Resilience on the RISE

Resilience (noun)
re·​sil·​ience | \ ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s
​1)​ The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.
2) An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
As people in and around the university, we all face the trials and tribulations of stress, anxiety, and difficult situations. We can learn to better cope with daily challenges through a practice of resilience that supports our well-being.

The ​Office of Campus and Student Resilience​ and ​Counseling and Psychological Services​ (CAPS) have created a “holistic wellness hub” on campus that provides a variety of programs, classes, trainings, and self-directed resources aimed at creating a greater sense of resilience on campus. This hub is called​ Resilience in the Student Experience​ (RISE) and is located on campus, downstairs at Lu Valle Commons room B-01. RISE serves as a physical extension of CAPS, and as part of its programming, RISE offers meditations, yoga, peer coaching, and other mind-body modalities.


When I say that RISE offers a vast amount of programs and meditations, it’s no understatement. So far in the lineup they have:
  • Yoga as healing – trauma-informed yoga for survivors of sexual assault
  • Weekly drop-in resilience sessions for all
  • Mindful Ambassadors​ meetings
  • Drop-in meditations for post doctoral students
  • Weekly drop-in mindful nutrition for all
  • GRIT coaching​ corner
  • Wazo ​wellness series
  • Mindfulness for women of color
  • Healing expressed with art (HEART) for trauma survivors
  • Weekly drop-in mindful self compassion break
  • Fitwell​ yoga classes.

The RISE schedule is bursting with programs and opportunities that can meet our diverse student body where they are. And there’s no sign of slowing down; Dr. Allyson Pimentel, associate director of UCLA Campus & Student Resilience, tells me, “it’s only going to get better.”


RISE has an upcoming 5 session training series, Training for Campus Peer Leaders, which is geared towards UCLA student leaders looking to learn more about resilience, how to support students in distress, and many other important topics. This workshop will be held every Wednesday from weeks 4-8, with each session lasting two hours. The sessions will be held in the basement level of Lu Valle Commons, room B-01. If interested in this particular workshop, you can learn more and sign up ​here.


Check out the RISE space itself or come participate in some of the upcoming meditation sessions and workshops! For more information email ​



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 Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA 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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Healthy Minds and Healthy Hearts: An Interview with Kimberly Uehisa

While heart health is often overlooked by younger generations, the effects it can have on living a healthy lifestyle are nonetheless important. Mental health can be severely impacted by stress, and so can heart health. Kimberly Uehisa, fourth year MIMG major and global health minor, is championing the importance of cardiovascular health and education in her new study with the UCLA Women’s Cardiovascular Center​. I sat down with her to find out more about ECHOS (Early Cardiovascular Health Outreach), herself, and the importance of heart health.

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Kimberly has been a research fellow with the Women’s Cardiovascular Center for two years, studying prevention and effects of cardiovascular disease with her faculty mentor Dr. Tamara Horwich, Dr. Marcella Press, and Dr. Karol Watson. She became interested in heart health in high school after discovering she and her family had a history of high blood pressure and other heart-related medical issues. On top of her passion for helping others live heart healthy lifestyles, Kimberly is a research coordinator for the Department of Cardiac Surgery, and just started working in a bioengineering lab focusing on cardiovascular research. She was also recently selected for the Undergraduate Research Fellowship program for this particular research study.

To give a little bit more insight into who she is outside of her research, Kimberly strongly recommends owning a pet for their benefits in relieving stress, even though she doesn’t own any herself. Kimberly also likes to go hiking and explore the outdoors and is actually from Hawaii, where hula dancing was part of her school curriculum from elementary to high school. Also, while she is from Hawaii, no, she’s never surfed, and yes, she does get that question a lot. She’s an energetic firework here to spread the importance of early heart health with UCLA, and we are excited to learn more!

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Q: What’s happening in the pilot study?
A:​ First, students will sign up on a link or QR code from a flier, and they will fill out a pre-survey. They will receive text messages for a 4 week period, 3 times a week, with suggestions of campus resources and heart health information. There will be weekly prize drawings to encourage active participation. At the end of the 4 week period, students who complete the post survey may receive a $10 gift card for their participation in the study. This text messaging system will hopefully alleviate stress and help student’s current and future well-being. The study is still waiting for IRB approval; once it is approved, we will notify UCLA’s student body.

