We’ve all heard it a million times — exercise is good for us. But not only do our muscles benefit when we hit the gym or go for a run, exercise also does wonders for our brain and our mental health.
One of the biggest reasons for this is because exercise and sleep are the only two things that help our bodies rid themselves of the hormone cortisol, which causes us to feel stressed. Exercise also pushes positive endorphins through our brains and this helps alleviate feelings of depression.
“Since students are often running low on sleep, exercise is even more important for getting the cortisol out of their system,” says Tessa Blaikie, youth mental health promotions worker at the Canadian Mental Health Association Winnipeg. “Exercise also promotes sleep because it tires us out, making it more likely we’ll have a restful night.”
But between papers, projects and presentations, let’s be honest, how many of us have time to regularly hit the gym?
Fortunately, the gym is just one place where we can get the exercise we need. Research shows it only takes about 10 minutes of moving our bodies before our brains release those positive endorphins. So whether it’s taking several flights of stairs, getting off the bus a few stops early or parking the car across the parking lot and walking, it will still benefit your mental health.
Another bonus of being active is how it can sharpen our mental focus. This is why taking breaks during study sessions for physical activity can actually end up increasing our productivity and ability to absorb information.
“When you’re at a point where you’re re-reading the same page in your textbook, it’s better to go for a walk, do some jumping jacks, run around the block — anything to get you moving so when you come back, your brain is ready to learn,” says Tessa.
Even taking a break to laugh with friends can improve our ability to focus. How come? Because laughing is a form of exercise! Studies show laughing for 15 minutes a day can help you burn about 15 to 40 calories.
So, next time you find yourself falling asleep in your textbook, don’t feel guilty about taking a break to catch up with friends at the Cave or in the Atrium. But just keep in mind that it’s only a break…
How does physical activity help your concentration? Let us know in the comment section below!
Faye Armstrong is a life coach based in Winnipeg who is passionate about living life to the fullest and helping others do the same. For a little motivation or to learn more about personal coaching, visit www.fayeaarmstrong.com
Before I started the Creative Communications program at Red River College, I asked for advice from some friends who had taken the course before me. I got three gems of wisdom: don’t hand in your assignments late, quit your part time job and dump your boyfriend. I managed to handle the first one (for the most part) but I took the other two with a grain of salt and figured, I’ve got this.
I mean, was I really going to be that busy with school that those other areas of my life would suffer? The short answer is yes, I was. Balancing classes, assignments, friends, the boyfriend, work and life in general was a bit of a challenge.
As a life coach, a lot of my clients struggle with achieving balance in the busyness of life. Whether it’s school-life balance or work-life balance, it can be tough to find that happy place between getting stuff done and still enjoying life while you’re at it. And to be honest, there’s no magic formula, but there are a few things you can do to keep things in check.
1. Determine what balance means for you
Lately we hear so much about “finding balance”, it can start to lose meaning. Balance means different things to different people, so instead of making “balance” your goal, figure out exactly what you want to feel and experience in your life. Do you want to have more fun? Do you want more passion? To feel more accomplished? Like a good friend? More spiritually connected? Identify the feelings that translate to what your vision of happiness is, and then find ways to experience those feelings each day- even if it’s in a small way.
2. Schedule time for yourself
Make yourself a priority. Just like you would schedule time to finish an assignment, catch up with a friend or pick up a shift at work, set a specific time for you to recharge. To use a bit of a strange analogy but one that works nonetheless, think about why flight attendants always tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you go helping the people around you.
Self-care is an important part of reaching your goals. If you want to be a better student, employee, friend — whatever it is that you want to be — if you don’t take care of yourself and spread yourself too thin, you end up doing a disservice to yourself and those around you by not being able to give your best.
3. Assess and re-assess
Chances are, there isn’t going to be one set schedule that you can come up with that will forever help you achieve perfect balance in your life. It’s good to have a routine, but there are going to be days when your friend really needs you to be there, when you need to lock yourself in a room and get into major homework mode, or when you need to take a time-out for yourself. Know what your priorities are and realize that those priorities might shift and flux as life tends to.
Also keep in mind that as you move through different phases of your life, your priorities will probably change too. Balance isn’t so much a destination to work towards, as it is a state of being, and it takes work to stay in that state. Check in with yourself every once in awhile to re-evaluate your priorities and how you’re doing in keeping your life aligned with those.
College is all about learning — some of it inside the classroom, and some of it through the life experiences you will have throughout your time here. Consider the hectic schedules, friend drama, heartbreak, excitement and everything else you have on the go as a crash-course in learning the fine art of life balance. And when all else fails, take a deep breath and remember: you’ve got this.
With so many things demanding our attention these days, its wishful thinking for many of us to get six let alone eight hours of sleep at night.
But the benefits of regular sleep, from concentration to memory, are hard to beat — and no, caffeine isn’t a substitute!
