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Interview with a Certified Resilience Peer

Upon reading the title above, many questions may come to mind: What is a Resilience Peer? What do they do? Why are they important? By the end of this interview, I hope to help answer all of those questions.

A Resilience Peer is a UCLA student (undergraduate or graduate) that is a part of the Resilience Peer Network (RPN), a group that offers peer-to-peer counseling and support outside of a clinical setting. Participants in RPN undergo internet-delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is very effective for managing mental health, especially mild to moderate Depression and Anxiety which are the main focus of RPN. Trained Resilience Peers offer individual or group therapy sessions to students who have screened into the program, under the supervision of licensed professionals.

One goal of RPN is to expand the availability of effective care to UCLA students who face challenges accessing guidance at existing mental health services. Recently, RPN teamed up with UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge, the biggest Depression study in history; the Grand Challenge aims to reach and collect information on 100K individuals from around the world to better understand the origins of Depression, as well as develop new treatments to combat it. The challenge, in collaboration with faculty members in numerous departments at UCLA, desires to cut the burden of Depression in half by 2050 and eliminate it by the end of the century. UCLA, with its diverse population of students, leading expertise in many fields, and large connection of networks throughout the world, is using its resources to find a solution that millions will benefit from. If you want a quick overview of the Depression Grand Challenge and to learn of its many other goals, watch this YouTube video that covers it all.

The Interviewee

Now that we have some background information about RPN and what it does for mental health, let’s get to know a bit about the girl with all of the details, our backstage pass to RPN, our interviewee, Mandy Mekhail. She is a fourth year undergraduate student with a passion for Psychology and Disability Studies. She’s been an ASK Peer Counselor, New Student Advisor, and a GRIT Coach during her time at UCLA, but, most importantly, she’s been an advocate for mental health through it all! If you’d like to know a bit more about her awesomeness, she learned how to play, and in fact beat, her first video game before she was four years old. For all of the reasons above, she is clearly qualified to assist us as we delve into the world of RPN.

The Interview

Q: When did you decide to join RPN?

A: I first joined RPN last year when I was serving as Events Director of Active Minds, a committee within the UCLA Student Wellness Commission (SWC) that is dedicated to changing the conversation surrounding mental health.

Q: How has joining RPN helped or influenced you?

A: I consider myself a stanch mental health advocate and this opportunity has allowed me to come across many different populations of people. These experiences have encouraged me to approach anyone I meet with kindness and cultural humility. My goal is to listen to understand, not listen to respond.

Q: Why do you think bringing access to mental health support is important for students to know about?

A: There is no denying that students here are busy. RPN and internet-based cognitive therapy provides students with much more flexibility in seeking treatment. It’s arrival signals the importance that mental health has, not only in our school, but in our society.

Q: How has RPN and the Depression Grand Challenge helped erase some of the stigmas surrounding mental health?

A: RPN does a wonderful job of challenging stigma within our student body by normalizing the presence of depression and anxiety by emphasizing that there are other students, just like us, who also struggle. In that respect, I would argue that RPN removes some of the isolation that might go hand in hand with both a student’s busy schedule, and a decreased focus of self-care.

Q: What would you tell someone looking to get involved with RPN?

A: I would tell someone looking to join RPN to think about what the program could provide for them, but also what they could provide for the program and the people within it. As a certified resilience peer, we have the opportunity to facilitate a shared space of empathy and trust. The things we do have a profound impact on others, whether they realise it or not. With all that being said, I would recommend that the person think about their strengths and weaknesses, because we all have areas to grow in, as well as areas in which we uniquely flourish.

We all have mental health, and it’s important that we do all that we can to help maintain it, for ourselves and for all of those around us. If you are a strong advocate for mental health and feel as though the Resilience Peer Network is for you, contact Dr. Elizabeth Gong-Guy at and provide information concerning your degree program, year, and a bit about why you are interested in joining the program. If you would like to receive treatment from RPN, visit for more information and to participate in the iCBT Student Study screening, which will determine your eligibility. Follow #BlueForHope online and on social media to discover more people joining to the Depression Grand Challenge to greater our understanding of a mental illness that is the number one source of misery in the world, and that affects so many people around us.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


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The Many Benefits of Knitting

When we hear the word “knitting”, many of us think of sweet-looking, elderly grandmothers. However, this connotation does not do the hobby justice. Research conducted on the effectiveness of Therapeutic Knitting reveals that its benefits for mental health are remarkable. Gone are the days where knitting needles and copious amounts of yarn are the instruments of secluded senior citizens; it’s 2017 and everyone should try out the hobby of knitting, because it will allow them to reap a whole lot of benefits.

