Ryerson’s Mood Routes program gets students moving and talking — and have a positive impact on mental health.
It’s day three of the final year of my bachelor’s in journalism, and I’ve cried three times already. Coming back from summer break should have been exciting, but instead it has been stressful. It feels like my peers have got it all figured out — yet I’m feeling just as anxious as I did on my very first day of class back in 2016.
I needed a breather, to ground myself and remember why I can’t give up.
On Sept. 5, I joined a Ryerson Student Affairs initiative called Mood Routes on the front steps of the Student Learning Centre. The initiative started in 2016, in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mood Walks program. According to CMHA’s website, Mood Routes was created to improve one’s state of mind, reduce stress and restore attention by taking walks through green spaces around the city. Just what I needed — to unplug.
As I walked towards the SLC, I saw Deena Shaffer, co-ordinator of student transition and retention, holding up a green sign that read Mood Routes. Shaffer gave everyone a warm and friendly welcome. She handed out emoji cards to all of the participants so we could signal how we felt before the walk. I circled the “sad” and “stressed” emojis on my card.
At noon, 10 of us began our walk towards Sugar Beach, located at the foot of Lower Jarvis Street.
The trek was overwhelming at times with traffic and busy streets. However, I noticed that those in the group were smiling and talking to one another from start to finish. They were present, and even seemed to have forgotten about their smartphones.
Forty minutes later, there it was — Sugar Beach. The blue water and the pink umbrellas, the warm sand and the singing seagulls. As I took a deep breath, I felt complete and utter peacefulness. The sun rays were shining on the lake like dancing stars. I was calm. And for five minutes everything was just fine.
A study published in Psychological Science in 2008 on the cognitive benefits of nature found that subjects who took a nature walk did better on a memory test than the subjects who walked down urban streets. This study suggests that nature helps improve mood, as well as memory functions.
Sarah Williams Hollingshead, a fourth-year early childhood studies student, started going on the Mood Routes in her first year at Ryerson University.
“I find myself able to really gather my thoughts more clearly,” said Hollingshead. “That’s why I found doing these routes prior to an exam or even before doing schoolwork or assignments to be really helpful.”
Mood Routes is meant to be accessible for everyone: students, staff, faculty and alumni. Indoor walks are offered on days that are very hot or very cold. There are about 14 routes, including Allan Gardens, the Cloud Gardens Conservatory, the indoor bamboo garden at University of Toronto’s Terrence Donnelly Centre and many more. The walks last between 60 to 90 minutes and there’s always a midway point for folks to turn back if they have to.
Harshpreet Singh, a second-year business management student, says he was feeling lazy and not as energetic prior to his first Mood Route walk — but that changed.
“I might come on a regular basis,” said Singh. “And even possibly bring another friend and they can enjoy this fun experience themselves.”
According to Statistics Canada, physical activity gives us energy, decreases stress, makes us stronger and prolongs independence as we age. Daily exercise, such as walking, decreases fatigue making it easier to accomplish tasks.
Natalie Pavlovich, a fourth-year psychology student, says Mood Routes is a great way to see her new friends while being physically active.
“I’m feeling better because I’m moving my body,” said Pavlovich. “My body is saying thank you for moving around, rather than just studying and being really stagnant.”
At the end of our walk, we were asked to signal our mood with our emoji cards again.
This time, I answered “content”.