Improve Positive Body Image

January 9, 2017 • Written by

bodypositiveDo you find yourself overly concerned with how you look? Are you interested in discussing the pressure to look a certain way? Would you like to connect with other students who are also ready to talk about this topic, sharing some tea and snacks?  If so, then I invite you to attend “The Body Project” at EDC on Monday, January 23 & 30 from 5:30-7:30 pm.

Check out the poster, with details here: body-image-poster-20172d11796657-today-man-body-image-140227_today-inline-large

By registering you will be welcome to attend two separate two hour sessions at The Roblin Centre, EDC. You’ll engage in discussions and participate in activities that are meant to help you feel more positive about your body. All students of all genders are welcome. You can register by emailing or calling 204-632-2061. You’ll be asked a couple of questions to make sure this is the right group for you.

Back in November, some RRC students and staff were trained to become facilitators of The Body Project, an evidence based eating disorder prevention and body image improvement program. You can learn more about the program, which is running at many Canadian and American College and University campuses, here. The Projector also wrote a piece on the program, called “Embody Positivity” here.


Making Room for Mental Health in Your Resolutions

January 3, 2017 • Written by

happy-new-yearHow you plan to make your 2017 awesome? If you’re like most people, you will have a few resolutions on your mind. Even those of us who roll our eyes at the thought of New Year’s resolutions, can’t help but have a few intentions swirling around our brains.thk8gjfapa

Some of the most common resolutions are losing weight, quitting smoking, and paying off debt. But, this isn’t your average new year’s resolution post. Yes, we could talk about setting SMART goals (but, CAMH has already done that well here). Or we could talk focusing on contentment (but, has done that beautifully here). Instead, I’d like to talk about remembering our mental health in amongst all of these goals/resolutions/intentions or whatever other word we affix to our desire for change.

There are some pretty toxic forms of self-talk that surround resolutions. Two of these are, “Anyone should be able to…,” and “There are no excuses.” Let’s take a look at each of these and see why they are not realistic or healthy statements to say to ourselves.

“Anyone should be able to…” This statement is deeply invalidating of our unique experience. Just because we all have 24 hours in the day, it does not mean that we have the same amount of responsibilities or that we have the same values and priorities. I often hear this statement in relation to finding time for exercise or cooking meals at home. It’s usually followed by a judgmental statement like, “it’s not that hard” or “if you really want to.thoughts-3

When we internalize this statement and hear it repeated as our own self-talk, it becomes a problem. What help is it to me if “anyone can do it?” That matters not. What matters is how I, in my unique circumstance, with my unique schedule and responsibilities and values and priorities am going to find the time. An impersonal and judgmental statement such as “anyone should be able to…” fills me with shame if I am, in fact, unable to do that thing. The implication is that the only reason one can’t, is pure laziness. Repeatedly telling yourself that you’re lazy and unable to meet a standard that “anyone should be able to,” is negative self-talk and is bad for our mental health.

So, instead of thinking about the grand anyone, think about how you, individual you, can reach your goal. And first, most importantly, make sure the goal has truly been chosen by you. Sure, anyone could probably craft themselves a visible set of abs with intense exercise and diet, but that’s not my goal. I don’t give a fig, personally, for that goal. It’s someone else’s goal. My goal is to cycle twice a week and practice yoga twice a week. That’s my goal. Just mine, it’s absolutely immaterial whether or not anyone else should be able to do that or not.

Making sure my goal is my own and avoiding comparisons to what anyone else should be able to do, is much better for my mental health.

“There are no excuses.” This statement implies that anything that gets in the way of achieving a goal is chosen by the person themselves as a way to get out of the work involved in the goal. It’s usually said to shame people into sticking to rigid schedules that probably weren’t realistic for them in the first place. What you’re really saying to yourself when you repeat this self-talk, is that any failure to comply fully to the details of your plan is a personal choice borne out of laziness. This is the opposite of motivating. This is self-degrading.

So, instead of shaming yourself by internalizing the “no excuses” self talk, think about the very real barriers to achieving your goals and think of realistic strategies to overcome these. If I set a goal to read every evening before bed, but I find that after lying with my kids while they fall asleep, I become too tired, is this an excuse? Or is it a very real barrier to my goal? Is simply repeating the shaming statement, “there are no excuses”, going to help me? No, it only serves to diminish my mental health by making me feel lazy and unproductive.

