Mental Wellness

BPK Cares.

The department proudly has a Mental Wellness and Engagement Committee to better support mental wellness in our students, faculty and staff through supportive environments, engagement and community building.

November MWEC Tip

Happy (almost) December BPK!

As we are ramping up for the end of the semester, stress can really start to set in – whether this is driven by writing exams, grading exams, or other end of the semester deadlines. We know it is good for us to prioritize self-care, but who has the time… especially in the fast-paced world of academia?

To help with this, maybe we need to re-think how we practice self-care…

What is self-care anyways? This is anything you do to take care of yourself so you can stay physically, mentally, and emotionally well. These activities can span the categories of emotional, social, mental, spiritual, and physical activities. Hopefully, as you are reading this, some of your favourite me-time activities are coming to mind.

Often, prioritizing self-care during periods of stress can be intimidating because of the time our favourite activities will take. Going for a big workout, getting together with a friend, or spending the evening unwinding to a movie or book sometimes doesn’t feel feasible alongside impending deadlines.

To combat that, the key word to emphasize from the definition above, is “anything” – any activity that helps you stay well can be classified as self-care. By getting creative to establish smaller ways to ground ourselves through the day, maintaining a little you time might start to become a bit more feasible. Meditation resources like Down Dog, Headspace, or Calm can help with this!

Below are some examples of sustainable self-care to help you guys start your brainstorming:

Mindful daily activities

Is there anything you do during your typical routine that you could add a little relaxation to? Perhaps it is your morning coffee, your skincare routine, or a shower before bed. Whatever your preferred activity may be, try doing this mindfully by unplugging from social media/email, enjoying the quiet (or maybe a relaxing piece of music or guided meditation), and taking in the moment. Finding even a small amount of time to slow down and find some calm during daily activities is a great strategy to practice regular self-care.

Walks – or “Awe” walks

Going for a walk outside can be a great way to break up the day. Even better, try going for a mindful “awe” walk – being intentional about shifting your attention to gratitude for the beauty around you, whatever that may be. By keeping your focus in the moment, this can help you get more rejuvenation from the walk and help avoid your thoughts shifting to impending deadlines and stress. In a 2020 study, participants were assigned to either a simple walk group, or an “awe” walk group. Although the simple walk group walked more, the “awe” group reported increased joy and other positive emotions during daily living, alongside decreases in daily stress.

Take time to CELEBRATE

Finally, it is normal for things to get busy –sometimes we need to push through the chaos, but be sure to find a way to celebrate an unwind when all of the things are over. Without breaks, we risk putting ourselves in a position to burn out. Even if it feels necessary to move right into the next thing, that likely won’t help in the long run. Be intentional about setting some time aside for you over the holidays. Celebrate the semester’s accomplishments – both in terms of the big successes, and the steps you took to get there, and recharge for the new year.

Best of luck with the end of the semester BPK – and remember to find a little time for you!

- Erin Williams, BPK Mental Wellness and Engagement Committee

Getting Enough Sleep May Help You to Perform Better

Thinking of getting less sleep to get more done? Think again!

It is no surprise that sleep is extremely vital for our cognitive functioning, as it comprises 1/3 of our lifespan. It is recommended for adults to get 7.5-8.5hrs of sleep a night1,2, however many individuals in academia struggle with achieving this. I find myself prioritizing schoolwork over sleep, often staying up late to work on things and only getting 5-6 hours a night. Ironically, poor sleep management can actual have direct and indirect detrimental effects on academic performance. 

Numerous studies have found poor sleep quality and quantity to be the #1 impediment to academic performance1,2,3,4. Many students study into the night and compromise sleep in order to get more work done, but this actually results in poorer academic performance due to reduced memory and learning abilities. Students who get less than a full night’s sleep experience decreased REM sleep time, which is when the body normally processes information from the day and stores it in long term memory. Decreased REM sleep results in a reduced ability to integrate newly learned material2. We stay up late to do better in school, however the act of staying up late can actually make us do worse in school.

