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Wellness week poster
Wellness week ran from Jan. 18 to 22. Image: University of Ottawa/Provided.

The annual event featured numerous online workshops centered around mental health 

The University of Ottawa’s seventh annual Wellness Week concluded on Jan. 22 and featured workshops and activities for students, staff and faculty members alike, as well as several contests. 

The event, which in previous years has been held in-person, was hosted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme for this year’s event was a focus on mental health.

Workshops were offered in either French or English with some bilingual events. The week kicked off with the signing of the Okanagan Charter, a mental health charter dedicated to promoting mental health resources on campus.

Canadian olympian Clara Hughes (speed skating and cycling) opened the conference as a guest speaker. 

Dr. Farah Shroff, a practitioner, researcher and educator at the University of British Columbia’s School of Medicine led a workshop titled “The Journey of the Open Heart: Exploring Self-Compassion.” 

The workshop was centered around the language people often use when speaking about themselves and how individuals can speak more kindly to themselves. 

“Most of us are really hard on ourselves. Our self talk [is] based on the ways in which we think about ourselves, it’s pretty harsh,” Shroff said. 

“In the workshop, we did things like write down three things that you value about yourself, three things you’ve done, one part of your body that you value, just to get the participants to think in a way that is kind.” 

Severina Borisevich, a PhD candidate at the U of O, who is a member of the ‘1 in 5 initiative’ at the university, co-led a workshop entitled “Make the Best of Stress.” The workshop centered around how to identify and manage stress.

“Part of the workshop is debunking the myths about stress, and understanding stress,” said Borisevich. 

“Then there’s a more practical part of the workshop where we do some relaxation exercises, some grounding exercises, and time management exercises.” 

Other events included a presentation about a zero-waste lifestyle, virtual pet therapy and a guided meditation. 

Shroff says that initiatives like Wellness Week are essential for those who attend and work at universities —  especially as more people are dealing with higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression during the pandemic. 

“I think these kinds of events are critical at universities,” she said. 

In addition to not only tackling mental health, Borisevich believes that another benefit of events like Wellness Week is creating a sense of community and combatting loneliness. 

“Just knowing that this is an activity that all students can do, all staff can do, I think brings that sense of community and that sense of not being alone, and particularly in the pandemic, I think that it’s important to not feel alone,” she said. 

While Borisevich and Shroff both agree that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to having better mental health, it is important to explore and figure out what works best for each individual. 

“The only self care routine that’s effective is the one that you will actually do,” said Shroff.