Reflecting on the Coldest Night of the Year

We walk for those whose days are a battle to house and feed their families, and whose nights are filled with fear and frustration. We walk for those driven from home by violence and abuse. And we walk for people overwhelmed by isolation, guilt and despair. We walk humbly, realizing that anyone can lose their footing and then lose everything else.
— CNOY Website

Together on February 23, members of YYC Campus Ministry took to the sidewalks of Eau Claire and Kensington as part of the Coldest Night of the Year walk in Calgary. Our team of eight walked side-by-side with 290 other people and 90 volunteers to help raise awareness for the issue of homelessness in Calgary. We left our warm and comfortable homes to walk in the cold to declare our concern for people who have no homes and who need to take shelter in the nooks and crannies of Calgary’s streets. We walked because we wanted to show our support for the organizations who are impacting homelessness and food security in Calgary. We walked because we wanted to be part of a bigger movement.

(FB)Coldest Night of the Year_YYC Campus Ministry-8.jpg

As it says on the Coldest Night of the Year website:

“We walk for those whose days are a battle to house and feed their families, and whose nights are filled with fear and frustration. We walk for those driven from home by violence and abuse. And we walk for people overwhelmed by isolation, guilt and despair. We walk humbly, realizing that anyone can lose their footing and then lose everything else.”

(FB)Coldest Night of the Year_YYC Campus Ministry-39.jpg

Our small team was one of many on the night to take to the streets in Calgary. There were four locations across our city, and 129 more across Canada walking all at the same time to help raise awareness of this issue and funds for great organizations. Together we raised over $5,000,000 through over 21,000 walkers and 74,000 donors. In the specific walk we participated in there was over $73,000 raised!

This was such an amazing night to meet great people and see so many organizations making a massive impact. But beyond that, this walk had a huge impact on the lives and perspectives of our team members. The night was cold, especially once the sunset. It got down to -24, but with the wind chill, it felt much colder. We were shivering and moving faster towards our end goal. Five kilometres isn’t a long way to walk, but as the temperature drops around you, your face starts to freeze and your hands start to go numb, you start counting the steps until the finish line.

(FB)Coldest Night of the Year_YYC Campus Ministry-30.jpg

But we had a finish line. Somewhere that was warm and welcoming, and ready to receive us with food, hot drinks and places to sit.

The people this night was in support of, they don’t have that. They don’t always have a place that is warm or welcoming. They may not be able to eat or get a warm drink. And this thought had an impact on our team. As cold as we were, we realized how lucky we are. We could go inside, eat, talk, and then get into our vehicles and go to our warm houses. We didn’t have to worry about where our next meal was coming from or where we were going to sleep tonight.

That realization made the importance of this walk go beyond the money raised for our team. It made the issue of homelessness become real for many of them. Our conversations that night and the next centred on if housing should be a right. What would a ‘Housing First’ initiative look like in Calgary? What solutions are out there? What does homelessness look like in the rest of the world?

Our students were heavily impacted by the walk and by our visit the next day to the Calgary Mustard Seed. We aren’t sure where these conversations are going to lead our students, what impact they may have in their lives. But for now, we are talking and seeing what we can do as a Ministry to help support many of these issues.

(FB)Coldest Night of the Year_YYC Campus Ministry-58.jpg

Little Things to Boost your Mental Health

With Bell Let’s Talk Day occurring recently, this seems like a good time for a conversation about little things you can do in your everyday life to improve your own mental health. Mental health is one of those things that is talked about often today (although still not as often as it should be), but you may be confused about what you can do to improve your own short of going to therapy. And it can be difficult to begin to think about. That’s where this little list comes into play.

None of these tips are intended to deal with large mental health problems, nor are they meant as replacements or alternatives to therapy and proper treatment. These tips are meant as little reminders, boosts, add-ons, or extra pieces that can complement other mental health strategies that you are employing.

Take Care of Your Body

This goes beyond suggestions of ‘exercise more’ (although exercising is an amazing thing to do to help improve your mental health). It’s about taking care of your body as a whole, both with movement and with food. And that can be incredibly difficult as a student. Between time crunches and food budgets, eating right and getting moving can fall off the back-burner and get lost behind the entire stove. That being said, there are some little things that you can do that won’t make a huge dent in your food budget (and may actually save you some money).

