Financial Wellness in the Holiday Season

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Regardless of what holidays we choose to celebrate, December can be rough on budgets, especially for college students. Between travel expenses, winter break plans, going out with friends to celebrate the end of the semester, and buying gifts, we often quickly spend much more money than we may have planned. Americans spend more during winter holidays than any other time of the year. Back-to-school shopping and sales during winter holidays make up about 20% of all retail throughout the year!

It’s especially important during this time of the year to prioritize financial wellness, which involves setting and achieving both long and short-term personal financial goals. Everyone’s financial status and goals are different, depending on income, wealth, spending, debt, values, etc., and are situated within our society’s financial and economic context.

Take some time to think about your finances.

How much do you have to spend?

How much do you need to save?

What are the most important things for you to spend money on or save money for?

Here are some ideas to keep your budget happy this season!

  1. Practice mindfulness. Being mindful means paying attention to what you are doing, noticing your thoughts, sensations, and the world around you without judgment. Research shows that mindfulness can actually help you make better decisions.
  2. Set a budget. What’s important to you? What are you going to need/want money for? Decide what you are able to afford based on your priorities and values, and then stick to it. Check out this list of apps for budgeting tools.
  3. Make a list and check it twice. This will help you stay focused on what you need and avoid purchasing on impulse. Check out these strategies to avoid impulse purchases!
  4. Try DIY gifts! Homemade gifts are wonderful both for your budget and for adding that personal touch to let your family and friends know how much you care. Need some inspiration? Here are 50 of the best DIY gift ideas.
  5. Give of your time. Some of the best gifts are things you can do for or with another person. For those of us that are craft-challenged, here are some great alternatives.
  6. Host a potluck. If you want to get together with friends, consider having a potluck instead of going out for an expensive meal. This way, you don’t have to get everyone to agree on a restaurant, and you’ll spend a lot less. Maybe try out a pizza potluck – everyone brings their favorite ingredient to share (just make sure someone brings the crust!). Instead of spending $20+ on a meal at a restaurant, you’ll spend less than $5 on your topping—plus, it’s a lot more fun!
  7. Be careful with credit card purchases.Having a credit card can be great for building credit, but it’s especially important during this time of the year to make sure we’re able to pay off the card on time at the end of the month. It’s also a time of year when our schedules are different than normal, so be sure to set a reminder for when you need to pay your bills. If you struggle with spending too much when you use a credit card, try only taking cash when you go shopping.

The end of the semester can be stressful with exams and final papers, and worrying about money can just make everything more complicated. Do yourself a favor and lessen some of the stress by prioritizing your financial wellness!

This blog was updated from November 2015 and written by Kaitlyn Brodar. Kaitlyn was the Program Assistant for Resiliency Initiatives at UNC Student Wellness and a Master of Public Health graduate student with a focus in Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She previously worked in cognitive psychology research on post-traumatic stress disorder after earning her bachelor’s in Psychology at Duke University.

How is HIV different than AIDS? An HIV primer

This year marks 35 years since AIDS was first recognized by the CDC. News of the highly-fatal AIDS epidemic was initially met with profound concern, panic and confusion. Still today, there are plenty of misconceptions about what HIV and AIDS are, and who is affected.  In honor of World AIDS Day, we’ll provide an abbreviated history of the discovery of HIV and AIDS, discuss how they’re different, and talk about how you can get tested for FREE!

AIDS and HIV: A super-duper brief history

In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received several reports of a rare cancer, typical only among those with severely compromised immune systems and the elderly, among young gay men. Suspecting that there may be other factors at-play, the CDC began an investigation. At this stage of the epidemic, there was no identifiable cause and no single name for the phenomenon. Various organizations referred to it with different names, among them “gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID).  As the epidemic spread, it became clear that several groups were affected, including injection drug users, hemophiliacs and Haitians.  The CDC proposed using a unifying name for the condition, as there was mounting evidence that it was not limited to the gay community. In 1982, with over 400 cases reported globally, the CDC proposed the term “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” or (AIDS). Around the same time, cases of mother-to-child transmissions of AIDS were reported, and a child who had received blood transfusions also appeared to have developed AIDS. Cases of AIDS among women who have sex with men were recorded. All of these cases provided evidence that an infectious agent was likely responsible for AIDS, and suggested several possible routes of transmission: through blood, breast milk, and sexual activity. In 1986, at least five years after AIDS cases were initially reported, the name for the virus that causes AIDS was born: “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”, or HIV.