Dr. Russel Foster is a circadian neuroscientist in Oxford, England and studies the complicated intricacies of sleep and brain functioning. In his TED talk presentation Why do we sleep? he says one of the biggest problems is that society doesn’t value sleep and that large segments of the population are sleep-deprived.
Watch his TED talk for more insight into why we need sleep or read some of the highlights from his talk below.
- The average person will spend 36 per cent of their life asleep. If you live to be 90-years-old, you will have spent 32 years sleeping!
- In the 1950s, people were getting an average of 8 hours of sleep. In 2013, the average person was getting about 6.5 hours with many people clocking just 5 hours of sleep a night.
- At some point in their life, 31 per cent of drivers will have fallen asleep at the wheel due to sleep deprivation. Scary!
- People who get 5 hours or less of sleep every night are 50 per cent more likely of being obese.
Why do we sleep?
Studies have found that sleep enhances our creativity and our ability to process information and problem solve. In fact, some areas of the brain are more active during the sleep stage than during the awake stage!
Sleep deprivation can lead to
- poor memory
- poor judgment
- worsen symptoms of mental health issues
How to tell if you’re sleep-deprived
- if you take a long time to get up in the morning (think about how many times you hit the snooze button)
- need lots of stimulants throughout the day to stay awake
- grumpy, irritable
- your classmates, colleagues or friends tell you that you look tired
Tips for improved sleep
- try not to have any caffeine after lunch
- reduce your amount of light exposure 30 minutes before heading to bed (turn off your phone and computers)
- make your room as dark as possible
- ensure the temperature in your room is cool
Trying to find balance as a student can feel impossible. There are so many demands academically and personally that we often feel that we can’t keep up. Between class, homework and work, who has time for anything else?
Well, chances are if you schedule 20-30 minutes a few times a week to talk with a friend, get yourself organized or engage in some positive talk, it could do a world of good. Even if you don’t think you can fit it in, doing so could mean that you start to feel less stressed.
It’s OK to say “No”. Take inventory of the commitments you have going on. Is there anything you can take a break from while you’re a student? Can you negotiate household responsibilities with other family members when you’re particularly busy? How about letting your friends know that there will be times coming up that you will be less available?
Setting boundaries can be difficult for some people, but it’s perfectly OK to do. It will help take some of the pressure off your shoulders so you can focus on doing your best in school.
Talk to someone
Don’t let feelings of fear, anxiety or depression keep you silent – reach out and talk to someone. Phone a friend, talk to a classmate, meet with a counsellor — whatever you need to do to get things off your chest. Whether its to vent frustration, identify solutions, get perspective and feel connected, talking can be a means to all of these things.
In whatever way works for you, get organized. It will take some time right off the hop, but it’s well worth it. With all your different classes and projects, your life is only going to get busier and more complicated as the semester goes on. Having some sort of system will help you feel more in control.
Practice positive self-talk
Are you having helpful conversations in your head or unhelpful ones? Negative thinking will likely increase your stress and anxiety. Try your best to change your negative thoughts into positive ones. For example:
- “I can’t do this, I’m going to fail.”
- “I’m never going to get everything done.”
- “What’s wrong with me, everyone else seems to get it.”
- “All I can do is try my best.”
- “Just one thing at a time.”
- “It feels like I’m the only one struggling,
but I’m sure I’m not alone.”
Ask for help
If school is the source of your stress, you may want to connect with Tutoring Services. A few sessions with a tutor working on challenging course material might help you get to where you need to be.
If personal issues are starting to interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may want to connect with Counselling and Accessibility Services. You can meet with a counsellor for a one-time appointment or on-going support.
Do you have any tips for minimizing stress during school? Share them below!
Check out this video recap of the mental health events Mind it! held on campus during the 2013/14 academic year.
In November 2013, Mind it! partnered with St. John Ambulance to put on two dog therapy events at Red River College.
Our first event was held in the Library Hallway at the Notre Dame Campus. Five certified therapy dogs and their handlers were on hand to help more than 80 people take a break from school and work. The day was a big success that saw students and staff leaving with smiles on their faces and a better idea of how taking care of our mental health can be simple, fun and as easy as petting a cute animal!
Our second dog therapy event was held in the Atrium at the Exchange District Campus.
Approximately 100 people stopped by over the course of the two-hour event to meet the pups and many more people stuck around to ask questions and find out more about mind it! and how animals can play a role in maintaining our mental health.
In October 2013, Mind It! partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association Winnipeg to bring two art therapy-inspired events to students at Red River College.
On two different days, tables in the hallways at the Notre Dame Campus and Exchange District Campus were stocked with blank canvases, paint of every colour, decorating supplies such as glitter and plastic gloves for students who felt like finger painting.
From landscapes to abstract shapes to portraits of pets and people, students spent more than two hours painting whatever they desired and chatting with friends.
Overall, it was a great way to break up the day and help everyone de-stress. After the two events were said and done, 105 blank canvases had been transformed by students, staff and others from the community who stopped by!
