Zen Dens introduce new winter projects

The Black Impact series and The Menstrual Equity series are being added to their workshops series.

Concordia’s Zen Dens are back following the well-deserved winter break with new projects and initiatives to be pursued throughout the semester.

Jillian Ritchie, the Zen Dens wellness coordinator, told The Concordian about her latest project, the Menstrual Equity Symposium, which will begin in May. The symposium is one of the two newest projects being launched in Winter 2024. 

Ritchie hopes her passion for open conversations, healing, and taking care of both physical and mental health will make students feel more comfortable within themselves in the long run.  

“I see relief in [the students] because it’s someone telling them we’re not expecting you just to perform and produce—you’re also a human,” said Ritchie. “You’re also not only learning all of these academic things, but also the skills of navigating adulting too.” 

The Zen Dens are starting off the semester with a “Movement to Support your Mental Health” workshop on Jan. 22 and will continue to offer workshops surrounding anxiety management, ADHD, interpersonal relationships, and self-care.

The wellness resource is also welcoming “The Black Impact series” and “The Menstrual Equity series” on their list of workshops. 

The Black Impact Series: 

A seven-part series of online workshops focusing on several topics related to the Black experience, led by Myrlie Marcelin, a wellness counsellor who started the Black Impact series in April 2023. Marcelin began the series in October with a workshop surrounding code switching—the act of altering behaviours and vocabulary depending on our work environment and the people around us—in order to dissect the impact it has on Black students. 

On Jan. 23, the Black Impact series will resume with a workshop focusing on colourism where Marcelin and students will look at “light-skinned Black folks and dark-skinned Black folks, the experiences they may experience interracially and within the black community.” From the perspective of internalized discrimination based on skin colour, Marcelin plans to explore the fear that comes in around not appearing as the typical beauty standard. 

The series will also feature workshops surrounding racial Identity and culture (which will be held with a guest speaker), racial wealth gap, the history of policing in Canada and the U.S, and Black fatigue and trauma. The series will end with a True Allyship workshop in fall 2024. 

“Those types of workshops or conversations can not only be healing, but they allow for [Black students] to feel reassured and know that what [they’ve] experienced is valid and that [they’re] not necessarily crazy or making things up about [their] experience,” said Marcelin.

She hopes that by presenting what she has researched and currently knows and understands based on her own life, she can help create a safe environment for students to share who they are and find peace—and that she herself will benefit from the experience.

“I’m very privileged to be able to work in an environment and work in a field where the work I do helps me heal too, because I’m learning a lot and educating myself,” she spoke.

For Marcelin, the Black Impact series also aspires to change the way marginalized communities approach and talk about mental health: “If I can have and do these talks, the research, or the therapy I practise with my clients—and it touches one person enough to feel like they can change intergenerational barriers or trauma in their own life, that’s already enough. If we’re having conversations about it, it’s being destigmatized.”

Marcelin is also including conversations and experiences from other marginalized communities such as the 2SLGBTQ+, Indian and other Asian communities. Marcelin believes that incorporating everyone’s culture and voice will empower students, create less isolation and a stronger sense of community.  

Menstrual Equity Symposium:

The Menstrual Equity Symposium is a part of the Menstrual Equity initiative that began three years ago, during the pandemic, to make sure all menstruators have access to menstrual products on campus without financial and social barriers. The Zen Dens started the initiative by mailing out free condoms to students in partnership with Concordia’s Health Services, and expanded by distributing menstrual products upon student demand, among other initiatives.

After receiving positive responses, the project continued by focusing on sustainable options for students to try out, such as Diva cups and reusable pads. 

The Menstrual Equity Symposium, happening on May 17, plans to bring student advocates, researchers, and other diverse voices to the forefront, in an attempt to highlight the need for accessibility of menstrual products in a higher-education environment. 

 Ritchie strongly believes in the power of student voices and hopes they will create open conversations around menstrual cycles. “We want to see change and change comes with work. So, it’s giving people those opportunities to connect with organizations that are doing [the change] and also, everything that happens at this university is driven by student voices,” she said. 

The Zen Dens are collaborating with the Concordia Student Union (CSU), Douglas College Menstrual Cycle Research Group, and Monthly Dignity—a Montreal-based non-profit organization—founded by McGill students to combat menstrual poverty in Montreal. 

Ritchie and the Zen Dens team will announce further information on the symposium soon. No specific timeline was released to The Concordian. They are also talking about an art exhibit in May as a part of the Menstrual Equity series, more details to come. 

“We hope this project will lead to further awareness and conversation around menstrual equity, while highlighting the opportunity for Concordia to fulfill its commitments to being a Next-Gen University who actively supports the UN Sustainability Goals and its commitment to equity work,” said Ritchie.

The Zen Dens will soon become “CU Wellness” later in the semester, but will keep the name Zen Dens for their five physical spaces on campus.

Student Life

White Space — why having a mental blank canvas is important

There’s a reason why our best ideas occur in the shower or during our morning run

Ever felt like there just isn’t enough time in your day? For many of us, our reality is often running or maybe even sprinting between back-to-back classes, while simultaneously working and juggling assignments, emails, exams, and a cup of coffee that got cold 20 minutes ago. After a week or two of exams, too many deadlines, and just the regular stress of life, do you feel that midterm syndrome is pushing you down?

Well, you are not alone.

Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day. There isn’t a person on Earth that gets more or less than anyone else. The key differentiator becomes who can leverage their 24 hours most appropriately. I didn’t use the word “efficiently” or “effectively” because I want to avoid the notion that packing more stuff into your day is the ultimate goal. I am actually advocating the opposite.

So how can we overcome this self-imposed frantic notion of busyness, and regain our ability to be truly productive and creative? The first step is to proactively include white space into our routines.

What is white space?

