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Five Ways to Make a Difference on World AIDS Day

Five Ways to Make a Difference on World AIDS Day

December 1 marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day.

Since 1988, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) have declared this date a chance to support those currently living with HIV, and to remember those killed by AIDS-related illnesses.

Only identified in 1984, the virus has killed more than 35 million people around the world. Sufferers continue to face stigma and ignorance while battling with one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

A recent survey shared on the World AIDS Day website showed than one in five people with HIV have experienced verbal harassment or threats; a third have had their HIV status disclosed without their consent by someone close to them; one in five were treated differently by their GP; and many reported pressure at work to disclose their status. 18 percent of the respondents also reported suicidal thoughts within the last 12 months, and 17 percent “often” skimped on food due to poverty.

This Saturday, awareness events, celebrations of life and fundraising campaigns will spread information across the globe. The White House will display their annual 28-foot red ribbon to reaffirm a commitment to eradicate AIDS—a goal the UN hopes to achieve by 2030.

Here’s how you can help.

Support a charity 

Whether it’s to support your local community or distribute contraception around the world—donating to a HIV charity, the (RED) Campaign or The Global Fund is the easiest way to help sufferers and foster research. Some great charities, include:

AIDS United—supports over 300 organizations with grants and advocates on behalf of people living with HIV on a local, state, and national level

AmfAR: The Foundation for AIDS Research—one of the world’s most important and ambitious funders of HIV research

Black AIDS Institute—committed to African American communities where the risk of HIV infection and stigmatization are high

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS—raises funds for medications, healthcare, nutritious meals, counseling and emergency financial assistance

Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation—the HIV charity that has made the greatest impact in prevention, treatment, and care of at-risk women and their children in the developed world

Elton John AIDS Foundation—funds programs that others don’t, such as groups fighting HIV criminal laws and activists demanding needle exchange programs in states that ban them

Rock a ribbon

In 1991, 12 artists met in New York at a time when HIV was highly stigmatized and suffering communities were largely hidden. The artists avoided traditional colours associated with the gay community to convey that HIV was relevant to everyone. They chose a red ribbon for boldness, passion, the heart and love.

Now, the red ribbon is a universal symbol of awareness and support for people living with HIV. Show that you refuse to allow stigma to distort disease by distributing or purchasing ribbons and displaying your support.

Raise awareness  

Raising awareness does not have to mean raising money—education is so important for eradicating ignorance, encouraging testing, knowing the symptoms of HIV, and supporting loved ones. Talk casually about HIV, be an active listener, download posters, repost World AIDS Day Twitter and Facebook prompts and share your story if HIV has affected you, or those close to you. The UN’s short documentary, ‘A New Picture of Health’ can also be used to spread awareness. Access it, here.

Raise funds

If you’re keen to raise funds to help sufferers and researchers—bake sales, raffles, car washes, quiz-nights and sponsored runs are all tried-and-tested, fun ways to make a difference. More specifically, organize to wear red at school or at work on World AIDS Day. You can collect donations from everyone who wears red, or get sponsored to sport an outlandish, red-themed outfit all day.

Know your status

According to the UN, 9.4 million people living with HIV don’t know their status. HIV can be transmitted at any time through blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk, so regular checks are crucial for protecting and empowering yourself, as well as other people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that anyone who has unsafe sex or shares drug needles should get tested at least once a year. What better time to begin than on World AIDS Day?

Visit AIDS Vu for geographically specific information and resources for testing.

Further reading: Eight Charities to Support on International Day of the Girl Child

How to Practice Gratitude This Thanksgiving

How to Practice Gratitude This Thanksgiving

It’s time to dig out that gratitude journal from under the bed—you know, the one with the shiny gold foiling that you swore was an investment?

We’ve all been enamored with the idea of being mindful, changing our lives for the better and becoming optimistic members of society. The truth is, this concept is considerably overwhelming—jotting down things you’re grateful for can feel insincere, awkward and like the last thing you’d want to do after a hard day.

