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Setting up Patterns for Sleep Success

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Patterns. Sleep is all about patterns – we do it every single night, and our ability to sleep relies on the patterns we create with our daily lives. What else do you do every day that you could shift to help your sleep become a more regular pattern?

  • Exercise routine: A tired body usually means a tired mind. Make it a goal to move your body every single day.
  • Meditation: The main requirement of meditation? Focusing your thoughts – either on your breath or a mantra, something simple, like “I will be more mindful.” Beyond that – the where and the how long and pretty much everything else is up to you. Even a few minutes a day can help. Schedule it in – perhaps first thing when you wake up and right before you fall asleep. You can even meditate in your bed – that’s absolutely allowed.
  • Eat a variety of nutrient dense, processed-as-little-as-possible foods. These are less likely to have caffeine nor high amounts of sugar and are more likely to nourish your body the way it needs.
  • Create a routine of when you go to bed and wake up. College makes this difficult, but really – we all could use more regular sleep and wake times. Ideally this includes weekends as well. Is there a wake time you could imagine working for your weekdays and weekends? Try it out for a week and see how it goes.
  • Create a sleep sanctuary. What’s your bedroom like? Cool it down at night, try to keep it quiet (now’s a great time to try earplugs and white noise at night if you have loud roommates), keep it dark (a sleep mask or blackout curtains might help!). Do anything you can to make your bedroom a place of relaxation and relief from the stress of the outside world.

What do you do right before you try to fall asleep?

  • Screen use just before bed: consider installing a filter to add red to the visual. Research has shown that blue lights of screens can mess with our brains, where the red filter helps our brain think of sunsets and sleep.  Or consider keeping all screens out of your bedroom. Make your room a space reserved for sleep.
  • Exercise just before bed: consider doing more flow yoga or a chill walk just before bed and scheduling your hardcore cardio and lifting to earlier in the day or early evening. But – your bigger priority should be to get exercise at some time each day. Movement helps our bodies be tired and ready to sleep.
  • Good options before bedtime: book reading, meditation, writing down things from the day that are running through your brain so you don’t have to think about them anymore, really any sleep routine. A good example of a sleep routine? Take a warm shower, put on pajamas, brush your teeth, read a chapter of a good novel, earplugs in, sleep mask on, nightymcnightpants.

After you have put in some effort into sleep hygiene (that’s a real term describing steps like those above), and you’re still having trouble, come see a provider at Campus Health. Some providers may recommend further changes to sleep hygiene, medication, or the use of a phone app (CBT-i Coach on Play and iTunes), which can be used alone and in conjunction with a medical provider to improve your sleep. Make an appointment at CHS to learn more.

 

Photo credit: Gabriel Gonzalez, Flickr Creative Commons

What Is One Act?

What are Intervention and Prevention?

These two words are thrown around pretty frequently when it comes to violence prevention work, and it is important to understand them before we discuss One Act. Imagine that you are sitting on a riverbank and suddenly a drowning person comes floating down the river, struggling to keep their head above water. You save them, but before you can catch your breath, another person comes drowning down the river, then another and another! Instead of saving each individual person, you run upstream to see why so many people are coming down the river. In this analogy, saving the people drowning can be viewed as intervention work while running upstream to solve the problem can be viewed as prevention work (CDC). Both intervention and prevention are equally important in the field of ending violence.

How One Act Changed My View of Bystander Intervention

One Act is a bystander intervention training that teaches people how to identify warning signs of violence and find safe ways to intervene. Before I attended, I had a very specific idea of what that meant. To me, it meant being at a large, loud party and noticing one person making advances that may be unwanted onto another person, things potentially getting physical, and then someone stepping in to try to prevent a violent situation from unfolding. While this example of violence prevention certainly occurs, it is not the only kind of scenario that One Act addresses.

One Act addresses risky situations including the party scenario I previously mentioned, as well as potentially less obvious situations including noticing a friend exhibiting signs of experiencing mental, physical, emotional, or financial abuse from a partner. One Act incorporates both aspects of prevention and early intervention into its training while also addressing healthy relationships, campus and community resources, and consent.

One Act treats everyone as an active bystander with the potential to prevent or stop violence. I like how One Act offers students’ different ways to intervene based on their identity, personality, and level of comfort intervening in a potentially dangerous situation. One Act really emphasizes ‘meeting people where they are’ and recognizes that not everyone feels safe intervening in the same way, which is why they offer options.

The One Act Model

One Act and One Act for Greeks are on-campus trainings that offer participants the skills to intervene in the situations mentioned previously. The trainings teach participants to be active bystanders all of the time, for strangers at parties as well as for friends and family. The training outlines a 4-step process of dealing with a risky or unsettling situation where you suspect violence or a potential for violence:

  1. Observe
  2. Assess
  3. ACT
  4. Follow Up

One Act acknowledges that every bystander and every situation is different and therefore provides multiple options on how to act. The ACT acronym offers the options:

A – Ask for Help

C – Create a Distraction

T – Talk Directly

One Act on Campus:

Preventing violence sounds like a big, daunting task, but One Act breaks it down into small, doable actions that can make a huge difference. It can be as simple as asking a friend how their new relationship is going, if they feel safe with their partner, or just making yourself available to talk if they ever want to. Outside of trainings, One Act also holds several events on campus to spread awareness for violence prevention. One such event is Dos and Donuts, which is held in both the Fall and Spring semesters. Dos and Donuts offers donuts to students who participate in activities promoting healthy relationships, checking in with friends and family, and self-care. This event helps students who have not been One Act trained learn to be an active bystander in their own lives.

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Here is our Healthy Relationship Donut! We asked students ‘what makes a relationship sweet’ and they added their sprinkle to the donut. Check out more pictures from the event here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/OneAct/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1367790649927800

My Final Thoughts:

One Act gives students the knowledge, skills, and confidence to recognize early warning signs of violence, and teaches them how to take steps to prevent that violence from unfolding. Students who have attended One Act have said that they are more willing to engage in conversations regarding sexual assault and consent since being trained.

I have learned so much since being One Act trained and since working with the program this semester and I strongly believe that this training has and will continue to contribute to a safer UNC-CH environment. I believe that everyone in the Carolina community should get One Act trained in order to foster an environment of looking out for and helping one another.

You can find the dates of our Spring trainings and sign up for information or a training here: https://studentwellness.unc.edu/oneact

This blog post was written by Rachel Maguire, One Act’s Fall 2016 Social Media Intern. Rachel is a third year Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies double major who became involved with One Act through the WMST 340: Violence in Leadership Prevention class.

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.

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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.