Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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How Travel Can Help Students Reset

adventure-1850912_1920Travel can create unforgettable experiences and offer incredible opportunities that you may not get at home, or on campus. It allows you the freedom to explore a new place or culture and step outside of your normal structured daily experiences.

Travel isn’t only helpful as a reset; it can be beneficial for your mental health.  If you’re feeling bogged down by the chaotic circumstances of every day life, travel can help you get out of your head and into a greater sense of wellbeing. This is especially valuable for those experiencing the stresses of student life.

If you’re looking for an exciting experience that will help you push the reset button, taking a trip could be the perfect way to truly unwind, unplug and get a much-needed health break.

Switching up your routine

If you’re stuck in repetitive mindset, or work on a set schedule it can create a depressive mindset through slowed cognition. By breaking the routine, you introduce your brain to the prospect of developing new ways of approaching your life, allowing you to process your world and surroundings in a healthier manner.

Is there any better way to shake up your routine than travelling? Going on a trip allows you to take a step back from the stress of classes, exams, and other projects while enveloping you in a broader, more interpersonal classroom that traditional institutions can’t always offer.

A time to reflect

A release from everyday stresses can leave room for better personal development. I’ve known many students who have said that a change of scenery, if only for a few days, can give them the much-needed quality time to evaluate their life’s direction and take stock of their goals.

I consider self-reflection to be a very healthy and beneficial aspect of any person’s mental health journey. A greater awareness of your needs, particularly when it comes to your mental health, is key for creating a positive, transformative mindset that can help you feel more equipped to tackle challenges. After you take the time to reassess your values in a different place, you’ll feel more capable of dealing with your student life back home.

Traveling on a budget

You may be thinking that you’d love to travel and “get away from it all” but you are on a tight budget.  Luckily, there are a lot of options available for students who want to have the experience of taking their studies to a different country.

In one of our previous blogs, I talked about the various ways that you can get the most out of studying abroad. Talk to your Student Assistance Program, and you may find that you have several options available to take courses overseas. This is an excellent way of travelling on a budget, and gives you the advantage of having the best of both worlds.

Travelling doesn’t always need to be about the distance. Even if you can get to a cottage with friends for a weekend, you may find that the time spent away from the regular stresses of school will make you feel more relaxed and prepared to take on future challenges.  With Airbnb and other less expensive vacation rental sites, you may find a destination cheaper than you thought!

For more information on how you can recharge and reset, contact your Student Assistance Program today.

 

 

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Creating A Mental Health Journey With The Arts

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In Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) created an initiative to offer free passes to mental health clients and professionals. The goal was to connect those with mental health issues through art, offering a unique space where they could feel safe and supported by like-minded people. This program is incredibly inspiring – I’d love to see more like it!

I talked about how creativity can positively enhance students’ mental wellbeing during exams, but I’d like to go a bit more in-depth into the mental health benefits of creativity. I’ve seen firsthand the incredibly positive results that the arts can have on people suffering from mental health issues, especially in the student community. This form of therapy is becoming an increasingly popular way for students suffering from mental health issues such as severe anxiety and PTSD to express their creativity on their healing journey.

Here are some of the biggest ways that I’ve seen the arts transform the lives of students struggling with mental health issues:

A new type of safe space

The concept of safe space has been a topic of conversation on many university campuses over the past few years. Despite many debates as to the validity of maintaining safe spaces, I’ve found that they can be very beneficial for several communities, particularly for marginalized students. In the mental health community, safe space takes on additional significance, as many students with mental health concerns may find it difficult to be in public places.

Art galleries and other artistic venues offer a calming, safe atmosphere where students can enjoy a public space with individuals experiencing the same mental health challenges. I’ve often seen these venues become a supportive environment where students are encouraged to connect with others through the healing power of the arts.

An expanding community

To the same point, I’ve seen many students feel so burdened by the prospect of socializing in a group that they can feel unable to leave the comfort of their own home. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are enough to make it difficult for some people to leave their homes, but the additional stigma related to mental illness can make it unbearable to be in groups. Programs that connect students through artistic venues can offer a sense of community in times where they may feel particularly isolated.

I personally recommend programs that expand mental health communities through the arts because the stigma against mental health is not as prevalent in these communities. There is a strong indication that many artistic groups work to support those suffering from mental health challenges, offering opportunities for self-expression through the healing journey.

Art and its role in personal wellbeing

Creative energy and emotional wellbeing have been linked in several studies, indicating that participation in the arts can improve a person’s quality of life. In the student community, I’ve seen an overall increase in the level of positivity, coupled with a decrease in symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. In fact, a study revealed that 71% of participants felt a decrease in anxiety, with 76% claiming that they felt an increase in their sense of overall wellbeing.

