structure your exam studying schedule so that it accommodates meal times and short breaks for a workout.  Consider getting even a bit of exercise right before the exam: a study has shown that 20 minutes of activity beforehand can boost test scores. Similarly, there’s a link between food quality and student test scores. So trade in that chocolate bar for some baby carrots. Your body will thank you and your mind will too.

Don’t Go it Alone: Get a Study Buddy

When exams are upon us, it’s easy to transition into a survival mode where we’re so focused on getting ourselves through this that we forget that there are dozens of others in our classes in the same spot as us. There’s strength (and smarts) in numbers: recruit a classmate or organize/find a study group to boost your chances of acing the test.

Some of the benefits: you both can motivate the other to stay on top of studying, you can divide and conquer different parts of the course materials and teach it to each other, they can more objectively judge whether your answer is right or wrong and you can rely on each other to make sure you don’t miss the exam! Not to mention, the isolation of studying alone can be stressful. With a study buddy, you’ve got a partner to fight the loneliness and perhaps, a new friend.

Find Your Zen Place

You know that person that claims they’re constantly studying but when you find them at the library, they’re either on Facebook or chatting away to someone across from them? That’s not a model that you want to emulate. When it comes to studying, channel your Zen focus by finding a good place to study, ignoring distractions and avoiding multitasking. In a study from the University of Connecticut, students that multitasked while doing homework ultimately did their work for longer and achieved lower grades.

Responding to a new notification on your phone might seem harmless but distractions can really hurt your studying regime. Once distracted, on average, your brain needs 25 minutes to get back to the task at hand.

Your best bet is to put your phone on silent, find a quiet place to study and if you lack the discipline to police yourself, consider installing an app to block you from browsing the web while in study mode.

All Work and No Play is No Fun

From the immortal words of Park and Recreation’s Donna, its important to “treat yo self”. In this case, treating yourself doesn’t necessarily mean rampant consumerism but instead, giving yourself permission to take a break and enjoy yourself, whether that’s going out with friends, playing a video game, watching a movie or taking a nap. According to the Atlantic, the optimal formula for productivity is 52 minutes of work and 17 minutes for break. Obviously, not all activities can be accomplished in 17 minutes but budget your time responsibly and you’ll achieve a good study/life balance.

Try also saving your social media consumption for your breaks – it’ll help you keep your Zen-mind for studying and you’ll feel better with that many more notifications to respond to.

Your Mental Health is More Important than the Exam

We’ve saved the most important tip for last: never think that this exam matters more than your wellbeing. It’s tragic that suicides tend to spike in exam periods and good, young lives are lost to the stress of questions on a paper. Yes, they can determine your academic success but they’re by no means definitive or final. You can always retake a class, seek an exemption or work with your school’s mental health services to find an accommodation. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone, whether that’s your professor, classmate or mental health service provider and develop a plan to take control of your mental health.

 


Work Holiday Parties: How to Navigate the Season Like a Professional

With this year coming soon to a close and 2019 waiting in the wings, the season of the work holiday party is upon us. It’s a time to unwind and celebrate your achievements together, all usually at your employer’s expense.

On average, we spend 40 hours a week with our colleagues, for a grand total of 2,087 hours a year. Compare that number to a British study of 2,000 families that found the average time spent with family, “undistracted”, weekly, was just over 6 hours and you’ll start to wonder if the concept of the “work family” is really such a stretch.

With all that considered, how we present ourselves – and how we’re perceived by our coworkers – matters. This is especially true of holiday celebrations, where a lowering of workplace formalities and the introduction of alcohol into the mix can either be great for office or shop morale or a recipe for poor decisions.

In today’s blog, we’ll provide you with some helpful tips that’ll help you plan and/or navigate your workplace holiday festivities like a professional.

Celebrate Diversity

For many employers, the end of the year party is often billed as the “Christmas Party”. While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the holiday, it’s important to be mindful of your workplace’s diversity of cultures and religions in doing so.

That means making sure the party doesn’t focus on religious elements associated with the holiday that could make your colleagues from different backgrounds uncomfortable. Stick to decorations and themes that celebrate the seasonal and secular elements and substitute the nativity scene for a nutcracker. This will help ensure that your party is inclusive and doesn’t alienate anyone in attendance.

At the same time, make sure that your catering options accommodate different dietary restrictions. Include vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal options and make sure to also accommodate those with allergy restrictions as well.

Alcohol: Keep Within Your Limit

The cliché of one-too-many drinks at the office holiday party is one because it’s a mistake committed far-too-often. There’s no easier way to tarnish a good year and reputation with colleagues than to imbibe past your limit and to say things that you may not remember but will most certainly regret. There are a number of strategies to handling libations, including imposing a two-drink limit, subbing in water every other drink or most effective, leave the drinking for another time. That way, you’ll wake up with a clear head and an unburdened mind.

Another important alcohol related note to consider: if you’re drinking at the party, don’t drive. There’s no better way to ruin your career, your life and potentially, someone else’s than by getting a DUI and not showing up for work the next morning. Many employers today offer taxi-chits for employees to get home. Besides looking after their employees, there’s a good reason to do so: employers could be held liable for overserving employees at parties.

 

Keep Conversation Light and Cheery

One of the joys of the workplace holiday party is enjoying a holiday party with a minimal focus on the workplace. You have the next day or the Monday after to discuss the finer points of the new report or project – this is a time to connect with your colleagues and learn more about them and let them know about what you’re passionate about.

Keeping things light and cheery also means avoiding meanspirited gossip. Avoid talking negatively about another colleague, the party or something related to your job. Not only will this keep people merry and in festive spirits, but you’ll also be able to steer clear being labelled a holiday Grinch and have it come back to haunt you like it did to Mr. Scrooge.

Show Up and Know When to Leave

You might be thinking, “I could avoid all of these potential pitfalls and problems if I just skip the party”. While you could stay home, you might want to think again about whether you’re really playing it safe. Many companies look at events like these as mandatory – unless you have a valid reason, like a religious holiday conflict or a prior obligation, you’ll miss out on establishing stronger bonds with your bosses and colleagues. In turn, this could potentially affect your social relationships and ultimately, your career.

In terms of timing, don’t arrive too early or party too late.  Too early and you might aggravate those setting up (or get enlisted into doing the job yourself) and too late and you might overstay your welcome and running afoul of tip #2. Stay for the speeches and toasts and find an appropriate time to leave after you say your goodbyes.

Conclusion

There are plenty of other strategies to handling the holidays gracefully. Employ them so that you stay employed, just the same!