How to Help A Friend

Another busy week! I am trying to juggle work, and life, and studying for the GRE and posting to my blog at least 2 times per week but I’m starting to fall behind. I will try to be more on the ball in February, I promise!

This post was inspired by the Bell Let’s Talk campaign that runs every January, and just passed last Wednesday, the 25th. I have participated in a few workshops and read a lot about how to help a friend in need and I feel that this information should be shared more because it’s important and should be general knowledge but mental health is so stigmatized and kept quiet that we don’t really know how to address it when it comes up. In this post I’m going to tell you step-by-step how to approach your friends, family, coworkers or colleagues when you are concerned about them and how to listen to them and get them the help they need.

The first step to helping your friend is to acknowledge that you have noticed that something is off about them. By this, I don’t mean to go up to them and say “hey, you’ve been quite lazy these days, what’s wrong with you?”. Even if they have been “quite lazy” and it’s definitely out of character, this is more of an attack than anything else. Simply asking “is everything okay?” will give them the opportunity to open up to you or shrug it off if they aren’t ready. Express your concerns in a way that doesn’t attack them. For example, “I noticed you haven’t been laughing as much as usual,” or “I noticed you’ve been late for class a lot these days, is everything okay?”. Never make them feel like what you have noticed is a bad thing. Simply state your concern and ask if they are okay. Saying things like “you’ve been really weird lately” or “you’re not as much fun as you used to be” can cause your friend to shut down and feel judged by you – you can’t help them if they don’t open up.

Inquire and Listen
Once they start talking to you LISTEN to them. They may have been dying inside to have someone listen to them and now you are that someone. Keep the conversation flowing by asking open-ended questions such as “how long have you felt this way?,” or “what would be helpful for you right now?”. Use active listening by asking them open-ended questions and allowing them to do about 80% of the talking. Try to avoid saying things like “okay,” or “yep” to acknowledge that you’re still listening, but rather, nod your head instead or use sounds like “mhm”. Give them your undivided attention – don’t check your cellphone or your watch or doodle in your notebook. They are your main priority and they need to feel it. If you’re not quite sure what they are trying to tell you, paraphrase it and ask for clarification and confirm that you have understood the issue. If they are experiencing a lot of anxiety in this moment, use some calming strategies and grounding techniques to help them relax. Don’t ever give advise! Unless you are qualified to do so, you are not qualified to do so! Even if you are completely against what they are telling you, you are in no position to tell them what to do or how to live their life because today, they have the floor, today is about them, not you! If they wanted your advise or your opinion, they would ask for it, but instead they are simply using you to vent and you have to let them do that because it’s the first step. Don’t tell them how to feel. I know there are good intentions behind saying “don’t worry so much!” or “a lot of people have it worse than you,” but these comments will only make them feel like you see their issues as insignificant. Even if their issues are insignificant to you, you need to understand that they are HUGE to them. There is no off button to anxiety or depression so you can’t tell someone to stop worrying about something. The problems they are experiencing are very real and your job is to give them someone to talk to.

You may find, in some extremely rare occasions, that the person you are helping is not even close to being okay. If they say they have thought about taking their life (or someone else), the conversation has left the realm of your capability. If they are actually going to hurt themselves or someone else you need to call 911 because you can’t help them anymore. You’re not a hero – remember that!

Encourage and Follow-Up
Encourage them to continue to seek support from you or from a professional. Make sure they know that your door is always open. You can say things like “it might be good for you to talk to someone who really knows how to help,” or “I’d be happy to check in with you in a few days, can I text you?”. Help point them to the resources that may be best suited for them such as counselling or yoga or group therapy and support them in going. If walking them to their appointments will help them go, then walk them there and be waiting outside when they are finished. Check in with a mental health advisor on campus if you’re a student or at a local mental health clinic to ensure that you have done all you could and to ask if there are better resources out there for them.

Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of other people can be mentally exhausting or difficult to handle. You may find yourself experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression after helping someone else through their struggles. This is normal! Just remember to get yourself the help you need, too! Like I said, you’re not a hero. You’re a human. Seek counselling if you need to talk to a professional about the person you were helping. Use grounding techniques on yourself, join a yoga class, keep a journal, go for a run. Take care of yourself because you are important!

How to Rock an Interview

Let me begin by saying that I am no expert in business, but I’ve learned a few things over the years from courses, articles, experience and friends in business. I have decided to share with you today some of the things that I do to prepare for a job interview and and help decrease my pre-interview stress levels! Also, I’ve been really busy the last week so I did not edit a photo for this post… sorry!