There’s good reason the saying, ’laughter is the best medicine’ exists. It’s because the natural link between comedy and mental health is very real. Many people with mental health issues turn their lived experience into positive, inspiring and often comical stories and important lessons for us all. Some even wind up making audiences laugh for a living — including award-winning comedian Big Daddy Tazz who paid a special visit to RRC in February 2013 at the Make Laughs! comedy show.
With a fantastic lineup of local comedians, Big Daddy Tazz as the show’s headliner and Ace Burpee as the emcee, this comedy show at RRC’s Exchange District Campus was an absolute hit! Not only did students have a great time but the event helped to increase mental health awareness on campus through Big Daddy Tazz’s performance that had the audience laughing one minute and emotional the next as he opened up about his personal struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression and suicide.
If you missed the show last year, you may get another chance to laugh it up! Planning is underway for mental health events held on campus during the 2014/15 academic year. Keep checking our events page for updates!
2 in 5 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime and about 1 in 4 Canadians will die of cancer.
In 2013, it is estimated that 187,600 Canadians will develop cancer and 75,500 will die of cancer.  April is Daffodil Month. The daffodil is considered a symbol of strength and courage by the Canadian Cancer Society. Funds raised during Daffodil Month are used to lend a helping hand for families and those receiving treatment for cancer, fund lifesaving clinical trials, advocate for cancer patients and provide access to services in your community.
For more information on Daffodil Month, check this information from the Canadian Cancer Society.
There are a number of factors that contribute to whether you are susceptible to cancer. You can help minimize your risk by:
- Quitting smoking and limiting your exposure to second hand smoke.
- Eating a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruit and fibre with little fat and sugar.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Keeping physical activity as an important part of your day with at least 30 minutes of moderate activity a day.
- Reducing your alcohol intake.
- Being safe in the sun by covering up, wearing sunglasses, using sunscreen and staying hydrated.
- Getting the right amount of Vitamin D.
- Monitoring environmental factors such as what household cleaners are being used and what residues are left behind especially if you have young infants and toddlers who spend an ample amount of time on the floor.
You know your body better than any one else as you will know what is normal for you. When cancer is found early, it is often easier to treat. Having regular checkups with your doctor will help reduce the risk of a health problem being ignored. Screening tests help find some types of cancer before you have any symptoms. Talk to your doctor to learn more about your risk of cancer and what screening tests you should have. Be sure to mention any family history of cancer.
Benefits and risks of screening:
- Better survival rates
- Better quality of life
- False positive results
- False negative results
- Increased exposure to harmful procedures
There are a number of events throughout the year all over Manitoba in support of the Canadian Cancer Society and the fight against cancer.
- Relay for Life – numerous dates based on location from May to July across the province.
- River City Dragon Boat Festival – June 6th and 7th at the Lake Shirley Water Ski Park
If you enjoy the intrinsic benefits of being a volunteer, consider supporting the Canadian Cancer Society and volunteering your time and skills to a wonderful cause. There are a variety of volunteer opportunities available.
For more information about fundraising events and to access the volunteer application form, please visit www.cancer.ca.
Many students struggle with budgeting and managing their finances while going to school. It’s a normal part of student life as not many students can pay for their education without taking out a loan or line of credit, or working at least part-time during the school year.
This can be a significant source of stress for students and certainly does nothing for our focus and concentration!
If you’re worried about your finances, here are some ideas for helping you take control of the situation so you can feel less stressed (preferably sooner than later!):
- Create a plan.
When it comes to finances, information is power. So take avoidance off the table as a coping strategy. Make a date with yourself to sit down and go over what you spent in the last month and plan a budget going forward. Force yourself to look at the hard numbers and keep in mind that money comes and goes. You will (presumably) be working and making money eventually so you can worry about the details of paying back any money you owe then. For now, you need to think about how much money you have to work with for the remainder of school.
- Enlist the help of an expert.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed going through your finances (or even just thinking about starting to), see if you can make an appointment with a financial advisor where you do your banking. Don’t be nervous — they meet with clients all day, every day so this is hardly something new for them! Just be honest about your concerns. You will likely feel much better after talking with them and coming up with a plan.
- Look into student-specific resources
. Red River College’s Student Awards and Financial Aid office offers a number of scholarships and bursaries that you may qualify for. If you don’t have a student loan already, it could be worth looking into Manitoba Student Aid (you can apply for a student loan throughout the year). Manitoba Student Aid also offers grants and loans that don’t require immediate repayment while you are a full-time student.
After trying one or all of the above, it’s a good idea to do something fun or relaxing to help reduce your stress levels. There are lots of things that you can do that don’t cost money. It can be as simple as getting some fresh air with a friend or using the fitness facilities at RRC. You can also check out the free entertainment and events happening downtown or in your area.
- Talk about it
. Don’t ignore the stress you’re feeling. The problem and your uncomfortable feelings won’t go away until you work through them. If you need some help figuring out what steps you should take first, the Counselling and Accessibilities Services can help. To book an appointment, fill out the online intake form and someone will contact you to set up an appointment.