Feeling badly about oneself is not, in fact, motivating. It’s paralyzing. Would it not be 393ae7eed94b9adeec34626d78ecc152better for me to rearrange my routine, finding a way to overcome the barrier? Maybe I could find a better time to read. Maybe I could try sitting up in my kids’ bed instead of lying down so that I don’t crash with them. There are ways to reach my goal, but repeating a phrase like “no excuses” will not help.

During this time of resolutions, goals, and intentions, I urge you to pay attention to your self-talk. Ask yourself if the self-talk swirling around your head is good for your mental health. Ask yourself if it’s truly your voice or if it’s in fact someone else’s voice. Ask yourself if it’s actually helping you reach your goal, or simply making you feel shameful, lazy, and down.

If your self-talk is not serving you well, change it. Your mental health will improve, and you will be more likely to reach your goals.


Mindful Ways Through the Holidays

December 21, 2016 • Written by

th01di7dl5With the holiday season upon us, there are some common stressors that many people face.

Jennifer Wolkin, over at lists these as experiences through which many people struggle:

1.Demands on Time

2. Loneliness During the Holidays

3. Expectations of Perfection

4.The Indulge/Guilt Cycle

5. Stress and Family Anxiety

She provides some thoughts on these as well as “mindful antidotes.” Mindfulness is simply the process of training the brain to be aware of the present moment. I encourage you to take a read through the full article: 5 Mindful Tips for Navigating Holiday Stress. 

Best wishes for a peaceful and healthy holiday season!


‘Tis the Season for Stress

December 5, 2016 • Written by

holiday-season-2014As if the holiday season is not stressful enough in and of itself, many students will also be writing exams and completing major assignments in the coming weeks.  What makes these events so stressful? Well, I’ve heard stress described as your body’s reaction to any demand on it requiring change. This definition resonates with me because it can be applied to both positive life events (eg. new job, loved ones visiting from out of town) and negative life events (eg. losing a pet, unexpected bills).

The holiday season brings a lot of changes to our routine. We usually have more events to attend. We spend time with people who we don’t often see. Some people cook elaborate meals, decorate their homes, or purchase numerous gifts for friends and family. Even if you’re someone who loves these types of traditions, finding the time, money, and energy to participate can cause a great deal of stress.

stressAdd to this that many students have multiple exams and final projects due this month, and you have a recipe for difficulties. Even when stress is caused by positive changes, too much at once, or ineffective coping can lead to decreased ability to function and even burnout.

So how can you help yourself thrive throughout this time of year?


The AAAbc Model

A few years back I was introduced to the AAAbc model of managing stress. The timing could not have been better as I was 1. selling and buying a home, 2. starting a new position at work, and 3. seven months pregnant! I really found this model helpful in coping through that stressful time and I’d like to share it with you.

First, you define your stressor. Choose just one and write it at the top of a page. It might be:

  • Too many presents to buy and not enough money!
  • So many exams!
  • Seeing (insert name of critical family member here) at holiday dinners.

Next set up your page like the photo example below:.aaabc1

Alter: How could direct communication help? Is there any problem solving work you could do? Would organizing help? How about planning or time management?

Think about each of these questions and jot down some of your options in this situation. Write all your options down, even if you don’t think it’s a great option or something you’d be comfortable doing. This is just a brainstorm. You’ll decide what options are best when you’re done all of your brainstorming.

Avoid: Could you just walk away? What could you let go of? What could you delegate and to whom? What can you say “no” to? Choosing your battles and knowing your limits, could you withdraw?

Once again, jot down all your options, even if you don’t think they’re great options.

Accept and…

Build resistance: Could you take in better nutrition? Better sleep? Seek social support? Take a break to recharge? Pray or engage in other spiritual traditions/rituals? Would some time in nature help? Some exercise? Some time doing something you love to do?  Could you use positive self-talk? Are there unhealthy habits you I could stop?

Change perspective: Could you look at the situation in a different way? Are you exaggerating anything? Could you change your thinking to something more realistic? Could you think about the big picture? Could you focus on now and not the future?

Jot down the options that come to mind.



Now look over all the options you’ve come up with and decide on a strategy to try out. If you have trouble deciding, bring your sheet to a trusted friend or a counsellor. They’ll likely be able to listen and help you choose a path forward. In my example below, I’ve placed a check mark beside and underlined in read the options I have decided choose.


Each stressful situation is different and each of us has a different personality and life circumstance, so there is no one right way to handle stress. Working through a system like this, however, can help us feel less overwhelmed by our stressors and more capable of coping in a healthy way.