  1. Eat often and don’t skip out on meals. Food powers our body, and not eating when your body tells you it needs to is going to lead to being irritable for the day and not thinking as clearly. This opens you up to more negative thinking and negative perceptions of things around you.

  2. Watch the caffeine intake. Students seemingly live off caffeine, drinking multiple cups of coffee and black tea every day. And while it may provide a temporary boost to energy, relying on it and consuming large quantities of it every day can lead to downswings in energy and even contribute to feelings of anxiety. Plus, if you aren’t making it at home, that gets expensive very fast (there’s a reason that Starbucks made $22 billion in sales in 2018).

  3. Just like caffeine, sugar can provide temporary energy boosts, but they last just a short while before you start craving more. Sugar has been shown to be highly addictive and can lead to mood swings and irritability. Watch for feelings of craving sugary food products and if they correlate with low-feeling moods.

  4. Alcohol in small doses can be fine (and in some cases improves) your health. But alcohol dependency or even drinking often can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, sadness, and depression. If you find yourself craving alcohol or drinking daily, it may be time to reach out and talk to someone.

Get Moving!

  1. You don’t have to get moving for very long, just 30 minutes can do all of this:

    1. It helps us cope with stress.

    2. It lowers anxiety.

    3. It lifts our mood.

    4. It boosts our energy.

    5. It helps us feel good about ourselves.

    6. It helps us sleep well.

  2. Getting moving also doesn’t have to be torture! Too often we equate moving with doing something painful. Pick something you enjoy doing that gets you active. And if you don’t know what you enjoy doing, this is your chance to explore all the amazing ways we humans can move!

  3. Here are some other fantastic tips to help you out:

    1. If you pick an activity you enjoy, you are far more likely to keep doing it! Plus, it will help enhance the positive feelings that exercise can give you.

    2. Getting moving with a friend. Not only will you experience the benefits of moving but you will also get to connect with another person. This is very positive for your mental health as well.

    3. The next time you are feeling overwhelmed by tests, anxious, or just down, try getting outside and going for a walk. I know that’s harder in Calgary somedays, but the simple act of walking, the fresh air on your face and the sunshine can alleviate feelings.

Get to Sleep

  1. Sleep has a huge effect on mental health. When we get enough sleep, it is easier to cope with stress, handle problems, concentrate, think positively and remember things. One of the biggest mistakes we see students making is thinking that they can get more done by cutting back on sleep. This is a big mistake, as doing this often will severely affect your ability to process information, deal with situations as they arise, and identify when you are struggling.

  2. Here are some things to try to get better sleep:

    1. Focus on slow, relaxing activities before bed. Things like yoga are great if you want to move a little bit. Reading, sketching, and meditating can all also help your brain to relax and calm down before going to sleep.

    2. Avoid big meals, alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine before bed.

    3. Make sure your room is comfortable for you to sleep in. This varies greatly for many people, so if you aren’t sleeping well try experimenting with different pillows, room temperatures, and even sounds.

    4. Follow a routine. Doing the same things before bed can help signal to your brain and body that it is time to go to sleep. Also, go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time (as much as possible), even on weekends.

Slow Down for a Moment

  1. Student life is busy and that can make it hard to remember to take a second to breathe. But it is incredibly important to slow down every once in a while and maybe even stop for a moment.

  2. Doing this can give you perspective on everything that you are doing and where you are at. It can give you the opportunity to appreciate how far you have come and what you have accomplished. It can also give your brain and body the chance to reenergize and refocus.

  3. Going alongside taking a breath for a moment, is taking some time to be thankful.

  4. Too often, we think about the terrible things around us, dwell on how busy we are and how many bad things have happened but don’t take the time to really stop and look at all that we have to be thankful for. This can be as simple as having a roof over your head or even the opportunity to go to post-secondary (as there are lots of people who never get that chance). This is important because looking at all you have to be thankful for can help improve your mental state and help you to see past negative roadblocks. Often, this will help you refocus on the positives.

