Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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 I’ve seen many students become withdrawn, and even depressed, from the lack of socialization and familiarity that comes with being away from home.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. 

 

 


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Good Grades vs. Social Life – You Can Have Both!

image-from-rawpixel-id-401332-jpegDo you ever feel like you’re performing a juggling act, trying to meet all of your needs and wants at the same time? With work, school, friends, and family, just one more time commitment thrown into the mix might make it all come crashing down.

I’ve seen firsthand just how busy and chaotic the lives of students can be, resulting in inner turmoil and loneliness. And I understand that it may sometimes feel like you have no choice but to let either your grades slip or social life dwindle, especially in 1st year when everything you experience is new! However, there are some ways you can keep both:

Organize Study Groups

Whether you’re taking online or in-person courses, there are many options to host or attend effective study groups. Most libraries allow students to book private rooms, or you can meet at somebody’s house or a common area on campus. For online study groups, consider creating a Facebook group that’s only accessible to people that are invited. Study groups are great opportunities to focus on course material and provide opportunities for socializing for the following reasons:

  • Never Miss a Class. In case you ever need to miss a class due to illness or personal reasons, your study group will always be available to share their notes with you.
    • Pro Tip: Consider enrolling in a course with a friend! Most, if not all, post-secondary programs require a certain number of elective courses. So even if you and your friend are enrolled in different programs, you can still spend quality time with them in the classroom or lecture hall.
  • Mingle Afterwards. Once the group has covered the relevant material for the week, why not suggest that you all hang out afterwards for a meal, movie, or board game? This approach will allow you to effectively use your time for both school and pleasure!

Join Program-Specific Clubs

Most post-secondary schools have dozens or even hundreds of clubs or other extra-curriculars you can join. Some might be purely for fun, and others might be more applicable to your studies. If you don’t find a club that interests you, start your own! These are great ways to feel like a part of the school community while also improving your academics for the following reasons:

  • Build Your Resume. If you join a student organization or club that has elected positions, such as president or treasurer, holding such titles can look impressive to some employers. Even just being a regular member shows that you have passion.
  • Explore Off Campus. Many clubs organize field trips or social gatherings outside of their regularly scheduled meetings on campus. These might fulfill your social needs more than study groups.

Set a Schedule

For non-campus activities like going to the movies, out to dinner, or out on the town with friends, you may want to create an online calendar you can access from your computer and phone. Outlook and Google Calendar are just a few options available. This way you can always keep track of your responsibilities and time commitments, including projects, study times, club meetings, and social gatherings. Glancing at your calendar is also a quick and easy way to ensure you don’t overcommit and overwhelm yourself.

You can also free up more time throughout the school year by taking a couple of courses during the summer. If your typical course load during the spring and fall is five courses each, you can decrease it to four by taking two summer courses. Schools that offer summer classes allow you the option to spread out and dilute the stress – and increase the enjoyment – of your program.

If you need a little extra help finding a balance between your social life and academics and learning how you can incorporate both into your everyday routine, contact your Student Assistance Program provider.


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Student Budgeting Tips to Keep Your Mind off the Money

We’re well into the first month of school! Hopefully you have made a positive adjustment to the school year and your studies are going well thus far. At this time for some students, they may feel stressed about their personal finances. Even with the increasing number of government rebates and grants, post-secondary education isn’t cheap, and for some students, it is their first year of managing a budget on their own. As a student, it’s important you learn how to properly manage your student budget so that it lasts you all year long, and you can focus on what matters most – succeeding in your studies.

With that in mind, here are some simple budgeting tips I recommend so you can spend less time worrying about money and more time focusing on your academics and general well-being:

Download Finance Apps

Since most of us have our cellphones at our disposal whenever we need, you may want to consider using a finance app to track your daily purchases and spending.

