We’ve all got mental health to care for just like we all want to care for our physical health. We know to be physically well we need to exercise, eat well, and practice hand washing, but what does it mean to be mentally well?

Self-care activities are things you can do to help yourself achieve a better life balance. Achieving this balance can help you when times get stressful because your system is in a more optimal state before the high-stress time starts.

Regular meals

Eating regularly helps fuel your body and brain to help you get through your day-to-day commitments and gives you focus. Make sure you get three nutritious meals a day and pack yourself healthy snacks when you aren’t at home.

Exercise

Giving your body a break from sitting while you are studying is important. Try to stay connected with the activities you enjoyed before coming to university or take the opportunity to try something new! Check out our Mind Body Run program or a Yoga app to get started.

 

Sleep

Give your mind and body a time to rest each day. Getting a regular seven to nine hours of sleep per day is an essential part of self-care. For more information about sleep health and tips for sleeping well, see our online Sleeping Well seminar.

Deep breathing and meditation

Meditation and guided relaxation exercises are easy activities you can do to promote stress reduction and fit self-care into your daily routine. For guided meditations and relaxation exercises, see our online workshops and seminars page.

 

The Imposter Syndrome

you are enough journal

Have you ever thought something like the following?

  • “I don’t belong here. The admissions committee clicked the wrong button when I got my acceptance.”
  • “The co-op before me was so awesome, there’s no way I can ever live up to them. I’ll be fired when they find out I’m not as qualified as them.”
  • “Everybody around me is so good at what they do. I’m the only one who isn’t able to get that job in Cali.”

If yes, you might be suffering from something called Imposter Phenomenon or Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome was first developed as a concept in the late 70s by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes and, according to UBC, refers to “feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that prevail despite obvious accomplishments and successes.” It is actually quite common for university students to have Imposter Phenomenon feelings of fraudulence, inadequacy, and an inability to accept praise.

Imposter Phenomenon can leave you feeling a lot of self-doubt, like you can’t take credit for your accomplishments, a lack of confidence, or frustration when you can’t meet the standards you’ve set for yourself. With a few changes to how you think about things, you can minimize the impact of Imposter Phenomenon thoughts.

How to Combat Feelings of Imposter Syndrome

Compare Yourself to Yourself

It is easy to get trapped in a cycle of comparing yourself to others while you are at university. Whether it is your program releasing class rankings, watching your classmates celebrating their most recent co-op job offer, or finding out who has gotten into their dream grad program, there are lots of opportunities where you might feel inadequate or not enough.

However, it is much more worthwhile to compare yourself to yourself. Did you get your co-op placement in first-round instead of continuous like last time? That’s an improvement. Do you understand more about fuzzy logic now that you are in fourth year than you did when you were in first? That’s progress. Are you able to write 20-page essays now that you are in third year, when you felt like it was a stretch to put together five in first year? That’s a skill you’ve built over time.

Comparing yourself to other people with different skills, strengths, and study methods can only ever leave you feeling poorly. Understanding that all people (including you) have different strengths is important to help yourself feel a sense of achievement as you move through life.

Often when we find we are comparing ourselves to others, it is because other people are something, have something, or are doing something that we would like to be, have, or do. We have a choice to make: we can either get down on ourselves because of the gap between where we are and where we would like to be OR, we can ask ourselves, “What can I learn from this other person to help me get to where I would like to go?”

 
 

Celebrate Achievements Big and Small

Remember to take time to celebrate your achievements, they didn’t just happen by accident. Each achievement, big or small, is the result of dedication and action on your part. Before moving on to the next milestone, congratulate yourself for getting through the last one. For a smaller achievement, like making it through a one-hour study window without looking at your phone, give yourself a small treat, like a tea from the coffee shop (which will also encourage you to move your body). For a big achievement, like getting into grad school, do something appropriately big to celebrate, like going out to dinner with your friends or family.

Examine Your Thoughts

Instead of just thinking your thoughts, take time to examine whether or not they are truly helpful. In the case of the thought, “I don’t belong here. The admissions committee clicked the wrong button when I got my acceptance.” Stop yourself after the thought and really take a look at it. When you applied to your program, you probably at a bare minimum met the entrance requirements, and in many cases exceeded them. Consider the idea that everyone at university is there to learn things and that no one person knows everything there is to know in your field. Remember that part of learning and studying is the process of amassing new skills and knowledge.

Connect With Your Supports

It is okay to share your feelings with your support network, like your friends, family, or a mentor. In most cases, they can help you see the flip side of your imposter thoughts. It can help to set up a regular time to get together to chat about what’s going on in your life. You can both share your accomplishments with each other to help remind yourselves of your achievements along the way. And the next time you are feeling like you don’t belong, or you don’t deserve your achievements, that person can help remind you of the reasons why you actually do.