Stress Reduction

The relaxed and repetitive motions of weaving the yarn between the knitting needles or crochet hook is very soothing, and helps to calm the body as well as the brain. Similar to breathing exercises and mindful meditation, which also use repetition for calming effects, the mind and body are brought to focus on the present moment, and can remove judgment from oneself, as the knitting becomes the main focus. Knitting has the ability to ease people into a state of mindfulness without them even knowing, allowing people experience the practice in a different way, and use the tool to their advantage. The movements are also very similar to a yoga flow, creating a rhythm that produces a feeling of stability and inner quiet. If you prefer to take part in more extrovertive style of the activity, hobbies like knitting, crocheting, and loom-knitting are also often done in groups, like with friends and family, or instructional classes, acting as a social activity that can combat feelings like loneliness and isolation which could otherwise contribute to other problems surrounding mental health and wellbeing.

Increased Ability to Cope with Mental (and Physical) Illness

Research suggests that the constant, soothing motion of needle art can enhance the release of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the body which plays a key role in mood regulation, learning, sleep, and pain perception. The meditative-like qualities produced through knitting can help people “forget” their mental and physical struggles for a certain amount of time on a day-to-day basis. Therapeutic knitting has been connected to combatting depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, eating disorders, and chronic pain, proving that a wide variety of people could benefit from it.

Keeping Your Mind Sharp

Some of us (like myself) have never really taken a liking to math, while others find delight in the use of numbers. For those of you who like math already, this is just going to be the cherry on top of your knitting experience, because knitting is actually a good example of ways that we use math in the real world. The patterns, stitch counts, different stitch types, all require some amount of math, but what’s great about it is that you may not even know you’re using it. The meditative or social state you surround yourself in while knitting creates a sense of happiness and calm, allowing you to exercise your mind without feeling any strain, because you are partaking in an activity that you may find enjoyable. Keeping the brain active in this way was proven in one study to reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment, which is one of the many precursors of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of Dementia.

So, go to a craft store and pick out a spool of yarn that is calling to you, choose one of the many variations of needleart that seems most interesting to you, and experience the “feel good” effects of knitting for yourself. If you’re a beginner and feel a bit worried about learning a new skill on your own, grab a friend to join in the experience. There are a lot of different resources/clubs to use to get you started in the learning process, like UCLA’s iKNITiative, as well as Jeniffer Knits and  Compatto Yarn Salon, which are close to campus and offer weekly drop-in classes. Alternatively, contact to find out more information about my very own knitting-inspired non-profit, Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting in return for one donated piece made using it. If you decide to try out Therapeutic Knitting, or already practice it, comment here and online to share your experiences with anyone interested.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

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5 Non-traditional New Year’s Resolutions for the Body, Mind, and Soul

Every 365 days, a large, sparkly ball drops in Times Square, New York, and the millions of us that watch it often resolve to make up a list of “improvements” or “guidelines” to stick to throughout the next 365 days to come. Some people, however, opt out of making New Year’s resolutions, because they believe they can make a positive change in their life whenever they want to. I, for one, have never actually made a New Year’s resolution.

The more I talked about this with friends and family, the more I realized that part of the reason New Year’s resolutions can be frowned upon is because many of them revolve around being physically attractive, and, in addition to that, can be overly ambitious, setting us up for failure. However, I believe New Year’s resolutions should promote beneficial change in your day-to-day life, and that they shouldn’t push you too far out of your comfort zone such that you wish to give them up before receiving their benefits. With that being said, here is a list of five unique ideas for New Year’s resolutions that will benefit your overall well-being. Adopt them yourself or use them as inspiration to come up with your own resolutions. Even if you aren’t the kind of person to create New Year’s resolution lists, and even though it is a couple weeks past January first, any of these resolutions can be added to your day-to-day life to create positive habits.

1) Check in with your body daily

No one knows your body as well as you do, so it’s important to listen to it to keep it healthy and running smoothly. With school, work, family, and social lives to balance, among other things, your body is put through a lot of stress and exertion (which can lower your immune system!), so it’s important to take five to ten minutes everyday to assess how your body is feeling. After you check in with you body, it will help you decide what it needs. Maybe your body needs a rest so you stay inside and read a good book, or maybe it’s feeling energized so you take a walk. Our bodies are our homes, and our most relied upon mode of transportation, so understanding how they are feeling will lead to better, happier days.