One research article describes the phenomena of sleep inertia, which is when the body experiences impaired performance and/or disorientation immediately after waking up after a poor night’s sleep. Your body remains in a sleepy state, so to speak, showing symptoms of grogginess and confusion that can last up to 4 hours after waking up. This means that 1 night of poor sleep can negatively affect learning both the day before and the day after4.

Another factor that could impact sleep quality is insomnia, which is described as difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, waking up too early, or having non-restorative/low quality sleep. One study found that while insomnia was prevalent in just 7.4% of the general population, a staggering 38.2% of university students exhibited symptoms of insomnia1.

It is clear that we should start prioritizing sleep if we aim to do well in our studies. Here are some tips that can help improve sleep quality and quantity.

  • Reduce workload: easier said than done, but the most effective way to improve sleep and therefore academic performance1.
  • Avoid napping: students who reported napping had an overall lower GPA than those who did not.
    • If you are going to do it, do it before mid-afternoon for no longer than 20 minutes4,5
  • Get 8hrs/night: if you are sleeping this amount already but are waking up tired, then you need improve sleep quality1,2.
  • Consistent sleep schedule: aim to sleep and wake up at the same time every night, +/-2hrs2,5.
  • Wind down routine: stop working 2hrs before bed, and create a pre-bed ritual to help yourself wind down (listening to soft music, light reading, warm bath, meditation, etc)2.
  • Bed is for sleep only: do not use the bed for working, reading, or tv unless they assist in falling asleep2,5.
  • Exercise: at least 30mins/day, in the morning and 5-6hrs before bed. Exercise is a non-pharmacological treatment for insomnia2,5,6.

I know we all wish we could get more sleep, and now you can without feeling guilty about it!

Farhaan M. Khan, MSc BPK, Mental Wellness and Engagement Committee.



  1. Alqudah, M. et al. Insomnia among Medical and Paramedical Students in Jordan: Impact on Academic Performance. BioMed Research International, 1–7. (2019).
  2. Austin, E. Addressing sleep deprivation in college students. American Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 12(6), 34–45. (2008).
  3. Medeiros da Silva, K. K. et al. Stress and quality of sleep in undergraduate nursing students. Revista Brasileira de Enfermagem, 73, 1–6. (2020).
  4. Ye, L., et al. Napping in College Students and Its Relationship With Nighttime Sleep. Journal of American College Health, 63(2), 88–97. (2015)
  5. Brown FC, Buboltz WC Jr., & Soper B. Development and evaluation of the sleep treatment and education program for students (STEPS). Journal of American College Health, 54(4), 231–237. (2006)
  6. Banno, M., et al. Exercise can improve sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PeerJ, 6, e5172. (2018).

Mental Wellness Tip - MWEC

Hello BPKers! The Mental Wellness and Engagement Committee is back with more wellness tips, and your tip for May comes from BPK MSc student Erin Williams.

Perfectionism is not difficult to come across in the world of academia – here, we try to thrive in a highly competitive environment; one where we are constantly ranked against our peers, and one that rewards outcomes (whether it’s publications, awards, or grades), with very little recognition of what it takes to get there. 

With so much emphasis on the end result, it can be easy to focus on the need to do it all while losing sight of everything else.

I’ve certainly had my fair share of struggles with perfectionism as a student. As a highly engaged undergrad, I was known by my professors for occupying the front row and attending every office hour. I set high-reaching goals for myself, and while many times these were met, it came at a price… my accomplishments were often shadowed by a great deal of worry, self-doubt, and self-criticism behind the scenes.

Are any these feelings familiar to you? In this article from the Globe and Mail, you can learn more about the different ways that perfectionism presents itself. The author makes a point to differentiate perfectionism from ambition, and discusses why we might be seeing perfectionism appear more and more often.