If you stick with it though, practicing gratitude can help you to experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, be more compassionate and can strengthen the immune system.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, here’s how to be truly thankful for delicious turkey and much more.

Get real

 It takes 30 days to build a habit—so don’t worry if journaling feels alien at first. Set an initial goal to list five things that you’re grateful for every night, for one week. By acknowledging this target, you’re telling yourself that this is something you’re going to commit to.

At the same time, realizing that building a habit requires dedication will allow you to recognize that sometimes life gets in the way. For example, if you know you’ll be too exhausted to open your journal at night, allocate a few minutes during the day to practice being grateful. If you accidentally skip a day, be grateful that you’ll have even more to be thankful for the day after. 

Practice mindfulness

The physical act of journaling can be powerful, but it is the practice of reflecting on your day and sitting with a feeling of gratitude that will train your brain to feel happier. Being mindful simply means being conscious and aware of yourself and your environment, not that you have to sit in a lotus position with your eyes closed.

Notice when you feel joy during the day, or take a few breaths at your desk to reflect on your emotions. Tracking moments that make you feel grateful as they happen, so that you can write them down later, is a fun way to stay aware and feel better throughout the day. Make it a game to find new things to be thankful for each day, so that your brain is always occupied with finding the positives around you.

Pick up a pen

Did you know that writing things down has psychological benefits such as enabling you to think on a larger scale, learn more, and drastically improve your memory? Luckily, this doesn’t mean that you have to write an essay every night.

The physical act of journaling forces you to consciously think about the words that you’re writing, which helps your brain to recreate feelings of gratitude and happiness. It’s also rewarding to look back and see all the things you’ve had to be grateful for over a period of time.

Don’t try so hard 

Journaling is an indulgent hobby—it’s about communicating with yourself, and this is a good thing. Self-compassion often translates into treating others with kindness.

The actual things you write about aren’t actually too important. You’re the only person experiencing this gratitude (and likely the only person reading your journal, too). Of course, you’re probably extremely grateful for your family and for having a roof over your head, but you don’t have to write those words down every night. Instead, focus on specific incidents that may have provoked small feelings.

If you were grateful for a home-cooked meal, make a note of it. If you were thrilled that it didn’t rain all day, write it down. If your roommate made you a cup of tea because they could tell you were feeling low, try and scribble more than: “I’m grateful for my friends”. When you start searching for small things to be appreciative for in a particularly hard day, it enables you to see each day as a unique, positive experience.

Find gratitude in your mistakes

Difficult situations are often when we need gratitude the most. For example, being grateful that you learned from a situation can help you to forgive yourself. On the other hand, being aware of the power of gratitude can help you to make a conscious effort to resolve a conflict with a friend or to seek out more happiness in your life.

Further reading: Six of the Best Books to Read This Fall

Guide to Grooming

Your Lazy Guide to Grooming

Whether you’re male or female, finding the time and energy to make sure that your hair is lying flat before you leave the house can be a challenge. Unfortunately, pausing Netflix to have a shower every day is necessary for maintaining hygiene, relationships and a sense of self. For all the lazy people out there, this doesn’t mean that you have to spend four hours fussing over your face in the morning. Here’s your lazy guide to grooming.

Girls guide to grooming

  1. Body—Brush your hair before getting in the shower. Use a sulfate-free shampoo on your scalp and a silicone-free conditioner on the ends of your hair. Wash your body after your hair to prevent breakouts. If you have dry skin, use a soap-free cleanser. For oily skin, use a water-based wash that helps unclog pores.
  2. Shave—Shaving should be the last step in the shower. Apply a shaving gel and shave with the grain. Invest in a razor that is designed for pubic hair and for longer lasting hair removal, try cream, an epilator or wax strips.
  3. Face—Makeup wipes are a lazy girl’s best friend but always double cleanse with a simple cleanser. You can skip the toner but invest in a good, light moisturiser (even if your skin is oily) and exfoliate one to two times a week.
  4. Trim—Making the effort to get your eyebrows waxed or threaded will save you time in the mornings. Never pluck above the eyebrow but brush the hairs upwards and trim with scissors.
  5. Hair—Frizz-free beach waves that take five minutes: put slightly damp hair into two braids and blow-dry from above, moving down the braid. Undo and apply a little hair oil for added shine and smoothness.
  6. Smell—Leaving your perfume in the steamy bathroom can affect its smell and applying it to dry skin will diminish its scent faster.