White space is dedicated time that allows  you to take a mental pause from university and other commitments to let your mind travel in whatever direction it sees fit. It is perhaps one hour or two, preferably scheduled into your calendar in advance, intended to allow and sometimes force you to zoom out, reflect, relax, and refuel.

It’s like giving yourself a mental blank canvas. The more time you give yourself to stop and take a breath instead of scheduling every minute of your day, the more focused and clear-minded you will be when you are studying, writing that paper, or working.

One analogy to illustrate this is of a slow computer. If you have too many applications and programs running on your computer at once the entire system slows down. Too many files open means less efficiency. To offset this, you need to close the apps you aren’t using. This then frees up a great deal of memory.

Often, your brain is holding on to too many things, which requires it to to stay running in order to maintain those files (i.e. thoughts and to-do lists). Basically, your brain and body are constantly giving you the spinning dial or hourglass image you get on your computer when it needs time to execute an action. Following this analogy, the goal is to close down unused files, and then collapse and condense the remaining ones we still need to use. By doing so, you free up space in your operating system which allows for more creativity, problem-solving, and overall efficiency.

It’s easier to describe white space by what it isn’t. White space is not time to create to-do lists, work on your assignment or finish that pending email.

The general idea of white space is to zone out and reconnect but it is really up to you. A few ideas to get you started: going for a walk around the block, free drawing with no specific objective, automatic writing, and meditation.

Create your own white space

The next time your mind starts buzzing and you realize that you haven’t had a second to stop and take a breath in your day, free up space in your operating system with these four easy steps:

Step 1: Do an audit of how you are currently spending your time

Step 2: Take control of your calendar and schedule your white space in advance if possible

Step 3: Find activities that work for you

Step 4: Guard and protect white space

Alright, the ball is in your court now. You’ve got the basics. What are you going to do with them?

Is this going to be another strategy you file away under “good ideas to try later,” or are you truly committed to making a difference?


Feature graphic by James Fay


“It’s Okay to Ask for Help”: Inside Concordia’s Mental Health Advocacy Committee

 Initiated during the fall 2020 semester, the Mental Health Advocacy Committee is now in full swing

In recent years, the mental health movement has drastically improved its visibility. Awareness of mental health has grown even more since the start of the pandemic, mostly due to the drastic life changes and widespread isolation felt for the last eighteen months; slowly but surely, more and more people are realizing how important their mental wellbeing is to them.

However, stigma around mental health still remains. Tichina Williams and Izabella Blazonis are the co-chairs of Concordia’s Mental Health Advocacy Committee (MHAC), who hope to phase out some of this stigma.

“Our main goal,” said Tichina, “is to get people talking about their mental health. We want people to get to a place where there is no shame around depression or anxiety.” Through their Instagram account, the MHAC shares a list of resources available for all Concordia students. It offers access to Concordia’s wide range of mental health specialists, wellness programs, and the MHAC’s own workshops. “We’re having a workshop on burnout on Oct. 18, and we like to do them pretty frequently,” said Blazonis.

“Development of this group began in the fall of 2020,” explained Williams. “We had seen what devastating effects months of isolation had done to people’s mental wellbeing.”

The process of creating MHAC has been quite the experience, according to the co-chairs. “Our biggest hurdle was attracting a diverse pool of participants,” said Blazonis. “Stigma is still so present, unfortunately.” The committee works under the Concordia’s Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA), which is helping spread the word, getting students involved. “We’re always in the ASFA newsletters,” Blazonis mentioned. As of now, the committee is composed of two co-chairs and two team members, but MHAC hopes to expand in the near future. They hope to accomplish this by growing their social media presence, increasing their event frequency and size, and attempt to slowly erode at students’ oftentimes adamant attitudes towards mental health.

“One of the clearest examples I can think of when describing what mental health stigma really looks like was during Frosh this fall,” said Williams, who proceeded to describe how some students reacted to the MHAC booth. “We had our table all set up, we were giving people all our information, but some people were cracking jokes.”

“For many people, it was like talking about mental health was such a ridiculous concept, but we know how good it is for people’s wellbeing,” said Williams.

The MHAC hopes to achieve one principle goal: accessibility. For many students, there may be additional hurdles to getting the help they need. The committee is run by students, for students. It hopes to be a friendlier and more approachable group in comparison to the large and sometimes daunting departments at Concordia that deal with mental health issues. Due to the stigma surrounding seeking help, approaching what may feel like a more official, less personal, and more bureaucratic system directly can be overwhelming for some dealing with issues like social anxiety.

“As much as depression, anxiety, and other issues can seem scary, they become less so when you’re a part of a team,” explained Blazonis. “We have had several virtual workshops last winter and summer semesters, and we’re continuing this fall. We’ve covered topics like nutrition, substance abuse, burnout from school, and several others.”

The primary methods for contacting the MHAC are through Instagram and Facebook. The committee wants to make communication between students in need as simple as possible, so student outreach is a key factor for them.

“It’s okay to ask for help,” said Williams. “Admitting you need help and that you want to see your health improve is the first step to dealing with your issues. We hope students are taking care of themselves in these crazy times. We want people to know that we are here for them if ever they need assistance.”

Visuals provided by the Mental Health Advocacy Committee

“That Girl”: capitalism’s new cheerleader

The nefarious new inspiration porn

“That Girl” wakes up at 6 a.m. for her morning exercise of choice, often yoga, jogging, or weight lifting. Then when she’s done, she showers, performs an elaborate skincare routine, makes her white bed, meditates, drinks a yummy homemade smoothie, puts on some bike shorts and a crop top, and, if she has some time, writes in her gratitude journal.

That Girl” is the latest internet lifestyle trend popularized on TikTok. Aimed at young women, this trend is supposed to encourage girls to be their healthiest, most productive, and #empowered selves — to become “That Girl” who is cool, skinny, and successful. The trend, like most things that live on the internet, has faced some criticism. So let’s unpack why “That Girl” is sort of problematic.

