Practicing Self-Compassion During A Pandemic

If you are struggling right now-physically, mentally, socially, academically-  you are not failing. A pandemic is not the ideal situation for anyone and this is not how you thought the year was going to go. Being kind to yourself and practicing self-compassion can help. 

Self-compassion is a key part of being resilient (a word you have surely heard many times over the past 8 months). If you aren’t sure what self-compassion means or where to start, just treat and talk to yourself like you would a good friend. We tend to be kinder to others than we are to ourselves. 

For more information about self-compassion, look to Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research. She describes three elements of self-compassion:

1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment.
Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or being self-critical. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.

2. Common humanity vs. Isolation.
Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.

3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification.
Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.

Visit her website for self-compassion guided meditations and exercises you can try to build up this skill. 

The stress of these “unprecedented times” is not going to magically disappear as a result of practicing self-compassion but your response to unpredictability and uncertainty in your environment can and will change. 

Meal Prepping During Exam Season

As we get towards the end of the semester, your schedule might be full of final assignments, essays and studying, leaving little time to cook proper meals. 

You don’t have to settle for boxed macaroni and cheese and late-night pizza to get you through the next month.  Try batch cooking or meal prepping., it takes a little bit of time on the front end but you can reap the benefits for days after (weeks if you have the freezer space). It is also a practical way to make sure your meals are nutritious and budget-friendly.

Before you get cooking you have to make a couple of decisions, first- do you want to make individual meals, batch cook or just prep all the ingredients? All of these have their pros and cons but consider if you get sick of eating the same thing multiple days in a row? Will having prepped ingredients be enough to outweigh the convenience of Skip the Dishes?

Next up, you have to decide what you are going to make. This depends on personal preference as much as anything else but consider the following: 

  • How much time you want to spend in the kitchen, some recipes are more demanding than others
  • Produce that is in season can be cheaper and more flavourful.
  • Don't be afraid of frozen vegetables, they are flash-frozen at peak ripeness so you don't have to sacrifice quality for price.
  • Meal prepping isn't just for dinner- you can prep breakfast and lunch just as easily. 
  • If you are making a couple different recipes, try to get ingredients to overlap for budgeting and bulk prepping. 

Once you have decided on your menu, check what you have in your cupboards and then make a list for the rest. Then it is time to get to work in the kitchen.

One of my favourite meal prep's is bahn mi bowls adapted from Pinch of Yum's recipe:

quick pickled carrots

  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6–8 carrots, peeled into ribbons
  • 1 jalapenon, sliced thin

meatballs

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1–2 tablespoons chopped lemongrass 
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon salt

bowls:

  • brown rice
  • sliced cucumber
  • herbs: cilantro, basil, mint, green onions
  • crushed peanuts
  • spicy mayo (just mayo with a hit of sriracha)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Quick Pickled Carrots: Whisk the rice vinegar, brown sugar, sesame oil, and salt together. Soak the carrots and jalapenos in the mixture for one hour.
  2. Meatballs: Mix all ingredients. Roll into small meatballs with your hands (they might feel wet and heavy – pop them in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to get them to hold their shape a bit better). Heat a little bit of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the meatballs and fry until golden brown on the outside and fully cooked (not pink) inside.
  3. Bowls: Layer the carrots and meatballs over rice. Top with herbs, peanuts, sesame seeds, and/or spicy mayo. 

For meal prep, I put rice and meatballs into individual containers and store all the topping in their own containers, so I can heat the rice and meat balls and keep the toppings cool. 

Looking for more meal prep suggestions? Here a couple of websites to get you started:

 

-Lindsey Wachter, R.Kin

Health & Wellness Promoter

COVID-19 Fatigue

As the pandemic continues, you might be finding it harder to follow public health recommendations to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. This kind of fatigue is actually pretty common to any new health-related behaviour you might try to adopt, just think about how many new year’s resolutions don’t make it past February 1. But unlike your intention to hit the gym 5 times a week, not following COVID-19 mandates and recommended behaviour can have some pretty serious consequences for yourself and others.