To me, this is a strong indication that there is a correlation between creative pursuits and combatting mental health issues. With such encouraging statistics, and an increasing trend towards students with mental health issues becoming engaged in the arts, I look forward to seeing more programs like this place in other communities.

My hope is that in the future, programs, such as the AGO’s, will be increasingly available. The demand is there, and in conjunction with your Student Assistance Program, the journey towards better mental health and wellbeing is within your reach.

 

 

 

 

 


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Going Viral: The Consequences of Video Sharing

action-adult-blur-1632182In November of 2018, Susan Westwood accosted two African American women in the parking lot of their apartment complex. A video shows Westwood hurling racial insults and accusing the two women of “not belonging there.”

The video went viral, resulting in Westwood being served with four misdemeanour charges, including uttering threats and assault. Although this can be seen as a positive end to a troubling situation, the video is proof that viral video sharing isn’t without its consequences.

In 2019, viral videos have the power to ruin someone’s life or reputation. I’ve seen the negative effects, including depression, severe anxiety, and even suicide, that these videos can have on a person’s mental health.

The end of privacy 

I’ve found that one of the greatest risks in video sharing lies in the potential to track down private information. “Doxing” is a term that refers to the hacking and sharing of information, such as a person’s name, location, and credit card number. Once this information is shared online, anyone can access it.

I’ve also found that the subjects of these viral videos can sometimes feel as though their safety is at risk. Public shaming in online forums is relatively common, but in extreme cases, people may experience death threats. This can even happen to minors, as is the case in the recent headlines involving the boys at Covington Catholic High School. 

In many cases, these violations of privacy can lead to online bullying. Regardless of the video that is posted, it’s important to remain aware of the legal ramifications of publicly sharing private information and the long-term effects of online harassment. Cyber bullying has been strongly linked to an increased likelihood of developing mental health issues. Additionally, young people who experience online harassment are twice as likely to self-harm.

With more videos becoming viral each day, I feel as though these violations of privacy are unlikely to cease anytime soon.

How you can protect yourself 

I’ve heard of many situations where students were filmed without their permission. Parties are infamous for students filming other students without their knowledge, often in situations that could prove damaging to the students’ mental health or reputation.

As well, I’ve heard of some people being subjected to assault as a part of “hazing” rituals and that assault being recorded. This aspect of viral video sharing is particularly disturbing as these videos can sometimes cause lasting damage to the victim of the assault, serving as a triggering reminder of the incident.

On campus, you may not always know when you’re being filmed without your permission. However, there are some steps you can take to ensure that both your privacy and safety remain intact:

  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially in social settings (e.g. a party).
  • Make sure that you keep private information off of social media.
  • If you suspect that any of your personal accounts have been hacked, change your passwords.
  • If you ever feel as though your safety is threatened, contact the authorities immediately.

Westwood may be a case of viral video sharing for the betterment of a situation, but when in the wrong hands, these videos can produce shameful, dangerous, and sometimes lethal consequences. If you want to learn more about how viral videos can impact your mental health, contact your Student Assistance Program today.

 


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The Next Fix: Social Media And Addiction

smartphone-2123520_1920In the previous blog, I discussed how social media carries the potential to warp your self-perception. In this blog, I’ll address one of the additional dangers that social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook can pose to your mental health: addiction.

Digital addiction is a relatively new concern in the mental health community. Since the popularization of social media apps, many people have become increasingly reliant on these digital platforms. Although social media offers several advantages in terms of communication and connection, its use can become problematic if it takes priority over the rest of your daily activities.

I’ve seen many people become reliant on social media platforms as a form of self-assurance, or even as a form of escapism or procrastination. Here are some of the signs of social media addiction, and what you can do to help yourself, or someone you care about.

The signs and symptoms

Social media addiction to Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook can be difficult to identify, and should be diagnosed by a medical professional. However, there are signs to be aware of when evaluating your social media habits. Some of these signs include:

  • Constant thinking or planning of posts for social media
  • Increasing frequency of use
  • Use of social media to escape personal issues or emotional stress
  • Preference to communicate with others by social media or text rather than in-person when it is appropriate to do so
  • Feeling restless or anxious when you can’t engage on social platforms
  • A negative impact on your personal or professional life as a result of social media use
  • Reduced contact with people in immediate social situations (i.e. a preference to be on your phone (on social media, texting, gaming) instead of engaging with and/or focusing on the person  that you are with)
  • Checking your social media at inappropriate or dangerous times (e.g. while driving, going downstairs, or during important meetings)

Although these symptoms may not be a hard and fast indication of an addiction, they can be considered potential warning signs. Has anyone ever commented on your persistent social media usage in class? Have you had trouble concentrating in a meeting because you’ve been thinking about checking your social media? These could be potential red flags.