AIDS vs. HIV?

The history of AIDS and HIV helps clarify how and why they’re different. Contrary to the widespread belief, HIV is not a disease. It is a virus – but a pretty serious one. Our bodies are able to fight off other viruses like the common cold, but for some reason, we just can’t rid our bodies of HIV. Our immune system is comprised of various types of cells, each having special roles to fight off infections. HIV attacks one such cell, the CD4 cell. The higher your CD4 cell count, the stronger your immune system is and the better you are at fighting infections. HIV attacks our CD4 cells by entering them and becoming part of their life cycle. Think of…mind control. When HIV takes over a CD4 cell, it no longer thinks it is a CD4 cell. When the CD4 cell (with its brain taken over by the virus) tells itself to ‘replicate,’ HIV replicates. This leads to an increase in HIV, a decrease in CD4, and a compromised immune system. If the CD4 cell count drops significantly, an individual has AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

https://i1.wp.com/aids.gov/images/aids-infographics/what-is-hiv-aids-2.jpg

Image from http://aids.gov

AIDS refers to a syndrome, meaning the presence of clinical features or phenomena (example:  weakened immune system). HIV is a necessary but not sufficient cause of AIDS. In other words, HIV infection always precedes AIDS, but HIV doesn’t always develop into AIDS. HIV can be detected with a variety of tests that identify either HIV itself or circulating HIV antibodies. AIDS diagnosis is more complicated, and requires the presence of certain signs and symptoms, such as decreased white blood cell count and certain  AIDS-defining illnesses.

Who gets HIV?
Given that HIV can be transmitted through sex, contaminated sharp instruments or breastfeeding, almost all individuals are at risk. HIV transcends geographic, socioeconomic, political, racial, and gender boundaries. Some individuals have a higher risk than others depending on how often they are exposed to the following four fluids that transmit HIV: blood, vaginal fluid, semen and breast milk.

A person’s sexual network (a group of people one individual is connected to through sexual contact), which may be influenced by race, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation, may also influence his/her/zir risk for contracting HIV. Think of it in terms of probability. Let’s say Person A is an African American man who has sex with other men, and Person B is a White man who does not have sex with other men. Person A has a smaller number of potential sexual partners than Person B. In other words, Person A has a smaller sexual network. In terms of numbers, this means that if someone in Person A’s network becomes infected with HIV, he has a higher chance of also becoming infected even if he engages in the exact same level of “risky sexual behavior” as Person B.

HIV Prevention and Treatment
The key to prevention is education. With a lack of education about the truth, millions of individuals become infected because they believe HIV can’t impact them. In reality, specific communities have higher infection rates due to historical inequitable access to care and modern institutions that keep these communities at a lower socioeconomic status which maintains unequal access to care. Treatments for HIV exist, but are expensive.

Other than breaking down myths (which the Center for Aids Research is excellent at doing!), everyone needs to understand risks of sexual transmission BEFORE they put themselves in high-risk situations. The four fluids of HIV transmission (do you remember what they are? Blood, vaginal secretions, semen, and breast milk) along with education on proper condom use help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections and diseases -and (bonus!) unintended pregnancy. Everyone who has sex should get tested once a year or before embarking on a new sexual encounter, whichever comes first. Testing should be a regular part of healthy relationships.

HIV Testing

In honor of World AIDS Day, Student Wellness is hosting a FREE, walk-in HIV testing event in the Carolina Union from 10AM-4:45PM on December 1st (TODAY!). Please see our event page for more information. Additionally, at UNC Campus Health Services, we offer a rapid oral test (results available in about 20 minutes), and a blood test available every weekday. More information about HIV testing at UNC is available on the Campus Health webpage; for more information about making an HIV appointment with Student Wellness call 919.962.9355.

 

This post was compiled and updated based on two previous Healthy Heels blog posts, one written by Diana Sanchez, a PhD student in Public Health Epidemiology in 2012 and the other written by Jani Radhakrishnan, a MPH and City and Regional Planning Master’s Student. Both writers served as graduate student staff with wellness at UNC. 

