Friday, 5 December 2014

On Homesickness

Homesickness is one of the most prevalent aspects of travelling abroad, yet one of the least talked about.

In the excitement of planning your trip, packing, arriving and starting off on a new adventure, it's easy to forget about what you might miss the most: home.

It seems like everyone deals with homesickness at some point in their life. Maybe you miss your bedroom, your family, your friends or your favourite foods. When you're travelling, it can be hard to enjoy your trip when you're distracted by thoughts of home.

Here are some tips to help:

1. Plan in advance
Even if you think you might not get homesick, how about pre-planning to have a Skype session with a loved one? Looking forward to seeing a familiar face can help you cope.

2. Write about how you're feeling. On your laptop, in a journal or on a scrap of paper  - it doesn't matter. Reflect on your mindset and focus on the positives. Think of three meaningful things that happened to you that day. Optimism is a great tool!

3. Keep yourself busy. You may want to just mope around and dwell, but being active and filling your schedule can help. Try having some social time with others, going on a hike or spending time at tourist attractions.

Planning in advance, having a positive attitude and getting out of your comfort zone can help you have a happy and healthy trip, wherever you are!

Find out about more tips here.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Everything is Temporary

I read a recent article in The Globe and Mail called, "I just turned 25. Will every decision I make now affect the rest of my life?"

The author, Ruth Goodwin, discusses her struggles having a quarter-life crisis. Using the phrase "chronic dissatisfaction," she articulates the millennial challenge of finding happiness and satisfaction in life and work.

Contrasting a post-university job she hated with the short-lived joy of joblessness, Goodwin writes, "I’ve been on both sides of it: I’ve had the job, the pantyhose and the quinoa salad, but I’ve also gone 13 days without washing my hair, on a diet of Oreos."

Her story, though entertaining to read, is not unique. She speaks to a generation, who, like her, are lost at sea.

She closes her article with a sense of hope and solidarity, stating "...the knowledge I am not alone in these moments of panic and frustration brings me comfort. Life is full of highs and lows, peaks and valleys, Jennifer Anistons and Angelina Jolies. The only thing to do is take a deep breath and realize this is temporary."

You can read Ruth Goodwin's full article here.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Work/Life Balance: You're in Control

How many of us have trouble finding that ideal balance in life? Between committing precious hours to work or school, fulfilling obligations and spending time with family and friends, it can be difficult to find any time for yourself.

Some of us many even feel guilty when we take time for ourselves, feeling as if we don't deserve it.

But we do.

Today, I attended a panel discussion of Public Relations professionals, who spent time discussing challenges in the industry. As an industry notorious for long, tough hours, I was intrigued when a fellow attendee asked the speakers about they find their work/life balance. The answer surprised me.

One of the speakers, who holds a prominent role at a downtown Toronto PR agency, replied that finding time for yourself is a personal choice. Contrary to popular belief, he claimed, it is not our teachers, bosses or colleagues who decide what our work/life balance is, but ourselves.

If you think about it, it's true. When it comes down to it, we are the ones that allow ourselves to stress, to work overtime, to keep pushing when our bodies and minds need a break. In determining the balance of our own lives, we call the shots.

This empowering thought is helping me to re-focus at a time when school, work and social obligations seem to be mounting.

Over the next week, can you give yourself permission to find balance and take time for yourself? What do you discover?

Friday, 14 November 2014

Twelve before 12

Mornings are underrated.

People always complain about having to get up to early, of being tired or about not having enough time in the day. It starts with setting your day off right and making the most of the a.m.

Being productive in the morning can boost your mood for the whole day and make you feel more energized. Here's a list of 12 things to do before 12 noon:

1. Exercise. It may be the last thing you want to do when you're snuggled in your warm bed, but getting your body moving and your heart pumping can get those endorphins going. Coast on them for the whole day!

2. Eat a nourishing breakfast. Forget the sugary donut and coffee and give yourself a protein-rich morning meal. Eggs, oatmeal or fresh fruit are all great options to keep you feeling satisfied and focused.

3. Make some goals for the day. This doesn't have to be scary! It can even be typed into your phone or on a piece of scrap paper. The act of writing some intentions for the day can help you feel more self-aware.