Learn as much as you can about the company!
If the company that you are interviewing for has a website, browse it! What is their motto or philosophy? How long have they been in existence? What services do they offer? What are their shares worth? Find a few things that you’re interested in learning about them and read about it on their website. This is important for a few reasons. The first being that they will definitely be asking you questions and some of them will require you to know things about them in order to answer properly. Secondly, the more you know about the company, the more you’ll be able to demonstrate how much you deserve the position. Someone who has taken the time to learn about a company is more deserving of a position than someone who has not learned anything about the company. It shows that you’re actually interested in them. Lastly, knowing all there is to know about a company will put your mind at ease during the interview because there is a smaller chance that you’ll say something silly or not know the answer to a question!

Know the job description!
This seems like an obvious one, I know, but there’s more to a job description than “oh, a receptionist, so i’ll be filing and answering phones”. The more you know about what is required of you, the better you’ll be at providing them information and examples that demonstrate your capability of completing all your required tasks. Questions will always be asked to figure out how you would fit into their environment and sometimes, scenarios too. If you already know every detail of the job description, you’ll already know which skills you have that will be best suited for their work environment and you’ll spend less time thinking about your answers and more time giving them real life examples of situations you’ve dealt with that are similar. If possible, always give a real life example of something similar rather than making up how you would deal with a situation if it ever occurred. I find that when I try to make things up on the spot I get too stressed and say crazy things that I wouldn’t actually do in real life. What is the main point of their scenario? For example, if, at the end of the day, they are simply asking you “what would you do if a customer yelled at you?,” pull up an example of a time a customer yelled at you, even if it was 5 years ago, and explain to them how you dealt with the situation.

Always ask questions!
I feel that it’s very important to ask questions at the end of an interview when they ask “do you have any questions for me?,” because it shows how interested you are in them. But, coming up with questions on the spot can be stressful and you may ask weird things like “am I allowed plants on my desk?” or “how many microwaves are in the lunch room?”. If you take time to create a list of potential questions before your interview, you’ll have a bank to fall back on. Just make sure you actually listen to everything they say so that you’re not asking them to tell you something they have already told you. If, at the end of an interview, I find for whatever reason that I have no questions to ask, I will ask them to elaborate on a further point. So, if they mentioned that the office becomes really quiet when they are doing statistics, I might ask what program they use, or something related to what they mentioned about statistics. This shows that I was listening to their long, wrap-up speech and that I am interested in hearing more.

Be yourself!
The most important thing I do is be myself! I feel that interviewers have met with a lot of people in their days and probably know when someone is faking. This is also the hardest part of an interview because I’m always wondering “what if they think I’m boring” or “what if I’m too awkward”. But, these thoughts will also haunt you if you try to mold yourself into the type of person that you think they are looking for. So it’s really just easier to be you. And, who knows, some employers might make their final decision based on the fact that you were very easy to talk to, or that you cracked a joke (if you do use jokes, do limit them!).

BASICALLY, know things about the company and the position, engage in conversation with the interviewer, ask questions and be yourself. There is no magic formula that will guarantee the interviewer to higher you but these steps have always left me feeling confident after an interview (and, I don’t think I’ve ever not been hired after an interview – the hardest step is actually getting the interview).

The Beginners Guide to Using an Agenda

In order to be organized, agendas are essential! I use one every year because without agendas and calendars I would miss all my appointments. The agenda I currently have is by It has monthly tabs so I can easily flip through it, a month overview and a notes section for each calendar month and some stickers that I can use throughout! It also has a list of all holidays as well as other random days such as National Pie Day and National Compliments day. Here is how I use my agenda and how I get myself to be consistent with it!

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Peanut Butter, Banana and Chocolate Chip Energy Balls

I love baking because it’s fun, healthy and saves money, but I rarely have time. To compromise, I’m also looking up recipes for “easy chocolate chip cookies” or “simple healthy pancakes”, things with very few ingredients and very little prep time. That’s how I came across a recipe for 2 ingredient Banana Oatmeal Cookies. I decided to give the recipe a little sprucing with a few more ingredients from my cupboard and VOILA!, PB energy balls!