For starters, “That Girl” isn’t anything new. She’s the evolution of girls of the past like the #girlboss (popularized by Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso). The #girlboss was simply a confident successful woman, particularly if she was an entrepreneur or her own boss. #Girlboss feminism was synonymous with pithy hashtags and sayings that you could slap onto a t-shirt, like #freethenipple and #girlssupportgirls. She has to operate in a “man’s world,” and so she’s encouraged to take charge, be unapologetic, and hustle. This brand of feminism was particularly championed by millennial women, has been accused of being superficial, promoting patriarchal capitalist attitudes and structures, and focusing on skinny, white, conventionally attractive cis-het women.

This leads us to one of the biggest pitfalls of both the #girlboss and “That Girl.” They’re not inclusive. Like at all. If you look up “That Girl” on TikTok or YouTube, you’ll see the same kind of girl participating.

  1. She has disposable income. Those fancy salads, candles, journals, and gym memberships aren’t cheap!
  2. She’s usually thin, white, and cis-het. And if she’s not all of those things, don’t worry. She’s still conventionally attractive!

On the surface, this isn’t so nefarious. Sometimes certain trends and lifestyles just happen to appeal to a certain demographic, right? But this lack of diversity becomes more troubling when you consider that “That Girl” carries connotations of moral virtue.

Throughout history and across cultures, religions, and philosophies, self-control has been valued. You see it in the writings of influential thinkers, including Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Confucius, and the Buddha. Asceticism is the practice of denying your desires in order to achieve a certain goal and traces of it can be seen in most major religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Buddism. Denial of food, sex, comfort, luxury, or even sleep are all seen as admirable sacrifices to achieve moral and spiritual purity, common ascetic practices include celibacy, fasting, and meditation. Ascetics, or those who successfully complete an ascetic practice are more moral than everyone else because they have overcome “temptation.”

Capitalism has a bit of asceticism in its DNA, maybe because of its links to Christianity. Though capitalism loves excess it’s quite strict. Give up sleep, give up a social life, give up being treated like a person… whatever it takes to be successful. Don’t get distracted by your desires and weaknesses, just focus. Anyone can be successful through hard work. If you’re poor, it’s your own fault. You should suck it up and hustle, to the point of exhaustion or even injury if necessary. Sacrifice and discipline is just what it takes to be a “good” and “successful” person in our society. This mentality doesn’t only apply to one’s career and finances, it also applies to health and fitness. Overweight people are shamed for supposedly being indulgent, lazy, stupid. There is no consideration for genetics, lack of resources, or other health problems. Culturally, thinness has long been associated with virtue, and fatness has been associated with decadence and failure.

Ascetics, thin people, the traditionally successful, and “That Girl” have all denied human desires in order to be superior.

“That Girl” is just a new form of the centuries long human desire to feel in control through self-discipline and strict routines. You can’t control the plague, earthquakes, famines, oppressive leaders, or the family you’re born into, but you can control what you eat, when you wake up, if you exercise or meditate, etc. But it’s a cycle of shame, guilt, and self-hatred when you “fail.” The trend serves capitalism, both with the luxurious lifestyle it worships and the attitude it embodies.

In all fairness, I do see value in these attempts to “romanticize your life,” enjoy the little things, touch grass, and be mindful. The trend also professes the importance of mental health, albeit in the most superficial, aesthetic, and pleasant way possible. “That Girl” does not go to therapy or need medication, she takes a bubble bath, puts on a face mask, watches only one episode of Friends, bakes… This self-care trend encourages you to spend money on certain products and is incredibly individualistic. If you are burnt out and depressed it’s your fault, not any system’s. Haven’t you been practicing self-care?

I urge you to aspire for something, anything more fulfilling and genuine than “That Girl.” Trust me, she’s not all that.


Feature graphic by Madeline Schmidt

The dirty truth behind “clean eating”

“Wellness” has become a ubiquitous term, but is it as beneficial as it’s marketed to be?

CW: This article contains discussions of disordered eating.

Turmeric capsules, alkaline water, detox teas — more and more the market is filling with new-agey products claiming to rid consumers of a multitude of ailments. One the one hand, many see this trend of “wellness” as a good thing. The more healthy food on the market, the more empowered consumers will be to make positive purchasing decisions. However, it may not be as simple as it seems.

What we now know is the wellness industry owes a lot of its tactics to ol’ faithful: the diet industry, which cares less about consumers’ health and long-term goals and more about keeping people hooked on their products and systems.

The wellness industry is chock-full of pseudoscientific answers to issues they themselves made up. Cleanses and detox regimens are a perfect example of this false promise. As Christy Harrison, a registered dietician and intuitive eating expert, explains, detox companies freely choose which foods they consider toxins, and this is not in line with actual scientific data. These companies label anything from gluten to coffee to peppers as toxins and then sell consumers a nutrient deficient liquid regimen to flush their bodies “clean.”

This can lead to a multitude of health problems. As Harrison explains, fasting cleanses can lead to massive drops in blood sugar, hypoglycemia and possible further pain from caffeine withdrawals. Further, research shows that “yo-yo dieting” may increase risk of heart disease in women.

The madness of the whole situation is that there is no point in detox dieting to begin with. If you have a functioning liver and kidneys, and have not ingested poison, there is simply no need for a detox — there’s nothing in there to “cleanse.”

We’ll come back to that word — cleanse — because it’s all over wellness marketing.

The diet industry is smart, and over the years marketers have realized that modern women are skeptical of the claims of diet pills, low-fat diets, and exercise programs of the 90s. So, the message had to change. Since the term “diet” tends to conjure up images of gloomy “before and after” shots, flavourless, pre-portioned freezer meals, and constant weighing, the industry has pivoted to a more positive and contemporary image — wellness.

