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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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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.


Taking Care of Your Mental Health in College: 3 Common Challenges


College is often a wonderful experience for young men and women, providing a path to discover more about themselves and their desired field of education. However, this journey can also bring with it many rigors that may affect one’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Poor mental health of students on college campuses has been on the rise since 2013, and it’s important to know what the major mental health issues affecting college students are, so students can better take care of their own mental health, as well as that of those around them.

3 Major Mental Health Challenges Faced by College Students

1) Depression: Depression is the feeling of sadness for at least a period of two weeks, causing changes in one’s life, such as the lack of interest in daily activities, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy or concentration, significant weight loss, feelings of worthlessness or extreme guilt, and thoughts of suicide. Depression is the most common mental health issue faced by college students and the disorder contains many different branches, such as Major depressive disorder, Persistent depressive disorder, and Seasonal affective disorder, among many others. Some causes of this illness are hormone imbalances, inheritance through genetics, a change of environment that may make you feel uncomfortable, and biological differences in the brain, such as defective neurotransmitters. It’s important to recognize that a person can feel depressed from time to time without having major depressive disorder or any of those associated with it.

How to find help: The Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) center at UCLA is a valuable resource when needing a professional to talk to. Students can either walk in or schedule an appointment at CAPS. Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” is the most popular method of treatment for depression, which aims to help people understand their illness and to teach them ways to diminish unhealthy thoughts. Medication, such as antidepressants, are also treatment options, when recommended by a medical professional. GRIT Peer-to-Peer Coaching is an on campus resource that provides one-on-one sessions with trained coaches to promote the academic and personal success of students. The Resilience Peer Network (RPN) offers one-on-one help from trained undergraduate counselors through self-guided internet based cognitive behavioral therapy. Other beneficial care options include exercising daily, getting enough sleep, surrounding yourself with supportive family and friends, and tackling large tasks by breaking them down into smaller ones, so that they don’t seem so overwhelming.

2) Anxiety disorders: The definition of anxiety is an emotion described as bringing tension or worried thoughts that are persistent or recurring over a long period of time. These feelings are accompanied by physical changes in the body, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate. There are several different forms that are associated with anxiety, including general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Anxiety is the most common psychiatric illness, affecting almost 40 million adults in the U.S.; a large portion of those 40 million are college students. The disorder results from a series of factors including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events (like the possibly stressful transition into college). While many are affected by anxiety disorder, it is important to note that a person that is not diagnosable with an anxiety disorder can also experience feelings of anxiety.

How to find help: A wide variety of therapies have proven to be effective, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy , acceptance and commitment therapy , and dialectical-behavior therapy. Medications are also available, as prescribed by a psychiatrist or other medical professional, to help those with intense or chronic anxiety. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at UCLA is a beneficial resource for students to seek professional advice on campus. Meditation, yoga, and acupuncture have also had positive effects on mental health through their release of energy flow, relaxation, lowering heart rates and relieving stress. Check out HCI’s event calendar for dates and times of their drop-in meditations, and look into yoga classes offered at John Wooden Center to experience their benefits.

3) Relationship problems: challenges in romantic partnerships. Some examples are a lack of fairness/equality, not respecting one partner’s feelings, and feeling pressured to change for your partner. Other signs of an unhealthy relationship are a lack of privacy, or physical violence, that begin to negatively affect one’s emotional/mental health and overall wellbeing. It is often seen that college signals the beginning of many students first romantic relationships, or at least their first serious ones, and although these partnerships are thought of as blissful, they can sometimes become unhealthy. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that 35.8% of students visiting their college’s counseling centers were there seeking help for relationship problems that had begun to affect their mental health. Romantic relationships aren’t the only ones that can negatively affect mental health, friendships, and family ties can be equally as disruptive if they share the characteristics mentioned above.

How to find help: Along with CAPS, UCLA offers other helpful resources for those seeking help in their personal lives including Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) which offers counseling and a confidential place to talk for students who have faced domestic violence and/or stalking, or the UCLA offices of Ombuds Services which aims to offer fair and balanced assistance in settling disputes.

There are several different ways to go about treating the aforementioned mental health issues, but every individual is unique and may not respond the same way to certain recommended treatments. It’s good to explore as many of the options as possible to find out what works best for you. Use the symptoms described above, as well as your own research on websites like the American Psychological Association or the National Institute of Mental Health , to help you know what to look out for in your own mental health, as well as your fellow students. Good grades and an active social life may be important aspects of college, but taking care of our mental health is an important aspect of life that will remain with us forever. Are you currently struggling with one of the mental health issues mentioned, or have struggled with one in the past, and feel like sharing your experiences with other students? If so, comment or post online to spread the word about the importance of mental health in college and reach out to others who may be going through similar experiences.

