Holiday Season Stress Busters

Just as we settled into the rhythm of fall, we are now pivoting to the much anticipated and sometimes dreaded holiday season.   

Why are the holidays hard? There are many factors at play: financial stress, work/school deadlines, travel, family obligations/stress, cultural expectations, and even the weather!.

The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for those struggling with mental health issues.  

Here are 7 suggestions to help manage the holiday season 

1.  Delegate!  You do not have to do everything!  Ask family, or friends to bring their favourite food item, or maybe ask a family member to help wrap gifts. People feel happy to contribute some way.

2. Plan ahead. If there is the budget, buy pre-cut veggies, or pre made items to lessen the burden on you if you are hosting a meal.  This can take the stress out of the meal preparation, and help you spend more time enjoying the delicious outcome.

3. Self care:  Do you have a routine or activity that makes you happy? Continue to engage in such self care routines as exercise, taking a bath, reading, talking to friends/family, or watching a great show.  These are healthy and vital to your mental health and well being.

4. Budget. The holiday season has long been equated with presents, and gifts. Everywhere you look, there is something “on sale”.  It is ok to let people know that you have a smaller budget this year. You can also gift others differently (cookie exchange, spend time together, drive around town and see the cool decorations).

6. Be selective! It is ok to say NO to spending time with people who do not help your mental health. You can also take a break from a party or gathering if you are feeling overwhelmed.  

7. Grief:  Holidays amplify the feeling of grief. Expect that things are different without the loved one. If you need to take some time away from gatherings, do it. Try not to completely isolate. Reach out to people that you trust.  Talking about the loved one to others can be helpful.  Maybe you know someone who has lost a loved one? Calling or sending a text to let them know you are thinking of them can be very helpful. Self care is especially helpful during this time.

Everyone has their unique reactions and experiences during this season.  We wish everyone a smooth and peaceful holiday season and look forward to serving you in the New year.  

To learn about our programs and services go to: https://wholeheartmentalhealth.com/services/

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Children, Family, Teens

Autumn Transitions

As life moves on its pendulum, days can feel long—laundry, child/niece/nephew care, elder care, meal preparation, car pool, homework, and financials; but the years are short—in the blink of an eye, kids are older, we are older, the life we curated has changed and the decades have flown by. Like the seasons of the year, there are some predictable patterns in life: autumn heralds cooler weather, and vivid colours emerge from the leaves. While some renew familiar activities  others are entering a brand new phase—the kids may be leaving home for post-secondary education or even a career pivot.

Many of our life transitions ignite mixed emotions: there is excited anticipation and celebration, but also, a feeling of grief and loss.

Dropping your child at a university dorm for the first time, is one life transition that brings with it powerful and mixed emotions. There is pride in the child’s achievement, but a sense of sadness, as they face an “empty nest” and questions about their role, purpose and direction. 

Tips for Transition:

1. Look ahead. Try to anticipate some of the challenges that will come with your next life transition.  Most transitions that are hard also have an upside.  Perhaps you will have time for things you haven’t done in years or have always wanted to do if only you had time.

2. Be gentle with yourself and honour your complicated feelings.  Letting go of one era and embracing the next takes time.  You are not alone in experiencing an array of emotions. 

3. Reconnect with old friends. You may find a community of people experiencing a similar situation.

4. Use this time to put yourself first. Set goals that will bring you fulfilment.  If you are in a relationship, talk about the possibilities you have as a couple moving forward.

5. Consider meeting with a counsellor or therapist. Talking through your feelings can help you process your emotions, gain insight and move forward through a transition more quickly and in a way that understands and validates your unique experience.

The team at Whole Heart are here to help support adults, teens, children and families both in-person and virtually .  To learn about our programs and services go to: https://wholeheartmentalhealth.com/services/

Written by Cathryn Cooper, RSW, MSW, Clinician at Whole Heart Mental Health and Wellness

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Behavioural, Children, Family, Teens

Easing the Way Back To School

Just as we settled into the rhythm of summer, it seems we are now having to pivot to the approach of fall and back-to-school.  This is a transitional time, which can be significant for families, moving from a pace that may feel more relaxed and carefree to one that requires more structure with the starts of school.

Here are five suggestions to help families adjust from summer break to back-to-school:

1. Establish Consistent Routines: Routines provide a sense of stability and predictability, which can help reduce anxiety and stress for both children and adults. Getting onto a consistent schedule can help regulate sleep patterns, which can promote a smoother transition back to school. Start working on getting to bed 1-2 hours earlier than during the summer months, every day. Work on getting up 1-2 hours earlier. Work on sleep hygiene, by encouraging screen time limits 1-2 hours prior to the desired bedtime. Sleep requires a period of relaxation and the absence of screens to help the natural sleep-inducing melatonin to rise.