If you are experiencing COVID fatigue, there are some things you can do to address it.

  • Make it personal: For some catching COVID-19 or spreading it to others seems like an abstract idea, but the reality is that the coronavirus can affect anyone. Read a story about someone who’s gone through COVID-19 so it becomes personal to you.

  • Talk to others: You are definitely not the only person experiencing fatigue- discussing your feeling with someone else can be therapeutic.

  • Think differently: Focussing on things you can’t control, like rising case numbers or the actions of other people, can make your own actions seem meaningless. Instead focus on the things you can control, like planning virtual events instead of in person or ordering take-out instead of eating at a restaurant. 

If you are looking for more resources, check out our physical distancing toolkit

 

COVID-19 and Substance Use

Over 20% of Canadians aged 18-54 report they are drinking more alcohol while at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reasons for increased alcohol consumption include feelings of stress and anxiety, loss of routine, social isolation, and having more alcohol in the home due to stockpiling.

Consuming alcohol or cannabis or both on occasion can provide temporary relief of stress and anxiety but studies show that using these substances on a regular basis can increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD) or cannabis use disorder (CUD), especially when alcohol and cannabis are used to deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression, or with life challenges. Both substances also have the ability to weaken your immune system in the short and long term. 

If you find yourself turning to alcohol or cannabis as a means to deal with stress, try some of the following coping strategies and see if that helps: 

  • Stay active and keep yourself busy with activities you enjoy.
  • Stay connected with friends and family, while still practicing physical distancing.
  • Find balance by staying informed but knowing when to take a break from COVID-19 news.
  • Be kind to yourself. This is a difficult time and you’re doing your best to manage a challenging
  • situation.
  • Take care of your body by eating and sleeping well, exercising and meditating.

If you choose to drink, pay attention to why and how frequently you are doing so. You can also try the following to keep your drinking in check: 

Get more tips on SHW's safe substance use page

If you have concerns about the changes in your drinking habits during the pandemic, the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse offers a self-help guide called Knowing Your Limits with Alcohol: A Practical Guide to Assessing Your Drinking. This resource can be used independently to track alcohol consumption and set goals to reduce intake to lower-risk levels. 

If you choose to use cannabis, take these steps to reduce risks to your health and prevent the spread of COVID-19

  • Avoid sharing smoking supplies with others, to prevent the spread of illness

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before bringing a cannabis product to your mouth

  • Choose safer, not-smoking ways to use cannabis, that do not directly impact your lungs

  • Obtain your cannabis from legal sources

  • Following Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines can also help to reduce your risk of harms.

Getting Help
If you are struggling with substance use, do not hesitate to reach out to book a counselling appointment with Student Health and Wellness, we are here to support you and connect you to appropriate services. You can also visit the links below:

  • Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support provides free online resources, tools, apps and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals when needed
  • ConnexOntario provides free and confidential health service information for people experiencing problems with alcohol and drugs, mental illness and/or gambling via 24/7 telephone (1-866-531-2600), chat and email
Substance use during covid-19

Trying to Find Work-Life Balance as a Grad Student

 

Graduate students might have thought getting into their program was the hard part, only to find that trying to juggle academic requirements, research, teaching responsibilities, work and family feels impossible. 

Here are some tips and resources to thrive in graduate school:

Grow and maintain support networks. A strong support system can act as a buffer against stress and as a post-grad you are going to need to both prioritize your existing network of friends and family while also finding/creating a network with fellow grad students.  You will want both because having those outside the academic bubble can help put things in perspective, and those in the academic community will understand what you are going through and be able to share their own experiences. So set aside time to connect with your social network and try to fight the urge to cancel plans when deadlines come around.

If you aren’t sure where to connect with other grad students- check out the Lakehead University Graduate Students' Association (LUGSA) for upcoming events. 

