Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Summer planning - fun or foe?

As the days get longer and summer approaches, I hope that while we plan our summer days, we also take the time to realize that summer breaks don't have to be the craziest, most wild times of the year. As long as you are doing what you enjoy/need/want to do, summer will be great! As you plan your summer break, don't forget to be realistic - but also don't be afraid to explore new interests, to make new goals, to see new places (or old ones!), and to RELAX!

As the summer is quickly approaching, it is quite exciting to think about all the wonderful things we are planning to do. You may have a list of things that you've put off, and cannot wait to get done. Perhaps you want to go on a vacation, organize your house, plan a weekend trip, read a good book, meet up with old friends, etc.

One important thing that I've learned is that this can get overwhelming if we aren't careful. Last week was like that. Everyone was discussing what they are doing over the summer, and I realized - oh no! I haven't spent nearly as much time on planning as everyone else has!

And that's okay. Because I DO know what I want to do...but I need to organize the details. When I thought about EVERYTHING at once, it was overwhelming. But when I broke things down into steps, it became a lot more manageable. For example, I know that I want to go on vacation somewhere. I'll start thinking about where. I also know that I want to take time to attend some skill conferences that will keep me engaged in patient care and clinical knowledge. I've started looking into upcoming dates for that. Another thing I plan on doing is some art (for fun), simply because I love getting creative! I'll go out shortly and buy a few crafts that I can work on during the summer.

Phew! That made me feel a lot better! Breaking it down into baby steps or tasks made planning SO much easier! I think this is a pitfall we all get into. We have SO much we want to do, and there isn't enough time (or so it seems) to do it all. Then we get overwhelmed. And tired. And frustrated. And stressed. And moody.

But when we SLOW DOWN, we can think straight. We can see that there are priorities. And we can take one step at a time, plan what we want to do, and enjoy our time all the while. One helpful tip as well is to STOP COMPARING yourself to others. Others may have grand plans to tour several countries during the summer, and this might make you feel that your humble 1-week vacation won't be so great. Or, someone might be working on a really great research project, while you are volunteering. REMEMBER: YOU NEED TO DO WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU. Don't compare your plans to others - find what you want to do with your vacation time, and plan it according to YOUR needs, resources, desires, etc. Summer is the time for you to do what YOU want and need!

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Sunshine....and Mood?

You may have heard of something called Season Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition in which the season/seasonal changes can have profound influences on one's mood. Typically, someone with SAD will feel depressed or anxious (or stressed, etc) in the winter, and will improve as spring and summer approach.

Like any condition, it is difficult - if not impossible - to pinpoint just one cause for this condition. However, we DO know that the effects of light are heavily implicated in SAD. Exposure to light therapy seems to improve symptoms, as does the arrival of a bright, sunny day. (If you are interested in learning more, this article has more information). There are even specific lamps that one can buy to stimulate 'light therapy' and help with symptoms.

Let's delve deeper into this. Sometimes, we all feel down when there isn't any sun around. Does this mean we all have SAD? No, of course not! There are specific criteria to diagnose SAD, along with protocols or methods for treatment. But what is really interesting is the actual effects of the weather, in terms of light/sunshine, on mood.

Think about a rainy day: rain is beautiful! It gives flowers and grass the water they need to grow, it cleans the streets, etc. But sometimes, the rain makes us feel groggy, irritated, and tired (perhaps because the lack of light means that we feel its time to sleep...?). There are times when I don't mind the rain, but there are other times when I REALLY hate it and wish there was some sunshine!

Now that we are entering spring-like weather, it is great to see more sunshine, and to feel the warm weather settling in. What a nice change from the unpredictable Canadian winter we have had this year! One resolution I've made to myself is to try to enjoy the sun as much as possible. There is something extremely empowering and motivating about waking up to the sun filling the room. In fact, there are many studies that show that the sun actually stimulates parts of our limbic system, the part of the brain that controls our emotions and mood (again, see the article above for a  start!).