2) Smile every morning

Smiling is not only contagious, but can also lift our mood, as well as the moods of those around us, so when rolling out of bed for that early morning class, take a couple seconds to exercise those cheek muscles. The act of smiling causes neuropeptides to be released, which send neural messages throughout your entire body, triggering the release of Dopamine, Serotonin, and Endorphins, all of which create a feeling of euphoria. It may just make that blaring alarm sound a bit more soothing, and the rest of your day seem all the more pleasant.

3) Keep a dream journal

The idea of a dream journal being beneficial for mental health has been around since the time of Sigmund Freud.  We can only remember a small portion of the dreams we have every night, and, without writing them down, we will eventually forget even that. Keeping track of your dreams and reflecting upon them can give you a better look inside of yourself, as well as benefit your psychological and emotional health through its therapeutic nature and possibility to help one work through unprocessed material of our minds during sleep. On top of being a great destresser, dream journaling can also boost creativity, which is useful in just about every aspect of life.

4) Read more poetry

Poetry, and sometimes literature in general, can seem so daunting or challenging that it makes us stray away from it, but don’t let those be excuses for not picking up a book and diving into a different world. The benefits of poetry are vast, ranging from improved critical thinking and innovation skills, to allowing for more creative problem solving solutions, as well as increasing the reader’s empathy and emotional wellbeing, and those are only to name a few. Everyone can benefit from acquiring these skills, especially college students who have their brains tested every day of class. One more plus to reading poetry on your own is that you can choose to read whichever authors, or themes, or time frames you are interested in, and since you are in control of your poetic experience, you will be more apt to continue with it throughout the year.

5) Volunteer more

There are over seven billion people on the planet, many of which need help in one way or another. Furthermore, there are many, many organizations that allow for supportive connections to be made for just about any cause you may be interested in. Volunteering produces double the benefits; you benefit from partaking in something you care about, and others benefit from you donating your time and support. Some great organizations to get involved with are Let’s End PovertyA Place Called Home, and the Young Storytellers Foundation. Don’t worry if you don’t know about any specific organizations that you would like to join, or if you don’t know what exactly you would like to get involved with; there are several resources available that can assist in the process, and give you ideas for local organizations, as well as ones abroad, which may be just what you’re looking for.

New Year’s resolutions are all about you, so if you’re going to create a list of resolutions, compile one with things that you like, but may not have made enough time for in the previous year, or maybe things that you want to find out if you like or not. There is no rulebook for making resolutions, so let your list take you wherever you want to go. If, after reading this, you’re still opposed to making New Year’s resolution lists (like myself), then maybe try out one or two of the things mentioned above in your daily life for no reason other than it makes you happy, or if you’re happy as is and don’t want to make any additional changes, then you don’t have to. If you have any ideas for non-traditional resolutions that didn’t appear on the list that you want to share with others to inspire a new addition to their collection, comment below or online. Cheers to another round of 365 days of possibilities.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

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New Year, New You? Mental Health and New Year’s Resolutions

While the New Year appears to present a positive opportunity for us to “reinvent” ourselves and make ourselves “better,” the process of setting New Year’s resolutions can negatively affect our mental health.

In the days surrounding January 1st, we are bombarded with articles and advertisements that suggest we, as we currently are, are not enough. Whether you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed or a reputable news site, you’re likely to come across articles with tips on how to “get in shape,” “watch less TV,” or “finally quit drinking” this year. Before I became a body image advocate, I devoured articles like these. I wanted to know what I could do this year to lose weight, eat more healthfully, or be more confident. I saw setting New Year’s resolutions as an opportunity to better myself and my life; I bought into the idea that a “new” and “better” me (where “better” was defined by these articles I had read, not myself), would be a happier me.

Though the New Year is supposed to be about positively impacting your life, these New Year’s resolutions had negative impacts on my mental health and self image. Resolutions pushed me to change myself instead of cultivating self-love and encouraged me to use my current dissatisfaction with parts of my body and life to fuel this change. Focusing on what I didn’t like about myself made me even less comfortable in my own skin, resulting in feelings of depression and anxiety. However, what was negatively impacting my self-image was not my resolutions in and of themselves, it was the motivations behind my resolutions.