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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To judge or not to judge in mindfulness

By Lobsang Rapgay, PhD, research psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry UCLA

Being non-judgmental is a defining feature of modern forms of mindfulness. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which is the most researched form, is the main draw for many to the practice of mindfulness. Part of the appeal is that many of us feel passionately that it is wrong to be judgmental of others. We might have strong feelings about being judged, criticized, and ridiculed, perhaps because we may have personally experienced their painful effects during childhood and even later in life. So when modern mindfulness says it will teach us to be non-judgmental, many of us buy into it readily.

We assume we are going to learn a special approach for how not to judge others based solely on their looks, gender, or race, or simply because we dislike them, and replace such biases with a more accepting approach. When someone we know is judgmental of others based on physical characteristics, we feel uncomfortable, upset, and wish we were not around such a toxic person.

On the other hand, we want our children to learn to make good choices as they go out into the world.  We want them to make informed judgements about the types of friends to go out with and those to avoid. Making good judgments involves not only making judgments based on one’s likes and dislikes, but also by weighing the pros and cons of whether the friendship is rewarding and meaningful.  Research shows that learning to make informed judgements can take a long time and is only fully developed well past adolescence.

Modern mindfulness trains us to avoid making any form of judgments, sometimes at the cost of learning to make informed judgments.  If a child is mean to others, mindfulness teaches us not to judge the child as mean. If someone never completes his or her assignments, mindfulness teaches us not to judge the person as lazy. Calling someone mean or lazy imposes a label that interferes with our ability to experience that person as a whole person. Instead, we identify them with one characteristic. John is not just a person, instead he is lazy John. According to modern mindfulness, this makes it impossible to recognize that John is a complex individual with both good and bad traits.

However, research shows that excessive training in non-judgment can impair cognitive functioning.  A 2015 study provides preliminary evidence for the negative effects of non-judgment training. Researchers found that subjects trained in non-judgment failed to accurately recall words they memorized earlier. The results suggest that excessive training in non-judgment appears to impair certain cognitive functions that are critical for accuracy of memory.  One of these impaired cognitive functions is discrimination: a critical function for differentiating between what words did and did not appear in a set.  When discrimination is impaired, it interferes with memorizing and, consequently, with accurate recall later.

Given that bias and judgment are virtually built into us – an evolutionary survival mechanism passed on from generation to generation– we need to question the purpose of being non-judgmental.  Studies show that judgments about various faces made in the first 1/10 of a second rarely changed even when the subjects later saw the same faces for a full minute.  The findings suggest that the instant we see a face, we categorize it– even before we have time to think about it.  These findings clearly suggest that training in non-judgment may have significant negative consequences on cognitive functioning.

One of the reasons for these inconsistencies lies with the founders of modern mindfulness, who have failed to clearly define non-judgment based on scientific concepts, principles and findings.  Rather, a practice was taken from the East, and poorly translated into a practice to suit the Western mindset. In fact, classical Buddhist teachings do not associate non-judgment training with mindfulness the way it is done in modern forms of mindfulness. Instead they teach the opposite: the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, as taught by the Buddha, begin with discrimination training in relationship to the sensory experience of the breath. In classical mindfulness, thinking is suspended to refine our capacity to fully sense our breath and body moment by moment in a non-evaluative and non-reactive way.  The objective is to reduce our habitual thinking, imaging, and self-narratives in order to experience the sensory world directly.

Modern mindfulness training in non-judgment is a powerful way to reduce excessive judgmental thinking, worrying, and ruminating, which are responsible for exacerbating common psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression.  The above evidence suggests that we have to learn to be both non-judgmental at one level, and make healthy and informed judgments on another level.

People using modern forms of mindfulness can, therefore, benefit enormously by complementing non-judgment training with making healthy informed judgments. This requires learning when to apply non-judgment and when to make informed judgments. Integrating classical mindfulness provides an excellent means to do this given that it is consistent with current forms of mindfulness.

When you know exactly when and how to apply non-judgment skills, you can then train yourself in discrimination, as taught in classical mindfulness. Once you acquire the ability to discriminate between various types of sensations associated with the breath and the body, you can extend that skill to discriminate between various types of thoughts, affect, and behavior.  The beauty about classical mindfulness is that such discrimination is not made based on moral values of the individual, but rather by observing, in a non-evaluative and non-reactive way, the effects that thoughts, affect, and behavior have upon you.

As you acquire insight into the consequent effects of specific thoughts, affect, and behavior, you can verify those insights with further behavioral experimentation to determine if your assumptions and conclusions are valid.  Over time, you may discover a pattern – certain types of thoughts, affect, and behavior lead to distress, fear, anger and a host of other psychological and behavioral imbalances.  On the other hand, other types of thoughts, affect, and behavior lead to awareness, calm, self-regulation, and positivity.  Through personal experience and discovery, you can confirm which of these are beneficial and which are harmful.

In this way, you develop a template of how to think, feel, and act not based solely on what you have been told, but rather based on your personal exploration through an objective yet gentle process of direct experience, complemented with insight and validated with repeated behavioral experimentation.