Living with Gender Dysphoria: Tips for Transgender People’s Friends, Allies, and Partners

A quick note: This blog post uses some terms that might be unfamiliar. We’ve used links to define them in parentheses.

What is dysphoria?

Many, but not all, transgender people  experience dysphoria. Here is a formal definition of dysphoria from the UK’s National Health Service: “Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. Gender dysphoria is a recognized medical condition, for which treatment is sometimes appropriate. It is not a mental illness.” In that definition, treatment commonly refers to transition that can change the body, such as hormones and surgery, which are supervised by a medical professional. Because everyone experiences dysphoria differently, medical transition may not be right for some trans people, and it’s important that all trans people take transition at their own pace. This comic discusses how one trans person found the right pace for their transition. Gender dysphoria is not something that is necessarily “fixed” or “cured” by medical interventions. Additionally, medical interventions for dysphoria are not considered necessary by many health insurance providers. So, due to their high costs, these options are financially out-of-reach for many trans people who need them.

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“Clothing Dolls,” by Mi Mitrika. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Some trans people don’t experience dysphoria at all, and for some trans people, dysphoria is more about the discrepancy between their identities and other’s perceptions.  Here is one trans person’s account of what dysphoria is like: “Body dysphoria feels like the worst-fitting outfit you’ve ever put together, but you can never take it off. Or sometimes it’s more like a pebble in your shoe, or a belt that digs into your side, or a tiny thing that is just noticeable enough to throw your day off. Some days I wake up and it’s just there. Some days it’s because I tried to fit my not-so-masculine body into my masculine clothes, and the parts that didn’t fit made me want to scream and disappear and puke up all my guts at the same time. It can grow into a scary place where I don’t know if my body belongs to me, and I feel e this.like I’ve been detached from something essential and am about to wash out to sea. Maybe a picture makes me hate and fear the body I don’t have because it’s not the body I wish I had. Maybe I think that the someone I desire won’t desire me because I don’t look like all the handsome cisgendered men they probably grew up loving. (Click here for the definition of cisgender.) Maybe it doesn’t make sense why I feel these things, but I still feel them and they still hurt.”   Dysphoria can create disparate health and wellness outcomes, and therefore personal and academic outcomes for those who experience it. 

How do trans people cope with dysphoria?

Although dysphoria can be challenging and painful, there are many ways trans people have learned to cope. Some trans people with dysphoria seek medical treatment to make their bodies match their identities, some seek mental health services to help cope with dysphoria, and some use coping skills they’ve learned. One recent study found that transmen’s mental health was improved by chest-binding, which helps transmen’s chests appear flatter and more masculine. Here are 25 ways that the author of the quote above copes. For a lot of trans folks, one of the most valuable tools to cope with challenges like dysphoria is friendship. In one survey of MTF trans youth, ninety-eight percent of respondents stated that friends were “somewhat” or a “great deal” helpful for emotional support. (Here is the definition of MTF.)

…Support from people like you!

You’ve probably heard a lot about trans people’s struggles with mental health. What we don’t talk about enough is that support from family, friends, and partners can greatly reduce the risk of trans people’s poor health outcomes. For example, among trans people, “social support has been linked with lower levels of both depression and anxiety and fewer suicidal behaviors.” It’s also been positively associated with self-esteem and quality of life. That’s because social rejection is the cause of a lot of trans people’s poor health outcomes in the first place.  Creating a campus atmosphere of understanding, inclusion and acceptance can go a long way in supporting our trans peers.

So how do you support a trans person dealing with dysphoria?

anole-2Because dysphoria is about the discrepancy between someone’s sense of self and their body or other people’s perception of their gender, the best way to support your transgender friend or partner through dysphoria is by (1) seeing their gender the same way they do, and (2) communicating that (as well as your communicating overall care for them, of course!)

Sometimes, cisgender people have to challenge their own assumptions, thoughts, and unconscious beliefs about bodies and identities. For example, we are all socially conditioned to associate certain physical characteristics with maleness and/or femaleness, and these associations are deeply ingrained. However, being supportive to a trans person (particularly one you are intimate with) means actively working to undo those associations. Instead affirm that your friend or partner truly IS the gender they identify as regardless of their voice, mannerisms, or body shape.

That core belief, and your willingness to challenge the thoughts you have that are in conflict with it, is the foundation of supporting any trans person in your life through dysphoria.