Q: Why and when did you decide to study women’s cardiovascular health?
A: ​A history of high blood pressure in my family lead me become interested in cardiovascular health. I started my first research study in 2017 with Dr. Jennifer Phung-Woo. We recruited teens and young adults between the ages 13 and 25 and found out text messages were actually helpful, effective, and educational. The goal of the study was to reach out to young people about heart disease, connecting with them via text-messaging to educate them about the subject and know they aren’t the only ones that may be affected by it. Forming healthy habits early in life is really important.

Q: Why do you think heart health education is particularly relevant to college students?
A:​ As a student, I know from firsthand experience that college students experience high levels of stress, which affects our lifestyle choices. In this environment, education on heart health is particularly beneficial. The effects of stress on the body leave students at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

Q: What are some cardiovascular health resources on campus?
A:​ A lot more will be shared in the text messages sent out to participants in the study, but off the top of my head: CAPS, Mindful Meditation, and Mindful Music. The text messages sent out in the study will give students quick links to the schedules so they can effectively and efficiently access the resources. The goal of the text messages is to cover all aspects of student life.

Q: If you could tell someone one tip to change or add to their lives to positively impact their heart health what would it be?
A:​ Just try not to be stressed (haha). On a more serious note: having a good support system and really strong relationships to be there for you is really helpful in the long run. Also, being aware of yourself and how you take care of your body.

Q: What do you think one of the biggest misconceptions is about heart health?
A:​ That it’s a man’s disease and not a woman’s disease. It happens to everyone, at all ages.

Q: What’s the main thing you hope students take from this study?
A:​ I hope for everyone to be aware of their stress and be engaged with their bodies as the heart is the heart of all health! Everything begins with being aware of yourself and aware of your surroundings.

February may be known for the more emotional aspects of the heart, but it’s also Heart Health Month. This makes it the perfect time to learn about living a heart healthy lifestyle and also just so happens to be when participants can begin signing up for the study. In just four weeks you can learn about resources on campus to help you engage in stress relief, be more educated about heart health, and possibly receive a $10 gift card. For further information or questions about the study, please contact Dr. Horwich at ​​.

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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 Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA 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.


Meet Anusha Sadda, CAPS Student Advisory Board Member

Many people know about Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at UCLA, but most people don’t know there is also a board of students working alongside them to provide the best mental health resources possible. This group of students is called the CAPS Student Advisory Board (CSAB). The board is made up of students from different organizations and backgrounds, who have come together to voice the concerns of their respective communities and to inspire change. (Any student can apply to be a part of the board, so if you have an interest in mental health, think about making your voice heard by applying for next year’s board! Keep an eye out for an application announcement.)

About Anusha: Anusha is a graduating fourth year Psychobiology major and Public Health minor and a member of last year’s CSAB board. She’s a mental health advocate because mental health affects all of us even if we don’t all have a mental illness. After graduating, she hopes to work as an analyst at a healthcare company and eventually go to graduate school to become a psychiatrist or work in community health. She prefers TV shows over movies, and if she could watch only one for the rest of her life, it would either be Grey’s Anatomy, or This is Us. She isn’t a fan of either cats or dogs, and if she had to have a pet, she would prefer a goldfish. She adores Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, and her life motto is “you can’t change the world, but you can change your world.”


Q: Tell me a little bit about the CAPS Student Advisory Board: how, why, and when was it created?

Anusha Sadda: Nicole Green, the director of CAPS, created CSAB in the 2016-2017 school year. She met with a lot of student groups and wanted a space for students to voice their opinions. She wanted to have a better idea of how to prioritize student needs, and she did that by hearing many different perspectives from some of UCLA’s students.


Q: Why did you want to join the CSAB last year?

AS: I was always involved with mental health groups on campus. I served as the campaign manager for All of Us, and I wanted to be involved with something that was more all encompassing. I wanted to learn more about CAPS, their staffing, finances, everything that played a role in making CAPS efficient and effective. It was a privilege making a difference for the students.


Q: What did the board focus on or accomplish last year?

AS: The biggest focus was the session limits at CAPS. There has been an increase in mental health service needs nationally, and we wanted to figure out what we would do with all of that demand.


Q: What specific things did you want the board to focus on? What concerns did you bring?