I hope you try it out this season!


P.S. The AAAbc’s of Stress model was designed by Whole Person Associates.


Winter Blues?

November 28, 2016 • Written by

15292647_10157961251360601_402230977_oThis time of year, the shortened days and chilly temperatures can take a toll on our mental health. Less daylight, more time spent indoors, and less physical activity can lead to a case of the winter blues. Many people report having less energy, experiencing lower mood, and having more intense food cravings during our long, cold winters.

There are things we can do, however, to help promote good mental health. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get outside during daylight hours. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, the light and air will help.
  • Exercise regularly. Whether indoors or outdoors, regular exercise boosts your mood and energy levels. Movement of any kind helps. Check out on Campus recreational services.
  • Connect with friends. Make a point of spending time with people with whom you can chat, laugh, or be active.
  • Develop good sleep habits. Whenever possible, go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Leave smartphones and tablets in another room.
  • Eat a balanced diet. We tend to crave carbs more in the winter, so make sure you’re still eating some veggies and fruit daily.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sometimes, the seasonal change can trigger the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a treatable mental health condition. SAD is a type of Clinical Depression that is related to changes in the seasons. SAD symptoms that are specific to Winter depression are:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

(Mayo Clinic, 2014)

If you’re feeling low for days at a time, have thoughts of suicide, or are using alcohol/drugs to cope, see your doctor or Counselling services.

Getting Better

1765Treatments for SAD can include medication, talk therapy, and light therapy. Light therapy involves sitting near a special lamp so that you’re exposed to bright light. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.

In Winnipeg, light therapy lamps can be rented from the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba. In addition, two branches of the Winnipeg Public Library have light therapy stations for public use.

If you’re feeling winter blues, whether it’s SAD or not, please reach out to someone you trust and talk about it.





What is Mental Health Anyway?

November 14, 2016 • Written by

I want to write a bit about the concept of mental health and I’d like to do so in such a way that avoids dry definitions, focusing instead on a more personal perspective.

Mental health to me is:

  • not happiness alone, but instead, the ability to feel a wide range of emotions;
  • clarity and accuracy of thought and perception;
  • the ability to cope with everyday stressors;
  • feeling integrated into a community or communities, giving and receiving support as needed;
  • feeling a sense of meaning and purpose.

Good mental health supports me to engage in meaningful daily activities like working, socializing, studying, and parenting. When any piece of my mental health is poor, I’m not able to fully engage in these activities and this serves as a sign to me that I need to take extra care of myself.

When I feel that pesky tickle in my throat, indicating a cold is coming on, I drink extra fluids and go to bed early. It’s similar with my mental health. Feeling lonely, confused, perpetually grouchy, or disconnected from meaning and people are some of the signs, like that tickle in my throat, that I have to take some extra care of my health.

My personal definition of mental health is only one perspective. I’m excited to bring other perspectives to you through this blog. Perhaps hearing about how I conceptualize mental health can lead to some personal reflection for you.

Think about what mental health is to you.

Think about what activities in your life are supported by good mental health.

Think about what signs indicate that you need to take some extra care of your mental health.

I’d love to hear what you come up with!




The Body Project: Searching for Student Volunteers

November 8, 2016 • Written by

We know that physical appearance, including the shape and size of one’s body, is of much concern in popular culture. We don’t have to look far before finding ads, editorials, and images encouraging us to change our bodies in some way. They tell us to Lose weight! Tone your tummy! Shrink your thighs! Remove unwanted body hair! and Get rid of wrinkles!

These messages, among other factors, contribute to the development of body dissatisfaction and even eating disorders. Eating disorders are chronic, serious mental health disorders that drastically impair one’s ability to function in life and cause major emotional and physical distress. Although there are effective treatments for eating disorders, prevention is a priority.


About The Body Project

The Body Project is a body-acceptance program that helps college students resist cultural pressures to conform to the ideal standard of female beauty and reduce their pursuit of unrealistic bodies. The Body Project is supported by more research than any other body image program and has been found to reduce onset of eating disorders.

The program is meant to be offered in 4 one-hour sessions, which include facilitated discussions, activities, and homework assignments. A peer-reviewed long-term efficacy trial found the following:

“…participants in the…intervention showed a significantly lower risk for onset of clinically significant eating pathology relative to assessment-only controls (6% versus 15%), which amounts to a 60% reduction… These results suggest that for every 100 young women who complete this intervention, approximately 9 fewer should show onset of eating pathology” (Stice et. al. 2008).