Tips to communicate respect for trans folks and help alleviate dysphoria:

  • Use the name and pronoun the trans person prefers.
  • Don’t disclose someone’s trans identity to others without their consent.
  • Respect trans people’s decisions about if, when, and how to transition.
  • When you’re with others who know the trans person’s identity, correct them if they get names and pronouns wrong.
  • If you’re dating someone, ask what words they want to use to talk about their bodies (for example, chest vs. breasts).
  • Use compliments and descriptors that reflect your friend’s or partner’s gender identity. For example, if your partner identifies as a masculine person, they might prefer to be called  “handsome” rather than “pretty.” Luckily, “fabulous” and “smart” are gender-neutral.  
  • When you are struggling to see your friend or partner the way they want to be seen, it can be best to process this with a cisgender ally rather than the trans person. But be sure to do this in a way that respects the trans person’s privacy. For example, check in with them first about who to process with.
  • If dating a trans person (or anyone really,) practice consent consistently and carefully. Consent is important in all relationships, but it’s especially important in trans relationships because, as we’ve discussed here, trans people’s relationships with their bodies can be complicated.

More resources

Here’s more information on how to support trans folks.

For more content on healthy relationships in the LGBTQ community, check out this online course offered here at UNC.

If you are transgender and are struggling with dysphoria, social support, or anything else, contact the LGBT Center here on-campus or Trans Lifeline.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

Be Good To Yourself

I love uplifting music with inspirational messages. Recently, I was listening to one of my favorite musical artists, Ledisi. She has a song called “Be Good To Yourself”, and the following lyrics from that song really resonated with me:

“Oh, when you’re traveling

Through the highs and the lows

Make sure you listen to your spirit

You gotta take care of your soul

Hold on, never give up

You can get through whatever

Always make time

For yourself, whoo”

 These lyrics resonated with me because they reminded me of wellness. wellness

Wellness integrates your mind, body and spirit. The dimensions of wellness is a concept used to express that integration. The model used by UNC Student Wellness integrates the following seven dimensions of wellness:

  1. Physical Wellness which includes the ability to maintain a healthy quality of life that allows you to get through your daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress.
  2. Emotional Wellness which includes the ability to understand yourself and adequately cope with the challenges life brings.
  3. Social Wellness which includes the ability to successfully interact with people in our world, participating in and feeling connected to your community.
  4. Spiritual Wellness which includes your search for meaning and purpose in human existence.
  5. Academic Wellness which includes the ability to open your mind to new ideas and experiences that can be applied to personal decisions, group interaction and community betterment.
  6. Financial Wellness which includes awareness of your current financial state.
  7. Environmental Wellness which includes the ability to recognize (1) your own responsibility for the quality of the air, the water and the land that surrounds you and (2) that your social, natural, and built environment affect your health.

(To learn more about any of these dimensions please click on the hyperlinks above)

As I reflect on my own journey as a UNC undergraduate and now graduate student, I realize that wellness is often neglected during this time of year. It’s getting close to the end of the semester so there are exams, presentations, and papers galore! Lots of attention is focused on the ‘academic dimension’ of wellness. However, even in the midst of academic craziness, it’s important to, as Ledisi said, “listen to your spirit”, “take care of your soul”, and “make time for yourself”.

In light of the connection between your mind, body and spirit, I encourage you to “Be Good To Yourself” during the end of the semester and think about the other dimensions of your wellness in addition to the ‘academic dimension’. Taking a short break to pay attention to your physical, emotional, social, spiritual, financial, or environmental wellness can help you feel more balanced. At first glance, this list of dimensions may seem overwhelming so here are some simple ideas to get you started.

strechEngage in Activity: Research shows that becoming more active can make you feel better.  Here’s some simple ways you be more active.

  • Take a walk.
  • Take the steps instead of the elevator.
  • Turn on some music and dance around.
  • Take a stretch break.

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Connect with Others: Research shows a powerful connection between social connection and well-being. Here’s some simple ways you can build your social relationships.