4. Say thank you. In person is best, but even through text or over e-mail, thanking someone for their efforts can make your day and someone else's a little better.

5. Meditate. Take a few quiet minutes to yourself to just breathe.

6. Give a hug! Human contact can be warm, comforting and releases feel-good endorphins.

7. Read something - anything! The news, a good novel or a poem. Make an effort to read something new every day.

8. Have a conversation with someone. Put down the smart phone and talk, face-to-face. Miscommunications are easy via technology. Make the effort to speak to someone in person.

9. Do a good deed. Hold the elevator or the door open for a stranger. These little gestures truly go a long way!

10. Make yourself a mid-morning cup of tea. Green and white teas are particularly high in flavonoids and other healthy compounds.

11. Practice gratefulness. During your commute, think of one thing in your life that you're grateful for today.

12. Smile! If you're not feeling so great, smiling can actually improve your mood and make others around you feel good, too.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Energy: You get what you give

Juggling work, school and home life is a constant challenge. It's easy for the time to just slip by, leaving you wondering where your week went. Many of us are so busy these days that after managing all our commitments, all we want to do is lie on the couch and veg out.

Recently though, and possibly connected to the daylight savings time change, I've been feeling quite low in energy. Waking up groggier than ever this morning, I somehow convinced myself to go for a quick run.

While peeling myself out of bed, putting on some comfy jogging clothes and heading out into the chilly air seemed crazy at first, I couldn't believe how incredible I felt within minutes of moving.

Though I spent less than 30 minutes exercising this morning, it seemed to add extra energy to my whole day. I enjoyed my breakfast more, felt happier on my morning commute and felt like I dealt with the stress of my day a little better for having exercised.

I came across an article today that cites the link between exercise and mood. Check it out here.

I don't know if I'll be able to keep up a jogging routine in the colder weather, but the feel-good health benefits are definitely added motivation now!

How do you keep active and how does exercise impact your life?

Friday, 24 October 2014

Take your networking game up a notch!

If you've ever tried networking, it's not easy. It can be intimidating, overwhelming and sometimes really awkward.

I've attended a couple of networking events in the past, and while I'm no expert, I've noticed some tricks and tips that make the process a little bit easier.

1. Do your research: know who is attending, who you want to speak to, and read up on their bio. You'll be able to ask better questions and make conversation if you know a bit about them. People love talking about themselves!

2. Know what you want to see. You know that you're interesting, unique and smart, and you want professionals to know that too. Practice your story - what are three things you would want someone else to know about you? Practice with a friend if need be?

3. Be aware of your body language. If you feel shy, it's easy to want to make yourself smaller and sit in a corner. Feeling cornered? You may put your arms in front of your chest as an instinct. However, you want to appear relaxed, friendly and open at a networking event. Stand up straight, keep your shoulders back and look people in the eye when you speak.

4. If you haven't already heard of this amazing site, be sure to check out Ten Thousand Coffees. It's a great professional networking site that allows you to connect with professionals in your city and industry. It's easy to make a profile and ask an expert out to coffee.

Good luck at your next networking event!

Friday, 17 October 2014

How addicted are you to your smartphone?

Do you love your smartphone? Yeah me too. But how much is too much?

I heard about a fairly shocking study on the radio today. Apparently, the average person picks their phone up 1500 times per week! That's about three hours per day of staring at the screen, adding up to almost one entire day per week of doing stuff on your phone. And that doesn't even include all the time we spend on our computers! Dizzy yet?

Here's a nifty infographic displaying some of the study's finds:


From  Custard, info by Techmark via https://www.yahoo.com/tech/new-study-says-we-pick-up-our-smartphones-1-500-times-a-99412542979.html

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Power of Positioning

I recently watched a fantastic TEDTalk by social scientist Amy Cuddy called "Your body language shapes who you are." In the video, Cuddy describes the idea of Power Positioning. According to research in the lab, your body language and how you carry yourself can literally change your life.

Think of the kind of body language you have when you're celebrating something - a personal success, a team victory or just feeling confident. Maybe your arms are up in the air, your shoulders are back and you're looking outward.

Now think of what your body does during times of low self-confidence. You might be huddled in on yourself, hunched over and trying to make yourself appear smaller.