Yet, a lot of the tactics of dieting have stayed the same with this turn to wellness, just dressed in new clothing. Cleanses, for example, rely on the same moral idea of food as either good or bad that the diet industry loves to pedal. No longer is food labeled “low fat” or “high fat,” now it’s “clean” or “toxic.” No matter the verbiage, this superimposes a binary between foods, erasing the importance of all types of food in a person’s diet. Despite aesthetic changes, the message stays the same: there is good food and bad food and it’s your job as a consumer to pick which side you want to fall on.

When we ascribe morality to food, that carries on to how we view people and their bodies. If it is seen as virtuous to diet and eat salads everyday and sinful to consume fast food, it becomes a personal responsibility to be thin. Thus, this contributes to inaccurate notions that fatness is a choice, and a scornworthy one at that.

Further, wellness culture does little to address the staggering food disparity across North America. Canada, for instance, holds many “food deserts” where healthy and fresh foods are either extremely difficult to find or exorbitantly priced. In these areas, diet concerns are less about healthfulness as much as simply surviving.

The shift from dieting to wellness has wider implications than just wasted money on overpriced tuscan kale and chia seeds. The shift towards “clean eating” can be connected to a new type of disordered eating: orthorexia. Orthorexia centers around an obsession with eating “cleanly” and healthily, rather than simply losing weight.

Sondra Kronberg, founder and executive director of the Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative, explained to NPR, “Orthorexia is a reflection on a larger scale of the cultural perspective on ‘eating cleanly,’ eating … healthfully, avoiding toxins — including foods that might have some ‘super power.’”

Yet, this doesn’t make the disorder any less harmful. Though the focus may be less on weight than on perceived healthfulness, when taken to obsessive length, clean eating can still cause a lot of harm to your body, mental health and self esteem.

Furthermore, the celebrities and influencers leading the crusade for wellness and clean eating just so happen to be overwhelmingly thin. So, regardless of intention, the perception still stands: healthy = thin.

Whether it’s the Atkins Diet or detox teas, it’s important to be wary of the shifting goalposts of the diet — I mean, wellness — industry. These companies are promising an unrealistic aesthetic of health that may leave you worse off than when you started.


Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam

Getting vitamin D is not as hard as you think

Here are some small things to add a bit of sun in your day-to-day life

The grass is starting to grow beneath the shrinking piles of snow, the flowers are awakening from their long winters’ nap, the air has a slight hint of manure. Yes, spring is here!

When spring comes around, the craving for fresh air and sun is always running high. This is completely natural, as stated in an article by NBC; humans tend to “hibernate” for the winter by staying in. This leads to us awakening from our slumbering and groggy selves as spring rolls in.

Giving in to spring’s good looks can be hard as it tends to go hand in hand with the busiest time of the semester. But the fresh air isn’t as out of reach as it may seem, as you don’t need to dedicate an entire day to soak up the benefits of the sun.

Experts say as little as 10 to 15 minutes outside can lift your mood, improve your immune system and help you sleep. (Which you definitely still need to do, even during finals). A lot of these benefits are related to how the sun boosts your serotonin levels, otherwise known as the “happiness hormone.”

One of the best ways to feel those rays is to sunbathe! Have you ever seen your dog or cat wander the house and sit in a tiny ounce of sunlight that is beaming into the room? Well, they have the right idea. Sunbathing is one of the simplest ways to enjoy UV rays and is often overlooked. It takes next to no effort and can be done from nearly anywhere: your balcony, backyard, a park, or even just next to a window.

While you’re out there taking it all in, you don’t have to sit around and do nothing. You can always take that growing pile of books outside with you and set up an outdoor office. Sunlight improves your mood and your creativity levels, according to an article in Time Magazine. This would put you in a better state of mind to study.

If outdoor lounging or studying doesn’t quite interest you, then find a different time of day to squeeze some sunlight in, like lunch time. You can always have a little picnic at a local park or even in your backyard. It doesn’t have to be a whole setup with a blanket (although every once in a while it is really fun). You can just walk to your favourite nearby spot and take some time to enjoy your food.

With the end of the semester comes high stress, and 15 minutes in the sun may not be enough to soothe your anxieties. You can always go for a walk. Students get told this millions of times a day, but that just shows how helpful and easy it could be. Going for a walk is a triple whammy: it will allow you to enjoy the sun you have been craving, move your body and take a break from your workspace.

An article in the New Yorker mentions how going for a walk can boost your mood: “Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander.” By allowing your mind to wander, a lot of those worries will be put on the back burner for a bit and reduce stress levels.

Spring for some means stress and finals, but it is also a time of new beginnings and growth. Allow these ideas to inspire you to make some small changes in your day to enjoy spring’s warmth and brightness. All you need is 15 minutes.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab

Plants: filling the void and helping you succeed

Plant babies are offering hidden benefits in their new homes, especially during quarantine

Are you a plant parent? No? What are you waiting for? Many see those green leafy items just as some-thing to forget to water. Those ideas are changing.

In recent months, there has been a rise in plant culture. Videos of plant tips and tricks, and some of plant parents just showing off their collections, have been taking the internet by storm. You can scroll through the vines of Instagram as well as “PlantTok,” the plant side of TikTok, watching plant-filled content for hours.

Odarlyn, the creator of plantiiplants on Instagram and YouTube, started her page in October 2020 and has since grown a community of over 22,000 plant lovers. With her community rapidly growing, she shared her thoughts over Instagram on why plants were suddenly becoming such an interest: “Quarantine! People are in need of feeling responsible for something. In this case, keeping plants alive.”

All throughout quarantine, many nurseries reported soaring plant sales, as people used plants as an outlet for all things they were missing from the pre-COVID world.

“Somewhere amid COVID-19 lockdowns, pandemic plant parents are filling the voids in their social life — and apartments — with an influx of flora,” stated an article by NBC.

Plants can actually do more for you than fill the void left from pre-COVID times. Overall, houseplants have countless benefits, especially in your workspace.