If you can’t seem to shake your imposter feelings, it can help to connect with a professional. Counsellors at Counselling Services can help you examine your thought patterns and help you find more constructive ways to think.

Sources and Other Resources

University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence Imposter Syndrome page

UBC Imposter Syndrome in Graduate School article

St Andrews University Imposter Syndrome page


Practice Resilience

Resiliency is a word you hear a lot these days, but what does it actually mean? According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is: “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress…It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” Building your resiliency skills can help you face life’s ups and downs more evenly, enabling you to be able to handle change and adversity when they come along.

So what can you do to make yourself more resilient? These six tips can get you started:

Build your self-esteem and use coping thoughts.
Remember your strengths and accomplishments when you are feeling down. You can pick big things, like getting into UW or a sports victory, or small, like holding the door open for someone. Think about a time that you went out of your way to help someone.

Use coping thoughts to remind yourself that an upsetting situation is temporary. If you are struggling to get along with a roommate, remind yourself that you’ll be moving out in four months. If you don’t enjoy the subject matter of a course, remind yourself that the class is only 12 weeks long and then you’ll have a new set of courses you might enjoy more. For more information about coping thoughts, watch our Managing Emotions seminar.

Give yourself a break.
Take time to engage in activities that promote self-care. Set up a weekly call with a friend, family member, or mentor back home and keep them up to date on your accomplishments big and small. They can help remind you of good times you’ve had and strategies that have worked for you in the past.

Find an activity you enjoy that engages your brain creatively that isn’t studying like doing a puzzle, drawing, planting a garden, learning to knit, playing a musical instrument, or singing. For more ideas about positive self-care activities, see our Big list of self-care and distraction activities (PDF).

 

Practice positive self-talk.
Take a good look at your thoughts and what you tell yourself day-to-day without even realizing it. Sometimes we suffer from patterns of thinking called cognitive distortions. For example, you might often turn to overgeneralization, where you see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

Imagine you ask someone on a date and they decline. If you were overgeneralizing you might think “I’m never going to get a date. No one will ever want me.” When in reality, this current rejection only applies to one possible date in a whole lifetime of dating possibilities. To practice positive self-talk in this instance, you might instead tell yourself, “This time it didn't work out, but that doesn't mean I won’t go out with someone else. I have lots of great qualities and I just need to find the right person.” For more information about cognitive distortions, watch our Challenging Thinking seminar.

Set goals and engage in problem-solving.
Help yourself during difficult times by completing a six-step plan: First, identify the problem you are facing and state the problem as clearly and objectively as you can. Then, take a moment to understand the problem – have you faced it before and what did you do then? What would be different if the problem were solved? Next, brainstorm possible solutions, trying to generate at least five solutions without any judgement about what would work best. Then, compare your options, listing pros and cons of each and eliminating the least desirable or actionable options.

Then you’ll be ready to choose a solution. Rank your possible plans in order of preference and make a plan to carry out what you’ve chosen. The last step is to take action on the plans you’ve made. Set effective and achievable goals for how to do what you intend to do and do them! For more information about values, problem-solving and goal setting, watch our Strengthening Motivation seminar.

 

Develop a growth mindset.
The idea of fixed versus growth mindsets was developed by psychologist Carol Dweck. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that traits and qualities are fixed (ie. I am either smart or I am not smart), hide their struggles, try to avoid discomfort and mistakes, and are overly focused on results. People with a growth mindset tend to believe that knowledge and abilities grow with effort, that mistakes and failures are opportunities for learning. They look at mistakes and figure out how to correct them for the future, and seek out feedback as an opportunity to improve.

To move to a growth mindset, try listening to your inner voice: is it negative? Does it believe that things will never get better? Next, recognize that you have a choice to change those patterns of thinking, allow yourself to understand that you can change and grow through experiences. Then, talk back to your fixed mindset voice with a growth mindset voice (for example, “With effort, I can do something I find difficult and it will get easier”). And lastly, use your growth mindset to take action towards your goals. For more information about fixed and growth mindsets, take a look at our Cultivating Resiliency seminar.

Read Stories of Resilience from People in Similar Situations

Knowing that people have gone through similar situations before your can help you put your current situation in perspective and increase your hope for the future. Take a look at our UW Resilient stories for stories from students, staff, and faculty about facing adversity.

Picture of Ashley Ryan

 

As with everything, practice is key to building your resilience skills. Take time for self-care in your week, try to remind yourself to use positive self-talk, coping thoughts, and growth mindset statements, and don’t feel down if it doesn’t all happen at once. Making positive change takes time, so start small and work these strategies in at a pace that feels achievable.

Sources:

Thinking About Thinking (PDF)

The Road to Resilience


How to Help a Friend

Two people talking on a bench in front of a lakeEveryone goes through different ups and downs in their life and different people handle their challenges in different ways. Sometimes you might notice a friend is struggling with their mental health and want to help, but it can be really hard to know how, or if, you should reach out to them.