Find your Community

Finding a community of people whom you like and trust can be difficult, but immensely rewarding. Humans were built to live in community, but too often much of our work and life are lived in places without much human interaction (digital or otherwise). This is why it can be so important to connect with others, people who understand who you are and people whom you can walk to when need be.

Goals vs Experiences

By Robert Massey, YYCCM Team Member

Let's talk goals vs experiences.

Backpacking off Spray Lakes Road in the Rockies.

Backpacking off Spray Lakes Road in the Rockies.

I'll be honest, goals have never been a driving factor in my life. I've never found them to be encouraging or enlightening or motivating. If I don't finish my goal it doesn't bother me. I understand this is unlike everybody else, but truthfully goals have never driven me. The one enlightening thing they do tell me, however, is the experiences that I want to have and the experiences I want to aim at.

I see goals as the end product of a lot of work. I don't see them as the point of doing a lot of work. Goals don’t drive me because they have no emotional impact. If I set a goal of climbing that mountain and I achieve that goal, to me that means that I have climbed the mountain, stood at the top, looked all around, see the beautiful view, and climbed back down. And when I'm down at the base, then I can stop and say to myself, ‘I've done it I have achieved that goal.’ But what about the experience of having climbed the mountain? Was I so focused on the goal that I forgot to appreciate the experience? Goals are about aiming at the end; experiences are aimed at the feeling of doing something. They are the emotional reason to act.

Think about it this way. You set a goal to make $1,000,000. So you put your head down, you go to work 80 hours a week, you invest well, you save money, and eventually, you have made a million dollars. But how does that million dollars change you? How does accomplishing that goal affect your life? How are you different? While you were making that money have you forgotten to go outside and experience other things that you wanted to do? Were you so focused on achieving that goal - on achieving your million dollars - that you have forgotten what life is really about? What experiences did you sacrifice to get there? And how does your soul feel today?

I had the fantastic experience of sitting in St. Mark’s Square in Venice at midnight shooting awesome photographs.

I had the fantastic experience of sitting in St. Mark’s Square in Venice at midnight shooting awesome photographs.

It's taken me 29 years to figure out the difference between goals and experiences. Goals are based in logic, based on an ending. Experiences are based on emotion, are based on a journey, they are based on how you want to feel.

I don't just want to finish a goal, I want to have the experience along the way. I know to some it sounds like splitting hairs, but to me, they are entirely different mindsets. An entirely different way of going about accomplishing something. I don’t want to look at a goal and not remember the experience of it because I was so focused on the finish.

I want to climb mountains, I want to see K2, I want to scuba dive in what's left of the Great Barrier Reef, I want to hike the Inca Trail, I want to travel across my great and vast country, I want to live in Paris and Rome and London, and I want to see so many of the world's great cities, oceans, forests, mountain ranges, and deserts and people. I want to experience all of this. This is not a checklist of my goals that I want to accomplish. This is not something for me to wave in somebody else's face saying, ‘look at what I've done.’ These are experiences that speak to me. These are things that I want to do for myself, to try and fulfill me and to live a life full of wonder, excitement and adventure.

Shooting on the ocean in Cinque Terre.

Shooting on the ocean in Cinque Terre.

Setting goals is a great place to start, but understanding the emotional context behind that goal is what will truly tell you about yourself. It is also what will help you to achieve those goals. Because it is not finishing that goal that is driving you, it is the expected emotional response behind that goal that is actually driving you.

This is about more than just life is a journey and you have to experience it. Because to me, it goes beyond that. Saying life is a journey is such a generalized idea that there is almost no emotional connection to it. It’s just a thing people say. It is too broad a statement for one person to easily connect to. But understanding what experiences you want to have will provide an emotional connection to your journey through life. This is about the journey. But it is about your journey. It’s about what you want to experience. What you want to experience will drive you through all the difficult and drudgery, through the painful and boring, because you have an emotional connection to something beyond that moment. You understand why you need to run that 5km, it’s so you can see K2 up close.

If I want to climb a mountain, I don't just want to get to the top and back down again. I want to see the trees along the way, I want to feel the wind rush against my face, and I want to smell the freshness of the forest around me. Life is about experiences, not about a collection of goals. It's not about a collection of things you have done and achievements to show to other people. I believe life isn't about showing off to other people. Life is best lived for yourself.