March 25 2018
Exercise and Mental Health
20 minutes of physical exercise a day keeps the stress away
Feeling stressed, down, or anxious? Does your stress, anxiety, or mood make it challenging for you to be productive, relax and enjoy life? One easy tip recommended to improve mental health is to engage in 20 minutes of exercise a day. According to psychologist Jenny C. Yip, PsyD, ABPP, “Exercise also increases blood circulation in the brain, which is linked to improvements in mood and attention. Spending as little as 20 minutes a day on exercise can actually increase your overall productivity, and decrease energy wasted from mental stress”. Research studies have found that exercise is helpful in reducing stress, anxiety, and improving low mood. It also acts as a preventative measures against the development of mental health disorders. Research has found that exercise in addition to therapy (e.g., cognitive behavioural therapy) can have added benefits in improving mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mood disorders, and eating disorders. Daily exercise has been found to have others benefits. For instance, exercise acts to release frustration and anger, which can increases one’s tolerance in frustrating situations. Exercise alleviates muscle tension, a contributor to feelings of stress and anxiety. Releasing tension through exercise helps you feel more relaxed and less anxious. Regular exercise is also associated with increase attention and productivity, increased confidence, and better sleep, all of which can help combat against mental health. However, stats Canada reported that only 15% of Canadians achieve the recommended amount of exercise per week (150minutes/week). Consider the following to increase your weekly exercise.
Interested in fitness classes?
The RAC offers FREE fitness classes for all Ryerson students every week. Check out their website for the fitness schedule.
(Free classes are highlighted in yellow)
Interested in yoga?
The RAC offers FREE yoga classes for Ryerson students every week including Asthanga Yoga, and Wellness Yoga Flow.
(Free classes are highlighted in yellow)
Interested in a walking group?
Ryerson offers a walking group called Mood Routes that takes walks in nearby green spaces.
Feeling too stressed or busy to carve out time to exercise?
Try walking 20 minutes of the way to school instead of transiting the entire way. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go for a walk with a friend instead of sitting down for a coffee. Integrating exercise in your everyday life does not have to mean carving out gym time.
Interested further in benefits of exercise? Watch this video by Dr. Mike Evans!
March 11th 2018
Mindfulness and Mental Health
Mindfulness based interventions have begun to spread from their original Buddhist traditions into current Western mental health practice. The theoretical premise of mindfulness is that through practicing mindfulness, individuals see reductions in their reactions to unpleasant emotions and become more reflective of their experiences. These changes lead to reductions in mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness is a mental state that is characterized by a non-judgmental stance of sensations, thoughts, and external events. The individual practicing mindfulness pays attention to the present moment and encourages openness, curiosity, and acceptance. Mindfulness contrasts with the majority of our lived experiences, as we mindlessly move through the activities in our day. Alternatively, when we do choose to pay attention to our experiences, we are often reflecting on things we should have done differently and being critical of ourselves. Mindless states have been found to be harmful to mental health, which is worrisome due to the amount of time we spend being mindless. Researchers have found that mindless states are actually predictive of unhappiness. Further, being able to keep your mind on the present moment was found to be associated with better psychological well-being.
Mindfulness is a both a skill and a practice. Many individuals do not attempt mindfulness until they are in a distressing situation with a variety of mental health symptoms. Imagine trying to run a marathon without ever putting in any training runs! Mindfulness is a practice that involves multiple training runs that will prepare you for when difficult situations arise in your life. There are a variety of practices that can be used for increasing mindfulness (e.g. through sitting meditation, yoga, or other mindfulness exercises). The Ryerson Athletic Centre offers two free yoga classes for students on Wednesdays at 12:10pm and Friday at 1:00pm.
For more information visit: http://www.rec.ryersonrams.ca/ViewArticle.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=22310&ATCLID=204919891&DB_OEM_ID=22310
February 18th 2018
Have you ever heard of perfectionism? It is a personality trait that is characterized by high personal standards, as well as critical evaluations when one does not meet these high standards. Is perfectionism helpful or hurtful? This question is an on-going debate amongst researchers. It is suggested that perfectionism can be beneficial when the pursuit of high achievement is not associated with harsh self-criticism. In contrast, setting too high, potentially unattainable, standards, determining one’s self-worth based on attaining standards, and concern about rejection if unable to meet standards, can have adverse consequences.
Clinical perfectionism is proposed to be a risk factor for various mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. A recent study by Curran and Hill (2017) investigated changes in the prevalence of perfectionism from 1989 to 2016 in college students from Canada, the United States and Britain. The authors suggest three cultural shifts that may be responsible for an increase in the prevalence of perfectionism. (1) There is a greater emphasis on competitiveness, individualism, and unreasonable standards of the perfectible self. The authors explain that young individuals have become preoccupied with social comparison and are turning to materialism to perfect their lives and social media to create a ‘perfect’ public image. (2) There is a growing misconception that one’s status, wealth, and achievement is related to one’s personal value. With greater pressure to succeed comes more competition; for the best schools, programs, and jobs, making society’s expectations unattainable to the majority. (3) There is accumulating evidence that parental expectations and criticism have increased over time and that this is contributing to an increase in perfectionism. More frequently than before, parents are internalizing their children’s’ successes and failures. For instance, if the child is unable to succeed the parent interprets this to mean that they failed as a parent. As a result, parents are encouraging, if not pushing, academic success in order to secure their children a successful future. Thus, high expectations and criticism from parents can lead to children developing perfectionistic traits.