Unfortunately, the unhelpful thinking patterns associated with perfectionism can also lead to more unhelpful things like burnout. This article talks about at what this trend means in the world of sports – there’s research to show that perfectionism in athletes themselves, but also their coaches, are predictors of athlete burnout. While this research considered athletics (not academics), their findings do offer some interesting food for thought about what might be going on in similar relationships like supervisor-grad student, professor-student, or TA-student.

If you feel like you might be dealing with perfectionism, be sure to take a look at My SSP for more articles and resources on how to get help overcoming these unhelpful thinking patterns.

Be kind to yourselves everyone! And remember to enjoy the path to success as much as the feeling of success itself. 

- Erin Williams, BPK Mental Wellness and Engagement Committee

Going the Extra Mile: How to Get the Most out of your BPK Courses - Panel Discussion

The Mental Wellness and Engagement Committee of BPK had put on a panel discussion, featuring Jim Carter (BPK 142, 407, 409 Instructor), Nadine Wicks (BPK 205, 306 and 408 Instructor), Mariam Hanna (BPK TA) and Hanna Heavenor (Recent BPK graduate) for tips and tools on how to do well in BPK courses while still maintaining mental wellness.

In case you missed it, here is the recording of the panel discussion.

Mindfulness Meditation is a free zoom drop-in class open to SFU students, faculty, and staff

Connect with your body, relax your mind, and discover tools for bringing more calm and ease into your life. Each session includes mindfulness practice, information on habits of mind, and the opportunity for a brief discussion about the practice.

No previous experience is necessary.

For details, please visit:


During this unprecendented time, our dedicated team of mental health professionals are here to support you. 

Are you emotionally struggling with the distress and anxiety with the COVID-19 pandemic? Has your mental health been impacted by social distancing or self-isolating? Are you feeling alone? Come join our daily virtual session and create a safe space where you can connect with one another, share how you feel and receive support. Register here!


* for full details visit:

Mental Wellness Tip - MWEC

Hi BPKers!  Your mental health tip for March comes from undergraduate student Charlotte Mackenzie encouraging you to come to our upcoming, specifically designed, BPK Mental Health Workshop.

University is a tough go. Midterms, projects, work, volunteering- sometimes it feels like you don’t have time to breathe. With our busy lives, students tend to put their mental health and well-being on the back burner, with the expectation that after graduation, mental distress will disintegrate. Unfortunately, mental health is something that will always be in our lives. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  Learning how to recognize your mental distress and find tools to take care of yourself is a life-long investment for success. Come join us at our BPK Mental Health Workshop on March 11th, 6:30-8:30 pm.  Students and faculty alike will be given the chance to engage in open discussion regarding their struggles and successes with mental health. Registration is free and includes dinner! We will be discussing how to recognize levels of mental distress or mental disorders and different tools to help you lead a healthy life. Joining us will be Ly Hoang, a clinical counsellor from SFU Health and Counselling.

To register for this event, click the link below!

See you there! 

~ Charlotte Mackenzie


A craft a day keeps the doctor away. Ok, ok, you’re right, the saying is actually “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” However, recent studies report that repetitive motions, such as those performed during knitting, make crafters feel calm, focused, and grounded. Here are five reasons why it is worthwhile to carve out a bit of crafting time:

  • Crafts promote mindfulness. By focusing on your textile, metalwork, woodcraft, or glasswork, you develop a better awareness for how the material behaves – especially in response to your emotions.
  • Crafts encourage socialization. Whether you connect with fellow crafters online or in-person, crafts provide an opportunity to broaden your social network. Crafty-minded people come from all walks of life. Their stories, knowledge, and support are valuable resources for your mental wellbeing as well as your crafting.
  • Crafts improve your confidence. As you learn a new skill, a new technique, or how to use a new material, your self-confidence improves. You learn that you are capable despite initially lacking experience. Perhaps you’ll even teach your friends how to forge, knit, sew, blow glass, paint, fold origami, or carve wood. Teaching improves your own knowledge and further boosts your self-esteem. *cough* Transferable skill *cough*
  • Crafts improve your problem-solving skills. You probably know problem-solving is a necessary skill but how does one improve it? Practice it? Crafting. You use your knowledge to come up with creative solutions to mistakes. By identifying and correcting errors, you learn to solve problems using logic and reasoning.
  • Crafts improve your brain. Crafting helps you stay mentally (and sometimes physically) active. Repetitive motions require memory formation, memory recall, fine motor control, and hand-eye co-ordination. These processes keep your brain active by creating more synapses and improving existing ones.

