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Why a Visit to the Art Gallery Can Improve Our Mental Health

Why a Visit to the Art Gallery Can Improve Our Mental Health

As a student, you have a unique privilege you may not have considered. Many schools have art galleries on campus that you can visit for cheap or for free, and many off-campus galleries offer student rates, meaning you can see great art on a budget. Have you considered taking advantage? It could be just what you need. Visits to the art gallery allow for the chance to step away from daily life and engage with the world in a new way.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of viewing art in a gallery is the mental exercise of creating our own interpretation toward the art we are observing. This is a practice that encourages the type of creative thinking needed for problem-solving. By practicing this type of creative thinking, we learn better ways to come up with our own unique solutions to difficult problems, a key skill required for better mental health. When we leave difficult emotional problems unsolved, we may end up feeling even more frustrated and stressed. Understanding how to solve problems in a creative way may at times be what we need in order to improve difficult relationships, our own self-esteem, and circumstances within our lives that are causing us stress and anxiety.

You do not need to be a Renaissance painter or a beret-wearing artISTE spewing art-speak in order to reap the mental health benefits of visiting a gallery. The actual act of observing and appreciating art stimulates the same areas of the brain that are involved in processing feelings of pleasure and reward. When we’re feeling especially anxious, stressed, or emotionally down, a visit to the gallery may help us re-focus our attention in a therapeutic way. This can allow us a moment to take a step away from our overwhelming emotions and provides us with the opportunity to revisit these feelings at a time when we are less emotionally drained or anxious.

A gallery visit may also be a source of inspiration and has the power to boost our own personal creativity. Engaging in creative expression has significant therapeutic effects in decreasing anxiety. For example, acting creatively can get us into the mental state known in Positive Psychology as “flow.” It’s where we are totally and completely immersed in the enjoyment and involvement of what we are doing, and it’s why being creative feels so good.

The next time you’re having a difficult mental health day, consider the therapeutic benefits of visiting a local art gallery. It’s a wonderful way to incorporate creativity into your self-care practice!

Back-to-School Lessons from Cookie Monster

Back-to-School Lessons from Cookie Monster

As we get into the thick of the new school year, if you’re anything like me, you’re pretty bummed about it. Maybe it’s just the chill in the air that spoils my mood, but I sense a change of pace and attitude in folks at this time of year as everybody buckles down post-summer. I already feel nostalgic about those joyful, sunny days when the sun was still shining at 9 pm. Come back, August! 

 

‘Tis the Season to Own Your Shit.

For me, Fall is a season of self-reckoning. I think that’s the effect of two decades worth of spending it transitioning back to school. As a kid, your life is structured for you into a pattern where for two months you can stop and smell the roses while they’re in bloom, and then you’re thrown right back into school’s rhythms of responsibility, filling agendas with homework again, and sitting quietly in a chair doing what you’re told. 

That transition was never easy for me. It always took a few weeks of inattention before I could tune in. Instead, I’d stare out the window at the vacant playground while the teacher taught. I’d watch the pathetic seagulls squawk and wrestle over the best trash from morning recess. It all felt sad. 

Eventually, I’d tire of wallowing and come to accept and even enjoy school. But to this day, and even in the few years before I went back to school, in late-August a cloud of dread floats in.

Now that I’m back to being a student, my pattern so far has been to let all this dread and anxiety for the new school year turn into unreasonable expectations of myself. A very bossy part of me sees being back as a mature student as a second chance to finally be perfect in every way. This part of me speaks in commandments, like so: 

       Thou shalt read every word assigned in your course syllabus on time!

       Thou shalt not have any fun between Sunday evenings and Friday afternoons for 8 straight months!

       Thou shalt be perfect in every way or consider yourself a failure!”

No surprise I dread school every year. Bossy-me sets up these rules that I don’t really want to follow, and I make no plans to manage the difficulty of making change happen, and I expect myself to simply stop—cold-turkey—that laidback summer lifestyle I’ve been enjoying for months. How am I supposed to succeed? 

The truth is, I can’t. It’s a setup. It keeps me in a cycle, in the middle of a perpetual wrestling match with myself. I feel like the head of a 90s sitcom actor, while the tiny devil on my left shoulder and the tiny angel on my right bicker back-and-forth about what’s best for me. Shut up already! 

 

“Be the Cookie Monster you wish to see in the world”

This year, I’m taking inspiration from Cookie Monster. 

To be clear, I haven’t decided to once and for all to say, “screw it, I give up!”, drop out and eat infinite cookies. Let me explain. About a month ago, I had a moment of clarity while belly-laughing with my six-year-old nephew. I showed him Youtube clips of Cookie Monster, whom I love passionately. Until then I hadn’t considered why. It occurred to me then that the little blue rascal is timeless, full of life lessons, and everybody seems to just get it without judgement. 

This seemed very important at the time. So important that later that night, instead of filling out my student loan application, I mulled over what it is about Cookie Monster that’s so great, so universally charming and so inherently worthy of love. I think it’s because Cookie Monster mirrors the little rascal in all of us. Cookie Monster shows us what the experience of desire is like. Everybody knows it deeply. Every human carries a cookie monster within them. 