When spending all week preparing for an exam, the last thing you want to worry about is the space in which you work. However, your space can have an impact on your studies. Small changes like adding some greenery to your desk can actually improve your concentration. Multiple studies have been conducted over the years demonstrating how having indoor plants can lead to better focus and more productivity overall.

Even for the most focused students, school can be extremely stressful. Getting a plant to put on your desk won’t eliminate all that pressure; however, a study done by the University of Hyogo in Japan proved that having plants in your work environment can lead to less stress in your life. The researchers agreed that stress is a pressing issue in today’s workspaces and felt that adding some greenery is a solution that is often overlooked.

Nature and greenery have been known to reduce stress compared to urban landscapes. By adding a small house plant on your desk and looking at it when you feel stressed, you are providing your brain with a little bit of natural scenery to decompress.

When you have a new plant and it’s thriving, you feel as though you’re thriving too. New leaves can be almost as exciting as passing that course you have been working so hard for. This is because the answer is also in the interaction: the Hyogo study showed that people who took care of their plant grew a positive attachment, which leads to greater stress relieving benefits.

Don’t worry — there is no need to buy millions of houseplants and turn your office into your own personal forest (although you could if you want). The study shared that even just one small plant reduced the stress of their participants.

Now after all that information, there is only one final step in becoming a plant parent, and that is to buy a plant. This can seem like a daunting task as there are many varieties of houseplants you can choose from. It’s important to take a look at the kind of environment the plants will be living in and use this to guide your decision.

Plants aren’t always easy to take care of, especially if you don’t have the greenest of thumbs (I know I’ve killed quite a few in my time). What’s important is that if you keep trying; eventually, you will find the right plant.

And don’t forget to water it.


Photo by Christine Beaudoin

Being a psychologist: not always a walk in the park… or is it?

Forget about lying down on a couch; it is time for walk-and-talk therapy

“I don’t have time for therapy.”

I wish I were able to convince myself otherwise. Actually, I wish everyone was able to make time for therapy.

I stopped seeing my psychologist five years ago, thinking I couldn’t afford to spend an hour of my time (and $100 of my mother’s salary) every week just to sit on a couch and complain about my life. It was too late when I realized that I should have kept going, but as someone who later sought and received urgent professional help, I can safely say that therapy is absolutely worth your time and money.

I am doing way better now (thank you for asking) but I still struggle with the idea of going back to therapy. I must admit that I have always had a teeny-tiny negative bias towards it, and to be quite honest, I am broke and busier than ever.

But I recently learned something that almost convinced me to go back …

Sticking to online therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic was not enough for two private psychologists from the Centre de Psychologie Behaviorale (CPB) in Ahuntsic. That is why they started offering outdoor consultations as an alternative.

One of those two psychologists, Serge Drolet, has been working at CPB for 30 years.

On April 17, 2020, the Quebec government issued an official document instructing mental health service providers to limit their in-person activities and opt for teleconsultation whenever possible. At the time, all of CPB’s operations had already shifted online.

Since March 2020, about 25 per cent of Drolet’s clients have consequently abandoned therapy because they were not interested in Zoom consultations.

“Some very good patients left, and sadly, I don’t know what they became,” Drolet explained.

This inspired him to experiment with “walk-and-talk therapy” instead.  Since June, about 15 per cent of Drolet’s patients have chosen to bring their therapy sessions outdoors.

During the winter, the Marcelin-Wilson park and the small woods near the clinic are often deserted. On March 2, it might have been -17 C outside, but the most courageous of Drolet’s patients were able to enjoy the calm and tranquility.

However, since the office is surrounded by many other primary care services like a drugstore, a radiology centre, and a dialysis clinic, there is a lot of traffic on the sidewalks despite the centre being located in a quiet neighbourhood.

“Stuff happens when we find ourselves in these kinds of situations,” Drolet said. “[A patient and I] were walking and an old man tried to shove us aside because we were not walking fast enough for him. There was a lesson of self-assertion management, and that’s great because [this patient] is a person who, when alone, is submissive when it comes to confrontations. I gave this man a piece of my mind — while remaining professional, of course — and I was glad that she [the patient] could see that I, myself, do [what I usually advise her to do].”

According to Drolet, this new type of consultation also adds a dynamic component to the therapy.

“There’s a small wood not too far away and there are three directions we can take,” Drolet said. “On the right, we can see perfectly well; on the left there are a couple of young people that seem rough; and in the middle, it’s the woods. I don’t decide which way to go. You choose where we go. Just the fact that the person makes decisions like that during the session, somewhere along the way, it helps them make decisions in life,” Drolet said.

Being stuck alone with ourselves can be challenging, and many people’s mental health problems were exacerbated because of the pandemic. However, Drolet noticed that his patients had become more invested in their therapy; they have more free time to self-examine and to reflect on their patterns. Moreover, now that psychologists are being exposed to the same worries and deprivations as their patients, they can now empathize rather than sympathize with them. In fact, Drolet said that being on an equal footing with his clients in such a way has allowed him to help them better.

In the end, with all of COVID’s difficulties, it has also opened the door for new possibilities for how mental health service providers can treat their patients. Now that many people have more free time to focus on themselves and that it somewhat became easier to find a psychologist we can relate to, combining therapy to the health benefits of getting more fresh air gives us one more reason to consider going to therapy.


 Photo by Christine Beaudoin


Hustle culture and toxic productivity are ruining your brain

The grind never stops, they say

A day in my life: wake up at 7 a.m. and grind. Some days, my “hustle” starts as early as 5 a.m. if I work a morning shift that particular day. Other days it’s 8 a.m. if I want to “sleep in.” I eat breakfast and start my day with planning and getting work done until I leave for work most afternoons. After work, I come home, do more assignments, work on different projects and repeat the whole “grind” the next day.

As the name implies, hustle culture is the social pressure to constantly be working harder, faster and stronger in every area of our lives. It’s the idolization of workaholism and the mindset that you should be overworking to the point of exhaustion.

