"Mental Health" Monday

Mental Health Days: They’re the Real Deal!

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Sometimes, life can be overwhelming. Pile on the exams and  the extra long papers while trying to get enough sleep and maintain a social life, like can get super stressful, super fast. And sometimes, we need a break, even if it’s for a day. Enter mental health days.

Ah…Mental health days!  An increasingly  popular “excuse” to take a day off and get some “R and R”, this phenomenon has actually been starting to show major benefits.  Why should taking a day to rest your mind make you feel guilty? Why can’t it be the same as taking a sick day? Our brain is just as important as our body, so we should be taking care of it the same way, right?

While taking sick days to recover from a stomach bug or a bad migraine is rather common and acceptable, you should also consider taking a mental health day to balance your emotional state when necessary. If we don’t take these days when they’re most needed, the stress and emotional imbalance will build up to such a point that we could end up breaking down at the worst possible moment (also known as that moment when you hit a “mental breakdown”).

The amazing thing about embracing a day like this is that once you are able to recharge, you can come back to your work and your studies and be more productive than you would’ve been without the break.

 

Know the Difference

We all know people (or maybe it’s even been you) who skip class because they’d rather watch Parks and Rec or Bob’s Burgers on Netflix. This is not the same as needing a mental health day, and it’s important to make the difference between those kinds of days and the actual need to take a mental health day.

Clear signs are feeling exceptionally stressed and physically exhausted to the point where you feel like you are about to “snap”. This can occur due to an unexpected life event that you need to process, or just because of the sheer overwhelming feelings that often come with being an adolescent college student.

It is important to not abuse these days, but also to be aware that if you feel the need to take several of these during the semester, that there may be a more serious underlying problem that you’ll want to give proper attention.

 

Get the most out of a Mental Health Day

Although it’s tempting to sleep all day or spend your afternoon in bed watching Netflix, it’s important to get out of your dorm, apartment, or house and do something physically or mentally stimulating. Find what will recharge you and bring back that positive energy. It could be seeing a friend, listening to music, catching up on some reading, or even meditating—basically anything that allows your body and mind to rest and reenergize.

 

It’s Okay to Skip that Class!

We know it’s common for students to get sick and send an email to a professor that reads “I haven’t been feeling well recently so I won’t be in class this afternoon,” is perfectly acceptable.  If they trust that you are truly sick, they may assume you have the flu—even if it’s really your stress that’s making you feel so unwell. It makes no difference how you word it—either way, you are not at your 100 percent and it’s up to your own discretion how much you would like to share. Most teachers are actually really understanding when it comes down to it. 

The most important thing about taking a mental health day, if you choose to do so, is to not make yourself feel guilty. There is no need to apologize to anyone because this is your personal, mindful decision and you should embrace it. Sometimes we all need a break, so make sure you pay attention to your body, and know when it needs one!

By: Laurie Thompson

"Mental Health" Monday

Let’s Talk About It: The Unfortunate Portrayal of Mental Illness During the Halloween Season!

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Though Halloween is long gone by now, the holiday season is still upon us, which means that fun activities like hayrides, pumpkin picking, and haunted houses are still activities we all love to enjoy as the weather gets chillier.

Halloween is an exciting day—weekend, if you’re a college student—to dress-up in colorful and elaborate costumes and drink the night away. Some people dress-up as bunnies and cats, others as Waldo, Popeye, or the Scooby Doo gang. Unfortunately, sometimes when we dress-up as certain characters, we may run into the issue of offending people. Halloween costumes can straddle that fine line between playful and creative, to downright cruel, but a lot of times people do not outwardly realize this.

This is especially true when considering costumes that may intentionally or unintentionally mock mental health disorders or conditions. Fortunately, I didn’t see any outstanding examples of these in Syracuse this Halloween. But what immediately comes to my mind is asylum-themed amusement parks or attractions based around psychiatric wards that display actors in straight jackets, nurses covered in blood, or patients with tousled hair and a butcher’s knife.