AS: I wanted to focus on educating students about what CAPS is, what resources there are, and using CAPS as an avenue to seek the right kind of treatment. Increasing awareness of mental health on campus was an important goal of mine last year. I wanted to create a collaborative effort, kind of like an umbrella, of all kinds of people focused on mental health that were coming from different campus groups, but that were coming together as partners to achieve a common goal.


Q: Why do you think it’s important for students to have this close interaction with CAPS?

AS: Not all students can advocate for themselves, and that leads to some people feeling like they aren’t represented. The CSAB board provides a way to bridge that gap, by having representatives speak for a community. The board is then able to hear their issues and address them. It’s also easier for students to talk to students, which helps create honesty and strengthens students’ relationship with CAPS.


Q: What do you think the impacts are of having a board run by students geared towards the benefit of students?

AS: I think it shows people that CAPS is really trying to be the best it can be and tend to student needs. Their efforts are going above and beyond. Dr. Green is a very busy woman, and she takes the time to be present at all of the CSAB meetings because she really cares to hear from students. We want people to say what they want to say to the board and have their issue addressed.


Q: What do you hope future members of the board accomplish with the partnership?

AS: I don’t have a long term goal for the board, because we never know what is going to be changing in the future. All I care about is that students, staff, and faculty feel like they have the best mental health resources possible­­­— for the UCLA community to be happy mentally, physically, and emotionally.


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.


Stop, Breathe, & Think Mindfulness Challenge

We’re just about halfway through the quarter, and midterms, papers, and the desire to maintain an active social life may be causing some stress to all of our daily lives right about now. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a break? Well, you’re in luck! The department of Campus and Student Resilience decided to help motivate students, faculty, and staff to take some time out of their days to relax with their Stop, Breathe, and Think Mindfulness Challenge. The challenge lasts five days, beginning May 1st and ending the 5th, and encourages participants to meditate once a day, for all five days. Worried that you don’t know how to meditate? Don’t worry — by signing up for the challenge, you will receive a text every day for the first week of May with a link to a short (and fun!) guided meditation practice that will support your wellbeing and resilience. What’s great about guided meditation is that there is assistance when trying to reach a calm and mindful state, some are even self-guided so that you can go at your own pace, if that sounds like more your style.

So you get to relax your mind every day, and reap the other benefits of meditation, like improving your immune system, lowering your blood pressure, increasing your ability to concentrate, and reducing stress — sounds divine, right? How about these other benefits of meditation, like increasing work efficiency, developing more creative problem solving skills, and providing better sleep, all of which are perfect for those of us wanting to do the best we can in the classroom during this midterm season.

Right now you’re probably wondering “wait, they want me to participate in a challenge that’s actually really good for me? Sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?” The answer is that there is no catch; the department of Campus and Student Resilience just wants to share the experience of meditation with as many people as possible. In fact, they’re offering prizes to increase the desire for participation! Every participant who completes all five days of the meditation challenge will be entered into a raffle to win some really cool swag, including a $100 gift certificate to the Stop, Breathe, & Think online store, KIND bar snacks and merch, along with some other great prizes. So, rest, benefits for the mind and body, and free stuff? Yeah, you’re hearing that right. If you’re already itching to hit that sign up button before you’ve reached the end of the article, just click here.

The challenge taking place in May has a greater significance than just giving everyone a refreshing boost to make it to the end of the quarter. May is national meditation month, as well as national mental health awareness month (MHAM), so what better way to celebrate than getting our campus community to practice meditation together to kick off week one? MHAM was started in 1949 by Mental Health America to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, and help reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five Americans will be affected by a mental health illness in their lifetime, and many more of us are impacted through our friends and family that are affected. This month is to commemorate those who struggle with mental illness, to show solidarity between those who struggle and those who are comfortable with their mental state, and educate the world about the importance of mental health — it is for everyone, because we all have a mental health of our own.

Try celebrating the month by visiting UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) and check out some of their events like free drop-in meditations or workshops, or download some of their free guided meditations to try along with the challenge, or to help you remain practicing after it’s ended. Check in with yourself and those you care about throughout the month, because we are all affected by life’s challenges differently, and, although we may not all have a mental illness, we all have mental health. Take time during May to practice building resilience in your own life and help friends and family build resilience of their own through meditation and communication.