This way of living is driven by capitalism, and big corporations and social media perpetuate it. Everywhere you look, people are constantly posting and sharing their “hustle” and “grind.” It’s not uncommon to hear things like, “sleep is for the weak” or “never stop hustling.” This has the potential to cause people to feel pressured to overwork because of this ingrained idea that excessive work means success and the only way to survive in this world.

Successful entrepreneurs love to glamorize this toxic culture.

When asked by a Twitter user about the number of hours one needs to work each week to “change the world,” Elon Musk, founder, CEO, CTO and chief designer of SpaceX, replied that it could range from around 80 to over 100.

Another example is Ross Simmonds, founder and CEO of Foundation, a content marketing agency. He said, “The hustle brings the dollar. The experience brings the knowledge. The persistence brings success.”

I can’t help but think that this culture is dangerous for students, especially, and people like Musk and Simmonds are setting up such unrealistic and unhealthy standards for the people who idolize them.

A study published in Occupational Medicine in 2017 suggests that longer working hours are associated with poorer mental health status, and increased anxiety and depression symptoms. Long weekly working hours were also associated with reduced sleep time and increased sleep disturbance. These results confirm the importance of maintaining regular weekly working hours and avoiding excessive overtime work in order to reduce the risk of anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.

We live in a society where overworking is praised, and it needs to change.

According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America 2020 survey, Gen-Z adults, ages 18 to 23, reported the highest levels of stress compared to other generations.

Last semester, I practiced this hustle culture religiously and compared other people’s achievements to my own. I struggled with balancing being a full-time student, working 20 hours a week, and keeping up with my side “hustles.” I believed that the only way to succeed was to constantly work without taking breaks.

I started to feel guilty for resting; that’s when I knew I internalized toxic productivity.

Toxic productivity is when no matter how productive you might have been, there is always a feeling of guilt for not having done more. To me, this looks like developing unhealthy habits like skippings meals, not drinking enough water, and not sleeping enough. Anxiety attacks and breakdowns were part of my daily routine.

The hustle culture is pervasive, and it left me emotionally and physically drained, and most importantly, disconnected from reality.

This philosophy is extremely harmful because it drives other students to burnout, too.

On an Instagram poll I created last week asking my followers whether they believe hustle culture is toxic for them, 51 people voted yes, and 13 people responded that they were alright.

James Taylor, a first-year Economics student at Concordia University, says that he struggled with balancing his four classes, working 20 hours a week and his side business of making prints.

With the current world and technologies like Facebook and Instagram where people always seem to compare each other to one another, it’s forming an ‘I must hustle, or I’ll be eaten’ type of environment,” Taylor explained.

David Nguyen, a graduate student working on his Master of Business Administration at Laval University, also agreed and said that hustle culture can be avoided with the right mindset and approach.

I think the key balance is finding a balance between hustle culture and straight-out sloths. Both extremes are toxic,” Nguyen suggested. “Work at your own pace, but you’ve got to put in the work,” he added.

As Nguyen said, it is all about balance and taking care of yourself. Kiana Gomes, a first-year Journalism student who owns a newly-started bakeshop business, said that her hustle isn’t toxic. According to Gomes, it actually motivates her to work harder while making sure to rest.

When asked how she managed to work 12 hours a day during the Christmas break making chocolate bombs and cakes, and delivering them, Gomes said, “I was obviously tired and a little anxious, but the rush I get from success is worth it.”

While some can manage the workload, the mentality is overall harmful. I think it’s important we understand that “hustling” is not effective but dangerous to our well-being. Productivity is not bad; over-exhaustion is.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


The kids are not alright: why we need existential crises

How spirituality and mental health intertwine

We’ve heard Premier François Legault say it enough times: implementing secularism in our province’s legal framework was an “important moment” that “doesn’t go against the freedom of religion.”

Whether a state’s democracy rests on its relationship with religion is a debate as old as time. Throughout history, people have gone to war because of the power of religion over the state and over other religions.

This is a contentious issue that no one has an answer to, but one of the expected consequences of secularizing a state is that of having a society that doesn’t think of religion as having an integral role to play in the way our country is run.

Our secular society tells us that it’s unbecoming to talk and think of religion as anything other than a private, individual matter, and that other social aspects of politics should take precedence over it. Legault wasn’t wrong in saying his Bill 21, which banned religious symbols for public workers and mandated that one’s face must not be covered in order to receive some public services, was an “important moment” in Quebec.

Instead of making it a norm to see people practice their religions, we’re pushing people to foster their own religious beliefs within their own homes, on their own, away from their community, which is the complete opposite perspective to how most religions have been structured.

Young people are raised not to think about questions central to religion with as much seriousness as past generations. For some time now, the percentage of the population who are religiously committed has been declining, while the proportion of Canadians who are “spiritually uncertain” or who simply reject spirituality have been escalating. Even those who have faith in religion don’t practice it nearly as much anymore.

On the other hand, our country is going through a mental health crisis, and one which disproportionately affects young people.

We can’t dismiss the downward trend in adherence to faith as being completely disconnected from the rise in mental health issues in the country. The cosmogonic theories and ideologies that religion is so good at starting conversations about, and that science so often leaves open-ended, are quintessential to the human experience.

It’s not a coincidence that every single civilization that has existed has created a system of beliefs to explain where things come from and what the universe is. Since we’ve become sentient and self-aware beings, it’s been a natural instinct of ours to look for answers and to rationalize the world we live in beyond sensory perception.

It’s also no coincidence that all religions have traditions and habits that centre around bringing people together: we know that community is a basic human need. Living beings don’t do well with loneliness; it’s instinctual to want to build relationships with those around us.

It’s not surprising to see the attempts by a government to reduce religions down to something we can leave at home ends up making its population more depressed and less grounded. Our leaders have such a key role to play on culture, and they’re now building one where fraternity and existentialism are considered peripheral to self-reliance and science.