  • Have lunch with a friend. For a list of on-campus dining options click here
  • Call someone from your hometown.
  • Watch a movie with your roommate. Tip: You can reserve movies for free at the Undergraduate Library- click here to learn more.
  • Need to talk to someone else? Consider talking with a UNC CAPS counselor. They’re open for walk-in first time counseling appointments on Monday – Friday from 9am-12 and 1pm-4. Check the events calendar on the home page for any closures for holidays and breaks.circle

Chill Out: There are many wellness-related benefits of relaxation. Here’s some simple ways you can relax.

Havmusice other simple ideas for how to “Be Good To Yourself”? Share them in the comments section below!

Sources:

Brock, R. (n.d.). Kids in Action: Stretches and Warm-Ups Clip Art 18 PNGs. Retrieved from http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Kids-in-Action-Stretches-and-Warm-Ups-Clip-Art-18-PNGs-869484

Fox, K. R. (1999). The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public health nutrition, 2(3a), 411-418.

Hicks, M. (n.d.). two friends. Retrieved from http://school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/clip/friends5-color.html

Klein, S. (2012, April 16). Stress Awareness Day: 10 Health Benefits Of Relaxation. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/13/stress-awareness-day-relaxation-benefits_n_1424820.html

Perry, P. (n.d.) Music Clipart Image: Teenager listening to mp3 music player. Retrieved from http://www.computerclipart.com/computer_clipart_images/teenager_listening_to_mp3_music_player_0515-1003-0104-3355.html

Seppala, E (2012, August 26). Connect To Thrive. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201208/connect-thrive

Terrigno, N. (n.d.). Friendship Globe Art + Border Graphics fro Multicultural Projects Retrieved from http://esl-multicultural-stuff-page2.blogspot.com/p/friendship-circle-clip-art-graphic.html

Originally posted December 2013 by Callie Womble

Callie Womble worked for Student Wellness as an undergraduate and graduate student at UNC. She now is a PhD student at NC State studying Educational Research and Policy Analysis, with a specialization in Higher Education Administration. Her doctoral research agenda focuses on critical race theory; grit and resiliency; and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

How to Not Get Sick

Have you been sick recently? Have that little sore throat that shows up when you’re just about to get sick? Avoid the #uncplague this Cold and Flu season by using these annual reminders about what to do to not get sick.

Photo (Wash Hands Frequently) by (Fairfax County), Flickr Creative Commons
Photo (Wash Hands Frequently) by (Fairfax County), Flickr Creative Commons

Wash your hands (and stop touching your face).

Illness is often spread by people getting the a virus on their hands from touching someone or something that a sick person has coughed on, sneezed on, or touched, and then touching their face. You may remember from the movie Contagion that people touch their face 2,000 to 3,000 times a day. This might be a bit of an overestimate, but in a recent study, random people touched their face 3.6 times an hour and with the same hand also touched common objects that others had touched. So wash your hands and stop touching your face so much.

When should you wash ’em?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After riding on public transportation
  • After using the toilet
  • After using shared gym equipment
  • After handling money
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After touching or taking out garbage
  • After any other potentially gross things you do that I couldn’t think of

Sleep

We get that it’s difficult – but sleep is critical to keep your body functioning. Getting good sleep is about developing good habits, or “Sleep Hygiene.” Harvard Medical School has a Division of Sleep Medicine website which we highly recommend if you are interested in learning more about sleep. They have listed 12 tips for improving sleep which are amazingRead them nowSeriously.

Hydrate.

Stop and take a sip anytime you pass a water fountain. Carry a water bottle with you to hydrate throughout the day. Drink a glass of water as the first thing you do when you wake up (on second thought: first pee, then drink the water). Drink at least a glass of water with each meal. There are loads of tricks like these to ensure you stay hydrated. Incorporate at least one into your life.

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When you are really sick, stay home.

Email your professors, let group partners know that you are sick, and tell your coaches that you cannot come to practice. I am as guilty as anyone I know of breaking this rule regularly; there is still part of me that thinks I just need to “tough it out” and work through it. Unfortunately, our society often still rewards or finds it admirable when individuals fight through a sickness, but we need to change this norm. I am not saying take advantage of a sickness. If you have a sniffle or a tickle in your throat I might not advise that you lay in bed all day, but if you truly are sick, you are protecting others by staying home. You also most likely will not get much out of being in class or at a meeting if you are not feeling well.

Get a flu shot

According to the CDC the number of deaths due to the flu has ranged from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000 per year in the United States in recent years.