Maintaining your mental health is well worth the effort. Whether you spend time learning a new craft or honing a familiar skill, you and your brain will reap the benefits. On behalf of the Mental Health, Wellness, and Engagement Committee, I wish you a crafty February!

~ Gaby Jensen

Mental Wellness Tip - MWEC

Hi all, 

Now that the new semester is back in full swing (and appears to have brought a true Canadian winter along with it), the Mental Health and Engagement Committee tip of the month is back! 

One thing to keep in mind as we head into this new semester, focused on all our academic stressors, is burnout. Students and faculty have both been found to be susceptible to burnout. Whether feeling emotionally exhausted, dissatisfied with work, or cynical (more than usual anyway), it is important for everyone to take a step back and give themselves a break.  

If you’re unsure about what coping strategies work best for you, here is a short article that can offer some ideas on how to reduce burnout -  personally, I prefer to bake and get involved in extracurricular activities (such as this committee)!

Feel free to share your stress-reducing tips with your friends, faculty, and staff and enjoy the new year, 

The Mental Health and Engagement Committee


Natalie Heeney, MsC. 

Mental Wellness Tip - MWEC

-Dr. Dylan Cooke

Do you sometimes feel that you don't belong at SFU or even in university at all? If so, you may have "impostor syndrome" (Sakulku & Alexander, 2011), which may include:

  • (irrational) fear you will be discovered as a fraud,
  • feeling that you don't deserve your accomplishments, or
  • feelings that persist despite evidence of success.

Professors and other established professionals can feel the same way! (Revuluri 2019)

The 4 F's: Fighting Feelings of Fraudulence and Failure (impostor syndrome)

Start by knowing the contibuting factors.

  • "Impostors" frame their accomplishments and abilities negatively.
  • Impostors may have been top students in high school but at university, surrounded by other excellence students, they are no longer exceptional. "As a result, Impostors often dismiss their own talents and conclude that they are student when they are not the very best" (Sakulku & Alexander, 2011).
  • Impostors set impossibly high standards for themselves and if they don't meet these they "overgeneralize themselves as failures" (Sakulku & Alexander, 2011; Thompson et al., 1998).
  • When they succeed, impostors attribute the outcome to luck or other external factors (Thompson et al., 1998).

So, be watchful for ways that you downplay your accomplishments. You belong here!

Mental Wellness Tip - MWEC

-Anne-Kristina Arnold

Have you Shinrin Yoku’d recently? 

Roughly translated from the Japanese as “Forest Bathing”, Shinrin Yoku is a common practice in Japan aimed at slowing down and reducing stress levels.  More than just walking in the forest, the practice involves “making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest”.  I know when I’m feeling stressed, a visit to the forest to marvel at the power and beauty of nature can really help my mental state.  What is actually happening?  Is there evidence to support Shinrin Yoku as a mechanism to reduce physiological stress?

Many studies have attributed physiological responses to Shinrin Yoku, but there are few with randomized controls and large sample sizes.  In an April 2019 meta-analysis  of research which used salivary or serum cortisol as a biomarker of stress, researchers narrowed their analysis down from 971 to 8 acceptable randomly-controlled studies. Of these, 6 showed significantly lower cortisol in the forest group compared to the control group (often matched exercise level controls in urban environments).

So, there may be an association between Shinrin Yoku and stress reduction.  The mechanism however isn’t clear.  Researchers have suggested an “anticipatory effect” – just thinking about getting out in nature may reduce the stress response.  Others suggest that mindfulness when we are in nature may be playing a part.  Others have suggested it is merely a response to reduced stimuli in nature compared to urban environments.