Like the majority of Americans, my resolutions tended to be health-related. In 2016, for example, one survey found that 41.1% of respondents wanted to “live a healthier lifestyle” and 39.6% of respondents wanted to “lose weight.” These statistics were consistent across age groups. While living a healthy lifestyle and losing weight can be positive goals, they are only positive if they are positively motivated. If someone resolves to lose weight because the $64 billion diet industry has convinced them that only certain body types are attractive or tries to “live healthfully” because they dislike parts of their body, they, like me, will inevitably experience feelings of low self esteem. I would resolve to lose weight because I hated my stomach or wanted others to find me attractive, and it was these negative motivations that triggered periods of poor mental health.

So what can we do to remain mentally healthy in the wake of New Year’s resolutions? It’s important to remember that you by no means even have to set a New Year’s resolution! Even if everyone you know has set resolutions and the media is pressuring you to “better yourself,” please do not feel like you have to change anything about yourself! You are allowed to be happy with yourself and your life as is.

If you do choose to make a resolution, ask yourself why you want to make a change. Make sure your reasoning comes from a place of self-love (e.g. “I want to drink more water so I have more energy to do the things I love), not a place of self-hate (e.g. “I’m going to lose weight because I hate the way I look”). Furthermore, ignore the many people, businesses, and industries telling us what we need to change about ourselves, and make resolutions for you, not them. Your life and your resolutions are up to you and no one else.

Danielle de Bruin is a fourth-year undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Sociology with a double minor in Italian and Global Health. She is the blog coordinator for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and the director of UCLA’s Body Image Task Force, which is a committee within the Student Wellness Commission. With the Body Image Task Force, Danielle organizes events, workshops, and campaigns to promote healthy body image, self-confidence, and mental health on campus. She is also published in the journal PLOS Medicine and the Huffington Post.


Expanding Your Perspective on Self-Care


In order to be a successful student, being healthy and well is pretty much vital. Therefore, self-care should be a priority to manage the stress that accompanies life as a UCLA student. Self-care can be described as “engaging in activities and practices that promote wellbeing and a balanced lifestyle” (GRIT Peer Coaching Program). A balanced lifestyle includes getting enough sleep, eating regular and satisfying meals, and exercising. However, there are many components of self-care that are less normalized but equally important. Self-care goes beyond the physical, to include psychological, emotional, interpersonal, and even academic practices. Look at each category to see how you can improve your overall wellbeing.

Physical Self-Care

Taking care of the body can be one of the first things to go when faced with back-to-back deadlines and exams. When time is limited, our campus culture tells us that all-nighters are the only way to study weeks worth of material, and that eating “real food” is a luxury only for those who do not have an exam tomorrow. In order to improve your physical self-care, you must be aware of your body’s needs. Grounding yourself by taking deep breaths and stepping away from your work can give you insight into what your body needs, whether that be sleep, nutrition, or a good stretch. Examples of physical self-care also include taking time off when you are sick, thinking positive thoughts about your body, and wearing clothes you enjoy.

Psychological Self-Care

We are so lucky to have CAPS, MARC, and other mental wellness services on our campus, but self-care to complement these professional services can improve mental wellbeing. Psychological self-care is equivalent to taking a mental break and bringing awareness to your current state of mind. Throughout the day, we encounter stressors that we cannot always process in the brief moments between class, work, and meetings. Taking time to self-reflect can make a huge difference when it comes to building your awareness of stress triggers and your ability to cope with stress. To improve your psychological self-care, try taking day trips or mini-vacations, reading something unrelated to school, and saying “No” to extra responsibilities to make time for yourself.

Emotional Self-Care

When you’re a student, stressful situations come up so frequently that they begin to seem normal. These situations can cause you to engage in coping behaviors that end up making you feel worse. In order to get to the root of stress, exploring and labeling our emotions is very helpful. Withholding emotions eats up a lot of energy, which may be why you feel so drained after an emotionally-heavy week. Emotional self-care is about doing things that can help improve your emotional state and clear away negative emotions. This can include spending time with people whose company you enjoy, expressing things that bother you directly to the person(s) involved, allowing yourself to cry or express emotions, and giving yourself praise and affirmation.

Relationship Self-Care

Relationships are a huge part of the UCLA experience, whether you are making new friends, building upon current relationships, or keeping in touch with old friends and family. Social connections are a form of support and relieve stress by reminding us what is important. When time is a precious commodity, spending it with people you love can be challenging. In order to improve relationship self-care, prioritize your time with friends. Allow others to do things for you, and try to ask for support when you need it.