Sign up for the challenge here anytime before May 1st, and join the other students, faculty, and staff that have decided to give meditation a try. Maybe the challenge will even inspire you to incorporate meditation into your everyday life after it has ended, or maybe it will be that one thing you signed up for on a whim that gave you the boost you needed to power through a stressful time. Let us know how the challenge goes for you by commenting here or online, and share your experiences of the benefits of meditation with those around you, so that they may want to try to benefit from it, as well. Good luck with resilience building, and happy mindfulness challenging!

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.


For Metta World Peace, Living Well Matters

By: Vanessa Perez, MPH student at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and Move Well Pod GSR for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative

Metta World Peace is a big fan of the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative (HCI), envisioned and supported by Jane and Terry Semel, and I had the opportunity to find out why.

Metta, formerly known as Ron Artest, is a professional basketball player in the NBA, currently playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. Metta started off by telling me about his journey, and how a certain charity sparked his interest in both basketball and service.

“For me, the charitable side of Ron Artest started when I was 13 years old,” said Metta. “I met a guy named Hank Carter, and he had a fundraiser called the Wheelchair Charities. He raised money for paraplegics; he started off by doing concerts and basketball games to raise money. I actually played in his pro-game in Madison Square Garden in 1990. He just showed me the importance of giving back.”

For Metta, giving back has meant becoming an advocate for mental health awareness. “The reason that I got into my mission was because I was affected mentally by so many different things…so when I started to discover that mental health aspect, I wanted to figure out ways to become balanced and happy.”

He started Xcel University in 2007, a mental health initiative in which he has raised around $800,000 for a variety of mental health institutions. The campaign is in the process of becoming a foundation, to be called The Panda’s Friend Foundation. I asked where the new name comes from, and he said, “The panda is very zenful; they are great animals. They represent so many cool things.”

Currently, Metta oversees, an online store where he sells merchandise related to his brand. He plans on using the proceeds to fund The Panda’s Friend Foundation. He said, “I want to open up facilities; I want to have curriculums and staff; I want to help families.”

I asked Metta what specifically interested him about HCI, and discovered that he was initially intrigued by our focus on sustainable and healthy food. He has visited both of our gardens (the medicinal herb garden at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center, and the new living amphitheater at Sunset Recreation Center).

“It just shows that the university is still connected to the earth. It actually frees you a little bit when you come here and you see the things that the professors are getting into, the things that the students are interested in; so I was very excited to learn more because I’m into food from the planet, just on a personal level,” said Metta.

Metta will be joining us at our 2017 HCI Annual Celebration, the Dream Revolution, on May 4th. I asked him, “Why are you excited to be a part of the Dream Revolution?”

Metta responded, “Seeing people promote health affects you and makes you feel good subconsciously. I’m excited because [HCI] is doing research on how to make the world a better place.”

I asked Metta, “What were your dreams and ambitions growing up as a kid, and how do you feel that living well has helped you to achieve your dreams?”

He smiled as he admitted his childhood dream of wanting to be Michael Jackson or a pastor, and how he used to mimic both personalities. He also recounted wanting to be a math teacher, as he majored in math before joining the NBA. Above all, he made clear how much he wanted to be a good family member, and was honest about the struggles he went through to do this.

“Along the way, you forget what you want out of life, and then you also pick up habits; bad habits that can affect you. I picked up tons of bad habits,” admitted Metta. He went into some of the issues he faced related to alcohol and family problems, and proudly discussed the ways in which he got the help he needed through counseling and classes.

“Some people say you change, but I wouldn’t say I changed, because that means at my worst that’s who I was. So I always tell people I never changed, I’m just who I always was. I don’t think anyone should change, I think they should just be who they are. And when you look at it like that, I feel comfortable being myself,” said Metta.

I asked Metta, “How have your dreams and goals evolved over time?”

He referred back to some of the unhealthy lifestyle habits he picked up earlier in his career, and how the effects made him more conscious of his health and nutrition. Now, he is considering going back to school to study nutrition: “I love nutrition; I don’t know everything about it, but I know a lot; I could probably be a nutritionist if I really wanted to.”

Our HCI motto is “living well.” I asked what “living well” means to Metta, and he said, “Living well means respecting yourself and respecting other people. And the respect you have for your planet. Some people, I think, forget how important the planet is.”