Either way, I’m going to continue to use a walk/hike in the forest as way to alter my mood on a stressful day.  There is a lot of nature surrounding us on Burnaby Mountain – maybe getting out for a break in the forest will be just the trick to help to reduce your stress this summer.  Get out and hug a tree or two.  Worth a try!

Mental Wellness Tip - MWEC

-Dr. Andy Hoffer

When students ask me how to best prepare for a 448 exam, I say "make sure you get enough sleep before the exam"

Giving priority to final exams inevitably means cancelling or postponing other activities. However... two activities, sleep and exercise, should not be sacrificed!  Adequate sleep and exercise are key contributors to success in preparation for exams.

At least two processes take place during sleep that are essential for optimal brain function.

1.  Recently learned information is filed from temporary to long-term memory.

The memory function of sleep, S. Diekelmann & J. Born, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11:114–126,2010.

  • Sleep promotes the consolidation of declarative as well as procedural and emotional memories in a wide variety of tasks.
  • Consolidation during sleep not only strengthens memory traces quantitatively but can also produce qualitative changes in memory representations. An active process of re-organization enables the formation of new associations and the extraction of generalized features. This can ease novel inferences and insights.

2.  Toxic waste is cleared out of the sleeping brain.

Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain, L. Xie, H. Kang, ..., M. Nedergaard. Science 342:373-377, 2013.

  • The glymphatic system is a recently discovered macroscopic waste clearance system that utilizes a unique system of perivascular tunnels, formed by astroglial cells, to promote efficient elimination of soluble proteins and metabolites from the central nervous system.
  • Besides waste elimination, the glymphatic system also facilitates  brain-wide distribution of several compounds, including glucose, lipids, amino acids, growth factors, and neuromodulators.
  • Intriguingly, the glymphatic system functions mainly during sleep and is largely disengaged during wakefulness. The biological need for sleep across all species may therefore reflect that the brain must enter a state of activity that enables elimination of potentially neurotoxic waste products, including β-amyloid.

3.   In addition, exercise has been shown to independently assist in cleaning out the brain.

Voluntary running enhances glymphatic influx in awake behaving, young mice. S. von Holstein-Rathlou, N.C.Petersen, M. Nedergaard. Neuroscience Letters 662:253-258, 2018.

  • Glymphatic activity in young mice was assessed after five weeks of voluntary running.
  • Exercise increases glymphatic influx in awake but not in anesthetized animals.
  • Glymphatic influx is enhanced in hypothalamus, ventral, and lateral cortex.

So, here is my advice:  Get enough sleep!  This time is needed by your brain for housecleaning and to organize your learning.

And, if you overslept a bit and find yourself running late... no worries...  go ahead and Sprint for it!  You will start the exam in top shape!


-Dr. Leanne Ramer

Hello fellow BPKers, Leanne here

In 2019, I have been running an overdue experiment on meditation. As a neuroscientist, I'm a late adopter: there is no question. The data are so, so compelling. If meditation was a drug, the FDA would approve it, and the inventor(s) would be rich. Check out this open access publication in Science Reports ( Using fMRI, they found that gratitude meditation is correlated with both reduced heart rate and changes in functional connectivity of neural networks associated with quality of life. Perhaps more importantly,  they found that resentment meditation increases heart rate and produces negative alterations in functional connectivity.

Before now, I have found every excuse.... I'm too busy to meditate. I'm too tired. I should use that time to work. Five minutes won't do anything.

Well: I've found that five minutes does something. I'm using an App called Insight Timer, and it has been a game changer for me. I can select the duration of my meditation, a guided topic or a selection of background music, and even a customized start and finish sound. It makes it easy. 

Instead of hitting a 10 minutes snooze button in the morning, I now hit a 10 minute meditation. Do I fall asleep sometimes? Yes. Do I think it helps anyway? Yes.

