I am grateful every day for the opportunity to serve the Queen’s community as its 20th Principal and Vice-Chancellor. It is a privilege to work alongside some of the most talented and intelligent individuals I’ve ever met, and I am incredibly proud of the students we attract, teach, and graduate. And yet, as wonderful as this position is to hold, there are elements of my work life that are inherently stressful.
I would confidently assume that my counterparts at other post-secondary institutions similarly manage conflicting deadlines and extended work hours while making quality time for family. There is also that underlying feeling – a similar one to when you become a parent – of discomfort that when things are going well, the other shoe might be about to drop. I don’t even believe these stressors are unique to this type of position; they are common ones in many occupations. And yet, they are important for me to identify personally, so that I might manage my physical and mental health in appropriate and proactive ways.
Since arriving at Queen’s, and making the mental health of the Queen’s community a priority, I knew that I would need to set a good example and create some boundaries in my work and home life. This involved challenging myself to maintain, if not improve, my health in a variety of areas. A treadmill and a set of weights await me at home to use on days when I don’t reach 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. Julie and I do our best to watch our intake of high-carb foods and have salads and fresh vegetables as often as possible. I aim to get at least seven hours of sleep each night, and began to incorporate naps into my routine on weekends and when evening events are booked in my calendar. I also set blocks of time in my workday to leave room to deal with pressing issues that come up unexpectedly, so surprises don’t pile on top of my regular obligations.
These changes have not eliminated stressors from my work life, but they have proven that when I take care of my mind and my body, I am better prepared to handle issues appropriately and at my fullest capacity. I believe the same to be true for many of us – including the staff, faculty, and students of Queen’s. And, this is why I’m supportive of an important annual event called Thrive Week.
Thrive began at the University of British Columbia in 2009, when two colleagues decided to create wellbeing programming that included various groups of the university’s community. For its first year, 20 events were organized over one week under the tagline “Health, Community, Commitment.” In just a few years, the idea spread to 100 events at campuses across the country, reaching 35,000 people in 2014 alone. Queen’s adopted Thrive last year with great success.
This year, Queen’s will celebrate Thrive Week from October 31 to November 4, with numerous stress-busting events held across campus each day. You’ll find me at the Kick-Off Booth on Monday morning, and on Wednesday I’m hosting a walk around campus over the lunch hour. Whether you’re feeling stressed out or not, I encourage you to participate in at least one activity; invite your colleagues and classmates to join you.
As a series of events and activities, we could never expect Thrive Week to solve all of the issues related to mental health and its associated stigma that are prevalent in workplaces and on campuses across the country. Together, we must see it as a mindset, and recognize that when our individual health – mental and physical – is respected and cared for, we all benefit.