Photo (Flu vaccinations make their way to U.S. Army in Europe) by (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District), Flickr Creative Commons
Photo (Flu vaccinations make their way to U.S. Army in Europe) by (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District), Flickr Creative Commons

Get a flu shot. You do NOT get the Flu from a Flu shot. Let me say that again: you do NOT get the Flu from a Flu shot. Some people do get a low-grade fever and headache from the vaccine, but this is just the body reacting to the foreign substance, not the Flu. According to the CDC, vaccines given to children have saved more than 732,000 lives and trillions of dollars over the last 2 decade. There is also absolutely no evidence that the Flu vaccine –or any other vaccines– present significant harm, and the idea that vaccines cause autism is a complete myth. The worst that could happen is that the Flu shot does not provide protection for the strain of the Flu that is being passed around but, even in that case, there is nothing lost by getting the shot. Most people who work in public health will agree that vaccinations are one of the most important innovations of modern medicine and protect not only the individual getting the shot, but others around them.

So each flu season, get yourself that flu shot. The vaccine is available on campus without appointment at either Campus Health Pharmacy or Student Stores Pharmacy, and will remain available through at least January.

Do what you can to stay well, friends. And when you get sick, check out Campus Health’s cold-care guide or make an appointment.

This post was originally published on October 14, 2014 by Jedadiah Wood. It was updated and reposted November 4, 2016.

Don’t Overdo It! – Preventing Burn-Out at the End of the Semester

Although we know that self-care is an important part of maintaining holistic wellness, oftentimes it is difficult to truly engage in this practice. Being a college student is not always easy. Many times, competing interests are at work including courses, clubs, organizations, and other activities. It is extremely easy to look at peers and think, “They are doing so much! I’m not doing enough! I need to do more!” This thinking can be destructive for a number of reasons. We are all unique individuals with different aspirations and talents. My talents and interests may not align with my peers, but that does not necessarily mean that I am not doing enough. This means that I am strengthening and utilizing my skill sets in areas that interest me. Each activity and organization that you involve yourself with should be something that you are passionate about. Aside from thinking about what you can add to the organization, as a participant/member, it is perfectly okay to consider what the organization can add to your life as well. For example, will you gain the necessary skills and expertise which will help to guide you along your path?

Being over-involved can lead to fatigue and burnout.

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Burnout image by dskley at Flickr Creative Commons

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress (http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/preventing-burnout.htm). The dangerous truth about burnout is that it is a gradual process which manifests differently in everyone. It also directly impacts holistic wellness. Symptoms of burnout include but are not limited to the following:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time,
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits, sense of failure and self-doubt,
  • Loss of motivation,
  • Isolating yourself from others, and
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities

One of the primary ways to avoid and manage burnout is engaging in self-care on a regular basis. Below are some tips:

  1. Set aside at least 15-20 minutes per day after classes or other responsibilities in which you can sit alone and process the day. Alone time is essential for recharging!
  2. Find a hobby unrelated to school and schedule that time weekly (weekends usually work really well).
  3. Make friends! Don’t underestimate the power of these bonds!
  4. Be kind to yourself and others. Adjusting to the college is a process and everyone’s experience is going to be different. I know it is difficult, but avoid comparing your experience and journey to the next person’s.
  5. Embrace your individuality!

If you are having difficulty with any of the topics discussed in this blog, please feel free to stop by UNC Student Wellness or Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) https://campushealth.unc.edu/services/counseling-and-psychological-services or call 919-962-WELL.

 

Millicent Robinson is a 2nd year MSW/MPH dual degree program student and Program Assistant with Student Wellness. Millicent went to UNC as an undergrad, earning a B.A. in Psychology with two minors in Spanish for the Professions as well as African and Afro-American Studies. Millicent is interested in holistic health and academic wellbeing, particularly in minority students. She has worked with the Upward Bound program at UNC for three years, and approaches health disparities and inequities using an interdisciplinary approach. 

How You Can Have a Healthier Relationship…with Food!

A healthy relationship… with food?

You’ve probably heard of a “healthy relationship” with family, with friends, or with a partner, but we talk less often about our relationships with food in terms of their health — beyond simply what we consume and when. A relationship with food is psychological, financial, social, and cultural as well as physical. Like any other healthy relationship, a healthy relationship with food is free of fear or the feeling of being controlled or out of control.