This Halloween, an attraction at an amusement park in California at Knott’s Berry Farm’s—“FearVR: 5150”—received national attention. It was criticized for their insensitive portrayal of mental illness, encouraging them, as well as other fright-night like fairs, to eventually close the attraction.

 

Let’s Talk About It!

This controversial attraction first came to light when a man, whose mentally ill son was beaten to death by police officers several years ago, came to the park and heard that visitors were being strapped to wheelchairs in a psychiatric institute in the midst of being chased by a so-called terrifying patient named Katie. I cannot imagine the trauma this would cause a father who has lost his son to a mental disease, let alone the trauma it would cause any individual.

With the fear this kind of attraction induces, it’s no wonder that mental illness is so stigmatized. Based off of experiences like these and the way that television and movies often depict the mentally ill, people may go on to think that mentally disordered individuals are fearful and harmful, which are not fair descriptions to be applied so freely. When mental health is stigmatized in these manners, it makes it even more difficult for sufferers to reach out for the help that they need.

Besides these themed attractions, there are costumes sold in stores for all ages such as straight jackets, t-shirts that read “PSYCH WARD: OUT PATIENT,” the Joker from Batman who is described as a “schizophrenic clown,” or most shocking to me, ‘suicide scar’ makeup kits.  Although some have been pulled from the shelves, others will still pop up next Halloween and be chosen by people who may not consider the impact of their decisions.

It is entirely possible that some of those that struggle with mental health disorders would not be offended by these costumes or Halloween depictions, but it is definitely true that there are people who do find them very unsettling. To be safe, next year I suggest sticking with dressing-up as Wednesday Addams, a Dr. Seuss character, or even Chewbacca. Protest attractions that stereotype mental illness and portray those with mental illness in a negative light.  That way, mental health stays out of the Halloween culture and we can all continue to dance and party in our silly costumes!

       By: Laurie Thompson

"Mental Health" Monday

The Dangers of Calorie Counting

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It can start with the simple idea of reconstructing your diet. You look in the mirror one day and you’re startled by what you see. You think, “when did these pants get so tight?” or “Have I let myself go that much?” It’s frightening when you realize you’ve gotten so caught up in everything else going on in your life, that you’ve become too busy for the more important things, like your health. You realize that the “quick slice of pizza” you grab for dinner every now and then and the lack of time spent in the gym as opposed to the library does eventually catch up with you. When your jeans start to feel a little tight, you realize that maybe it’s time to change. 

So you decide it’s time to try something different. No more pizza for dinner. No more late night snacking. No more post-Frat party trips to Kimmel. I know, I know. It’s hard, but you realize that the easiness of fast food isn’t worth it anymore. You start out by deciding to make healthier choices. So you swap out the pizza for an apple and peanut butter instead ,and a salad here and there, but still, those pants aren’t getting any looser. What’s the problem? Yes, you’re eating healthier, but the work isn’t equalling the results you want, and you get frustrated. It’s disheartening to be putting in the work and seeing no change on the scale. So you decide to try something else. You’ve heard of calorie counting and how it’s worked for others, so why not try it. That way, you are aware of every little thing that goes in your body, and out.

You download the best rated app you can find on the App Store. You enter your height, current weight, age, and the amount of weight you wish to lose in a certain amount of time. “This is great!”,  you think to yourself. I can eat whatever I want as long as it’s under the 1,200 calorie limit. Little do you know that this is only enough to just get by. In reality, a normal diet, with proper exercise, for someone trying to maintain their weight is 2,000 calories.

Regardless, you start to notice those results you’ve been after starting to show. But what’s the cost? You’re constantly tired, you lack energy, you are moody and irritable, and eating has become a chore you dread every day, yet you’re waiting for every meal because the uncomfortableness in your stomach reminds you all day that there’s barely enough in there to keep you going.All you can think about is how many calories you are putting in and out of your body. It’s become an obsession. You are starving. 