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How to Construct the Perfect New Year’s Resolution

It’s not too late for a New Year’s Resolution! If you don’t have one yet, or if you have one but haven’t quite followed through with it yet, this post is for you! Every New Year people all around the world embrace the whole #NewYearNewMe, taking advantage of the new beginning to change themselves for the better. But every year they make the same mistakes and as a result, the resolution gets left behind in hopes that maybe next year will be their year. I think starting fresh in the New Year is a wonderful thing because we cannot carry around every mistake we have ever made or regret we have ever had around with us forever – having a new start allows us to shed this burden and start all over, mistake and regret free. This is a wonderful concept! But for many of us, failure to fulfill our resolution by mid-January brings the first regret of the year and it’s all downhill from here. Here is my guide to help you plan a resolution that you can actually stick to:

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The Benfits of Reducing Your Waste

I’ve started to think more and more about how much garbage we produce. While tidying up my apartment, I managed to collect about 3 small bags full of trash! Not that I’m eating snacks and throwing wrappers on the floor, but I’m talking about receipts, instructions that come with new products (and the packages that they come in), and I have to admit, there were a few chip bags and other garbage that had been on the kitchen counter… (I hate cleaning). On top of that, between my boyfriend and I, we throw out 1 small bag of garbage about every week! This garbage comes from pasta packaging, used paper towels and Kleenexes, meat packages and really just any other food package because, let’s face it, everything comes in a package. I decided that I would start learning about how I can reduce the amount of waste I produce. As I started looking into how I could do this, I realized that there are so many benefits to going waste free or even just reducing your waste!

The first (and most obvious) benefit is that I will be helping to decrease the amount of waste that ends up in landfills each year. This is a problem that many of us are very familiar with as it is talked about constantly. All the trash we produce has to go somewhere, and many of this trash is not biodegradable and will pretty much just sit in these landfills until the end of time. It’s pretty disgusting to think about – a bunch of holes filled with trash just scattered around the world, hanging out for eternity. Not to mention that the space that these landfills occupy, as well as the close surrounding areas, are inhabitable for obvious reasons. So, reducing landfills is a pretty obvious and important reason to go waste free, but it’s not the only one!

The environment and ecosystems are also at risk with our accumulating waste. Many sea animals are killed or injured every year by our garbage. Just Google it and you’ll see for yourself. It’s pretty sad, really. Our landfills are also occupying space that many animals may have lived in at some point, before we took over the land and stacked it high with garbage. Saving the animals (and potentially the future of mankind – it’s debatable) is another very important reason to consider going waste free.

Now, on a more “what benefits does this have for me, personally” note, think about what kinds of foods come in packages. Chips, candies, chocolate dipped granola bars, processed foods and many other items of little to no nutritious value. Now, think about what foods you can buy at an organic bulk food store: Nuts, rice, quinoa, vegetables, and fruits, all which are healthy and wholesome. By taking on a waste free challenge, you’ll be forced to change your diet and start eating healthier. By eating healthier, you’ll notice many changes in yourself. You’ll feel more confident. You’ll sleep better. You’ll probably feel more motivated to go to the gym. You’ll be happier. And this is just the beginning of the health benefits that come from going zero waste.

Lastly, I may not be able to make much of a difference on my own, but, if I post about it, maybe I’ll be able to convince a few more people to try going waste free, and a few more may become more conscious of the waste the produce, and for me, that’s more than enough!

How to Rid Yourself Of Your Christmas Debt Before February 1st

Every year is the same. You try to plan for Christmas: Make a budget, by things on sale, be realistic. But it never works out. You start every New Year in the hole. It happens to the best of us – even myself! What matters is that you dig yourself out and fast! Here, I’m going to share with you some of the ways that I pull myself out of Christmas debt (and all other kinds of debt that a shopaholic such as myself gets into…).

1. Figure out EXACTLY how much you went over budget.
What was your budget? – or, let me rephrase that, what should have been your budget? Figure this out first. Then, go through all your receipts from November and December and your bank statements and make sure to include things like that latte you absolutely needed during that crazy boxing day sale, or that sub sandwich you were starving for while shopping for grandma and grandpa’s gifts or that Christmas mani that you couldn’t go without because, what is Christmas without festive nails? All of the above are reasons why you now find yourself in debt. Be prepared because this number is ALWAYS bigger than you expected. Trust me, I’m an expert on overspending.

2. Figure out EXACTLY how much money you will have left over by January 31st after paying your bills.
Anticipate your next pay cheques: How many pay days will you have before the month is up and approximately how much money do you expect to receive on these pay cheques. Be accurate – do not overestimate as this will only hurt you more when you find yourself still in debt and depressed on February 1st. Then, add up ALL your bills. That means food, hydro, rent, heat, water, cable, cell phone, internet, gas and transportation, web subscriptions or memberships, the gym, EVERYTHING. Add it all up – don’t be afraid. This is something you should do every month, anyways. Now, subtract your bills from your expected income. In very rare occasions you may make enough in a month to pay off your Christmas debt. If this is the case, congratulations! However, if you find yourself in debt in the first place, you likely don’t make enough in 30 days to pay it off without making any additional sacrifices. If this is the case, proceed to step 3!