Academic Self-Care

Although academics can cause major stress for UCLA students, academic self-care is rarely mentioned. But it makes sense to channel your self-care towards the parts of your life that create stress. Finding comfort in where, when, and how you study can drastically improve your productivity. Studying in spaces where you feel productive, seeking help from academic resources, taking intentional study breaks, and scheduling regular times to study are all examples of academic self-care.

Self-care is not about excelling in every strategy. It is for you alone to decide which tools work for you when moving towards a more balanced lifestyle. To plug into a program that emphasizes self-care and holistic wellness, check out the GRIT Peer Coaching Program, a free one-on-one peer coaching program that any student can utilize for a supportive and empathetic listening space.Taking care of yourself and prioritizing your own needs is a process, but these strategies and resources can support you at any stage of your growth.

Maya is a third year World Arts and Cultures major and Public Health minor, and she represents the Bruin Research Center in the HCI Living Well Coalition.


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8 Ways to Beat the Stress of Finals

Finals week signals the end of weeks worth of students’ hard work and dedication, so it should be a cause for celebration, right? Unfortunately for many students, finals is usually clouded by stress and anxiety. Everyone faces the rigors of stress at one point or another throughout the school year, but finals week is generally the most stressful time for students during the academic year. However, learning ways to manage stress can make finals week far easier. Here are some tips to try this week:

1. Take a time-out from studying to give your brain a break during long cram sessions. Go to the gym or practice yoga to allow your mind to focus on something other than hitting the books; both options are great distractions for the mind, and for the body. Physical activity is very beneficial in burning away any tension or frustration that stress may bring.

2. Count to ten slowly, take deep breaths, or listen to your favorite music. All three practices have calming effects on the body and mind that will allow you to gather your thoughts and distance yourself from your stress.

3. Making sure to get enough sleep and eat well-balanced meals. Sleep and adequate nutrition are necessary for your body and mind to function at its best. Ever heard of the motto “put good in, get good out?” Properly preparing yourself to take on the day’s tasks will make them easier to handle, reducing the level of stress they produce. Learn more about what a healthy and balanced diet consists of here.

4. Don’t spend time worrying about things that are out of your control, like what grade you will get on a test after you have taken it. Worrying about the uncontrollable only adds to whatever stress or anxiety you may already be feeling. Accept that all you can do is give your best effort (perfection doesn’t exist!), and be proud of whatever work you produce.

5. Talk to someone, whether it’s friends and family, or a professional like a physician or therapist. UCLA’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is a resource available to all UCLA students. Outside of counseling, engaging socially is the quickest way to reign in stress, as communicating with another person allows one to feel safe and understood, which calms the nervous system.

6. Avoid unnecessary stress. Some causes of stress need to be dealt with in life (e.g. bills, school assignments), but there are ways to diminish the avoidable ones, like pushing yourself too hard or trying to control the outcome of events. Know your limits, because you can only do so much; don’t be afraid to say “no” to something that will be more than you can handle. Avoid people and environments that could trigger your stress.

7. Take care of yourself by making time for fun and relaxation in your everyday life. Write in a journal, spend time in nature, or read a good book. UCLA offers pet therapy during finals, which is just another way to alleviate stress. Nurturing yourself is a necessity that will allow you to be in a better place in life when dealing with stressors.

8. Stay positive. Changing the way you view a situation can change the situation itself, so build yourself up instead of tearing yourself down. Instead of saying “I can’t do this” remain positive and say “I will do the best that I can.”

Implementing these tips into your daily routine during finals week can assist in the reduction of stress, teach you healthier ways of coping with it, and leave you better prepared to face any stress that may come in the future. Everyone is affected by stress differently, so there isn’t just one sure-fire cure. Try testing different methods to find out which one works best for you, and share your experiences with your friends and other students who may be going through stressful times as well. If you have a way of dealing with finals stress that wasn’t on this list, please share it with us in the comments below or on social media!

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

Physical Activity

Free Self Defense Classes at UCLA: Protecting the Mind and Body


What if…

Imagine walking back from a late night at Powell Library. Its tenth week, and you’ve spent the past few days studying for your upcoming final. Day in and day out, you’ve labored over past midterms and practice tests, keeping yourself awake with liters of coffee and Yerba Mate tea. Eventually, you decide to throw in the towel for the night and make the long trek home to your cozy apartment. All your friends called it quits hours earlier, so it looks like you’re walking alone at 2AM with minimal light to guide your way once you exit the safe confines of UCLA’s campus. As you round a corner, two clowns jump out at you from behind the bushes and nearly scare you to death. They charge at you, and you stand there, motionless in fear, your fight or flight instincts muting each other out. Do you run? Do you attack?