With regards to exercising, Metta said this: “I think everybody should have a physical activity that you do—volleyball, softball, tennis, walking, hiking—you should have some type of activity that you’re doing. Everybody should be moving. Just do something that makes you happy; maybe it’s walking to the store instead of driving.”

I was curious to hear Metta’s thoughts on his physical activity of choice, and here’s what he had to say about basketball: “Basketball is a tough workout. If it wasn’t for the ball, I don’t know if I would want to push myself that hard. Because there’s times where you are fatigued, you need water, your body hurts, you twist an ankle, you get elbowed, maybe you get cut, you stitch it up and you just go back out there, depending on what type of person you are. It’s motivating, it’s inspiring…I think it’s a challenge.”

Finally, I asked Metta, “How do you use your work to inspire other people to move?”

He said, “I think people see me out in public sometimes; I’m always working out. I’m 37, so there’s not a lot of 37 year olds playing basketball, so I think people get inspired and say if he could still run, I could still run; if he could still move, I could still move; so I think that’s how I probably inspire people to move.”

Be sure to join the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and Metta World Peace at our annual celebration, the Dream Revolution, on Thursday, May 4th from 4-7pm at UCLA’s Sunset Recreation Center.


Get Involved: Out of the Darkness Campus Walk

It’s the beginning of Spring quarter — with only eight weeks until we reach the much-awaited summer — so what can we do to make this last quarter a memorable one? Get involved with a meaningful cause! A great chance to get involved is at the upcoming Out of the Darkness Campus Walk at UCLA’s Drake stadium on Sunday, April 23rd from 1pm-3pm. The walk is an event hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and promotes suicide prevention and awareness, as well as the importance of mental health in general. Sounds like a noteworthy cause already, doesn’t it? But how much do you know about the statistics of suicide in the world today?

Before we get down to the numbers, let’s learn a little bit about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and why it hosts the Out of the Darkness walks. The AFS provides opportunities for survivors of suicide loss to be active in educational, outreach, awareness, advocacy, and fundraising programs. All of this has been done to create a culture that’s smart about mental health, in order to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. They are the largest private funder of suicide prevention research, and even started out as a small research organization until public donations transformed it into what it is today.

Some of their research thus far has been on the relationship between decision-making in a negative environment and the effects of teens who text a crisis line when seeking help. Their research has greatly contributed to what the world understands about suicide today, and more of their findings can be found here. You can also sign up to become an AFSP field advocate, along with thousands of other volunteers, and receive the latest policy news and events surrounding mental health, as well as learn how to take action against policy issues you care about. AFSP has chapters and events occurring in all fifty states, so check out their website for more information. On top of all of the above, they offer educational programs for schools, communities, and workplaces, such as More Than Sad and Signs Matter. It’s clear to see all of the effort that AFSP puts into the cause of suicide prevention and awareness, and it hosts the Out of the Darkness walks to fundraise for these efforts, as well as spread hope and awareness throughout the communities in which they are held. Now that we know what the cause is about, let’s return to the statistics which created it all.

The Facts

In the US alone:

  • There is one death by suicide in the US every 13.3 minutes
  • About 39,500 Americans lose their lives to suicide every year

In the world as a whole:

  • There is one death by suicide in the world every 40 seconds
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide

In terms of gender:

  • Suicide among males is 4X’s higher than among females
  • 79% of all US suicides are attributed to male deaths
  • Females attempt suicide 3X’s as often as males
  • Females experience Depression at about 2X’s the rate of men

In terms of age:

  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people the ages of 15-24
  • The prevalence of suicidal thoughts, planning, and attempts are highest among adults age 18-29

In terms of gender identity and sexual orientation:

  • LGBTQ+ youth who come from families that reject or do not accept them are 8X’s more likely to attempt suicide than those from families who accept them
  • LGBTQ+ youth are 3X’s more likely than straight youth to attempt suicide in their lifetime
  • Each time a LGBTQ youth is a victim of verbal of physical harassment/abuse they are 2.5X’s more likely to hurt themselves

Pretty startling, isn’t it? Suicide is a prominent concern in our society, affecting all ages, genders, and sexual orientations. Even if you haven’t been directly affected by suicide, the chances are that you have a family member, friend, or coworker who has been. We walk for them, and for all those who have been affected, in hopes of reducing the rate of suicide 20% by 2025.