Guys guide to grooming

  1. Body—If you have dry skin, use a soap-free cleanser. For oily skin, look for a water-based wash that helps unclog pores. Use shampoo but do not wash your hair every day, as this will dry it out. Wash your beard with water to soften it before shaving.
  2. Shave—Shaving in the shower is a good idea as the heat will soften your beard and provide a closer shave. Use a pre-shave oil and apply shaving soap with a brush to raise the hairs. Always follow the grain.
  3. Trim—Whatever experiment you’re trying on your beard, commit to keeping it groomed. Remember that there should be a gap between your eyebrows and keep an eye on your nails too. If you’re into it, manscaping is also a thing now.
  4. Face—Choose a simple cleanser and wash your face in the morning and at night. Also invest in a scrub (to exfoliate the hangover off of your face once a week). Never skip the moisturiser if you want to see noticeable improvement to your entire face.
  5. Hair—If your hair is in your eyes, go to the barbers. Style your hair before applying a small amount of product. If you have short or thin hair, use light sprays or a paste for separation. For thicker, longer hair, styling creams and waxes will weigh the hair down and add shine.
  6. Smell—Go easy on the aftershave. A couple of dabs or sprays on the neck or wrists is a good amount.

Further reading: The Fade Hairstyle with Men’s Health Fashion Editor Dan Michel

Dr. Sherry Benton on Mental Health Support at College

Dr. Sherry Benton on Mental Health Support at College

If you’re a college student and you’re struggling with mental health, you’re definitely not alone. College News got advice from an expert.

With a recent research study showing that one in five university students are affected by anxiety or depression, the pressure on campus facilities is high. College News discussed the problem with Dr. Sherry Benton.

Dr. Benton is a psychologist and mental health care administrator with over 22 years of experience. She is also the founder of TAO Connect—a digital platform that functions to make mental health recovery treatments easily accessible.

College News: How can college students reach out about mental health struggles?

Dr. Benton: Most campuses have a counseling center, counseling service or psychological services. Find your campuses service and learn about their programs and services. Typically, they offer a range of options.

CN: What kinds of mental health support facilities should students be looking out for when applying for colleges?

DB: Ideally, campuses should take a campus wide, comprehensive approach—including prevention, resilience training, counseling, groups, bystander education programs and other services. The Jed foundation, “Jed Campus” program works with a campus over a four-year period to insure the campus approach to mental health, substance abuse and suicide, are comprehensive and well-coordinated. Jed Campus designation is an excellent way to insure a campus has taken these issues seriously and thought out the best approaches for them.

CN: What are the most common and the most effective ways to deliver mental health therapy?

DB: Different people have different needs and respond to different approaches. Traditional face-to-face individual psychotherapy is the most common and best known. However, research has shown it is not more effective than group therapy or internet based cognitive behavioral therapy for many common problems. Many people also find self-help or apps effective for them.

CN: Do you think that students do not receive enough mental health help at college?

DB: I think most universities work very hard to meet the need, yet providing psychotherapy is really expensive and often difficult to access everywhere not just in universities. Using effective models such as stepped-care can help campuses to stretch limited resources to provide more help to more students. In stepped-care, students are quickly assessed and then begin with a level of help likely to be helpful. Progress is monitored regularly and students can be moved to more intensive or less intensive levels of help depending on their responses.

CN: How can campuses raise awareness and take a proactive approach to mental health?