Riley Woolvett, a fourth year undergraduate student here at UCLA, could relate to this hypothetical. As Riley walked home from her on-campus job one late night this Fall Quarter, she was met by two masked clowns on the corner of Gayley and Kelton. She instantly pulled out her pepper spray and ran as fast as she could in the opposite direction towards a friend’s apartment. After chasing her a few yards, the clowns ceased their ghoulish noises and retreated with snickering laughter. Although shaken, Riley was not physically hurt, and has since warned her friends and coworkers to be extra wary about walking home late at night. She also highly recommends that everyone at UCLA take the weekly free Bruin Self Defense class offered in the John Wooden Center — it could one day save your life.

Wait, FREE Self Defense Class?

That’s right! Every Wednesday from 5:30 pm to 7:00pm, the Bruin Self Defense class (BSD for short) takes place in Yates Gymnasium on second floor of the John Wooden Center. It’s free for all UCLA students, and is arguably one of the best kept secrets of this campus (maybe second to the Food Closet?). Instructors Lance Wisdom and Vincent Pham cover a plethora of basic self defense moves, including strikes and blocks, as well as self defense topics, ranging from weapons defense, car attacks and sexual assault defense. The instructors start the class by asking for student recommendations and input, and structure the day’s routine based based on the focus participants want. If no hands go up, no worries, Lance and Vincent are prepared with a lesson plan of their own.

Emily Lopez, the Martial Arts Student Coordinator, stresses the importance of knowing basic self-defense techniques. She says, “We obviously touch on the physical aspect of self defense, but we also go over the mental side. Our instructors facilitate discussion about being prepared and aware of your surroundings at all times.” Since UCLA is an open campus, it is especially important to be conscious of common crime areas in Westwood, and aware of exits and escape routes in lecture halls and public buildings. The BSD class uses on-campus scenarios to prepare students for incidents that may occur while the university is in session, but are widely applicable to other situations.

BDS is an adaptive class, and accommodates people of all genders, religions, and abilities. So, to reiterate, the Bruin Self Defense class is FREE and INCLUSIVE of all people. Can you find a reason not to go? Knowing how to protect yourself from an attack is empowering, and having control of your state of mind and body is important for a healthy and happy life. As busy UCLA students, it’s hard to commit to a martial arts instructional program that costs extra money and meets biweekly. BDS is designed to be an accessible resource for all students, without causing financial distress. The Martial Arts Program plans on extending the Bruin Self Defense platform to include safety information while travelling and “everyday carry” essentials, must have items to have in your back pocket if you were to face an assailant.

If you want more information about topics and moves covered in BSD, you can click here to visit their Facebook page. This site is also a great source of information on crimes that occur around the Westwood area, such as the dual kidnapping and car theft that occurred earlier this year.

Sign me up!

One caveat, these classes are available only to the first 40 people who show up or have reserved a spot online through the UCLA Recreation website. So just log on to the website, click on “Bruin Self Defense,” and register for the Wednesday you would like to attend. But if you’re walking by and see there’s spots available, just hop on in and sign the waiver! Make sure you’re wearing athletic attire, and bring water.

Ellie Benitez is a 3rd year undergraduate Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics major and Society and Genetics minor at UCLA. She currently serves as the HCI representative for UCLA Recreation, where she is a Student Supervisor for Intramural Sports.


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Perfectionism, Procrastination, and the Practice of Self-Care


For most of my academic career, I prided myself in being “one of the smart kids”. Homework was completed the day that it was assigned, and tests were taken without much thought or fear of repercussions. In my AP European History class in high school, for example, I remember coming home everyday, sometimes after a long day of extracurriculars, and feeling compelled to take an additional three hours worth of notes. Yep, I was that kid.

Coming to UCLA opened my eyes in a multitude of ways. For one, I was no longer the top of my class — putting hours into my classes didn’t automatically guarantee me a good grade. Furthermore, I no longer had to be the top of class — my identity could be founded upon so much more. At UCLA, I was more than just my GPA. The world was my oyster. I didn’t want to look back on college years and recall days of turning pages like I had in high school. In doing so, I thought that I could finally relax the unrelenting pressure I put on myself to succeed.