Have a goal/project outside of academia. There are going to be times when you are frustrated with your work, or where it seems like you aren’t making any progress. Having something to work on or towards that doesn’t rely on anyone else can give you the chance to feel productive, boost your confidence and give you a sense of competency. This can be anything you enjoy but especially good are things that give you mental downtime and/or a change of scenery. Try to run your first 10k, take a pottery class or master the art of sourdough bread.

Set boundaries. This is especially important this year with most of the school and work being done from home. Try to set up a physical workspace in your home so that you can create a separation of work and leisure. It is also important to try to schedule business hours to help focus your time. Depending on your other responsibilities, these hours might not fall between 8:30 am -4:30 pm and that’s okay, just communicate your plan with your supervisor(s).

Don’t struggle in silence. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck on something, it usually means you need to consult with a colleague or supervisor. Remind yourself that it is OK to ask for help; no one expects you to have all the answers or to know everything! If you have tried this and are still feeling the same- you can also reach out to a counsellor. Student Health and Wellness services are available to all grad students.

Expect to have some challenges in grad school. Some days it will seem like graduate school is impossible and you will question why you ever thought it was a good idea. It’s normal to feel that you don’t belong here sometimes but remember that you’re not alone; fellow graduate students and professors have had these feelings, too. There are also going to be times of the year that are hectic and stressful no matter what you have done to prepare- when this happens just do your best, try to take care of the basics of self-care (sleep, movement, healthy eating) and try to put it into perspective. 

 

-Lindsey Wachter, R.Kin, MSc Health and Wellness Promoter 

 

student in a lab

Developing a Tolerance for Uncertainty Workbook

None of us know what to expect in the coming weeks or months and experiencing anxiety related to all the unknowns is very normal. Humans like stability, routine, and a sense of control over our environments and experience tremendous stress when life becomes unpredictable. The current pandemic is an opportunity to learn new skills to accept your feelings, tolerate distress, and move forward with grace despite not knowing what lies ahead.

Download a "Tolerance for Uncertainty: A COVID-19 Workbook- a guide to accept your feelings, tolerate distress and thrive" developed by Dr. Nagasawa from Bay Psychology.

 

Developing Tolerance for Uncertainty

Move for Movember

Globally, one man takes his own life every minute, of every day. 

This Movember, we’re asking Lakehead students, faculty, staff and alumni to make your Move – for them. Commit to walking or running 60 km over the month. That’s 60 km for the 60 men we lose each hour, every hour – the men who should still be here today. You don’t have to be an ultra-athlete, or own the latest kicks. Just put one foot in front of the other, and you’ve already made a start. 

Each week, we will share information to help reduce the stigma around men's mental health, to learn how to broach the topic of mental health with your male friends, family and colleagues and increase knowledge of the resources available to support you.

How to sign up:  

  1. Visit movember.com and join our team, Lakehead Thunderwolves, choose to Move for men’s health.
  2. Chip away at your target. Hit it fast. Take it slow. Go outside. Or jump on the treadmill. Sync your fitness tracker or log your activity manually.
  3. Make it count. Call on friends and family to join in, raise awareness about men’s mental health concerns and resources throughout the month. 

If you or someone you know is dealing with emotional distress

  • Crisis Response Services is a 24/7 crisis line staffed by the Canadian Mental Health Association
    • Thunder Bay- 807-346-8282
    • Orillia- 705-728-5044
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Suicide Hotlines Across the World 
  • GOOD2TALK post-secondary crisis line- 1-866-925-5454
  • Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone- a free, confidential texting service, available 24/7/365. By texting GOOD2TALKON to 686868, post-secondary students in Ontario can be connected to a trained volunteer Crisis Responder who is there to listen and support students with any issue they’re facing.
  • Crisis Service Canada: www.crisisservicescanada.ca
  • First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310
    • Service is available in Cree, Ojibway, Inuktitut, English and French.
  • Trans Lifeline: 1-(877) 330-6366
  • The Trevor Project (for LGBTQ Youth)- 1-866-844-7386
ready, set, mo

Student Wellness Advisory Team 2020

Are you passionate about health and wellness? Do you want to help inform wellness initiatives on campus and provide insight from the student perspective? Join the Student Health and Wellness Advisory Team. 