It turns out, you can trick yourself into confidence. According to Cuddy's research, adopting a Power Pose (think of how Wonder Woman stands) for just a few minutes a day can actually increase your testosterone (giving you a boost of confidence) and lower your cortisol (the stress hormone).

How incredible is that? I'm definitely going to try out Power Positioning before my next presentation!

You can watch Amy Cuddy's fantastic TEDTalk here.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Rediscovering Twitter

I've been a Twitter user, both personally and professionally, for a while now. However, I had been feeling like I still didn't really "get" the platform totally. Taking a social and digital media course this year has provided me with some of the most insightful information on using Twitter strategically.

I thought I'd share some tips from my class!

1) Twitter is best when you use it regularly. I know it's easy to tweet something one day, and then not sign back into your account for a week or two - but it's hard to build that coveted community when you haven't been engaging with your networks. My goal is to engage with at least a few people on Twitter each day.

2) Be authentic. Follow what you like! Post and retweet and favourite things that you personally find interesting. This will allow you to connect with people who are excited by the same things as you.

3) Have brand awareness. Some people think the idea of a "personal brand" is corny, but it's actually quite useful. Potential employers can easily look you up on Twitter, so why not use that to your advantage? Think about what message you want to get across on Twitter and how your profile, pictures, tagline, and posts can help you achieve that.

4) Consider cleaning up your Twitter profile. Have any tweets or pictures posted that may not reflect favourably on you in the future? Maybe it's time to take them down. This can easily be done by visiting tweetdelete.net.

5) Have fun with Twitter! It's not supposed to be drag or stress you out.

Happy tweeting!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Finding Joy in the Small Things

This has been one of the busiest summers, for me and a lot of people. People always talk about the "lazy days of summer", but for me, July and August have been pretty packed and now it's nearly September.

At the beginning of the summer, I had a whole list of things I wanted to accomplish, and even a few trips I wanted to take. With one thing and another, I didn't get around to doing everything I wanted to. at the same time, it's been a productive and fulfilling few months.

Although I didn't get around to doing everything I wanted, there have been a lot of happy moments this summer. The more I think about it, the things that have given me the greatest joy over these past few months have been, somewhat surprisingly, the small things.

Here's a list of some of the things that stood out from my summer:

-the feeling of jumping into a cold, but refreshing lake at a friend's cottage
-sipping a cup of tea on my balcony in the morning before work
-watching dogs, kids, and families play together on the beach
-reading a book in bed on a drizzly day
-taking the time to write more often, even once or twice a week
-feeling the days get cooler and thinking about autumn on its way

What kind of little things give you joy?

Friday, 15 August 2014

What Ever Happened to Curiosity?

I'm curious - what makes you curious?

A recent Toronto Star article about waning curiosity in the age of iPads, smartphones, and constant access to Google has got me thinking about this essential human trait.

George Leslie, author of the book Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It, argues that Google "is curiosity's best friend and worst enemy at the same time". When getting information is just too easy, such as typing a word or query into the Google search box and getting an immediate answer, our natural human curiosity can dampen. Perhaps we click on the Wikipedia page, scan the opening paragraph, and then walk away with an immediate but superficial answer.

Great thinkers in the past like Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Darwin, or Benjamin Franklin were men of great curiosity, but without the existence of Google in their time, they would have had to go to much more extreme lengths to find the answers to their questions - it was definitely not as easy as searching something on the web!

Leslie is not totally opposed to Google and its capabilities though - he asserts that the search engine does have its upsides. For naturally curious people, he says,  Google can enhance their thirst for knowledge - but, if you're naturally lazy, Google can make you lazier.

I think that there are other ways to ignite our curiosity and search for knowledge - methods that don't even involve the use of the internet. What about fiction? Nature? Sports? Art?

So, what makes YOU curious?

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Importance of Quiet

I recently spent a few days in Ontario’s cottage country with some friends. It was freezing cold, we had rain on and off, and there were gusts of winds that almost left me shipwrecked in the middle of the lake when I went out for a kayak paddle. It definitely wasn’t the week of fun in the sun that we were expecting – but surprisingly, what I enjoyed best about the trip was the quiet, and the escape it provided from city life. But what I appreciated most was the fact that we had no internet connection.