What's the takeaway point? Rain is good. Sunshine is good. But now that the weather is FINALLY starting to become spring-like, let's try to enjoy the sun and all the goodness it has to offer (but don't forget your sunscreen!). Let's try to take advantage of the natural, beautiful light that fuels nature with it's glory. Feel the warmth on your face and embrace the start of a new season. Take time to enjoy these little things - the beauty and power of nature is truly majestic.

Thursday, 31 March 2016


It is that time of the year again - I'm another year older!

It's funny - every year around my birthday, my mind starts taking me through my past. And I begin reflecting on where I have been, and where I am going.

It's been a busy and challenging year! Just when I thought I was done studying, I started again - and I am loving it! That was totally unexpected....and it is a blessing. I am thankful for it.

Then I think back to when I was applying to study again. The long, dreadful process of waiting to see if I was accepted or not. I thought that time would never finish. And yet, somehow, I got through it. And here I am today.

As I celebrate my birthday, I look back to the year behind me. And I realize how much I have grown and changed - in a positive way. I see how each challenge made me into the person I am today. I realize how my outlook on life has changed, too. I am now five years into recovery, and I am enjoying every second of it. Are there still challenges? Yes. But I am more prepared to deal with them. I have a toolbox of skills and strategies to continue helping me along the way. That, dear readers, is what defines maturity and development as we age - not the actual 'number' of our age.

Sometimes, life becomes overwhelming and I don't stop to enjoy the simple things in life. This is really something I want to do more of this year. I want to remind myself that regardless of how tough something may be, I can get through it. It will pass. Just like everything else. It is simply a matter of keeping things into perspective, of realizing that I can get through this - just like I did before. We have to remember that each experience we have shapes us into the people we will be tomorrow. We can learn something from every obstacle that we face, and we can use these experiences to make us wiser, happier individuals. But we also need to allow ourselves to reflect and learn from these situations. And to SLOW DOWN, to keep ourselves well, and to enjoy small things that truly make life a little more pleasurable. When was the last time you opened your eyes on a sunny morning and smiled? When did you last take a deep breath outside, and feel the air expand your lungs? When did you last take a warm bath and relax, letting your brain think of nothing? It is these simple things that truly make us realize that life is worth living - despite all the hardships that we may face.

This year, on my birthday, I am thankful for how far I have come. And I cannot wait to see where life takes me next.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Creativity and Health: Are they Related?

I am not your typical 'creative person'; that is, I am not good at art at all - and that is the honest truth.

When I was young, I struggled with creating pieces of art like all the other kids in my class. Until now, my drawings are not very....well, obvious. Sometimes, I wish I could draw better...

But then again, there are so many different ways we can be creative. First, though, let's start from the beginning: does creativity have anything to do with health? And if so, what does 'creative' actually entail?

This article does a pretty good job of describing how creative arts are related to positive health outcomes. (Interestingly, 'creative' here did not mean one specific thing, such as drawing). The result is that expressing our emotions or ideas through art is related to better health. Why?

I'll start with an example. Last week, I was so frustrated with the amount of work I had to do. I took a break to try to write out my thoughts into a poem...and I felt a little better. Later on that day, I took time to doodle on my phone using a new art app I got. Was it a good drawing? No, not at all. But it was fun. And I felt better after it.

What other ways can you express creativity? Some people are very talented, or enjoy, making music. Some like to sing and dance. Others like to draw, paint, cook, or sculpt. Other ways to be creative include making crafts, organizing things, redecorating, and so on. The point is that 'creativity' really does not mean only one or two activities. To be creative means to be able to think outside the box, to do something new, to create and produce something special - and to have fun doing so.

Expressing ourselves through creative arts can affect our mental health because it allows us to release tension and reduce stress. It takes us out of 'real time' and forces us to concentrate on making something special, new, beautiful, different, or expressive. It can help us express our emotions or thoughts when we cannot find the proper words to do so. It can also give us some time away from the hustle and bustle of life to simply slow down. And as we know very well, mental health affects physical health. The argument can then be made that if you take care of your mental health (and one way to do this is by taking the time to be creative!), you can enhance or protect/promote your physical health. Indeed, there are studies to show that creative arts are related to better health outcomes, including different measures of physical well-being (this is one example of a review of these findings).