If you feel drawn to the cause, you can donate to the foundation and the walk event by clicking here. If you would like to donate your time at the event, register to be a walker/start your own team here, or volunteer to help at the event if that appeals more to your interests. Those are three ways that you can get involved with the walk to show your support for suicide prevention awareness — which one will you try? If you do decide to walk, come and find me with the Resilience Peer Network (RPN) walking team, or visit the table hosted by UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge. We may not all have a mental illness, but we all have mental health, and it’s imperative that its importance be brought to the forefront of everyone’s attention. Lace up your shoes, and get ready to make this Spring quarter one in which you show your support for a great cause.

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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Creativity & the Arts in Healing

10-year-old Kara makes a collage featuring a large bird standing on a branch of a barren tree with an arrow pointing its beak towards a strawberry, while a smaller bird stands on an opposite branch looking up towards a raspberry.

Using a structured fill-in-the-blank bio poem, she writes from the voice of the bird:  

I am a little birdie.

I wonder if my mom’s going to survive, because she has a cut wing.

I hear my mom crying.

I see my dinner.

I want my mom to be healed.

I am a little birdie.

Creative expression reveals what is inside us.  It invites reflection that can lead to self-discovery, connection, and empowerment.  The universality and non-verbal essence of the arts transcends traditional barriers of culture and ability.  Moreover, shared creative experiences provide an organic opportunity for self-revelation, meaningful dialogue, and the development of empathy.

An elementary school counselor shared her insights in working with a group of 5th graders, after receiving a UCLArts & Healing training in Beat the Odds, which integrates activities from group drumming and group counseling to build social-emotional skills:

 “I used the one drum that I had to talk about problems and had kids give information verbally and with rhythm on the drum.  The kids loved it.  I noticed improvements in behavior with a greater sense of cooperation between them.  Those who were shy or acting out would bring out each other’s qualities . . . to level each other out.  Some of these children, if put together previously, would have been fighting.  Then they became a group, and you don’t beat up a member of your group.”

What tools can address emotional turmoil and social divisions as efficiently, cost effectively, and sustainably as the arts? 

Traumatic stress responses inhibit speech center activity in the brain, which interferes with our ability to articulate what we are thinking and feeling.1 They also inhibit rational brain functions of sequential thinking, decision–making, and social behavior.  On the other hand, when under stress, we are evolutionarily wired for activity in visual, movement, and sound centers of the brain for self-protection.  Therefore, non-verbal pathways for self-expression and engagement can be useful in addressing trauma.  

Unlike other healing modalities, the arts are also uniquely capable of enhancing positive emotions, particularly when the focus is on process over product.2  Furthermore, active participation in the arts engages large areas of the brain, which quite literally crowds out stress, grief, and pain.3

How can you bring these practices to your community, school, workplace, or home?

At UCLArts and Healing, we maximize the innate benefits of the arts by integrating them with mental health practices, such as nonjudgmental language that invites dialogue.  For sustainability, we offer professional development with scripted materials that anyone can use with a variety of populations, in a variety of settings.  We also teach others how to develop their own supportive curricula through our Certificate Program in Social Emotional Arts.  Our vision is to offer effective programs across the lifespan that can be implemented in school, health care, and recreational settings, where nearly everyone visits.

We invite everyone to attend our inaugural, experiential conference on Creativity & the Arts in Healing from Thursday, March 30th through Sunday, April 2nd, 2017 at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport.  Learn arts-based tools for facilitating communication, building connection, promoting positive emotions, fostering engagement, reducing stress, and managing the impact of trauma.  Choose from 125+ workshops delivered by leading national experts in art, dance, drama, drumming, music, and writing integrated with mental health practices.  Select any one or combination of days.  Over 30 continuing education credits are available.  Sponsored in partnership with the Expressive Therapies Summit. To register:

Written by Ping Ho, MA, MPH, Founder and Director, UCLArts & Healing


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1 van der Kolk BA.  The Body Keeps the Score. New York: Penguin Books; 2014.  

2  Frederickson B.  How positive emotions heal. Keynote lecture presented at: International Research Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health; May 16, 2012; Portland, OR. Accessed March 16, 2017.