2. Visit the School Ahead of Time: Along with excitement, as they will be seeing their friends after a break for the summer, for some kids, the start of school can be very stressful. New grades, new classes, new classmates and maybe a new school can trigger intense emotions.  Remind your child that the first day is often the hardest, but every day, with continued attendance, those feelings will become more manageable. Visiting school before the first day may be an effective way to help children become familiar with their surroundings (drive past the school, visit the playground, meet the teachers, or school staff or kids in the school if possible). Participate in any activities that may be offered at the school (such as a BBQ for new or returning families). If your child is school avoidant, you may wish to speak to the school staff (guidance counsellor or principal) to work on strategies to help alleviate the anxiety.

3. Create a Positive Back-to-School Tradition: Have some fun! Establishing a special tradition, like a family breakfast or lunch prep routine or placing special notes in their lunchbox, adds a positive aspect to the back-to-school experience. This creates a sense of connection and excitement, helping to ease potential apprehensions.

4. Engage in Seasonal Activities: Planning ahead for fall-themed activities, such as apple picking, pumpkin carving, or nature walks, promotes quality family time and a positive connection to the changing season. Creating enjoyable traditions can help foster positive anticipation for the season ahead.

5. Practice Self-Care as a Family:Prioritizing self-care activities like relaxation exercises, mindfulness, or outdoor adventures can enhance the family’s overall well-being. Self-care promotes stress reduction, emotional regulation, and a shared sense of rejuvenation during the transition.

Everyone has their own unique reaction to going back to school, and it’s important to provide individualized support based on their personality and needs. These strategies can help create a smoother transition and promote a positive attitude towards the upcoming school year.

We wish everyone a positive start to the new school year and hope that you all had an enjoyable summer. 

The team at Whole Heart is dedicated to helping families live better lives. To learn about our programs and services go to: https://wholeheartmentalhealth.com/services/

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Children, Family, Stress, Teens

Navigating Seasonal Transitions

Navigating Seasonal Transitions

Spring is the season of change!  For school age kids and youth, the end of the school year is fast approaching, bringing with it, exams, graduation, travel, camp or work.  Along with some excitement, there may also be anxiety and stress. 

The anticipation of summer heralds for some a much-welcomed break from the usual stressors but can be overwhelming as well.

Here are 5 tips for making your way through this time: 

Celebrate: Celebrate milestones! Some people are writing exams for the first time. Others may be finally having an in-person graduation! Acknowledge any achievement, no matter how small.

Create routine: The routine of summer will likely look different than during the school year, and this is ok. The structure has to work for the family as a whole. This routine will vary according to the needs of the family. For some, having a regular sleep wake cycle, and programs, will be necessary, and for others, having some flexibility may be more important. Whatever that is, discussing this in advance, especially with your teenagers, can be helpful so that everyone is aware of expectations. If you are finding that the lack of routine is too stressful, then you can pivot. Alternatively, if the structure is too rigid, then another plan may be more helpful.

Communicate: Transitions can be tough!. Losing the “distraction” of school may allow baseline anxiety to surface. If your child or youth seems anxious with the transition to summer, acknowledge this and offer support. You can ask “I notice that you seem stressed, is there anything I can do to help?” This may be temporary but if you are concerned, you can always consult the support of a mental health team member.

Curate ideas: When making summer plans, give your children age-appropriate opportunities to weigh in. This may be the perfect time to visit the museum, art gallery, local parks, splash pads, family, friends, the zoo, travel within your budget, local festivals, or restaurants. Whatever your budget, there is always something fun to do in the city!

Care: Be kind to yourself and your child/youth. The transition period may take some time to figure out. It is ok to not have everything figured out all the time or at once. 

We wish you and your family a wonderful transition to the summer months.

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Mental Health

Canadian Mental Health Week

Canadian Mental Health Week occurs annually during the first week of May. Organized by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), it is a week dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and reducing the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.

“Mental health” is our psychological and emotional well-being; the thoughts and feelings we experience and how we handle the ups and downs of life. We will all have times of good or poor mental health. Taking care of our mental health is important, and Canadian Mental Health Week is a great opportunity to focus on our mental well-being.

Here are four important aspects to achieving and maintaining good mental health:

  1. Communication: There are many reasons why people do not talk about mental health. Sharing your own experiences can be cathartic, help others know they are not alone and also help reduce stigma.
  2. Connection:  Research has shown that human connection plays a big role in supporting positive mental health. Connections can be social, community-based (i.e., programs) or through therapeutic support.
  3. Education: Knowledge is power! Getting accurate information from legitimate, verifiable, professional resources can help you better understand what you or others might be experiencing. For some great resources you can trust, check out the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website and Whole Heart’s list of some useful links.
  4. Self-care:  Some forms of self-care include taking part in regular exercise, eating nourishing foods, regular sleep, mindfulness and meditation, getting together with friends and family, reading a book, cooking, baking or spending time in nature.

