Life gets crazy

I write this as students are busy studying and stressing over exams.  Stress is a common thing on a university campus.  Learning should not be easy.  Good learning should be challenging; requiring students to dig deep, reflect on positions they may never have considered before, adjust their outlook on the world.  We commonly get into discussions that require students to move from position A to position B or at least deeply contemplate such a move.  No question, that is stressful.


Professors are not immune although I don’t expect students to feel any sympathy since in their eyes we are usually the reason for their stress.  Fair enough.  Professors’ lives include a job that can be all consuming, especially if you love your research and enjoy working with students.  Add in a dearth of strong leadership, a shortage of people to spread the work, plenty of opportunities to try new things – and the academic life can quickly become a rat race.  Without a doubt that is why I started yoga, golf, and classical music.  The decisions to start those (all independent) were not driven consciously by stress but I now see in hindsight that the outcome from all three is VERY positive.  I have to give a huge shout out to the instructors and yogis at Kelowna Moksha – since March 2011 I’ve been a devotee and seriously notice a mental difference when I get to yoga and when I don’t.  Thank you Kylie et al!!

Today I was reading a post from Inside Higher Ed, a great source of everything academic, when I came across the following piece of advice:

If you give your life to the institution, don’t expect the institution to reward you with a life. Fight hard for what really matters to your happiness. Sleep, eat well, and exercise. Consider not eating at your desk at least once a week; schedule in exercise. If you’re depleted or ill, you will not teach well or write well.

That is SO true.  I’ve been an professor for over ten years and especially since coming to UBC Okanagan in 2007, I have given much to the institution.  I’ve enjoyed it for sure.  Lots of challenges and opportunities but really it is not worth burying myself for this institution.  Literally and figuratively.  I don’t blame UBC, UBC Okanagan, or my Faculty – I suspect that every large institution and corporation out there can find itself encouraging people to devote themselves to the organization without truly appreciating what that means from the individual perspective.  The institution is like a large black hole of energy sucking in small stars.  It may feel good to be a part of something but rarely does that black hole spit you out with more energy than you began.  (That’s probably a really bad analogy and I suspect my physics and astronomy colleagues will correct me!)

The Inside Higher Ed post finished with a quick reminder of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day.  I first ran into that at an excellent Parker Palmer retreat back in the spring – it truly is a wonderful poem but particularly the last portion,

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

That’s an excellent wake up call.  Each of us only has one life, one body, one mind.  We’d better take care of it and do the best we can.  This is a one shot deal.

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Queens University – leading the way with on-campus mental health initiatives

Queens University has really led the charge in Canada to address mental health and mental illness on campus and this story is just one more small initiative they are trying.  I have long wondered how I or one of my colleagues would handle a dire situation.  In my 10+ years as a university professor I have had conversations with students and suggested they take advantage of certain resources provided to students.  I know that even taking the time to listen to students talk about their lives outside of the classroom is important.  Sure its messy and lots of professors will avoid it, but let’s not forget that students are people and they have real problems, real issues, and a real life beyond the class.  Quite honestly those outside issues commonly trump anything we are discussing inside the class and really cannot be ignored.  I’m not suggesting that I have the answers but I do have the capacity to listen.  And honestly, every single professor and teacher out there should take the time to listen to our students.

That’s why I think this green folder idea is pretty cool.  A quick source to identify a number of resources to turn to when the conversation goes somewhere beyond what I can handle. Every campus has experts on campus, let’s get those advertised and widely known.  I’d be happy to point students the right direction.  Only after listening to them of course!

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Higher education and mental health

Here’s an excellent article from Macleans Online today about the extent of mental health issues on university campuses.  Its actually frightening and scary and I wish I could do more to help.  Students, staff and faculty – please comment on your thoughts about this story.


Click the image below for the full article.

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Staying mentally and physically healthy when you go to university

A great article from USA today about encouraging your college kids to stay healthy amidst all the higher education stress.  One of the recommendations is to connect to the university health services right away and know what they have to offer.  Here is the link for UBC Okanagan students for both mental and physical health services:

Click the image for the full article.

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Another tragic shooting involving mental illness

So sad for everyone involved.  Another shooting in the States, this time at Texas A&M.  Apparently the shooter had mental health issues in the period leading up to yesterday’s tragic event.  I hesitate to post this; I don’t want anyone to think that people with mental illness are all dangerous.  Two things seem clear to me after too many of these stories: (1) better gun control is required (sorry NRA) and (2) we all need to watch out for each other and ensure that everyone has access to terrific mental health resources.  If a colleague, friend, neighbour or family member is mentally under the weather it is our responsibility to make sure they seek AND GET the necessary help.  I’m not an expert by any means but I will commit to learning more so I can help the people around me.  I will commit to taking the mental health first aid course offered in Kelowna this fall through CMHA.

If you’re interested in finding out more about mental health, start here.

Click the image below for the full story.

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