Here are just a few of the dozens (if not hundreds) of mobile finance apps available and how they can help you build and stick to a budget:

  • MintMint allows you to bring all of your banking and credit card transactions into one password-protected space. You can easily set up budgets within the app and categorize your transactions, and Mint even sends you notifications when your bills are due or if you’re overspending.
  • WallyWally is particularly useful if you’re an international student, as it is one of few finance apps that allows users to document and create budgets with any form of currency.
  • You Need a Budget – If you don’t mind investing in a paid app, You Need a Budget links all of your accounts, helps you create personalized debt repayment plans, and hosts live financial planning workshops.

Use Budgeting Templates

A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of free budgeting templates to help you organize your income and expenses. If you’re unsure which to trust, consider using one offered by your financial institution; many banks, including TD Canada Trust, CIBC, RBC, and Scotiabank, offer online budget calculators. If you are new to Canada or if your bank doesn’t provide an online budgeting tool, the Government of Canada has also created a helpful student budget worksheet.

Buy Used Items

Many universities and colleges have bookstores on campus where students can sell textbooks they no longer need or buy used textbooks at a fraction of their original cost. I’ve also seen many Facebook groups where students gather to buy, sell, or trade textbooks, clothing, furniture, and electronics. If you can’t find a community social media group for your university or college, consider starting one yourself!

 

If you are in need of free and confidential financial advice, you can call your Student Assistance Program (SAP) 24/7 at 1-877-234-5327 (toll-free) to receive the personal financial counselling you need either by telephone or in-person. Stay well!

 

 


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How to Regain Your Passion for Education

book-841171_1920 (1)With the new school year just around the corner, you may fall into one of two categories: you’re either excited to return to campus to get back to your studies and/or see your friends, or you’re dreading having to get back to the books. If you fall into the latter category, this blog is for you. It’s important to remember that completing post-secondary education allows you to increase your potential earnings and, above all, pursue your dreams.

Here are some methods I suggest you try to motivate yourself to return to school:

Document Small Goals

Take a moment to write down your goals, both academic and professional. A three- or four-year degree can feel like an incredibly long time. Rather than be overwhelmed by the length of time required to complete your education, I advise you to take it one step at a time. What are your academic goals for this month, this week, or even just today? With every task you complete, no matter how small, you earn a sense of accomplishment that urges you to continue.

Once you’ve written down your goals, consider framing them and hanging them over your desk. This way, if you ever feel yourself lacking the motivation to continue your education, you can easily look up to remind yourself of your academic purpose.

 

Get Involved

You should look for opportunities to balance your schoolwork and social life. If you are a first-year student, get to know your campus and the clubs and sports it offers. If you don’t find a club that interests you, start your own! These are great ways to make new friends and feel like a part of the school community.

Whether you are a first-year student or not, consider building your resume with more than academics. Does your program offer internship or co-op opportunities? You could also look for an internship or part-time job in your field on your own or give back to your community by volunteering with an association that matters to you. The important thing is that you have an outlet to help with the stress associated with a heavy semester and exams.

 

Be Realistic

Has it crossed your mind that perhaps the program you’re in isn’t for you? If so, my advice would be to treat this new school year as a clean slate. You still have the option to switch your major or specialization or enrol in a smaller course load. It’s better to delay graduation by a semester or two pursuing a different or part-time academic path than it is to spend years completing a degree that no longer interests you.

If you need a little extra help rekindling your passion for your program, I encourage you to contact your Student Assistance Provider. They can help you find a balance between your personal and academic life, sort out potential financial concerns, discuss anxieties, and much more.


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Surviving the Opioid Crisis

medications-cure-tablets-pharmacy-51004It wasn’t too long ago that I spoke of the rising risk fentanyl posed to society. Fast-forward nearly two years later, and the opioid crisis we’re facing seems to only be getting worse, not better.

In 2015, one in nine deaths of Ontario youth aged 15 to 24 years were related to opioids. Since then, several hundred more have been reported. It is for these reasons that I encourage you to learn about the effects of opioids and the resources available to you and loved ones experiencing an opioid dependency.