Rather than seeing the two forms of mindfulness as contradictory and exclusionary, opening yourself to the full exploration of what both current and classical teachings have to offer, can lead to a life-long, meaningful skill that can serve us well through our quest for growth and development in the midst of a challenging and demanding world.

Lobsang Rapgay, PhD is a research psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry UCLA under the mentorship of Robert Bilder, Phd. He also maintains a private practice in West Los Angeles. His primary area of research is on the neural, physiological, and behavioral correlates of fear reconsolidation. He was a Tibetan Buddhist monk for 18 years and is well trained in the theory and practice of Buddhism.

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Beauty Inside and Out: Female Body Image and Mental Health


Every year, thousands of young women head off to college in pursuit of personal growth and higher education. However, this big change can alter the way women view their bodies and themselves. Studies show that college-aged females are particularly concerned with the way their bodies look, which consequently impacts the mental health of female students. Focusing on papers, midterms, and other assignments can be hard enough on its own, but with the added challenge of one not being comfortable in one’s own skin, college life becomes even more challenging.

What is body image?

Body image is a subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body that is influenced both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others. Struggles with body image are not unique to any singular group of individuals, and can affect people of any gender, race, and sexual orientation. Having a healthy body image means having an undistorted perception of your shape, feeling comfortable and confident in your body, and appreciating your individual uniqueness. However, it is completely normal to not feel confident about your body 100% of the time — everyone has off days every now and then. A healthy body image is about having a positive relationship with your body and learning to process and deal with off days or bad body thoughts instead of putting ourselves down.

What’s so important about having a healthy body image? Body image dissatisfaction is linked to higher rates of depression, stress, isolation and insecurity, all of which can take a huge toll on the body and the mind. Working towards a healthy body image is especially important for college students because bad body thoughts and insecurities can dramatically affect their education and work quality.

How Body Image is Linked to Health

Studies show that as many as 40% of college females have eating disorders or serious problems relating to body image. That means two out of every five women on college campuses are not able to get the most out of their educational experience. Furthermore, the number of women that are unhappy with their bodies is at an all-time high of 91%, with 58% of college females feeling pressure to be a certain weight. This is incredibly dangerous, because poor body image contributes to poor mental health, and can consequently interfere with learning. Studies show that people with negative body images have higher levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidality than those without. Bad body thoughts can cause low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and make one feel as though their body is inadequate.

These statistics given demonstrate some of the ways women’s college experiences and self esteem can be affected, and can cause such a heavy burden that it makes it hard for them to function on a day to day basis. Women entering college are in a critical age group in terms of body image, and so it is important that they are provided with resources that can help them to feel comfortable and confident on their college campuses.

Why does college contribute to negative body image?

The college transition can be very difficult because it can often be very different from what an individual may have experienced in previous years of education; the introduction of a new setting, new people, and new mentalities can also influence one’s body image. In an article on Her Campus, one student claims that “college does not promote a healthy body image because there is so much fear over how easily one can gain weight.” There is social pressure to consume unhealthy dining hall food, party on weekends, and drink alcohol, yet at the same time there is a pressure to stay fit and not gain the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen.” These contribute to the anxiety women feel during their college experiences, and can cause them to waver in their studies because of having poor mental health.

The pressures of college atmospheres can force female students to be more focused on what they eat and how much they exercise than on their studies and extracurriculars. Some students suggest that if campuses “promoted a balance between staying healthy and enjoying being young” this that would allow students to feel more confident in their own bodies and minds. UCLA has taken strides to make changes among its campus through offering many resources to help combat negative body image and eating disorders, such as an Eating Disorders Program which offers help to people of all ages, and a research program dedicated to understanding and assisting those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder. There is even a student group dedicated to promoting healthy body image on campus called the Body Image Task Force.

Tips to Build a Healthy Body Image

There are a plethora of ways to work on building a healthy body image, and in turn, maintain one’s mental health throughout college. One way to build your self-image is to build a strong family support system and immerse yourself in it; strong family bonds are beneficial to curtailing outside pressures. Next time you’re feeling down about yourself or your body, try calling a family member or other loved one to cheer you up and remind you that you are loved. You can also work to develop skills to deal with stress, such as taking time out of your day to meditate or listening to your favorite music, which are calming activities that will help to create balance in your life. Additionally, try to be more proactively self-compassionate. One study found that people that actively practice self-compassion are more likely to have a healthy body image and experience a higher quality of life.

College can be a day-to-day struggle, and what’s harder than just that in today’s world? Being a female college student dealing with an unhealthy body image and all that accompanies it. Helping students feel as though they are accepted for their bodies is imperative, and contributing to other’s having positive thoughts about themselves can make a great difference in a female’s college experience. It’s okay to love yourself for who you are, treat yourself right and do what you want to do to be mentally and physically happy. With support from campuses and those around us, awareness of positive body image and mental health of female students can be brought to the light.

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.