The verdict of the research study? The prevalence of perfectionism in college students was found to be increasing over time in all three countries. Of interest, there is growing research that suggests perfectionism leads to the development and maintenance of different psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorders and eating disorders. In sum, changes in society’s values over the past couple decades may be contributing to an increase in perfectionism in college student, which could be related to greater prevalence rates of other psychological disorders.
November 26th 2017
Alcohol and Mental Health
Whether you’re a craft beer connoisseur or enjoy indulging in some quality time with some quality wine, chances are that as a university student, you’ve probably encountered alcohol in some form at one time or another. While the responsible consumption of alcohol can be an enjoyable and pleasant experience, there are instances in which the usage of alcohol can take a toll on one’s mental wellness.
According to Statistics Canada, alcohol is the most common substance of abuse or dependence at 18.1%. The DSM-5 states that Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) consists of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence and can be grouped into sub classifications as mild, moderate and severe. A diagnosis of AUD includes meeting at least 2 of the 11 criteria within a 12-month period. The criteria can illustrate the problematic nature of AUD with excessive drinking, the inability to quit drinking, or social issues caused by drinking, to name a few. The severity of an AUD is based on the numerical score obtained from the criteria ranging from mild (score: 2-3), moderate (score: 4-5) and severe (score: 6+).
Further examination of research between Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) suggests that there may be a casual correlation between the two disorders. The analysis found that the initial presence of either disorders can double the risk of developing the second disorder. However, the prevalence of developing AUD first and subsequently developing depression is more probable (Boden and Fergusson, 2011). This is hypothesized to be caused by the potential neurological and metabolic alterations due to excessive alcohol exposure (Boden and Fergusson, 2011). Therefore, current research is pointing to the casual nature of AUD and MDD, with ascending use of alcohol increasing the risk of depression.
While consuming alcohol has become a part of the university culture, there are self-initiating steps that can be taken in order to aim towards declining excessive drinking. For instance, a moderate drinking plan can be established to regulate consumption. This plan can include a set limit of how many drinks are to be consumed per week or journaling drinking habits in order to be mindful of the consumption. A number of iPhone and Android Apps are available that have been found to be helpful in reducing alcohol consumption (Quanbeck et al., 2014). Furthermore, the following steps can be taken in order to cut down the consumption and effects of alcohol, 1) the ingestion of a proper meal prior to drinking may curb or decrease the effects of alcohol 2) the avoidance of triggers, situations and individuals that may lead towards excessive drinking 3) if drinking has become a time consuming activity, becoming preoccupied with a new activity such as exercising, yoga, studying, etc. will further develop the presence of this objective (Rethink Drinking, n.d).
If you are in crisis or need immediate support, please contact:
Alcohol Use Disorder: DSM–5. (2016). Retrieved October 13, 2017, from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/dsmfactsheet/dsmfact.htm
Boden, J. M. and Fergusson, D. M. (2011), Alcohol and depression. Addiction, 106: 906–914. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03351.x
Government Of Canada. (2015, November 27). Health at a Glance. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11855-eng.htm
Rethink Drinking. (n.d.). Tips to try – Rethinking Drinking – NIAAA. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/Thinking-about-a-change/Strategies-for-cutting-down/Tips-To-Try.aspx
Quanbeck, A., Chih, M. Y., Isham, A., Johnson, R., & Gustafson, D. (2014). Mobile delivery of treatment for alcohol use disorders: A review of the literature. Alcohol research: current reviews, 36(1), 111.
November 19th 2017
Anxiety: An Emotion on a Continuum
Have you ever met anyone who has never experienced anxiety? Odds are, you have not. Why is that? Well, anxiety is one of many emotions every human experiences and it is a very helpful emotion at that. Anxiety is a mental and physical reaction to threat that serves as a protective factor. For instance, imagine you are crossing the street and all of a sudden you see a car is heading straight for you. This is a situation in which the experience of anxiety is helpful because anxiety prepares the fight or flight response – in this case, the flight response. Anxiety leads to the release of chemicals that primes our body for action, increases our stamina, and facilitates quick escape to avoid danger (i.e., getting hit by the car). In this way, it would be problematic if someone were incapable of experiencing anxiety.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that exists on a continuum. The majority of people experience a level of anxiety that is somewhere in the middle of the continuum. However, some people experience very high levels of anxiety, which can be problematic. Anxiety is experienced in the face of real danger as well as perceived danger. For instance, if someone is worrying that others are thinking negatively of them at a social event, they are perceiving danger in a situation in which there is no objective, life-threatening danger. Nevertheless, this perception of danger will cause them to experience anxiety and will lead to the same release of chemicals as if they were crossing the street and a car was coming towards them. Anxiety is considered problematic if it prevents an individual from living life how they would like to or causes them a great deal of distress. High levels of persistent anxiety may be associated with an anxiety disorder. In future blog posts we will discuss the many types of anxiety disorders and helpful tools for managing anxiety.