However, I thought wrong. The pressure, the negative self-talk, and the rigorous standards remained. They just changed their face. Instead of putting in hours upon hours of work to succeed in my academics, I put in next to none. I would procrastinate, waiting to the very last minute to begin a homework assignment, let alone study. The days leading up to a test would seem carefree on the surface. I would enjoy my time with friends or immerse myself in Netflix. But the anxiety was under my skin like an itch, growing more and more pronounced as time would go on. Come time for the test, and I would be sitting in seat, vacillating between utter indifference (one of my many self-defense mechanisms) and excessive anxiety about how the results would ruin my future.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that my perfectionist standards and my procrastinating tendencies were actually closely related. Even though I thought I had been relaxing my standards, I had really just been pushing them to the side. In hindsight, I can see that I did this for a multitude of reasons. For one, I was frightened. I was frightened of losing an aspect of my identity that had come to define me for so long. For another, a part of me simply thought I couldn’t make the cut at UCLA. Despite my getting accepted, a part of me still denied that I deserved a place here. So I shut down, thereby having an external excuse such as my not studying rather than an internal deficiency to point at should I fail.

However, while studies support a link to procrastination and perfectionism, they also point to the existence of underlying distress. As students notorious for balancing academics, friends, work, extracurriculars, and sleep all in the span of 24 hour days, it can be hard, even seemingly impossible, to take care of one’s well-being.

Contrary to the popular notion that wellness is limited to physical and perhaps even mental health, wellness has multiple dimensions. The UCLA Student Wellness Commission, or SWC, is a prime example of how the promotion of health and wellness can span across topics ranging from mental health, body image, nutrition, fitness, environmental sustainability, and sexual health. Moreover, the ways in which in individual can promote his or her own wellness, or self-care, are endless. There is no “right” way to practice self-care; so long as an individual is meaningfully and deliberately prioritizing his or her overall well-being is an act of self-care.

So how do I self-care? As an avid user of Google Calendar, I’ve taken to scheduling in times when I can breathe and just treat myself. Sometimes this means spending time with friends. Other times it means watching episode after episode on Netflix. On the rare occasion, I can even be found blowing bubbles and making intricate balls out of Play-doh. But my favorite form of self-care by far is sleep, the benefits of which are immense. Want better skin? Sleep! Want to do better on a test? Sleep! If my explanation points aren’t enough to convince you, check out this article.

One last fun fact: Journaling has often been heralded as a wonderful way of promoting mental health. So much so that studies even show that writing about test-related anxieties immediately before taking an exam actually improves your test score. What a win-win, right?

How have you been putting yourself first lately? How do plan to start? Take some time to reflect, breath, and live. Try to remember that self-care isn’t selfish.

Mandy Mekhail is a 4th year undergraduate Psychology major and Disability Studies minor at UCLA. She currently serves as the Assistant Commissioner of the Student Wellness Commission, a student organization dedicated to promoting holistic health and wellness in the UCLA community.




What to Eat or Drink in Class to Stay Awake and Focused

For many college students, the one thing we can’t seem to get enough of is sleep. Sleep deprivation leaves us groggy, with bags under our eyes, and probably reaching for a cup of coffee to keep us awake while attending lectures or studying for midterms.

What can students do to stay focused in class and improve their alertness? Eat! There are numerous foods out there that give the body the boost it needs to function at its best (even while running on a lack of sleep), so I’ve compiled a list of some great options for students to bring to class. However, please remember that sleep is extremely important to your overall well being, and these foods should not be used as a substitute for it. Instead, consume them to provide boosts of energy, when needed, throughout the day.

3 Snacks that Please the Stomach and Mind

1. Fruits with Vitamin C — These fruits are a source of many vitamins and minerals that have health benefits for the body all around, but fruits with high amounts of vitamin C are best for staying focused and alert. Fruits contain natural sugar, which provides quick bursts of energy, without the intense crash that sugar in candy brings. Fruits also help convert fat into energy, which wards off fatigue in the body. Try bringing some of these fruits that are high in vitamin C to class on days you’re feeling sluggish: oranges, pineapples, strawberries, grapefruit, guava, kiwi, or many more that can be found here. Fruits that are high in potassium, like bananas, raisins, and pears have also been shown to boost alertness. Find more potassium rich foods here. Maybe even combine the vitamin C and potassium rich foods to make one killer, energy packed fruit salad.