When It Becomes A Problem

All those symptoms are signs from your body telling you that it’s hungry, and ignoring them not only halts weight loss, but also is detrimental to your health. Calorie counting, while not always a negative thing, can often times lead to eating disorders and unhealthy obsessions. So in the end is it really worth it? Do the results outweigh the stress you’ve been putting your body under in order to see those precious results? The answer is always no.

If your method of dieting takes away the pleasure of enjoying a meal with family or friends because of the guilt that follows, something is most definitely wrong. Sometimes referred to as orthorexia nervosa, meaning “fixation on righteous eating,” the obsessive behavior of calorie counting has not been classified by the DSM-IV as a clinical disorder, but the notion of hitting the “perfect number” of daily calorie intake has become an increasingly common issue among many avid dieters.

This idea that restriction is synonymous with results has become skewed enough for people to believe that their dietary success is dependent on an intake of the bare minimum of a balanced diet. However, results are dependent on the exact opposite of what these extreme dieters strive to attain. The fixation on numbers can leave extreme dieters bodies extremely malnourished and over-worked.

Look, we aren’t discrediting the idea that calorie intake is irrelevant.  Calories do count, and it’s important to watch what you eat, focusing on putting healthy foods, fruits, and veggies in your body one processed sugars and carbs. But they don’t make up the entire equation of weight loss. Sometimes, you put on a few pounds, and guess what? It is not the end of the world! You are still your beautiful, amazing self, and you will lose the extra weight in time. If you’re unsure as to where to start when it comes to reconstructing a healthy diet for yourself, recognize that the healthiest way to lose those few extra pounds is a way in which your mental health and happiness come first. Take care of your body and the results will soon follow! Because eating shouldn’t feel like a burden. It should simply be a tasty part of life. 

By: Nadine Ghantous

"Mental Health" Monday

Pick Up The PaintBrush: Why You Should Challenge Your Brain Through Artistic Expression!

F_2014_10_Art.jpgJust like we may strive to eat healthy and exercise to keep up our physical fitness, it’s equally important to exercise our brains. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and it’s definitely not as grueling as the stair-master at Archbold!

In fact, all you have to do is find your individually suited, creative outlet to work those brain cells. Everyone has their own preferences for artistic expression, but the most important thing to note is that you do not have to be Mozart or Picasso to benefit from the following activities:

  • Expressive writing: poetry, journaling, story writing, etc.
  • Visual arts: painting, drawing, coloring, etc.
  • Movement: all forms of dance!
  • Music: playing an instrument, singing, rapping, etc.
  • Miscellaneous: knitting, cooking or baking, gardening—you name it.

Besides the obvious appeal to this variety of artistic expressions (that they’re a lot of fun!) they can provide amazing benefits for our mental wellbeing that are associated primarily with the process of the activity and not necessarily the finished product!


It Helps With Stress relief

You know how yoga can relax your muscles and allow you to concentrate on your breathing? Think of writing, or painting, or even dancing as yoga for the brain. Both acts encourage a sense of mindfulness, which is being consciously aware of oneself in the present moment.

This state of mind gives us a distraction from the thousands of thoughts that usually run through our minds during the school day. Taking the time to stretch the mind allows us to concentrate, relax, and become enveloped in the natural high it produces. It will also help improve memory later!

 

It Increases in Brain Connectivity

Every time we engage in these creative acts, our brain creates new connections between brain cells. In turn, communication between different parts of the brain becomes enhanced, keeping our brains sharp and more efficient at problem solving. How amazing is it that doing things we love can keep our brain healthy? We just have to make sure to make the time for it!

 

It Improves Your Mood

This one is mainly common sense: the more we do the things that we love, especially partaking in our favorite creative hobbies, the happier we feel. Artistic expression can even act as a sort of therapy when we’re having relationship issues, stressing over academics, or even when we are simply trying to understand the inconsistencies of Syracuse weather. When in doubt, start creating!