If I could tell my 22 year old self one thing, anchored in data and based on personal experience, it would be this:

Meditate. Just do it. You can't afford to skip it, and you can't afford to wait. 

Happy almost Spring, 

Leanne Ramer, BPK Mental Health and Engagement Committee


-Natalie Heeney

Welcome back all, 

I hope everyone has been enjoying the sunshine as we get back into the swing of things. Here is a nice easy read with tips to help you deal with academic pressures, for those of us who perhaps hit the ground running a little too hard. I also suggest everyone check out the My SSP app as they have several interesting articles that can be perused, I found the one on pressure and perfectionism particularly helpful! 

As well, Undergrads, keep your eyes peeled for an email regarding the first undergraduate coffee social. I encourage you to attend as it has been shown that a strong social support network is associated with greater adjustment to university life and academic performance.

Until next time, 

Natalie Heeney, BPK Mental Wellness and Engagement Committee


-Amanda Bakkum

Exams are around the corner and I’m sure everyone is feeling  a fair amount of stress at the moment. I thought I’d share some helpful self-care tips I found on the My SSP App for dealing with stress, along with some dog pics for emphasis.

Tip 1: Get enough sleep

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. This means at least seven hours of sleep a night. I know the urge to spend all night trying to coax the last bit of information into your brain is tempting but try keep those to a minimum if you can. Sleep is important for learning and not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to your academic performance. (see below: Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance)

Tip 2: Eat a healthy diet

This can sometimes be tough when you’re busy and that tub of ice cream is calling your name. Try resist the urge to eat quick, processed food and take the time to sit down and enjoy a balance meal. You’ll feel better for it.

Tip 3: Exercise

This is so important and will also help you get those seven hours of sleep. Hit the gym, go for a walk, or play ball with some friends. Try get away from your study area and get your body moving.

Tip 4: Hobbies

Do things you enjoy. Whatever you’re into, make time to do the things that make you happy. Hobbies allow us to decompress and can help relieve stress.

Tip 5: Social Support

Having a social support network is very important and comes in many forms, be it friends and family, mentors, teachers etc. Be it for advice, perspective or just company, reach out to the people around you if you feel you need some extra support.

Tip 6: Be kind to yourself

Finally, I want to leave you with this quote: “ Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” Anne Wilson Schaef. Don’t strive for perfect, strive for progress and remember how far you have come. Be kind to yourself.

For more helpful tips on how to deal with exam stress, perfectionism, and other stressors, check out the My SSP App  that is free and available to everyone. 

Good luck for all your exams and happy holidays everyone!


-Bader Al-Zeer

Hey everyone,

Bader from the BPK Mental Heath Committee here. One tip I can recommend in this pre-finals time is to form study groups. Studying in groups may help you feel more connected to your peers, and students who prepare for exams in groups may also improve their success on exams – see the attached study.  If you’re not sure how to start an assignment you have due or how to study for an exam, connecting with peers with the same tasks allows you to learn from and help each other. 

Here you can access an outline from McGill university explaining how to create an active and efficient study group: 

Lastly, if you have a paper due, feel free to join the Undergraduate Writing club today 1:30-3:30pm in BPK seminar room.

Good luck and take it easy!

Bader Al-Zeer


-Diana Bedoya

It’s Diana from the BPK Mental Health Committee with our first monthly tip on promoting well-being.

When my life starts getting hectic, stressful and a bit overwhelming (say, right now for instance!), I turn to a nature pause to re-calibrate. We are lucky to live within a beautiful natural environment, and personally, taking some time around my favorite forests of the lower mainland and beyond provides an excellent opportunity to reset and refresh. And I always feel better and have more focused work when I leave!

I am attaching a small, but fun study of undergraduate students at McMaster who described natural places they found beneficial to their mental health. In the study, students preferred natural places that were familiar, separate from the demands and chaos of their lives, and had a variety of natural elements like trees and water. These places allowed for deeper relaxation and more meaningful reflection.

Sounds pretty great to me!