The average Sesame Street viewers may be preschoolers learning for the first time that they don’t get to do whatever they want whenever they feel like it. But we keep learning that lesson our whole lives.

 

The Temptation of Cookie Monster

The way Cookie Monster is presented on Sesame Street is cute and innocent. I mean, despite an evident incapacity to self-regulate or to love anything other than the pleasure of a good cookie, everybody still loves Cookie Monster. 

If Cookie Monster was an adult human, the story would be a little more sinister. We don’t imagine a fuzzy blue puppet with googly eyes might have a traumatic past. We don’t worry that he’ll face the devastating effects of an all-cookie diet. We don’t witness the pain of having only a cookie to turn to. We don’t wonder if he has a family somewhere that he abandoned for a cheap, lousy cookie. We see an ageless puppet, in a sweet little world, protected from consequence. 

It’s certainly not the most authentic characterization but it does give us a safe space to see inner demons in a gentler, judgment-free light. For example, do you notice how every child and adult on Sesame Street welcomes Cookie Monster as a deserving member of their community? How often do you laugh with, sympathize, hug, or spend quality time with your cookie-monster-self in the way that those folks do theirs? I don’t. I tend to roll my eyes at mine, call it selfish, weak, careless, ugly, and I often blame it for holding me back from being awesome. 

Why do I do that? It’s pointless! Nothing I tell myself makes the proverbial cookies any less tempting. What if instead, I loved my internal cookie monster in the way the Sesame Street community love theirs? What if I accepted that part of me for what it is? If I appreciated that tenacity, that ability to be in the moment and to feel joy, that unabashed will to get every drop of good vibes out of life and share it, no matter the consequences? 

What if I didn’t constantly shame myself for my consumption habits and instead did a little bargaining, laughed with myself, listened, took a load off when I need it, and tried to understand what makes this part of me tick? Because—

 

Truth bomb: it ain’t really about cookies

Heck, beyond just how you treat the cookie monster in yourself, what if the next time you see your friend that’s stuck in a loop and just can’t seem to break out of it, or you see your sibling smoking again after trying to quit for the millionth time, you looked on them with the same degree of love and understanding that we all give Cookie Monster? What if we tried to see the innocence that exists at the start of it all? Life can be so hard and the cookies are aplenty. 

This semester I’m going to try my best not to shame myself for succumbing to the occasional “NOM! NOM! NOM!” session. When I do find myself partaking in some unscheduled indulgence, I’ll give my internal cookie monster’s fuzzy blue hair a tussle. I’ll say, “Alright little guy, that was a blast! Thanks for making sure I get to have some fun. Now it’s time to hit the books. We got this!”

 

______________

Seamus Ogden is a Care Coordinator with Real Campus and a mature student. He has a deep affection for Cookie Monster.

How to Make Make the Best of Going Back to School

How to Make Make the Best of Going Back to School

The seasons are changing. The days of layered long-sleeves, sweaters and coats are just around the corner and kids have thrown on their backpacks and headed off to school. I’m not even a student anymore but every year it’s still hard to accept that school’s back in session. 

For those who are headed back, adjusting from a summer of doing other things like travel, work or socializing can be challenging. Here are a few tips to help get you back into the swing of school:

 

1. Rebuild your routine slowly 

Start with sleep. If the summer has disrupted your sleep routine, start by spending the first few weeks with a set wake-up and/or bedtime. Consistent and quality sleep will have you recharged and ready for everything the school year throws at you.

2. Make lists 

Knowing what you need to do for your classes and extracurriculars is important. When you know what’s coming you can plan for it.

3. Set up a support network 

If you’re new, know who you can contact for support on and off-campus. There are often great resources available on-campus for those who look (most student centres or student unions can help you with that information). For those returning to campus, it’s time to get back into the swing of connecting with friends, classmates, and/or student groups. Making sure you have a strong support network will help you get through the midterm and exam seasons.

4. Experiment with your study habits 

It’s easy to put off studying in college and university because no one’s there to tell you to get down to it. The best antidote is to get to know your study style. Do you have certain productive hours in the day? What kind of space do you need to study in? Are you a snacker? What kind of learner are you? Contact your school’s learning/academic support center, they can help you learn to study effectively and efficiently.

5. Create a self-care plan 

What nourishes and recharges you? Get to know what you need: for some, it might mean regular trips to the gym, daily meditation, or 3 square meals a day, for others it may mean cutting back on work hours, or 2 days off each week for rest. Regardless, have a sense of your unique needs and try your best to meet them so you’re recharged for the more stressful periods.

 

Remember that adjustments take time. Give yourself some time to get used to the hustle and bustle of campus in September. 

I wish you all a wonderful school year. Happy studies!

Summer’s Not Over Yet! 5 Self-Care Activities to Do Outside

Summer’s Not Over Yet! 5 Self-Care Activities to Do Outside

When we practice regular self-care, we are allowing ourselves to engage in what it is that we need to feel emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy. When we remove our focus from our own needs and place it entirely on the things that do not nourish us emotionally, we may begin to feel unbalanced and emotionally unwell.