DB: Campuses can raise awareness through the following: educational campaigns, resilience training in freshman orientation classes, bystander education programs like Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) or Kognito, education programs through Greek houses, residence halls, athletic departments, clubs and organizations.

CN: Are there exercises that students can practice on their own to help improve their mental state?

DB: Mindfulness meditation is something everyone should do. The many health benefits and mental health benefits would suggest that daily meditation should be as consistent as brushing your teeth. Another option is TAO Connect, which provides students access to its self-help courses whenever they want, without having to make an appointment to see a therapist.

CN: What is TAO Connect?

DB: We are a suite of online tools for mental health screening, assessment, patient education, skill development and progress monitoring. TAO can be used as self-help or with a therapist or case manager. TAO’s materials are interesting and engaging with actors in scenes, animations, interactive exercises and journaling.

CN: How can students take advantage of TAO Connect?

DB: There are 120 colleges in the US and Canada offering TAO’s programs to students either as self-help or through their counseling center. Contact your counseling center to find out if your school subscribes to TAO.

Further reading: You’re Not Alone: Facing Loneliness In College

5 Reasons to Have Houseplants in Your Dorm Room

5 Reasons to Have Houseplants in Your Dorm Room

These low-maintenance houseplants have numerous benefits that every college student should get behind.

Whether you’re green-thumbed or not, gardening is probably the last priority on any college student’s agenda. Actually, it’s probably not on the agenda at all. With such a huge increase in responsibility, starting college can cause our actual priorities to become overtaken by stress, anxiety and loneliness.

Surprisingly, having a houseplant in your living space is scientifically proven to boost productivity, whilst also improving your mood. Plants can even help you to sleep, making them perfect companions for the stretched student. College News tracked down some of the easiest plants to care for, so there’s no excuse for killing your new roomie. Here are five reasons that your new best friends are plants.

  1. They clean the air

Indoor air pollutants are ranked one of the top five environmental risks to public health. Luckily, the evidence that plants clean the air actually comes from NASA. According to NASA, plants are “nature’s life support system” because they absorb some of the particulates from the air and also take in carbon dioxide, which is then processed into oxygen. Beyond this, microorganisms present in the plant’s soil also have a cleaning effect, which boosts your mood.

Our favourite plant to clean the air: Peace Lily

Care level: Easy

  1. They boost productivity

According to a study from Michigan University, being around plants can increase memory retention by up to 20 percent. Studies also showed improvements in both concentration and productivity. Large plants can also apparently absorb, diffract and reflect background noise. By also boosting alertness and reducing mental fatigue, having houseplants can literally make you smarter.

Our favourite plant for productivity: Spider Plant

Care level: Effortless

  1. They make you healthy 

At the Agricultural University of Norway, a study proved that the humidity generated by houseplants decreases dry skin, colds, sore throats, coughs, and the spread of flu viruses. Another study showed that being around plants post-surgery, led to significant improvement in physiologic recovery and lower systolic blood pressure. These benefits also extended to cognitive healing—patients with plants in their rooms experienced lower levels of pain, anxiety and fatigue.

Plants such as Aloe Vera are also medicinal by nature. Aloe can cure burns, ease constipation, aid cavities and ulcers, and has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Keeping one in your kitchen is probably a good idea if your unique gourmet cooking is considered a hazard.

Our favourite medicinal plant: Aloe Vera

Care level: Very easy

  1. They help you sleep

Most plants stop taking in carbon dioxide at night and instead respire like humans. However, some loveable specimens actually do the opposite. These plants are able to improve the air that you breathe during the night, increasing your sleep quality. Fragranced plants such as Lavender are also widely recognised as sleep aids. Lavender has been proven to lower heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels—making it the perfect relaxant for your dorm room.