3 Tramo MJ.  Biology and music: music of the hemispheres. Science. 2001;291(5501); 54-56.


Exploring Mindfulness

I was first exposed to mindfulness when I started at UCLA. When I first arrived at Rieber Vista as part of my New Student Orientation, I was jumpy, perhaps even noticeably so. Born with something of a nervous disposition, I had a hard time keeping still. With that being said, however, I had never been the kid who was bouncing off the walls; rather, I was the kid whose thoughts never stopped racing.

The novelty that surround orientation and ultimately my future at UCLA set my mind abuzz with both fear and excitement. I arrived to my room, duffle bag in hand, and greeted my roommate with such forced enthusiasm that she laughed. She noted my nerves, which of course made me more nervous, and mentioned that she was a bit jittery herself. She suggested that we try this meditative practice together, one she had successfully used before in moments such as these.

My first thought at her suggestion was one of sheer disbelief. I certainly believed that college would be different, but I didn’t think it would be something out of Eat. Pray. Love. However, I was a nervous pre-1st year, so of course I didn’t announce my skepticism. With almost the same amount of hyper-enthusiasm that started this tirade, I readily agreed.

I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor as she instructed me to close my eyes, breath, and clear my thoughts. Unfortunately, my attempts to clear my thoughts only caused me to think more. I started to feel even more stressed than when I began. After what seemed to be an uncomfortably long amount of time, she asked how I felt. Once again, I lied through my teeth and insisted that it was essentially the best thing that ever happened to me.

After that day, I put the notion of mindfulness and meditative practice in a box and locked it someone far, far away. I deemed it something that simply wasn’t for me. So you can imagine how I felt when it became something that was strongly suggested — essentially enforced — as a component of my job as a GRIT Peer Coach and my role as a Certified Resilience Peer. I was skeptical to say the least, perhaps even frustrated at times. No matter how times I tried, I always felt like I was doing something wrong. My mind would never fully clear, the awareness of which would then snowball into more thoughts. For the longest time I considered myself a failure at mindfulness.

My frustration with mindfulness stemmed from the fact that I didn’t really know how to define it. I initially thought it to be something elusive, something I had yet to attain. In some ways, I was right. Mindfulness is like a muscle. The more one exercises it, the more proficient it becomes. But most importantly, mindnessful is a state of being and a way of living, not something a person does in isolation.

While it took me time and some continue prompting from others, I realized that there was more to mindfulness than sitting quietly in a room. I found that I could incorporate mindfulness into my life by looking up from my phone a little bit more often as I walked to class or listen a little bit more intently to a friend’s story. Slowly but surely, mindfulness stopped being this scary, nebulous entity. It became a lifestyle choice, one that not only helps keeps my anxiety at bay, but allows me to appreciate my life more.

Mindfulness is essentially the state of being present and aware both of one’s surroundings and one’s own body. Effective mindful practice involves acknowledging that the mind can stray and accepting that discomfort is valid if that is what one is feeling. In doing so, we become more attuned to parts of ourselves that we may have otherwise locked away.

Studies have shown the numerous benefits of mindful practice. As students, it is sometimes all too easy to put our mental health on the backburner. Moreover, in the hustle and bustle of being a student, it can seem like there is not enough time in a day to engage in mindfulness, regardless of the benefits. Luckily, mindful practice doesn’t have to be a grand, structured event in order to be effective. In moments of stress, I recommend taking 3 deep breathes. When walking on campus, look up and take in everything. When lying in bed, conduct an assessment of the muscles in your body from head to toe.

Challenge yourself to be a little more present everyday. The benefits will be endless.

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.


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Yoga and Yogis: You’ve Gotta Check it Out

In a place like Los Angeles, we hear about yoga almost everywhere we go: celebrities use it to stay fit, just about every other person walking next to you has a yoga mat slung over their shoulder, and Lululemon products are popping up all over the place — but, what exactly is yoga? A quick scan through Google can give you the textbook definition, somewhere along the lines of “Yoga: a Hindu philosophy that teaches a person to experience inner peace by controlling the body and mind.” Whenever you pass someone holding a bright, neatly rolled, cylinder-like object on their back or arm, feel free to think of them as a “Yogi: a person who practices yoga.” That’s just a bit of lingo to keep you sounding hip.