 

It Boosts Self-Esteem

Whether you decide to submit a piece of writing or art to one of SU’s student magazines, share home-made cupcakes with friends, knit a hat for your Mom, or simply keep your art to yourself, be proud of what you’ve created. Expressing oneself helps to maintain positive identity, which makes us— and our brain—happy and healthy.!

 

These artistic acts are enjoyable and relaxing for so many individuals, because they allow us to express our emotional states in different forms that may otherwise be emotionally or physically difficult to convey.  As Pablo Picasso once said “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” and life can get pretty stressful and “dusty” as the semester picks up before finals! So on your off-day from the gym (or if every day is an off-day…no shame!), take a moment to explore your artistic side and give your brain a good workout!

By: Laurie Thompson

 

 

 

"Mental Health" Monday

You Are What You Eat: The Link Between Diet and Mental Health

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It’s a known stereotype that college students don’t always eat the healthiest. This is especially true in the first couple years of college, when us college kids are tossed into tiny dorm rooms, and have to make due with the dining halls, prepackaged snacks stored in our rooms, and the occasional microwave meals. It becomes the norm to keep snack-y foods that won’t spoil in our rooms for late night studying or for when friends come over to hang out. It’s this constant access to “on-the-go” junk food snacks and meals, and a lack of access to fresh produce and sources of protein that can make us gain weight, have low energy levels, and overall just have us feeling “blech”.

But these foods don’t just affect our body physically. They affect our emotional and mental health as well.  Aside from the physical effects of eating unhealthy, our brain suffers too. Without the proper nutrients, the brain can’t do its job and in turn, our mental health can take a toll. To get to the root of the connection between our mental health and diet, let’s take a look at some popular snack choices made among college students.


Coffee

A lot of college students drink a lot of coffee. It’s what keeps us going when we are writing papers, studying for exams, or simply just trying to get through that 8 a.m. lecture.  In fact, our generation has been credited with spending too much coffee on this caffeine infused concoction. This caffeinated beverage becomes especially accessible if we own that magical machine called a Keurig that becomes the first thing we interact with in the morning. After that first brew, though, there’s still Starbucks and Dunkin to get us through the rest of the day. And afternoon. And evening. Which begs the question, “Can you ever have too much coffee?”

Oreos

A staple American snack, this black and white cookie is a favorite among hungry college students looking for a sugary fix. It’s hard to find a college kid who doesn’t enjoy this tasty treat. It’s a yummy fix for when you want something sweet and on the go, but while you may enjoy it, your brain might be suggesting otherwise. 

Ramen

The most stereotypical and famous college snack choice. It’s an easy and quick dinner when it’s too late to go to the dining hall, and all it requires is a microwave, water,  and a plastic fork. How much easier could a meal get?

Goldfish/Cracker-like Foods

They may not be everyone’s favorite go-to processed food (maybe you like Cheez-itz or Cool Ranch Doritos) but it’s that easy “chip” food that you throw into your mouth while watching Netflix or writing up an essay for an 8am. It’s easy to mindlessly eat these types of foods when you are occupied while doing homework or studying, but how is it affecting your brain?

Alcohol

While there are college kids that pass on alcohol, a research has shown that a majority of kids “work hard, play harder” when it comes to downing booze. Whatever your drink of choice is, alcohol can certainly be a staple of the college kids diet, and already has been known to affect you both physically, and mentally.


So how does ingesting these kinds of foods impact our mental health?