When trying to help a friend, it is important to remember the limitations of your own knowledge. While it is perfectly normal for you to want to help your friend and offer advice, you are not a counsellor and shouldn’t feel like you need to be.

Want to learn more?

Counselling Services offers mental health awareness and suicide intervention training throughout the year. For more information about the different types of trainings and course availability, visit our Training page.


Seasonal Affective Disorder

students walking in the winterEver had that experience where you’re studying inside in the morning, and the next thing you know, it’s 5 o’clock and it’s pitch black outside? Despite the fact that you still have plenty of time left in your day, the darkness can make you feel like the day is already done. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a depression that occurs seasonally, often around late fall and winter, when the days get shorter. It is characterized by feelings of hopelessness, irritability, tiredness, and disinterest.  You may also have difficulties with sleep- whether it be sleeping too much, or not being able to sleep at all. 

SAD is often thought to be a result of lack of sunlight. Which makes sense, especially in the winter seasons. In Canada, 2-3% of the population will experience SAD in their lifetime, but 15% of Canadians will experience a milder form of SAD. Despite this, there are a number of different methods to cope with symptoms of SAD. 

  1. Light Therapy. Light Therapy has been shown to reduce symptoms of SAD in just a few days. The light imitates sunlight, making your body produce the chemicals it improves mood. 60-80% of people experience substantial benefits from light therapy. Make sure to discuss this with your doctor before trying any treatments.
  1. Medication. If your SAD is really debilitating, there are medications that can help with your symptoms. Medications can address different kinds of depression in many different ways. Talk to your doctor if you feel like this may be right for you.
  1. Counselling. Counselling can be an effective method to address symptoms of SAD, or other symptoms of depression. If you feel like this may be right for you, reach out to Counselling Services
  1. Self-Care. It sounds really difficult, especially when you’re experiencing symptoms of SAD, but self-care habits such as healthy diet and exercise can help you maintain an improved mood. Maybe light therapy or medication has helped you feel a little better, try to reach out to others, take some work out classes or learn some new healthy recipes to further improve your mood. If you want to prevent symptoms of SAD, creating a habit of exercising or eating well may help reduce symptoms before they even come.

Mental Health Apps

Apps can help you set up new habits or learn new skills for self-care, meditation, or mindfulness. Here are just a few that are out there.

It is important if you are feeling like you are struggling to seek help as soon as you can. You can visit a Campus Wellness office like Counselling Services or Health Services or any of the other wellness services on or near campus to get the help you need.

Important note: During the Covid-19 pandemic most of our services are being offered by phone or video. To book an appointment or find out more information about our services, please call Counselling Services at 519-888-4567 ext. 32655 or Health Services at 519-888-4096.

Deciding to seek help for your mental health can be a tough decision. Oftentimes the fear of not knowing what will happen when you go for help can be enough to deter some people from going at all. We’ve put together information to help you understand what you can expect when you come to visit us.

 

Everything Is Confidential

One important thing to know is that your participation in our services is confidential. Visits to our offices are not recorded on your transcripts and we do not share that you have visited us with anyone unless we are required to do so by law in the case of a safety risk or legal matter. 

Your First Visit

The first step to making an appointment is to call our office (519-888-4567 ext 32655) and schedule an intake appointment. You will complete forms and a questionnaire to help us understand why you are visiting us. At your intake appointment our intake specialists will interview you to determine the severity of your concerns.

If you are in immediate danger of self-harm, harming others, or other crisis that requires rapid attention, you will be scheduled with an emergency or urgent appointment. Concerns that don’t meet an emergency or urgent criteria might have a longer wait period in order to accommodate the need for others to be seen in emergency and urgent appointments.

The intake specialist determines your triage level by listening to the words you are using in the interview, so it is important to be as detailed as possible during the interview. The intake specialist will help you develop a wellness plan. Your wellness plan may include workshops, group therapy, or individual therapy. 

Follow Up Appointments

During your 50-minute appointment, you and your counsellor will work together to determine the best approach for you. This could include cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindfulness exercises, and many other approaches that will be tailored for your situation.

Important: If you are waiting for your follow-up appointment and you feel your situation has changed or worsened, please call us back and let us know.

Summary

You are not weak or a failure for being seeking help. It is a sign of great courage to reach out when you need it. Everyone needs help at some point in their lives, so well done for recognizing that. If you are interested in finding out more about Counselling Services please call 519-888-4567 ext 32655 or visit the Counselling Services web page. If you feel like you can cope and it is outside of our opening hours please contact Empower Me (1-833-628-5589), Here 24/7 (1-844-437-3247), or Good2Talk (1-866-925-5454).