As a passionate, backbending yogi myself, I have a deep interest in the practice and what it can do for mental health and for the body. If you’re already interested, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with yoga on or close to campus, like UCLA Recreation Center, CorePower (which offers a free class every Saturday), and Flexible Fridays (which holds free yoga classes on the hill for UCLA students). Yoga for Flexible Futures (YFF), a nonprofit organization here on campus that teaches yoga and nutrition to elementary school children at the UCLA Community School, has recently begun holding yoga classes/workshops, open to everyone, every Thursday from 7-8pm in Squash Court A at the John Wooden Center. Some of the workshops so far, taught by YFF club members, many of whom are certified yoga instructors, have been on acro-yoga, inversions, and vinyasas. If any of these catch your interest, please email with any questions or requests. I sat down with two of their yogi members to find out more about their experiences with yoga, the effects it has had on their lives, and why the practice has become so popular.

Meet the Yogis

Ailey Word Simpson is a charismatic fourth year student, with a love of architecture and mathematics. She’s an adult-certified yoga instructor who has had a passion for handstands since she began her practice six years ago. She also has a secret talent of being able to touch her elbow to her toes (I have seen it happen with my own eyes!) and baking cakes on the weekends. Katie Salow is also a fourth year student and long time member of the club. Her interests are Psychobiology and Global Health on the school front, and triangle pose and headstands on the mat. She enjoys eating cookie dough ice cream, pottery, and looking at corgis dressed in costumes (though, not all at the same time).

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Photo via Aubry Freitas

Questions and Thoughts

Q: Tell me a little bit about YFF from your point of view. What does it mean to you?

Katie: Our organization makes health and mindfulness fun and accessible to kids that wouldn’t normally be exposed to the practice. Yoga serves as more than exercise, and helps the kids become more confident and comfortable with themselves while learning new and cool “tricks,” as they call them. (You guys can all see their smiling faces in the adorable pictures below)

Q: Why do you think it’s important for kids to take part in the practice of yoga and have knowledge of nutrition?

Katie: Yoga enhances Physical strength and flexibility, and encourages more novel uses of a variety of muscle groups. Not only is it physically beneficial, but it helps build focus and concentration, traits that are incredibly applicable to all aspects of development.

Ailey: Getting kids excited about living healthier and more mindfully at a young age will, hopefully, allow them to develop ways to carry that positive lifestyle along with them as they grow. We try to make the lessons applicable to their everyday lives, so that they can carry what they learned off the mat.

Q: Why did you start practicing yoga?

Ailey: I grew up dancing ballet, and I first started practicing yoga as a supplement to dance training. I started practicing consistently years later, and have developed an appreciation for all of the benefits that yoga can have, aside from strength and flexibility.

Q: Have you experienced any changes in your life because of the practice, like less stress, a calmer mind, or just an overall more positive way of living?

Katie: Absolutely. Yoga is a great workout, but the practice teaches you to focus and let go of negative thoughts that aren’t adding to your quality of life. It is a moving meditation that helps ground your thoughts and creates balance in all aspects of life.

Ailey: Having a consistent yoga practice has definitely changed how I approach my day-to-day life. At this point in my yoga journey, I am more comfortable with my body and have learned to practice better self care physically and mentally.

Q: What would you tell someone who was thinking about getting into yoga, but was worried that they weren’t flexible enough to participate in the practice?

Katie: Lesson plans for classes are geared towards valuing the variety of everyone’s bodies: whether you’re more flexible, strong, energetic, or still. (There’s many different aspects of the practice, it’s not all about being able to twist into a pretzel shape.)

Ailey: No one is good or bad at yoga, and there is no one way that each pose should look! Embrace your current level of flexibility and strive to find the variation of each pose that feels right in your body, rather than the extreme instagram version. (We all know what she’s talking about!) Yoga is all about how you feel, not how you look.

Yoga is a beautiful practice that will allow you to work on silencing your mind, exploring the abilities of your body, and, ultimately, find balance (literally and figuratively here, people.) It’s for everyone, and every age, and it’s because of the diversity it holds within itself that so many people are drawn to it. Try out some of the local yoga options mentioned above, or try finding others that may appeal more to what you are looking for out of the practice, or maybe, just maybe, these yogis and I will see you on Thursdays in Wooden.

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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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.