The Student Wellness Advisory Team (SWAT) aims to facilitate student input into the overall operations of Student Health and Wellness, Lakehead University’s Wellness Strategy and Student Health and Wellness’ Health Promotion Strategy.  Members shall serve as student ambassadors with respect to the services offered by Student Health and Wellness and as ambassadors with respect to the overall health and wellness of the student population.  

Learn more about SWAT here or fill out the application to join 

Join the Student Wellness Advisory Team

Halloween Mocktail Recipes from DrinkSmart

There are plenty of ways to celebrate this Halloween but drinking alcohol doesn't have to be one of them. 

Zombie Mule

  • 3 oz. Ginger Beer
  • 3 oz. Lemonade
  • 1 oz. Fresh Lime juice
  • 1.5 oz. Butter Fly Pea Tea
  • Garnish with a lime wedge

Directions: In a tall glass fill halfway with ice and pour ginger beer, top with more ice and pour lemonade. Top with lime juice and garnish. Pour the Butterfly pea tea slowly over the top and watch the cocktail turn from blue – purple-black.

Mojito of Madness

  • 4 oz. Soda Water
  • 2 oz. Lemonade
  • 4 mint leaves
  • 1 lime wedge
  • 1 orange wedge
  • 1 oz. Agave syrup
  • Splash of 7-up
  • Garnish with a bruised mint leaf

Directions: In a shaker half full of ice add all non-carbonated ingredients and shake until well pulverized and chilled. Pour entire contents into a tall glass. Top with soda water and 7-up, stir. Take a mint leaf and slap it between your hands and place on top of the glass

Poltergeist Palmer

  • 4 oz. Lemonade
  • 3 oz. Iced Tea
  • 4 Raspberries
  • 1 lime wedge
  • 1 orange wedge
  • Garnish with a flamed lemon slice

Directions: Using a kitchen torch (or maybe not!) flame both sides of the lime slice and reserve. Add all ingredients into a shaker half full of ice and shake until well combined. Pour into a Collins glass and garnish with the flamed lemon in the glass like a sun.

Bloody Sunset

  • 4 oz. Orange juice
  • 2 oz. Cranberry juice
  • 1 lime wedge
  • Splash of grenadine
  • Garnish with an orange wheel

Directions: in a rocks glass pour 1 oz of grenadine into the bottom. In a shaker half full of ice add orange juice and lime wedge. Shake until chilled, strain and pour over fresh ice covering half the glass. Fill with ice and top with cranberry juice slowly to layer and garnish with an orange wheel.

Here are some more non-alcoholic Halloween themed drinks from DrinkSmart

Halloween Mocktails

Coping with Loneliness while Self-Isolating

With cold and flu season upon us, there is a chance you might have to self-isolate if you have symptoms that overlap with COVID-19. Having to self-isolate can feel lonely and challenge our mental health. Here are some steps you can take to help you cope during a period of isolation:

  • Find alternate ways to connect with friends and loved ones: phone, text, FaceTime, emails can allow you to stay in touch and receive support. Online gaming is also a great way to connect and keep busy.
  • Let others know you want to stay connected: inform friends and loved ones that keeping in touch in other ways is important to you. Ask them if they can also reach out to you during this period
  • Practice wellness at home: stretch and move your body (check out Campus Rec's on-demand fitness classes), get proper nutrition, and ensure good rest.
  • Remind yourself that isolation is not forever: You will be able to get out and about and resume your normal activities again.

If you are self-isolating and struggling with mental health- don't forget that Student Health and Wellness counselling appointments are being conducted via phone so you can still book an appointment. If you find yourself lonely after hours, call a hotline like Good2talk or check out online peer support like TalkCampus or 7 cups.

A reminder that one way to avoid having to self-isolate is to get your flu shot, available at Student Health and Wellness in Thunder Bay, pharmacies across Ontario and from primary health care providers.

coping with loneliness while self-isolating

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