Maybe what we need isn’t a more secularized state but a more spiritual and inclusive one. Human beings weren’t made to let go of their desire to understand the unknowns of the universe.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab

Tips for adopting a furbaby during the pandemic

The diamond in the ‘ruff’

Luz Adriana Monsalve’s decision to adopt a pet changed her life in more ways than she ever imagined. An Engineering student at Concordia, the adoption of her dog helped Monsalve get through the pandemic.

“At first it was actually terrifying because we first got our dog at the beginning of quarantine. I quickly realized that I was in a building of more than a thousand people. I was going up and down the elevator two to three times a day to walk my dog. So, I would be exposed to a lot of people,” Monsalve explained.

Since March of 2020, there has been a surge of animal adoptions. Many shelters around the city are running out of animals to put up for adoption.

Maria Garcia, an administrator at Refuge Zen in Laval, a shelter for stray animals, explained, “Over the pandemic, people have been adopting animals left and right. As soon as we post a picture of the animal on our Facebook page, they immediately get adopted a few days later.”

Monsalve explained the process she had to go through with the SPCA to adopt her dog. Following hygiene measures, the SPCA sets up an interview with the prospective adoptive parents of the animals. Based on the living situation, the lifestyle of the adoptive parents, the SPCA links you to a certain breed of dog or cat.

According to an article written by Health Affairs, “The struggle to balance literal survival with all the things that make surviving worthwhile has never been so clear, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many to sacrifice social connections — and therefore quality of life — for life itself.” One measure that has been helping many is pet therapy.

Medical News Today describes an effect produced by humans interacting with animals as the ‘human-animal bond.’ What this bond means exactly is the human desire to relate to animals.

The article further explains the bond itself helps people by “reducing boredom, increasing movement and activity through walks and play, providing companionship and decreasing loneliness, increasing social interaction, and improving mood and general well-being.”

Every person has a specific need for a therapy animal. Based on the type of therapy needed, the article outlines some of the goals set out for pet therapy, such as “providing comfort and reducing levels of pain, improving movement or motor skills, developing social or behavioral skills, and increasing motivation towards activities such as exercising or interacting with others.”

Emmalyne Laperle, a Sociology student at Concordia, explains her experience adopting her cat. She adopted her cat through the organization Chatopia in September of 2020.

“Since my cat is a pure breed Persian cat, he was used for breeding. He was forced to breed. Some people that I talked to ask[ed] me ‘what’s the big deal? He just has to get female cats pregnant and have babies.’ But the fact is, regardless if he’s having the babies or not, he was kept in an environment that was really harmful. When we got him, he was so stressed that he had patches of fur missing,” Laperle recalled.

Laperle explained that it took a while for her cat to warm up to her and her significant other. For the first couple of weeks, her cat felt uneasy when she would go to pick him up. However, after some time passed, the cat grew a beautiful new coat of fur and the patches are no longer there.

As much as it’s great to give an animal a home, most people do not truly realize the great responsibility that comes with adopting an animal.

“As much as it’s amazing to adopt a dog, it’s a lot of time commitment. A big-money commitment if something goes wrong. They could have a big vet bill,” Monsalve explained.

Pet therapy is a wonderful avenue during this uncertain time, however, it needs to be proceeded with caution. As we are trying to social distance from one another, pets provide companionship and a good distraction from the world around us.

Monsalve, referring to her dog sitting right next to her during a Zoom interview, said, “This dude is my best friend, he’s been a huge company to me throughout the pandemic and I think I would’ve felt really lonely without him.”


 Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Isolate happiness when working alone

While many Canadians suffer the toll of social isolation, one man spends six months working in near-total solitude every year, and loves it. Experts explain why.

“I’m able to see in my six months of ‘solitude’ something super positive. It takes time. The first weeks when I’m alone here, it’s strange,” says Gabriel Lanthier, in his fourth year as manager of the University of Montreal’s Laurentian Biology Station. In this role, he spends November until May working alone at the rural site, managing, repairing, and maintaining the 16.4 square kilometres of land.

In turn, during the summer season, it’s all hands on deck, as Lanthier manages a team of eight who run the site that houses many active research experiments and University of Montreal classes, hosts students who are writing theses, and rents the space out to private events.

Lanthier monitors an ongoing research project that assesses the impact of a 3 degree increase in soil temperature on vegetation growth long-term, as compared to the present soil temperature levels. In 2009, the Quebec Government announced that a 28 square kilometer plot of land, which includes the Laurentians Biology Station, would become a protected territory as a “biodiversity reserve”. Here, researchers mainly in biology and geography, conduct experiments. Between 1967 and 2014, researchers concluded 33 doctoral theses and 164 masters theses at the site.

Why does he love solitude?

“We underestimate in everyday life our need for space, for tranquility. We’re all on a rolling train.” He continues, “People often stop at the point where they’re about to break. The hard end.”

Lanthier was hired to work in an isolated region in the Lower Laurentians, 75 kilometres north of Montreal, where he lives with his partner and their two children. His lifestyle for the winter months — quiet, solitary, and slowed down — reflects the “new normal” introduced by social distancing laws enforced in Quebec, especially for remote workers, to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Lanthier cuts down trees that obstruct a trail in the woods of the site. “Working alone, the job is super varied,” says Lanthier. “If it’s a problem with personnel, if it’s a problem with clients, if it’s a problem with scheduling, or a problem with the machinery we have, doing reparations. All year I solve different problems. That’s my job.”

According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of Canadians experiencing poor mental health has tripled to 24 per cent since 2018, and young people are hit hardest over recent social distancing measures. Further, “Over half of participants report that their mental health has worsened since the onset of physical distancing,” according to the study.

Burnout culture is not a new phenomenon. In response to a rise in stress and burnout among Canadian labourers, Quebec has been working to expand its legislation protecting worker’s health to include mental health as well, according to Canada’s Occupational Health and Safety Magazine.