If not treated, the long-term effects of social media addiction may include depression, emotional and societal withdrawal, self-esteem issues, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts. If you suspect that you, or someone you care about, are experiencing several of the above symptoms, contact your SAP or EAP immediately.

How to treat social media addiction

Unlike many addictions (e.g. drug or alcohol addiction), social media addiction is best treated with reduced and controlled use, as opposed to abstinence. Even some of the major social media companies, such as Facebook, are now using behavioural data to determine what major social media platforms can do to limit their products to those who are experiencing a potential addiction. Although this measurement is controversial, this is a strategy that has been applied by the online gaming industry, with some valuable results.

In addition to cognitive behavioural therapy and other forms of support, recovery from social media addiction may require additional efforts on your part. These efforts may include:

  • Deleting social media on your phone and limiting your access to it
  • Having supportive friends and family members to help you stay accountable
  • Establishing a routine that does not revolve around, or include, social media usage
  • Discovering your triggers for social media use (e.g. boredom, sadness), and developing coping strategies for when they arise
  • Spending more time with family and friends face-to-face

A social media addiction can feel difficult to overcome, but with help from your Employee or Student Assistance Program, as well as support from loved ones, you can achieve a healthier, more positive relationship with the digital world.


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Keeping Up Appearances: Social Media And Self-Perception

media-998990_1920Social media has been one of the world’s most amazing advancements in communication and social integration. In over two decades, social media has evolved to create an experience for users that allows them to stay in touch and share special moments on a unique platform. However, social media has developed a dangerous side, particularly in terms of users’ mental health.

I’ve often marvelled at how far we’ve come with technology, but at the same time, I’ve witnessed the toll that some social media apps can take on a person’s wellbeing. An increase in depression, anxiety, and body image issues has been attributed to prolonged or excessive social media use, including apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. But what are the exact risks that social media can pose to your mental health? And what can we do to give social media a more positive purpose?

A warped perception

 With the popularization of the “selfie,” some social media users can become enchanted by the idea of perfection. This has led to the development of several social media tools, such as filters, that enhance the overall appearance of a photo and decrease any perceivable “flaws” (e.g. blemishes, wrinkles, etc.) This creates a warped perception of a person’s self-image, leaving some people feeling out of touch with their own appearance, or with their life overall.

In extreme cases, some social media users have had their faces surgically altered to create the exact look that they can only achieve through filters and other photo editing tools.

The rise of photo editing

 The use of photo editing has occasionally been deemed controversial, especially in recent years. With many celebrities calling out publications for digitally retouching photos, there has been concern that many of these tools can further distort self-image, which may have a direct impact on mental health.

Social media apps have now integrated several user-friendly photo-editing tools, including Facetune, Snapseed, and Adobe Photoshop Express. These tools allow you to not just enhance your photos: they allow you to change facial features, skin texture and tone, and even skin colour.

Perception, reality, and addiction

 Aside from issues relating to body image and physical appearance, social media can be highly addictive. You may find yourself frequently checking Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook to see what other users are up to, but constant use or comparison can lead to a decreased sense of wellbeing.

Although some users may seem to have the perfect life on social media, the reality is often significantly different from what is portrayed online. The resulting comparisons, both from the user posting and from the users viewing the posts, can manifest in stress, anxiety, and obsession. The need to keep up appearances and comparisons may make some users ignore triggers, such as jealousy or shame, that inspire the necessary steps towards self-healing.

The good news

 We don’t always need to focus on the negative. Social media has facilitated a lot of positive changes in the way we stay in touch with our loved ones, communicate our unique ideas, and even market our personal brands. It helps us connect with people that we may not have had the opportunity to meet in the “real world”, and provides a wealth of information that can be shared with the touch of a button. If used for positive means, social media can enhance your life and expand your horizons.

For the most part (unless your job requires social media usage), it’s important to moderate your engagement. Limit the time that you spend per day on social apps, and work towards creating a positive attitude towards your own self-image. Remember that a lot of what’s happening in another person’s life is not necessarily posted on social. Working to maintain your own wellbeing, instead comparing yourself to others, will transform social media into a method of sharing your life in a more meaningful way.

Though it comes with its challenges, social media can be an incredibly powerful and positive tool. If you require guidance on how to better monitor your mental health and wellbeing while working with social media, don’t hesitate to contact your Employee or Student Assistance Program.


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Maintaining Your Mental Health While Studying Abroad

Hand Pointing on Map Planning for Trip with Travel Stuff IllustrStudying abroad can be an exciting opportunity for any student. Many universities offer programs for students to study in a different country, providing life-changing experiences while observing different cultures. As wonderful as the opportunity to study abroad may be, it can be difficult to adjust to a different country’s cultural practices. Loneliness, and even depression, can be common when you are away from the people and places that are familiar to you.