October 1st 2017
What is depression?
Due to impressive media campaigns, awareness for mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression is growing. Unfortunately, there is limited awareness about what these disorders actually look like for individuals. As stated in a previous blog post, mental illnesses are quite common. But, it is important that we do not mistake normal ranges of anxiety and sadness for mental illness. The purpose of this blog post is to provide information about the symptoms of depression and when you should consider seeking help for yourself or others.
Depression, based on the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria, is defined by a specific set of symptoms. They key symptoms are 1) depressed or low mood, lasting for at least two weeks, for most of the day, nearly everyday; and/or 2) loss of interest or pleasure in activities you usually enjoy. At least one of these two symptoms, commonly referred to as low mood and anhedonia, are needed for a diagnosis of depression. Additionally, a diagnosis of depression could include 4 or more of the following associated symptoms: inability to fall asleep or stay asleep; change in weight or appetite; lack of energy; feelings of guilt or worthlessness; feeling physical restless or slowed down; difficulty with concentration; thoughts about death, self harm, or suicide. These symptoms also have to be present for at least two weeks, most of the day, nearly everyday, while the individual is experiencing low mood.
The symptoms of depression can be very serious and can lead to extreme circumstances such as hospitalization. But, for the majority of individuals, the effects of depression can be dealt with from a variety of treatment approaches. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the current “gold standard” for treatment of depression, and a number of accessible self-help books are available. Additionally, new research in the field suggests that mindfulness-based CBT (MCBT) shows a promising effect for individuals with depression without current suicidality. Talk to your doctor or other mental health care practitioner if you are experiencing the above symptoms of depression. The Centre for Student Development and Counselling on the Ryerson campus offers a number of supports including individual and group therapy for students who are dealing with depression.
If you are in crisis or need immediate support, please contact:
Ryerson’s Counselling Centre 416-979-5195
Student Helpline Good2Talk 866-925-5454
Distress Centres of Toronto 416-408-4357 (408-HELP)
September 17th 2017
Mental Health: Consider the Prevalence
As you may have heard, mental health problems are common. But how common? 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health problem in a given year and the one-year prevalence rate is only expected to rise over time. By the time individuals reach 40 years of age, 50% will have suffered from a mental health problem and the rate increases to 65-70% by the age of 90. What do these numbers mean? It is becoming evident that majority of Canadians will experience a mental disorder at some point in their lives. The government of Canada estimates that 1 in 3 Canadians experiences a mental illness in their lifetime. Mental health problems are most prominent between the ages of 15 and 24 and most mental health issues start during childhood or adolescence. Men and women are estimated to experience similar rates of mental health problems, with the prevalence being only slightly higher for women. The duration of mental health problems vary; however, the bottom line is that mental health problems are a widespread experience.
Interestingly, the prevalence of mental health issues is not far off from the prevalence of medical conditions, such as cancer and diabetes. 1 in 2 Canadians will develop cancer over their lifetime and 1 in 10 will develop diabetes. However, Canadians are more likely to discuss medical conditions compared to a mental illness. According to a Canadian survey conducted in 2008, 68-72% of individuals reported they would tell a coworker or friend about a family member with a diagnosis of cancer or diabetes. In contrast, only 50% said they would disclose about a family member’s mental health issue. Friends and coworkers are just as likely to have a family member with a mental health issues as they are a family member with diabetes and cancer and yet people feel more comfortable discussing medical conditions than mental health. One likely reason is there remains stigma around mental health disorders that may contribute to peoples’ hesitation in being open about the topic of mental health. In a later blog post stigma around mental health will be discussed along with tips to help reduce stigma. Please contact us if you have any questions or comments about mental health prevalence, stigma, or seeking help!
September 10th 2017
Welcome to the Blog Project!
While constantly juggling assignments, papers and deadlines, being a university student can become exceedingly chaotic, often interfering with the maintenance of our mental health and process of self-care. Students for Mental Awareness, Support, & Health (SMASH) is a mental health and wellness student group at Ryerson University, that aims to bridge this gap between mental maintenance and the fast paced lifestyle of university students. Our mission includes, tackling and breaking down stigmas, raising awareness, providing education and resources for mental health and wellness in a supportive, welcoming and judgment free environment within Ryerson University. In order to purse our objectives through SMASH, we create and host an array of events and initiatives. Amongst these initiatives includes the creation of The Blog Project.
The Blog Project is to be an outlet that will primarily focus on acquiring and communicating information about mental health, mental illness, treatments and coping skills that students may obtain and grasp. This medium will extensively advocate and promote education about mental health and wellness through writing and researching. Ultimately, we hope to positively impact the Ryerson community by aligning and reflecting the purpose and mission of SMASH through the mechanism of a blog project.
If you would like to get in touch with us about the blog project, feel free to visit our Connect with Us page