Placing our needs consistently on the back-burner can really wear us down, which is why practicing self-care is essential for taking care of our own mental health. And P.S.— self-care is not selfish. Meeting our own needs can allow us to be in a better headspace to be more emotionally present and caring for others!

So, with the Fall season and semester quickly approaching, how can we make the best of the last few weeks of summer? How can we enjoy the outdoors while also incorporating self-care?

1. Plant something… anything!

Fun fact: the best time of year to plant a tree is late in the summer or beginning of Fall. Why? Cooler temperatures help encourage new root growth (don’t ask me how I know this). Planting a plant or gardening can help keep us connected to nature. What does this have to do with self-care? Gardening can be a pretty awesome practice in mindfulness, allowing us to stay connected to the present moment and in touch with all our senses.

2. Journal in the park

Journalling is a great stress reliever as it helps us to process our thoughts and externalize any difficult feelings we may have had throughout the day. Journalling while enjoying some time in the sun? Even better for boosting serotonin levels and our mood. Check out some journal prompt ideas here.

3. Browse local farmers’ markets

I love farmers markets because they’re a win-win situation for us all. Purchasing at a farmers market means we get to enjoy something delicious that we may not have necessarily picked out at the grocery store, while also supporting a local or small business owner (yay sustainability!). It’s also an awesome way to get outside ourselves and be surrounded by a community of pretty cool people!

4. Solo picnic

Picnics offer a lot of social-related self-care benefits. We can use it as a means to bond with our loved ones by enabling communication in a relaxing environment. But a solo picnic also allows us some time for self-reflection. The occasional solo time is great for self-care as it provides a chance to self-reflect and to develop self-awareness so we can better understand our emotions.

5. Have a Yard Sale

I don’t know about you, but having a cluttered space really stresses me out. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our mental health is to let go of the things that no longer serve us. That may start with cleaning up our physical space. And when it comes to self-care, throwing a yard sale adds a few bonus points. We’re decreasing our stress levels by clearing up our physical space, we’re getting in touch with a community by spending time in the neighbourhood, and we’re enjoying some much needed time outdoors while doing it.

How to Let Go

How to Let Go

When we live in our heads, we are not able to let go. When we allow ourselves to surrender to the present moment as opposed to living in the past or future by way of our thoughts, then we can let go.

We learn to let go when we learn to be present. How do we do that?

1. Get into your body by using all your senses – notice what you see around you, the way your body physically feels, any sounds or scents around you, even what you might be tasting in your mouth.

2. Focus on the things that are going well in your life.  Grab a pen and paper and write down 5 things you are grateful for in that moment.

3. Take a deep belly breath and connect to your inhales and exhales.

4. Open your heart. I find visualizing an open rose helps me feel more open-hearted. You can also try to imagine a bubble right in front of you that is collecting all the negative energy in your body that doesn’t belong. Then when you feel like you’ve transferred the energy that is not serving you, visualize yourself popping the bubble. Once you’ve done this, imagine another bubble in front of you collecting all the energy that the other bubble might have missed, and once you feel it’s all been collected in the bubble, pop it again.

Sometimes letting go is hard because the present moment might feel painful. If we allow ourselves to accept the present as is, we will be able to live more wholehearted lives.

5 Things Cats Can Teach Us About Mental Health

5 Things Cats Can Teach Us About Mental Health

Happy belated International Cat Day! I’m a few days late with this one but as a proud cat mom, self-proclaimed cat expert, and intern therapist, I decided to compile a list of the top 5 things that cats can teach us about self-care and our own mental health.

1. It’s OK to say No

Many of us have forgotten that it is okay to say “no”. We unfairly associate saying no with being rude or selfish, and at times this can put us in situations whereby avoiding the discomfort of saying no, we are actually sacrificing our own needs and wants. Cats? NEVER. Cats understand the delicate balance of remaining conscientious and kind without having to sacrifice their own needs, and I can assure you that they do not swirl into a world of guilt upon declining an invitation to spend time with you.

2. Rest Is the Best

We live in a world that glorifies busy. Oftentimes we can mistake our productivity for self-worth, which can lead us to burn out and can cause us to no longer perform as best we can. A cat sleeps on average 15-20 hours a DAY. While this may be excessive for us humans, it definitely serves as a reminder that sleep is GOOD. Without adequate rest, we are much more likely to feel irritable and anxious throughout the day.

3. Boundaries Can Be Violated by Neglect OR Excessive Smothering

This is probably one of the age-old determinants for whether you consider yourself a cat or a dog person. Dogs LOVE a good cuddle and will do so on command. A cat, however, is likely to feel a bit more disrespected by being swooped up and cuddled unannounced. This isn’t to say they don’t love affection! Similar to a healthy relationship, cats set healthy boundaries wherein they show you love when it’s right for them without being neglectful.

4. Always Be Curious

A cat is forever curious, and staying curious is how we learn and grow. A healthy sense of curiosity allows us to ask questions and explore new worlds and possibilities!

5. Stay Aware of Your Surroundings

Staying aware of our surroundings refers to cultivating mental awareness. This allows us to be observant and pay attention to what is and isn’t serving us in our lives.