While you are studying abroad, you may find that making your mental health a priority becomes increasingly important. I’ve seen many students become withdrawn, and even depressed, from the lack of socialization and familiarity that comes with being away from home. However, try not to let this dissuade you from seizing the adventure of a lifetime. Here are some tips for maintaining your mental health while you’re studying abroad:

Stay in touch

One of the greatest advantages of modern technology is the ability to stay in touch with the people we care about. Apps like Skype and FaceTime allow you to have a face-to-face conversation with the people you love from anywhere in the world. In combination with social media, texting apps (e.g. WhatsApp), and email, there are more ways to stay in touch than ever.

A feeling of connection, especially with friends and family, is an essential part of a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. If you’re having difficulty adjusting to your life abroad, set aside some time per day when you can Skype or FaceTime someone special from home. That simple connection can make all the difference in the sensations of loneliness and isolation that can come from being away from the people and places you love.

Explore the local culture

While you’re away, try to take some time to enjoy all of the excitement that another culture has to offer. Many of the countries available for international exchange are rich in history, and filled with experiences that will become truly unforgettable, if you allow yourself to become surrounded by their vibrant possibilities. Visit a museum or an art gallery, take a walk through a historical park, and of course, don’t forget to enjoy the exquisite culinary experiences offered by your host country.

Although you may be far away from your friends and family, socialization is an essential part of your physical and mental health, particularly when you’re overseas. Make an effort to connect with other people in your school program and explore your host country together. In addition to studying together, you could visit local street festivals or exhibits together or discover a new favourite café. You may even develop some lifelong friendships over the course of your studies!

Use SAP International services

International students might have different mental health needs, depending on their previous experiences with distance travel and their approach towards cultural change. Each person’s experience abroad is going to be unique, and there will be times when you may need support. Student Assistance Programs are available to help international students in need of mental health services. Additional support while you are studying overseas can make a world a difference.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a Student Assistance Program provider at any time. Help is always available.

Although studying abroad presents some challenges for a lot of students in terms of adjustment, it can be also a rewarding experience that offers opportunities for your future education and employment. Knowing that SAP services are always available to you, should you need them, you can fully enjoy every moment and unique cultural experience that your host country can provide.


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Relieve the Stresses of Crunch-Time With Creativity!

painting-911804_1920With final projects and exams approaching, it’s important to find healthy ways to relieve stress. Research has shown that creative hobbies can help maintain a level of relaxation, personal enrichment, and productivity up until the last project or paper is submitted.

I’ve found that creative hobbies provide the perfect outlet to de-stress and decompress. Here are some creative forms of expression that have multiple mental health benefits to offer you peace of mind during busy periods at school:

Visual Arts 

Painting and drawing are two of the most relaxing hobbies that you can take up. There’s no way to get it wrong, so you can feel completely at ease with creating anything that fits your imagination. Conversely, photography can be a way of enjoying the visual arts by allowing your creative passions to be channelled into capturing inspiring images on camera. Best of all, with the accessibility of smartphone technology and online purchasing, these forms of creative expression are incredibly cost-effective.

Crafting

Arts and crafts are hugely popular right now – even with adults. This can encompass anything and everything with supplies that range from items purchased at an art supply store, to things that you discover in your own backyard. As an additional bonus, there’s evidence that engaging in forms of “play” (e.g. fun things you enjoyed doing as a child), has an incredibly positive effect on your health and wellness.

Music

Music can enhance the creative brain in a powerful way, both by listening and playing it. Community dance classes are an exciting and challenging way of expressing yourself through movement, as well as being a fun form of exercise. Playing an instrument, or even listening to music on your iPod are also ways of experiencing the psychological and emotional benefits of having music enhance your creative energy.

Writing

Leave the academic writing at the door, pick up a pen, and try your hand at creative writing. Expressing your thoughts and feelings through poetry, storytelling, and journalling is a rewarding way of getting out any frustrations and transforming them into something positive. To really benefit from this creative medium, try writing every day, even if it’s only a few words. You may be surprised at the rewarding long-term effects.

Colour Therapy

We all remember how much fun it was to dive into a colouring book as a child, but there’s evidence supporting the theory that colour therapy can be a relaxing hobby for adults as well. Used as a “mindfulness practice”, colour therapy isn’t just an excellent way of reducing stress; it can also serve as a form of meditation. As a huge bonus, you’ll get the same benefits as you would by sitting in meditative stillness, such as improved focus, memory, and restfulness.

For more expert tips to get through the rest of exam season, contact your Student Assistance Program provider to address any concerns and discuss available options.