So, take time to be creative! Reorganize a room, doodle a random drawing, write a funny poem, make a new recipe, sing a song, compose a sheet of music, make your own jewelry, design your own app - what it is, you'll feel better doing it! And remember not to assess your result or outcome against a standard or compare to others - you are being creative for YOUR well-being and comfort, and not to receive a grade. Have fun, be yourself, express your emotions, and engage (or even discover!) your talents! What will you do today to get some creativity into your life?

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Mental Health and Social Support

 It comes as no surprise to say that we all need support from others, especially during tough times. Think about when you are having a bad day: sometimes all you need is someone to talk to, or someone who can empathize with how you are feeling. At other times, when you are feeling down about yourself, simply knowing that you are loved, that you have a home to go to, etc. makes a huge difference in your ability to cope.

Researchers have now discovered a link between social support levels, mental health, and coping with suicidal or harmful thoughts (read about it here).

Why is this important? What does this add that we didn't already know? Firstly, I think it is wonderful that we have some science to show that social support truly does make a big difference in our lives - and especially mental health. And this makes sense. But it also has further implications for healthcare, treatment, family support, and so on. Imagine what would happen if physicians and healthcare providers spent a little more time supporting their patients and listening to them express their feelings? What about programs where individuals suffering with suicidal tendencies (or any mental health struggle) can openly talk about this and feel supported by others?

On a personal level, we can see how we can use this in our everyday lives. Showing and offering support to others will never go unappreciated. Remember that when someone is struggling or having a tough time, they don't necessarily need advice. What they DO need is someone to listen to them, someone to understand that they are feeling negative or having a hard time. When we feel low, we need to express our emotions and have them validated by others.

The result? Perhaps all our problems will not disappear. Perhaps we will still feel negative or sad or overwhelmed. But, we WILL feel a bit better. We will feel that though this is tough now, we have others around us to help us cope - or at least to offer their love and care to us. It is extremely empowering to feel that we are not alone in our struggles - that others are there for us, and that they care enough about us to show this.

In the end of the day, both offering support and receiving support are some of the best feelings in he world. Giving support to others helps us feel that we are making a difference, and gives us  chance to truly help someone in need. Getting support helps us feel empowered and safe, and gives us a renewed sense of hope that things will get better. It is truly amazing how much of a difference a simple smile, kind gesture, soft word, loving touch, or joke can make. Let's spread the love and support - it is clear that it can have big impacts on our mental health!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Published on NEDIC! Do No Harm

I am blessed to say that my work has again been published on NEDIC's blog. This time, I discuss an article about 'doing no harm' in schools in relation to healthy eating habits (and ultimately, eating disorders). You can read the post here

Interestingly, this issue doesn't just relate to schools. We can see the impact of our actions and words about food/body image in all aspects of our lives. For example, consider the impact of a parent who constantly criticizes his or herself in the mirror - what message does this give the child or teen? Or what about when we are with our colleagues and rant on and on about how much we have ate in one setting - what if one of our co-workers has an eating disorder and you don't know? Or what if someone is struggling with a medical condition (there are many, such as cancer, diabetes, celiac's, etc) and they can't eat 'normally' - and your words hurt them?

The message to take away, then, is that our words and actions have a major influence on others - and in fact, they impact our own well-being too. As a society, we truly need to be aware of how we approach food, how we talk about it, and how we 'deal' with it. Food is sustenance. Our bodies make us strong and healthy. We ought to be cognizant and aware of the messages that we spread (intentionally or not) through our words and actions.

I hope you enjoy this post - it is certainly eye-opening when we consider our own practices and take the time to reflect on what we can do to change our habits and actions. Remember - thoughts, actions, and words all go hand-in-hand and impact one another. If you can change your thoughts, you can change your actions. If you change you words, you can change your thoughts. If you can change your actions, you can change your thoughts...and so on. Consider this - not only in terms of body image and food, but in all areas of your life.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Happy New Year: 2016!