The terrible weather on our vacation forced us to remain inside the small cabin. As a result, I spent my time doing something I rarely have the time or attentiveness for: reading (and not an e-reader, an ACTUAL book). In our age of digital overload, it’s easy to spend the majority of your waking hours staring at a screen of some sort.

Contemporary studies have suggested that overexposure to digital screens is causing attention deficit problems and diminishing our interpersonal and intellectual abilities. Researchers and scientists are now promoting the importance of quiet time, and the absence of screens, when possible, to allow for important, but increasingly neglected brain functions such as daydreaming and creative thinking.

I think that the biggest reward of this drizzly, chilly week up north was the lack of buzzes, beeps, pop-ups, and alerts that we have become accustomed to receiving on our various devices. Instead, I got the time read, think, and reflect for a few days.



The first thing I did when I got back home? Checked my email.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Shiny New Blog Post!

Mygapyear's Summer Newsletter is available now - complete with travel tips all the way from Kentucky to Italy, plus a parent's account of her son's gap year experience Tanzania and South America!
Click here to read the latest edition of mygapyear's newsletter!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Don't Peak in High School

With another school year over, it can be a reflective time of year (especially if you’re graduating). You think back on all of the accomplishments, the letdowns, the highs and the lows.  It’s easy to feel a wide array of emotions as well – everything from relief to joy to pride, to sadness and disappointment and everything in between. It can be overwhelming.

What can make this transition time so difficult is the pressure – there are so many heightened expectations during the high school years to make the most of the supposedly best years of your life.

I think that this kind of pressurized, expectation-building thinking needs to stop. As someone who didn’t particularly enjoy high school, I remember leaving grade 12 wondering if I should have tried harder to have that indefinable “time of my life” that everyone always talked about.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have highs in secondary school, but there were lows, too.  High school was a memorable time in its own way, but it’s foolish to amp up that period of your life when you still have a lot of living ahead of you! Maybe I want my 30s, or my 40s, or even my 80s to be the best decades of my life – and they easily could be! Your happiness is not reserved for any single era of your life.

So…if you have finished another year of school or have graduated and are feeling confused or disappointed in any way – don’t let it get to you. Good things in life happen in every decade, not just when you’re young. The best times are yet to come!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Why You Might Want to Pick Up a Pen More Often...

As an experiment, I'm handwriting today's bog post in a notebook first instead of typing it up on my laptop.

A recent New York Times article presented the idea that writing by hand, rather than on a keyboard, may benefit learning in both children and adults.

In school, children acquire reading skills more quickly as writing skills are introduced. Additionally, they are able to remember things better through and become more creative through writing things down.

In another study, a psychologist demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and keyboard typing were all linked with different parts and patterns in the brain. However, when children wrote out text by hand, they had larger vocabularies and were able to generate more ideas.

According to the article, the benefits of handwriting are seen in adults, too. We can commit new concepts and ideas to memory with greater ability when we write by hand. Furthermore, in real-world classroom studies, two psychologists showed that handwriting allows students to better process the learning content and then "reframe" it. This reframing allows for a reflective process that may be lost in keyboard typing.

Even a skeptic of the study still acknowledges the significance of writing: "With handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what's important. Maybe it helps you think better."

Do you prefer typing on a keyboard, or writing by hand? Experiment for yourself! It's never too late to start a journal or a new piece of writing - and you might even learn something!

You can read the full NY Times article here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?src=me&ref=general&_r=0

Friday, 23 May 2014

If I were 22...


In a recent series of articles entitled “If I were 22…”, bestselling author and MD Deepak Chopra offered some life advice to twenty-somethings who might be feeling lost or unsure about the direction their lives are taking.

Feeling uncertain about what path to take or what choices to make can be tough at any age, but it can be especially difficult as a young person. The pressure to make the “right” decisions early on can cause a lot of anxiety and hardship – particularly when there are so many career, travel, or study options available.

While some people might feel paralyzed by the uncertainty in life, Chopra gives us a more positive outlook on things.