  1. Frequent consumers of coffee use it as a cognitive enhancer to keep awake and alert throughout the day, and has shown benefits associated with a reduction in cognitive decline and memory disorders. But as we begin to depend on it, so much so that we’re drinking more than 4 cups of coffee a day, we may start to experience awful symptoms such as insomnia, restlessness, and even anxiety.   
  2. Foods high in sugar, like Oreos,  get absorbed very rapidly into the bloodstream which often causes a surge of energy that later wears off and has us feeling a “sugar crash”, leaving us feeling drowsy and low.
  3. As college students, our brains are still developing, and a developing brain needs nourishing food to support proteins and tissues that help to transfer information between brain and body. A diet consisting of only processed foods, like goldfish, and microwavable foam cups, a.k.a. ramen, isn’t enough to provide these important nutrients, which can cause poor communication in the body leading to mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
  4. Beverages like alcohol can actually increase anxiety and depression, because it inhibits neurotransmitters in the brain which makes us more likely perceive outside forces as threats and thus makes us “on edge” or stressed.

 

The moral of the story is, if you want a happy stress-free brain it’s important to think about a balanced diet that involves limited sugary and high-fat, processed foods, and instead a greater amount of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats—like avocado! Without these nutrients, the brain may become overworked, depressed, or anxious and we all know that when we hit these points, it’s nearly impossible to function as a student in school, let alone as a human being. So take some time to focus on what you are actually putting in your body, because the key to stress relief and a happier you starts with what you put on your plate!

 

By: Laurie Thompson

"Mental Health" Monday

Let’s Talk About It: Exercise Addiction

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We’ve all probably heard the saying “too much of anything is a bad thing,” but does that really apply to everything? Can something like exercise fit into such a category? With the United States ranked as the most obese country in North America  it seems hard to believe that anyone goes to such extremes to exercise and workout, to the point where it is an addiction, when many of us can’t even motivate ourselves to get to the gym regularly. However, exercise addiction is a prevalent issue among avid gym-goers.

Although not classified as a DSM-5 disorder, exercise addiction goes hand-in-hand with many common classified disorders. The comfort in the habit can have the ability to transition to compulsive behavior when the desire for results outweighs the enjoyment of the actual activity.


Let’s Talk About It

I don’t mean to say that anyone who goes to the gym on a regular basis has a problem – really the opposite – more power to you if you’ve gotten into a routine of living a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Then again, there is a fine line where the balance may fall more heavily to one side of the scale and the negative effects that come with it, especially if one is trying to achieve weight loss through exercising. Living a balanced life doesn’t necessarily mean there should be an overcompensation in one area when there’s a lack in another. Just as much as exercise is an important factor in keeping this balance, proper nutrition and adequate amounts of rest also aid in achieving the results you want to see in a healthy and regulated way. Which means that sometimes, it IS better to take a nap, or even lay in your bed and watch netflix instead of trying to squeeze a workout in when your body is telling you not to.

Know When It’s Too Much

If you find yourself prioritizing your workouts over your downtime and even over your school work,  recognize that it may be time to re-prioritize. If you find yourself feeling fatigued, overly agitated, or more tense because you didn’t get to the gym, you may be experiencing a degree of withdrawal. It’s true working out is an excellent way to combat stress in your daily life because working out releases endorphins, that help you relax.  However, without the “high” many experience after completing a workout, leaving a sense of refreshment and rejuvenation, irritability can quickly replace what was once a good mood. If you define your happiness on the physical results you strive to attain, stop. There’s a lot more to who you are than how you look to other people. Workout for yourself, because it makes you feel good, not because it’ll make you look better to someone else.

Find Your Balance, and Listen to Your Instincts

Listen to your body. If it’s telling you to take a break, do it. Scheduling regular rest days not only aids in the repair of the muscles you’re working hard,  but will also help you reach your goals faster than pushing yourself beyond realistic limits. Be good to yourself! Eat the chocolate and get fries on the side because you do deserve it every once in awhile, find balance in learning to treat yourself while working towards realistic goals you set for yourself. Yes, having a plan for exactly how you want to achieve such goals is a good way of keeping on track and staying organized, but nothing in life is certain. Learn how to adjust to the challenges you may face along the way and know that one day, you’ll get there.