RRC Invited to Facilitator Training

The College, along with Women’s Health Clinic and University of Manitoba, has been invited to take part in a two day facilitator training so that we can offer The Body Project to students. Four staff are set to attend, but we need students to join us and train as peer facilitators.

Training Details

Below is our flyer with some details as to how a student would get involved:


We appreciate your help in getting the word out to students who may be interested in this opportunity!



Your New Mental Health Coordinator: Breanna Sawatzky

November 8, 2016 • Written by

Hello, I’m Breanna Sawatzky, your new Mental Health Coordinator! I’m so thrilled to be tasked with promoting positive mental health for students, staff, and faculty here at RRC. This is just my third week in the position, yet so many people have welcomed me, helping me feel at ease. I’d like to tell you a bit about myself and what I bring to the Mental Health Coordinator role.

I’ve always been interested in factors that contribute to human suffering and human flourishing. These interests led me to major in Psychology at the University of Winnipeg. During my studies I volunteered with Klinic Community Health Centre’s Crisis and Sexual Assault Crisis programs, providing person centered counselling, advocacy, and support based on an empowerment model.

I earned my honours B.A. in Psychology and worked as a Research Assistant in Psychiatry at Health Sciences Centre and the University of Manitoba. There I was privileged to interact with many people who were experiencing severe and persistent Mental Illness, some in recovery and some still grappling with unbearable symptoms.

After my research work, I served as a Mental Health Skills Teaching Specialist with the YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg’s Learning and Leisure Centre. There I facilitated skill development groups, conducted one-on-one coaching sessions, and led therapeutic recreation activities with adults who had experienced mental illness and needed a supportive community to help them in their recovery. I was later the Director of that program and then Manager of Community Outreach at the Y.

I strongly believe in collaboration and have worked with several groups who are committed to mental health promotion and recovery. Some are the MANSO Health Committee; WRHA Mental Health Advisory Council; and Provincial Recovery Champions Committee.

I’m passionate about knowledge translation and participatory decision making, where service users drive service design. I know that a lot of work has gone into the Healthy Minds, Healthy College Charter and strategy up to this point. I’m so excited to start implementing programming to ensure RRC is a health promoting College.


On a personal note, I live in St. James with my husband and two children (6 and 3 years old). We love to spend time at Assiniboine Park throughout all four seasons. An awesome book club and regular yoga practice help me stay well and balanced. My family also volunteers with Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council‘s host matching program. We have been matched with a large Syrian family (they have 8 children!) who arrived in Winnipeg as refugees.



I’m excited to use Mind it! to highlight the many ways we each care for our mental health, cope with challenges, and form supportive communities. I welcome guest blog posts, so please contact me with your insights, experiences, and suggestions. Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe to this blog!

You can find me in AB05 at NDC and wherever my duties take me.

I thank you for reading this and I hope to see you around campus!


How I Happy

October 5, 2016 • Written by

Republished with permission from Cassandra Cardy, a student in Red River College Creative Communications program.

I dipped low this summer. I have dipped before in my life and usually justified the feelings of sadness and guilt with hormones or growing up.

I got up, left the house without saying goodbye to anyone like I was doing every day, and I got into my car.

I didn’t know where I was going but I had a phone number my friend gave me a couple weeks ago and I couldn’t live with myself another day. I don’t like saying “myself” because from February-August I was not myself. In fact, what I was experiencing was a deep longing for my old self. I missed her. I missed her like I missed a dead person, like she was never coming back. I don’t know how, when or why she left.

I drove down the highway toward town with nowhere to go. No desires. No wants. No purpose. Nothing was making me want to do this again tomorrow. There was no point to any of this.

I pulled into the truck stop I drive by every day for 20 years and parked in the foreign parking lot with semis and road-trippers using the bathroom.

I call the number for a mental health nurse my friend gave me. It rang and it rang and her friendly voice came on at the end and said to leave a message. I rested my head on the steering wheel.

Forty-five minutes later I was in Brandon putting a Toonie in a parking meter. I stepped around the smeared tent caterpillars on the sidewalk while walking to the downtown clinic.

I walked passed the brochures on suicide and abortion. I walked passed the pile of sticky Home Sense Magazine on the coffee table waiting room. A lady’s head stuck out from behind the admin counter and when she looked at me from over her glasses I began to sob.

“I need help.”

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