What impacts our relationship with food?

Our relationships with food are impacted by our life experiences and the systems around us. For example, the fad diet industry often uses body-shaming tactics and capitalizes on our desire to be “good” or “healthy” people in its mission to sell more products. These techniques often also promote the idea that some foods are inherently “good” and others are inherently “bad.” You’ve probably heard a friend say, “I’ve been so bad today — I ate (fill in the blank).”

However, there are no “good” or “bad” foods — and furthermore, what we consume can’t make us “good” or “bad” people! Just like eating kale all the time doesn’t make you somehow better or more moral, a bag of chips doesn’t suddenly make you a “bad” or “unhealthy” person. A healthy relationship with food involves knowing that your morality or value as a person is not determined by what you consume.

Our relationships with food can also be shaped by a desire to attain an (often unrealistic) “ideal” as portrayed on TV, in movies, or through other media. This ideal of “health” or “fitness” often depends on visible body shape/size, and provides a very narrow window of “healthy” shapes/sizes. However, research tells us that we cannot tell how healthy a person is — or how healthy his/her/their relationship with food is — by the size or shape of her/his/their body.

Overall, our bodies need different things at different times. Only you can determine what’s best for you based on your body, access to resources, and belief systems. One rule or set of guidelines does not apply to everyone in regards to diet, and people have many different ways of getting the nutrients we need.

Image from Pinterest

What can I do to have a healthier relationship with food?

  • Remind yourself that your value does not depend on what you eat, and that there are many more ways to be healthy than are shown in the media.
  • Listen to your body. To the extent that you are able, try to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Don’t wait for your hunger or your fullness to “yell” at you – keep in touch with what your body needs to the best of your abilities based on your access to resources. This can take practice!
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself! Being rigid and restrictive about what foods you “allow” yourself to eat can be harmful to your body and your mind. Focusing excessively on what foods you have eaten, or counting calories obsessively, are often a sign of an unhealthy relationship with food.
  • Pick the foods that give you the energy to do what you do during the day. After all, that’s what calories are — energy! The more nutrients that come along with that energy, the better.

Find more information:

Balanced eating as a vegan or vegetarian

Finding balanced and nutritious foods on a budget

Eating intuitively

Nutrition resources at UNC

If you feel concerned for yourself or a friend, or want to talk more about your relationship with food, you can find more information and contact options here.

This article was originally published September 4, 2014, by Mary Koenig, a program assistant for Student Wellness. She was in the school of Social Work and Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill.

Crisis Plans or “Mad Maps”: Creating Your Own Path Through Mental Health Crisis

In 2015, 18% of UNC students surveyed reported that anxiety had interfered with their school performance in the past year and 13% said depression had affected school in the same period. People with depression and anxiety are at an increased risk for experiencing mental health crisis, which is “any situation in which a person is not able to resolve the situation with the skills and resources available” (source). Crisis can feel like being so overwhelmed that it seems impossible to accomplish daily tasks, being suicidal, or being out-of-touch with reality, in the case of psychosis. Because UNC students experience depression and anxiety, we need to take care of our own and our friends’ mental health so that we all stay healthy, safe, and out of crisis. This post will help you learn about crisis-planning, which is one tool you can use to keep you and your community safe.

What is a Crisis Plan?

A crisis plan is a plan you create that guides you and the people around you to prevent mental health crisis, and respond to crisis effectively if it happens. Think of a crisis plan as a letter from your calm, reflective self to your future, struggling self, and the people who will support you then. Crisis plans are often documents that include information about what triggers you to feel emotional distress, what helps you feel better, and who to reach out to for support.  Your crisis plan uses your wisdom and knowledge of your own needs to guide your future self through hard times and back to stability.

How do I Make a Crisis Plan?

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“Subway Style Mind Map,” by Sharon Brogan. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Your crisis plan can be as simple or complex as you like, and it can include any information you think would be relevant to your future self and your support people–everything from when your friends should feed your cats to what metal songs you like to cry to.

This is one great crisis plan template you can use.

The Icarus Project, the radical mental health collective, refers to its crisis planning tool, available here, as Mad Maps. The Icarus Project’s mission is to “advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation,” so its Mad Maps guide includes questions like “what does oppression feel like to you?”