Our favourite plant for sleep: Snake Plant

Care level: Indestructible

  1. They reduce stress, loneliness and depression

Whilst it has been proven that houseplants reduce stress and anxiety levels, the act of caring for a plant can also better your mental health. Cultivating something has been shown to be calming and can boost self-esteem and feelings of control. It might sound cliché, but having something to water can get you out of bed in the mornings, boost your optimism, and improve your overall wellbeing.

Our favourite plant for mental health: Anthurium

Care level: Pretty easy

Further Reading: You’re Not Alone: Facing Loneliness In College

Playing College Sports: All You Need to Know

There is a wide range of college sports on offer at colleges all over the country, taking part in them is a great way to make friends while keeping fit and healthy in the process.

Opportunities to take up sports at college are plentiful and the US boasts some world-class sporting institutions. In fact, college is often the first stage on the career path of an elite athlete.

Read on to discover the benefits of playing sports at college and how to get involved.

Healthy body, healthy mind

A healthy body can lead to a healthy mind, helping you write essays without procrastinating. And the best way to achieve a healthy body is to take up a sport. Therefore, sports can help your academic performance.

Research published in the International Journal of the History of Sport found that juggling a sporting career with academic studies provides motivation for training and preparation, stimulating athletes intellectually and relieving stress.

But being active and playing sports at college won’t only have a positive impact academically; it will do wonders for your social life, too, because being part of a sports club at college will give you social skills and confidence.

Sports and social life

Sports teams and clubs at colleges often hold weekly social events where you can meet like-minded people and swap stories from the sports field. When you are part of team or club, you feel a sense of inclusion and belonging, which can really boost your self-esteem.

Once you join a sports club at college, you won’t look back. You will cherish the memories you create with your new teammates for the rest of your life. Plus, developing relationships with your teammates presents interesting networking opportunities. When you inevitably attend college reunions later in life, you will always have a good talking point to rekindle old friendships.

Employers like athletes

The skills gained from playing college sports—such as learning to focus, being part of a team and thinking on your feet—not only boost your academic performance but can also help you realise your career aspirations.

Employers look for people with the traits of an athlete: determination, drive and dedication—to name a few. For this reason, playing sports at college could help shape you into a more desirable candidate further down the line.

Always have the next step in mind. After all, you are only at college a limited length of time.

The variety of college sports

Most people imagine a roaring crowd at a football stadium when they picture college sports, but that’s only part of the story. College sports are diverse and cater for all ability levels, so don’t be put off!

Sports you can take up at college include bowling, golf, wrestling, tennis, swimming and even Frisbee. Each college is different, so be sure to check with yours, but all colleges are inclusive and encourage everyone to take part.

College sports: Key facts

Here are the main things you need to know about college sports:

  • Through various sports associations, colleges offer students the chance to compete at the varsity level
  • Some varsity athletes are eligible for sports scholarships
  • Varsity athletes must meet academic targets and requirements to retain their scholarships
  • Every student can take part in college sports—thanks to clubs and intramural leagues
  • All college athletes need strong time management skills to juggle classes and homework with practice and games

What is varsity?

In general, college varsity sports teams:

  • Represent their college
  • Play against teams from other colleges
  • Receive some funding from their athletic department

Sports associations

Several associations oversee varsity-level competition in various sports for men and women at different colleges. Among others, these include the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

The NCAA is the largest and most recognised college sports association. When you watch college sports on TV, you’re usually watching NCAA athletes.

Club and intramural sports

Students who don’t make the varsity teams at college, or those who don’t want the high-intensity of varsity-level, can join clubs and intramural leagues. As a result, millions of college students take part in these teams each year as a way to stay fit and have fun.

Club sports

Run by students, club teams compete against other club teams from different colleges. Students organise everything themselves from booking fixtures to arranging transport and getting uniforms. Teams can be involved in a regional conference and play for a national championship.

Intramural sports

The college sets up intramural leagues to give all students a chance to participate. Teams from the same college play each other.

The range of activities is diverse. You can take part in traditional sports, such as basketball, soccer and softball, but you can also try more unconventional sports like inner-tube water polo, dodgeball and video games.