Speaking from his own experience, he writes:

The greatest thing about being 22 is that none of these traps have closed. The instinct to be free is very strong when you're young. The flame of discontent is still fueled by idealism. If you consciously attune yourself to the best in your nature, you will be holding tight to the invisible thread. The world's wisdom traditions declare that Dharma is real and can be trusted. Uncertainty isn't something to fear. It's an absolutely necessary prerequisite if you want to kick-start the age-old process known as the beginning of wisdom.

Chopra adds that by attuning ourselves to certain things, we can embrace feelings of uncertainty rather than be trapped by them. Here are some of his suggestions:

-focusing and reflecting on your sense of empathy with others
-accepting that you deserve to happy and have fulfillment in life
-understanding that you are unique in the universe

How does uncertainty play out in your life? If you have felt lost or paralyzed by not knowing in the past, how have you dealt with things? Perhaps just viewing uncertainty as a tool instead of a burden can help us tune into ourselves and the larger world around us.

For further reading, you can view the full series of articles “If I were 22…” here:


Friday, 16 May 2014

It's that Time of Year Again...

If you’re in high school or university, you should be just finished or wrapping up your studies in the next month. It’s always such a surreal time – disbelief that the school year is over, the scramble to finish last minute assignments, the saying of goodbyes to friends for the summer (or longer), and perhaps the trepidation of moving onward to something different altogether.

For those of you who are graduating, first of all, I say congratulations! It’s such an exciting, celebratory, and equally terrifying time. Good luck with commencing the year, and even more good wishes for the next steps you’ll take after accepting your diploma.

As part of the theme of this week’s blog post, I like to talk about a young woman named Marina Keegan. If you haven’t heard of her, she graduated from Yale in 2012, where she was a prolific writer and student leader. She was also her class’ valedictorian and wrote an incredibly moving commencement speech called “The Opposite of Loneliness”. Just days after her graduation, she was killed in a car accident. She was 22.

In her address to her classmates, Marina summarized her time as a student like this:

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

           

But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old. Any notion of THE BEST years comes from clich├ęd “should haves…” “if I’d…” “wish I’d…”


We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.



What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.


You can read Marina’s full commencement address here:



If you’re interested in reading more of Marina’s work, you can read her collection of essays and stories published this past April, also entitled ‘The Opposite of Loneliness”.

Friday, 2 May 2014

A Few Thoughts on Mindfulness

It seems as if all of us are so busy these days– and we just keep getting busier. Juggling work, school, family, personal relationships, and our free time simultaneously can be absolutely exhausting.

This balancing act in life may never go away, but it turns out, there are some pretty effective ways to manage the stress of our busyness. It all starts with mindfulness, which is defined as the practice of cultivating a focused awareness on the present moment, as both a daily habit and a lifelong process.

Some people might automatically think of meditation as a way to become more mindful, and that’s definitely one aspect of it. But, you’ll be glad to know that there are a lot of mindful acts you take part in right now, as part of your daily routine:

1)   Focus on your breathing - If you’re feeling really overwhelmed, try be aware of how you are inhaling and exhaling in that moment. Don’t worry about trying to breathe a certain way, just listen to your body’s natural way of taking in and releasing oxygen.
2)   Take a walk, even a short one - We all know that exercise is good for us physically, but more and more, studies are showing that movement can have a positive effect on us mentally, such as reducing stress and getting our creative juices flowing.
3)   Being aware of yourself in the moment – This may sound difficult, but it’s actually quite simple. For example, if you’re feeling particularly anxious about something, simply take note of that anxiety. How does it physically make you feel? Is your heart beating faster than normal? Do you feel hot? Is your mind racing? Rather than trying to force yourself to calm down (which may only add to your stress), just try to be aware of how your mental state is manifesting itself physically. Having this kind of awareness is healthy, and is a better option that ignoring how you’re really feeling!

Burnout, fatigue, and stress seem to be an entrenched part of life these days. But, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in feeling these kinds of emotions. Taking a few moments of your day to be aware of your present thoughts and feelings can go a long way to helping you become more in tune with yourself and your thoughts.

For further reading, please check out this article entitled “Habits of Mindful People,” which this blog post is based on: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/30/habits-mindful-people_n_5186510.html


Have a restful weekend, everyone!