What Are Opioids?
Opioids are medications that are most often prescribed by physicians to treat pain. Examples include morphine, oxycodone, and heroin. Like most pain relievers, opioids cause strong feelings of relaxation. This feeling can become highly addictive, and if opioids are taken in excess, users feel “high” and are at risk of overdosing.

What is the Opioid Crisis?

The primary opioid responsible for the crisis is fentanyl. Fentanyl is up to 100 times stronger, and therefore more addictive and dangerous, than morphine. Due to its addictive nature, it is often added without users’ knowledge to various street drugs. Such drugs are already highly addictive and dangerous, and unprescribed consumption of fentanyl drastically increases users’ chances of overdosing. Between January and September 2017, at least 2,923 deaths related to opioid overdoses occurred in Canada, 66% of which involved fentanyl.

What Are the Symptoms of Opioid Use?

Different opioids can produce different symptoms, but the general symptoms of opioids include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Liver damage
  • Infertility

The largest concern around opioid use is the high risk of overdose. For signs and symptoms of an overdose, visit our International Overdose Awareness Day blog.

What Resources Are Available to Combat the Crisis?

There are many safety precautions you and your loved ones can take to prevent overdosing on opioids, including the following:

  • Stay Informed: The Government of Canada has created a life-saving Opioids Toolkit to help you stay in the know.
  • Use Supervised Consumption Sites: Ideally, there wouldn’t be any illegal use of drugs, but supervised consumption sites provide safe spaces to use illegal drugs without fear of prosecution.
  • Acquire a Naloxone Kit: If you or someone you know is overdosing on opioids, administer naloxone to temporarily stop the overdose, and then call 911. Some provinces provide naloxone kits for free.

If you witness someone overdose or if you believe you are experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Even if you are unsure if what are witnessing or experiencing is an overdose, the safest option is to call 911.

If you or someone you know is using opioids ­– or any other recreational drug – and you fear for your and someone else’s safety, contact your health care provider, Aspiria’s Student Assistance Program services, or your school’s counselling services.


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Home for the Summer: A Guide to Living with Your Family, Again

271-ted72544532-ae-id-384598-jpegCongratulations, you survived exam season and a full year of school!

By now, you may have moved back in with your family for the summer. For some, this may be exciting, but for others, you may cringe at the thought of having to spend the entire summer living at home. It can be highly stressful sacrificing some aspects of your independence, especially if you’ve been calling the shots while away at school.

Regardless of your enthusiasm level for your familial situation, here are my tips on how to make the most out of living with your family again:

Maintain Your Social Circle

If your departure to school meant your parents became empty nesters while you were away, they may want to spend copious amounts of time with you while they can. However, your intentions may involve spending as much time as possible with new and old friends. With communication and empathy from both sides, everyone can understand each other’s social needs. To avoid feelings of isolation during the summer, try to stay in contact with whom you can, and remember to join in on family dinners and outings once in a while so as not to make your family feel isolated from you.

Avoid Going Stir Crazy

If you really need a break from your family and some time in the sun, take a road trip to meet your friends. Spending time outdoors, like at the beach or in a campground, is a great way to reduce stress. Prolonged time in cities can fatigue the brain, and time in nature allows it to rest. Having fun or relaxing outside throughout the summer can give your mind a much-needed break before returning to the grind of studies.

Help Around the House

A giant bonus of living with family is home-cooked meals, but you may want to consider cooking for your family once in a while. Cooking can be quite effective at combatting negative emotions, and testing out healthy recipes can be especially beneficial for your mental and physical health.

If you really want to get in your parents’ good books, sweep, vacuum, or dust when you have a moment. Cleaning not only benefits the household, but it can also directly affect your own mental and physical health. Simply making your bed every morning makes you 19 per cent more likely to get a good night’s sleep.

Even when everyone may mean well, hurtful things can be thought of, said to, or done between family members. If you are having difficulty adjusting to being home for the summer, please seek counselling and stay strong knowing that this living situation is only temporary.