Crisis plans can also be in the form of:

  • A psychiatric advanced directive, a legal document you can complete that will inform healthcare professionals how to best support you in the event that you are hospitalized for mental health reasons. Advance directives are intended for healthcare providers to read, so they include information like what medications you should and shouldn’t be given, and which of your support people doctors should communicate with about your care.
  • self-care boxes with actual stuff in them that helps you feel better
  • lists of activities you can do to perk up
  • this website , which is an interactive guide to navigating hard times . Bookmark it for exam week!
  • Safety Plan, a crisis plan app (available for free on Android and Iphone) that keeps your personalized crisis plan in your back pocket.

Why Make A Crisis Plan?

Here are some reasons folks create their own crisis plans, if you’re still not convinced.

  • Crisis planning keeps you in control of what happens to you. Crisis can be a time that other folks step in and take control to make sure you’re safe. By documenting your wishes for when you’re in crisis, you can stay both empowered AND safe during hard times.
  • Crisis planning helps you learn more about yourself. The questions you need to ask yourself in the process of developing a crisis plan prompt you to develop a richer understanding of yourself, your mind, and your unique strengths.
  • Crisis planning is tool to communicate with your  support people. Emailing your crisis plan to your friends and family can start (or continue) a conversation about mental illness–a difficult topic–on your own terms. Crisis planning also demonstrates to those around you that you are taking care of yourself, and so it could help your mom worry less about you. (But no promises on that one!)
  • Crisis planning builds more self-reliant communities. Communities with disproportionately high rates of mental health crisis, like LGBTQ  folks, also have too many negative experiences with mental health professionals and histories of oppression in mental health fields. Crisis plans encourage conversation and collaboration about mental health support within marginalized communities, so that when folks from these communities reach out to professionals, they are also grounded in networks of  friends who understand their struggles and can advocate for them.
  • Finally, a crisis plan prepares you for scary times, and that makes them less scary! Knowing that you are ready for the worst times reminds you of your inner strength. A crisis plan serves as a reminder that you always have a path out of even the darkest spots.

If you’d like help planning for–or navigating–crisis, contact the Counseling Center.  If you’re having trouble keeping up with school work because of mental health issues, contact the office of the Dean of Students for support.  If you are  experiencing mental health crisis after-hours, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Textline at 741741.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

Trich or Treat!

Nope – that’s not a typo. Trich–or trichomoniasis–is the most common curable STI in the country, and 8 million people in the U.S. will be infected each year. But, according to recent research from the American Sexual Health Association, only 1 in 5 women have ever heard of it. Our very own Needs Assessment for Sexual Health, conducted annually by Student Wellness, reflected that as well – in 2015, only about 1 in 3 UNC students had heard of this STI. So, what’s the deal?

7070_1151267044902470_8892073206618450531_nWhat is trich?

Trichomoniasis, commonly referred to as trich, is an STI caused by a single celled parasite called a trichomona. It passes from person to person through unprotected sexual activity. Most of the time, the disease is spread from a penis to a vagina (and vice versa) or from vagina to vagina through fingering and oral sex. It’s really rare for the parasite to infect other areas of the body – like the hands, mouth, or anus.

How do I know if I have it?

Here’s the real kicker – about 70% of people infected won’t have any symptoms, and on top of that, female bodied people are more likely to experience symptoms than male bodied people. When symptoms do occur for female bodied people, they can look like anything from vaginal discharge with a strong odor, itching and swelling around the vulva and vagina, and frequent, painful urination. For male bodied people, symptoms are less severe – usually, they will experience discharge from the urethra and painful urination. Symptoms can take anywhere from 3 – 28 days to occur, so it’s important to keep an eye on any changes in your reproductive health if you are having unprotected sex!

How do I get tested and treated?

Campus Health Services can help you get tested for trich if you’ve had unprotected sex or are experiencing any symptoms. Testing can be done through a simple vaginal swab and pelvic exam for female bodied people or a urethral swab for male bodied people. The provider will then look under a microscope for signs of the parasite and will usually be able to give you results that very same day. In the case that you do have trich, treatment is really simple! It usually takes only one dose of prescription antibiotics to cure a case of trich. However, you should always make sure that your partner gets tested and treated as well – it is possible to get re-infected through unprotected sex!