3. Use a jar for your cash.
Any loose change you find in your wallets, pockets, purses, car, dresser, sofa or counter should be thrown into a jar or a container of some sort – like a piggy bank. You’ll be amazed at how much loose change you have laying around the house for those occasions where you just need that morning coffee from Starbucks in order to function. If you have any bills lying around or if you babysit or tutor or do any other freelance work where you might be paid in cash, throw all those bills in the jar as well! Do not keep ANY cash on you, because if you are anything like me, the moment that money touches your wallet it is as good as gone. Control yourself – you can do this. It will be difficult to start this at first because it’s only a few dollars in a jar, BUT, if you keep up this habit for the entire month you will watch that few dollars turn into a few hundred.

4. Sell stuff on Kijiji or Craigslist

I know it sucks to have to sell your stuff to pay your debt but it’s important to shake debt off your s
houlders as early in the year as possible because it’s only going to drag you down. Besides, there must be something in your house that you don’t use anymore. Records, CDs, furniture, seasonal clothing (or really just any clothing), books or textbooks, your old iPod that you haven’t used in years because you got a new one. Take a look around – there’s bound to be something. Post it online and choose the free ad option because, let’s face it, you’re already in debt, let’s not make it any worse than it already is. Don’t be afraid to share this ad on Facebook – people sell stuff all year ‘round, no one is going to assume that you are broke simply because you’re selling your Yoko Ono record in January (tip: if you are planning to sell a Yoko record, just throw it in the trash – no one wants it).

5. Make your lunch and your morning coffee.
Realistically, this is something you should be doing all year around, no matter how much money you make because buying lunch every day is a complete waste of money, but, for the sake of this post, start making your lunch and your coffee to help pay off your debt. Simple things like rice or pasta are easy to make the night before, still taste great when reheated, have enough carbs to keep you going and will save you lots of money. If you don’t already own coffee or a travel mug, go buy one! But make sure it’s on sale! Coffee may seem cheap at the time because it’s only $2.00 for a cup but if you buy one every week day, that’s $40.00 per month when you can buy a tin of coffee grinds for about $10.00 and make coffee for 2-3 months. Do not give in to the temptation to buy your lunch. If all your work friends buy theirs every day and you feel super left out because, surprise, surprise it’s rice again for you, remind yourself that you don’t know what their bank statements look like. For all you know they are in twice as much debt as you and doing nothing about it. Suck it up and make your lunch. Better yet, just make this your resolution because you’ll save enough money this year by making your lunch at home that you’ll be able to backpack through Europe or Asia for a few weeks. Never been more serious in my life.

6. Budget yourself and stick to it.
Make sure you stick to a very strict budget this month. No need for fancy name brand foods, go to your cheapest grocery store and by the no name or house brand products. Buy the cheapest brand of bread on the shelf, the cheapest eggs, the cheapest milk. The cheapest of everything. Make a meal plan for your week, include breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks, list all the ingredients that you will need to buy to stick to this meal plan and only buy what is on the list. No chips, no chocolate bars or gum at the register. Only buy what you need to stick to the meal plan. Remember, pasta and rice are hella cheap. If your debt is outstanding, consider eating less meat and more carbs, as meat tends to be pricy.

7. Pick up extra hours at work or on the side.
If you’re in deep and following all the steps above still won’t dig you out of debt, try asking your manager for a few extra shifts at work. Post an ad online offering babysitting services or tutoring or snow shoveling. Find something that you can do on the side to bring in some extra cash. Maybe some freelance work.

8. If all of the above still don’t help…
Start planning an even stricter budget for February. Consider downgrading your phone plan, unsubscribing from some online memberships. Do you actually use your gym membership? If not, try to get out of it. Cut out some of the luxuries from your life until you can climb out if the hole, such as your morning smoothie, which, although you made yourself, frozen fruit is expensive and so is yogurt. Have a trusted friend or family member keep your credit card from you to keep you from spending more money. Check your online banking religiously and keep track of exactly what is left to pay. And start planning for next Christmas to insure that this doesn’t happen again!

I hope this post helps you rid yourself of your Christmas debt ASAP! If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them! I am not a financial expert; I just spend a lot of money, and as a result, have a lot of experience trying to pull myself out of debt. Enjoy a hopefully debt-free New Year!