It's amazing how time flies...I cannot believe that we are entering into the year 2016! Happy New Year to all of my friends, family, and readers!

The New Year is a great time to reflect on our blessings, our past year, and our goals. I know this is stated a lot, so I apologize if you're tired of hearing it. But bear with me...because what I am about to say may surprise you a little bit.

I think that welcoming in a new year allows us a time to think back about the past year: what went well, what we struggled with, how we coped with problems, any joys or blessings, any goals accomplished, and more. That is truly an important part of starting a new year, because it helps us learn from our past experiences.

However, one problem that many of us face, myself included, is when we start to think about the upcoming year. We start to think about what we want to change, or new goals we want to achieve. Often, people call these 'resolutions'. Now, don't get me wrong: making goals is IMPORTANT! And what better time to start fresh than a new year?

The issue begins when we get overwhelmed with all the things we want to do in the new year. We start to create lists of things we want to change, goals we want to work on, things we plan on doing, etc. But, we rarely actually make SOLID, ACHIEVABLE, REALISTIC plans on how we are going to accomplish these dreams or goals. And that is where the problem lies. We become so caught up in the idea of making goals (and of course, the media doesn't help with this. It fills our minds with commercials and articles about weight loss resolutions, money-saving ads, new technologies and products that we 'MUST' have, etc...) that we do not stop to think: what am I REALLY doing here? Is this even realistic? Is this important to me, or am I doing this for others/because of what others are saying? Can I really follow this plan, or will I get lazy/tired/frustrated and stop after the first week?

Before this happens to you, here are some things to keep in mind. Personally, I have found it helpful to begin the new year by identifying many things that I want to work on. But then, I prioritize them. I choose the item on my list that is most important to me. For example, this year, I'm going to work on keeping my stress levels down, even when I get overwhelmed by all the craziness around me. This is the number on goal I have chosen to work on first (there are many more, but this is the one I have decided on to be 'number one' for the year).

Next, I've thought about how I am going to achieve this goal. While I know many tips to reduce stress,  I find that (ironically), I forget to use them when I am actually stressed! So, I have tried to list a few ways that I KNOW I can use (ex. deep-breathing, eliminating catastrophic thinking, etc). For this year, I am going to use these tips to work on handling my stress. Once I have a good handle on that, I can continue to add more goals to my list, and work on those too.

Of course, a long-term goal like managing stress will never be 'fully accomplished' because this is a lifelong journey and skill. BUT, I will know and feel when I am ready to move onto other goals because I know that I can assess my current stress levels and compare them with how I am feeling after trying to use more coping techniques. It is important to remember - with ALL goals and changing habits - that these are usually long-term. So please, do not get overwhelmed if it takes you along time to change a pattern of thinking, acting, speaking, etc. DO NOT GIVE UP. A hallmark of maturity and resilience is that you keep pressing towards your goal because you know that it is worth it - regardless of how difficult or impossible it may seem. Usually, the worthwhile goals or habis that you need to change are (ufruantely) the hardest to work on.

But it is worth it. Remember to give yourself a break. There will be times when you may want to give up on your goal or dream. You may make mistakes or feel that you aren't making any progress. And that's okay. We all have times like that. The important part is to pick yourself up and try again. The worst thing you can do is insult yourself and give up. Do not allow yourself to be your worst enemy...on the contrary, be your own number-one cheerleader. And do not be hesitant to ask others for help. Surround yourself with people who love you and care for you, and are willing to support/help you. Do not negativity in - learn to let go of people and things that bring you down. And make sure you take the time to SLOW DOWN. Enjoy the simple pleasures of life, and allow yourself to simply live in moments of happiness and comfort.

From all my heart, I wish you all a Happy New Year. May 2016 bring you the best of times, fond memories and moments, many smiles and laughs, new experiences and learning opportunities, successes and blessings, and love and peace.