Recently, experts have warned of the psychological strain that essential workers face during this time, which can ultimately lead to greater risk as employees, facing exhaustion, are more susceptible to mistakes.

According to a Statistics Canada report, those with the most education are more likely to hold positions that can be done from home, illustrating that “The risk of experiencing a work interruption during the pandemic might fall disproportionately on financially vulnerable families.” Further, it poses the dilemma for those working in low-paid, high contact industries, such as the service industry or factory work, whether or not to absorb high risks by working in person.

So, is solitude really the culprit of this swelling unwellness, or is it merely a symptom of something else?

Lanthier attributes his wellness in the face of solitary winters to three things — he likes his job, he works outside, and he slows down.

Lanthier walks along the trails of the site, which has 7 lakes, and multiple rivers and streams passing through. “I think we underestimate in the everyday life, our need for space. The need for tranquility,” says Lanthier. “The only advice I’ve got: go outside, take in the air, and especially during Covid, put on your running shoes and go jogging 10 minutes. 10 minutes will change your day.”

Meaningful work is a central factor to job satisfaction. That and “mastering, leadership, balance, influence, achievements and colleagues,” according to the Happiness Research Insititue’s 2019 Job Satisfaction Index.

This research studies Danes’ work satisfaction, identifying three main issues that workers faced in 2019 — managing the “work-life balance,” “stress,” and fostering a “sense of identity from their job.” The research found that meaningful work offers labourers a stronger sense of job satisfaction, which in turn heightens their happiness.

“Me, I’m in paradise,” says Lanthier. “I’m sure it’s not the same situation if you ask me to work in a four-and-a-half, no windows, semi-basement, for eight hours in front of a computer. I would not have the same appreciation of isolation than what I have.”

According to the theory of logotherapy developed by psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl, humans derive happiness from meaning — through purposeful work, relationships, or suffering, as explained in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” first published in 1946.

The connection between human happiness and meaningful work has a long history, with a body of research behind it. Sustainability is a welcome recent addition to the conversation by experts in happiness.

“I really think a sustainable economy needs to be built on meaningful work,” says economic historian Dr. Kent Klitgaard. “I don’t think you can have this kind of degraded job that everybody hates and you do it just to buy consumption goods that wear out quickly and don’t make you happy.”

The principle that we can be happier if we work less and slow down is on the rise amongst professionals working to scale back human consumption and invest more in well-being.

“We can have better lives, I’m convinced, with a lot less material and energy consumption,” says environmental economist Dr. Christian Kerschner.

The connections between slowing down, engaging in environmentally sustainable activities, consuming less, and happiness are detailed in a United Nations commissioned Sustainable Happiness report, conducted by The Happiness Research Institute.

According to the report, “The literature on voluntary simplicity provides abundant illustrations of persons who, by virtue of engaging in simpler lives, experience increased feelings of satisfaction and meaning. In other words: less stuff equals more happiness.”

“We have been very comfortable materially, but also if you look at our society’s emotional and psychological health,” says Kerschner, “we are not doing so well.”

What does meaningful work have to do with consumption? Since technology has replaced many — largely manual — jobs across industries, economies have found new uses for this labour force. These jobs tend to be mundane, dead-end, monotonous, with tight deadlines.

“I ask myself at what point is it healthy for the human mind? Something very routine — like a recipe — already established. Every day, 40 hours per week, for 20 years?” Lanthier asks. “Put it in an isolating mold, all alone, I would go crazy.”

Among his varied duties, Lanthier is responsible for doing office work, such as bookkeeping, managing staff during the summer, and confirming reservations with clients. “I’m a bit of a hybrid between intellectual and manual and that’s what I found in this job,” says Lanthier. With an undergraduate degree in psychology, and a master’s degree in biology, Lanthier finds this position taps into both studies. “I believe you don’t just learn things in school. In touching, in trying, in failures also, that’s all a part of learning. When things don’t work, we learn,” says Lanthier. “My work gives me the opportunity to touch on very diverse things and I learn every day.”

The duality of Lanthier’s job — a busy summer followed by a quiet winter — taps into his need for a challenge, change, and allows him to grow his skills manually as well as interpersonally.

While routine is a very healthy practice to maintain both bodily and mental health, Lanthier has a point. A job where you do the same thing every day limits how much you can learn or be challenged. “For work to be meaningful, it needs to stimulate me, fill my life,” says Lanthier. “My work needs to help me grow, evolve, progress.”

“There’s studies that show people in the U.S. are working more hours on average than any generation before. So that leads

As part of his duties, Lanthier walks the trails located on the reserve, taking note of any evidence of animal activity, such as canine tracks. He also searches for evidence of human activity, which is forbidden, to ensure the preservation of the land and protection of any research taking place.

to the question,” Kerschner elaborates. “Is this really life? Is this really wellbeing?”

Some are finding their wellbeing comes from an active engagement with community and sustainability.

One collective-living community in Denmark began to examine the food waste in their home. With a separate trash can for food, the residents can see “direct proof of what food waste costs them each month and what they save by reducing such waste,” according to the Sustainable Happiness report. With less waste-based financial strain, workers need to earn less money and work less hours to afford a high quality of life.

Kerschner hopes that through this experience in social isolation, collectively, society can work to strengthen community ties, and register how important connection is for our health and happiness. When we liberate our time by working a little less, we create more time for the things that matter to us, connecting with our communities, and helping each other.

There is an understanding in mainstream social consciousness that sustainability is incompatible with abundance. On the contrary, cultivating abundance does not need to be expensive.

The Sustainable Happiness report stresses, “To completely unleash happiness potential, it is important to dispense with myths and misconceptions such as the false choice between sustainability and happiness.”

Through community initiatives, sharing, and connecting, abundance can be very cost-efficient, sustainable, and joyous.


Photos by Simona Rosenfield, taken on December 2, 2020

Exit mobile version