Photo via Google Images

2. Protein — This macronutrient offers a slow release of energy after consumption to provide consistent energy throughout the day. Since the boost occurs over an extended period of time, it is best to consume a few hours before you think your body will need to use it, maybe for breakfast to start your day strong or during a break between classes to keep you going until the end of the day. Yogurt, beef jerky, and string cheese are great sources of protein and more options can be found here. If you have dietary restrictions to dairy or meat, peanut butter, nuts (especially pistachios and almonds), and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, and chia) are great alternatives. Find more vegan/vegetarian sources of protein here.


Photo via Google Images

3. Dark chocolate — Cocoa contains a natural source of caffeine, so the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine content. Dark chocolate may be considered a healthier substitute for other forms of candy on the sugar spectrum, but it should still be consumed in moderation when reaping its benefits, such as antioxidants and flavonoids, which are heart healthy. Pack some dark chocolate in your backpack to regain some energy when sitting through long lectures.


Photo via Google Images

2 Drinks that Provide Energy Benefits

1. Water — Dehydration can make you feel sleepy, so it’s important to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Everyday activities can drain your body of water, and if it’s not replenished it can negatively affect your mood and energy levels, as well as your memory and brain performance. Check here to find out more about how much water you should be consuming every day.


Photo via Google Images

2. Green tea — This beverage option contains less caffeine than coffee, so it doesn’t cause an immediate crash once the caffeine has worn off. This means you may be able to skip that afternoon nap you take when you drink coffee, and spend that time studying (or having fun!). On top of its abilities to keep you awake and alert, green tea is also very good for you. Its benefits include supplying plenty of antioxidants to the body, and reducing the risk of heart disease and many cancers.


Photo via Google Images

Fall quarter is winding down, and these last few weeks of lectures and discussions are the final hurdles students need to make it through before the arrival of finals (and a much awaited winter break!). Use these snacks to eat your way to a more energized day, and a more focused mind. Pack your bags with some of these snacks and experiment with which ones help you through the day best, then please share your experiences with students around you or online!

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

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Implementing Meditation into your Life: How to do it and Why you should

As a college student, there are so many things to think about simultaneously: studying for tests, finishing essays, balancing hours for your work schedule, paying bills, thinking about what you’re going to eat for lunch, etc. With so much to balance, life can feel hectic or overwhelming at times, so wouldn’t it be nice to step away from those tensions and relax? UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) and the Healthy Campus Initiative are offering ways to do just that by supplying opportunities to engage in the practice of meditation.

How to Begin Practicing Meditation

Mindful awareness is the process of connecting one moment to the next, and one actively observes and experiences their mental, physical, and emotional state. Free drop-in meditations are held on and around UCLA’s campus at various locations and times Mondays through Thursdays by various accomplished professors. All of these sessions are open to anyone wishing to learn how to be more present and less stressed in their everyday lives. Free drop-in mindfulness sessions are also occasionally offered to the public, which further explore the mind-body connection and different ways to implement the practice into your life. Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPs) classes are also offered to help people develop individualized meditation practices, as well as understand the basic principles of mindfulness, through weekly two hour group sessions for a period of six weeks. The MAPs level one class offers instruction on mindfulness to work on physical pain, common obstacles faced by many in the practice, cultivating positive emotions, and many more. As MARC is in support of the Healthy Campus Initiative, all current UCLA students are able to sign up for these classes for free, yet another great resource offered at our university that promotes mental wellbeing. Check the MAPs class schedule here for upcoming dates and class registration. If you feel that physically going to a class or a group setting isn’t really for you, MARC offers a wide variety of free online classes, like mindfulness for daily living, and cultivating positive emotions, as well as free downloadable guided meditations.

Why you should Practice Meditation

Mindful meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress , improve attention, boost the immune system, reduce emotional reactivity, and promote a general sense of health and wellbeing. The practice has also been linked to the improvement of metabolism, getting a better night’s sleep, as well as reducing aging. The benefits of meditation go far beyond that of simply feeling an inner sense of calm. Because of the mind-body connection, one will experience physical benefits along with the mental ones, such as reduced risk of heart attack or stroke, normalized blood pressure, and reduced anxiety and depression, which have all been associated with mindful meditation.

Take advantage of the wonderful opportunities offered on campus to improve your mental health. All drop-in sessions and classes are open to anyone interested, so don’t worry if you haven’t figured out the meaning of life just yet, or feel as though you don’t quite know how to meditate– it’s all a learning process. A curiosity in the practice of meditation could lead to the development of a daily practice that will improve your day-to-day life! Stop by one of the drop-in meditations, or register for one of the MAPs classes, and share your experiences with us or online, so that more people can get involved with changes that will improve their wellbeing.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.