By: Nadine Ghantous

 

"Mental Health" Monday

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: Breaking the Mental Health Stigma

 

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-2-58-56-pmEveryone gets stressed. The reality of college is that work is stressful, relationships are stressful, and finding a balance between it all has the tendency to be, well… stressful. When it comes to how we handle the challenges of our day to day, everyone’s different. The only right way to handle the ever-changing “status-quo” of our lives is to take it as it comes. And when it all gets to be just a little too much, and you feel like it’s one thing after another stacking up against you, those limits of exactly how much we can handle are pushed.  

More likely than not, everyone reaches a breaking point. For the majority of college students however, how to handle that breaking point is just as big a problem as the stressors they’re facing.

Facing the Facts
According to a study done by Penn State, anxiety has surpassed depression as the most frequent mental health issue college students deal with. However the majority of those who express their anxiety do not seek help in regards to coping with it. So when do you stop and realize when the anxiety you experience has reached a point when help is necessary? And why is it so hard for those who do experience a degree of anxiety that interferes with their academic and social lives to actually get the help they need?

When did your Mental Health Become a Bad Thing?

The stigma behind therapy has always been slightly negative because usually admitting to needing outside  help means admitting that you are unable to help yourself. It seems everyone is always striving to keep up that image of “having it all”, and it usually seems more appealing than being “crazy enough to see a psychologist.”

Think about it like this, why if people are so adamant about seeing a physician for a simple stomach ache or back pain, are they so afraid to talk to someone about days on end of unexplainable sleepless nights, or stress levels that leave them incapacitated, exhausted, and depressed? Just as much as the flu can leave you lying in bed wishing for congestive relief, shouldn’t the stress that comes with our day to day lives that overwhelms us to the point of shutting down be enough to seek help?

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You Are Not Alone
Although I sit here and write to you about how the stigma surrounding therapy has inadvertently hindered many from receiving potentially helpful treatment, during a portion of my college career, something I’m not usually eager to share is that I  myself sought out the assistance of a therapist. Although I’ve used the adjective “melodramatic” to describe myself more than a handful of times, I recognized the when it came to my happiness and well-being, I wasn’t overly emotional or irrational about the fact that I was unhappy.

Like a lot of people my age, especially college students,  for too long I had convinced myself that I was making a bigger deal out of the constant feeling of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. “It will pass,” I would think. “One day I’ll wake up and I’ll just ‘get over it’.”

 I mean what could I really complain about. I was a healthy twenty year old having the time of my life at an amazing university, with a good support system of family and friends.

Don’t get me wrong though, I didn’t have this epiphany overnight. It took months of coping in unhealthy ways to recognize that ignoring the problem wasn’t going to make it go away and I needed outside help. It wasn’t until a friend confided in me with her concerns about her own unhappiness that I realized maybe I wasn’t crazy for thinking it was crazy to not be happy. It took listening to a complete stranger, someone totally unbiased, who knew nothing but my name, to tell me that I was far from alone when it came to the anxiousness I felt every day.

Break the Stigma
Listen to your Instincts. You know yourself. You know exactly how much your body can physically and mentally handle. And I get it, there will be those weeks when you have to push those limits in order to succeed, but be able to recognize when to pull back. If the stress is daunting enough to have you running and hiding from it in any possible way, you’re not alone. Know when to ask for help, whether it’s from a family member, a friend, or even the on campus counseling center,  and recognize that at times, it’s perfectly ok to not be ok.

Syracuse University Counseling Center Contact Information: 315.443.4715

By: Nadine Ghantous

"Mental Health" Monday

Why You Should Become a Morning Person

As college students, it’s easy to fall into the trap of procrastination. We tend to do homework and study late into the night and wake up at the last possible moment to get ready for class. But we’re groggy, sleep-deprived, and unprepared for class. There are actually a lot of benefits to becoming a morning… Continue reading Why You Should Become a Morning Person