Achieving better mental health is a journey and Canadian Mental Health Week is a great reminder to take the steps that support mental health.

The team at Whole Heart are here to help support adults, teens, children and families both in-person and virtually To learn about our programs and services go to: https://wholeheartmentalhealth.com/services/


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Anxiety, Mental Health, Stress

Spotlight on Stress

April is Stress Awareness Month. Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to raise awareness of the causes and cures for modern-day stress.

Stress is a physical and psychological reaction to perceived challenges or threats and part of our natural “fight or flight” response.  We all have it!

Sometimes a little stress or anxiety can be helpful:  it can motivate us to take action, to achieve our goals, to grow and learn. It’s the stress we feel when starting a new job, preparing for a marathon, undertaking new studies, or planning celebrations for a big life event.

There is also stress that comes with traumatic events or ongoing challenges in our personal or professional lives. Examples can include dealing with chronic health problems – either your own or a family member, losing a job, financial difficulties or going through a divorce.

Chronic or excessive stress can cause high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease, anxiety and depression and negatively impact our overall quality of life. This kind of stress can leave us feeling unwell and susceptible to serious health impacts.

Here are some tips for stress management from the team at Whole Heart:


Go for a walk

Physical activity not only provides a healthy distraction from stressful thoughts, it improves mood and overall health. Exercise not only reduces the levels of the stress hormones in the body, it releases natural chemicals in the brain that promote feelings of well-being.

Practice mindfulness or other forms of meditation

Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to reduce our stress response by helping us train our awareness away from stress-inducing thoughts. We can learn to focus on the present moment, rather than fixating on the worries that come from thoughts related to past events that we can’t change or future possibilities that we can’t predict or control. Mindfulness and meditation also provide awareness of our response to stress in real time, so that we can start to develop strategies to create calmness in the body and mind even when the situations may be challenging.

 Eat nourishing foods

There’s a strong relationship between food and stress; from what we crave to how it can make us feel. It’s important to have foods that you enjoy and that provide comfort.  There are also foods that can provide important support for your immune system when coping with stressful events. A nutritionist can provide you with helpful guidance.

Cultivate enjoyable hobbies and activities

Having interests that provide a healthy distraction away from sources of stress is important.

Hobbies don’t have to be complicated or expensive. Turn on some music and dance, read a book, colour or create crafts, cook or bake or go for a bike ride or shoot some hoops. Hobbies and activities not only divert your attention away from stress, they often combine other stress management techniques – such as physical activity and time spent with friends and family.

Connect with friends and family

Sometimes when we are “stressed out” we move away from seeing and speaking to friends and family because we feel we are too busy or that we are physically or emotionally exhausted. Leaning on a supportive network is important to keep your mood up and prevent you from feeling isolated. Call a friend, go out with friends or family for a meal. Give yourself a break and get the support and boost that comes from talking to and being with loved ones.

Identify challenges to prioritization

If you’re feeling stress due to constant competing tasks it may be an opportunity to review how you manage your time or prioritize. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking into skills training – for example, Whole Heart runs a study skills group to help students prepare for exams, which includes time management and prioritization skills. Other times, the inability to manage time or prioritize can be tied to a condition like ADHD. If you or a member of your family is experiencing chronic stress tied to time management or prioritization you may want to seek out a consultation from a mental health professional.

Get a good night’s sleep

When we are dealing with stressful periods, we may be getting less sleep at a time when we actually need more and better-quality sleep. The quality of sleep we get impacts our physical, mental and emotional states. Look to relaxation and meditation to help prepare you for sleep. Limit screen use before bed, avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and ensure your sleep space is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. Recognize that you can function better if you are well-rested.

Seek support from a mental health professional when needed

If you feel that you need more help, don’t hesitate to contact us at Whole Heart Mental Health and Wellness. Not sure where to begin? Reach out and let us help guide and support you: https://wholeheartmentalhealth.com/contact/

Stress Awareness Month is an important reminder about the impact of stress on our lives and the importance of learning effective strategies for managing stress so that we can improve our well-being and prevent the negative health consequences of bad stress.

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Family, Teens

March to your own Break

March Break can be a challenging time for families, and it can also provide opportunities for positive experiences and benefits for mental health.

The team at Whole Heart has compiled a list of March Break stresses along with practical ideas to help adults, teens and young children get the most out of this time:

1. Social: March Break means kids are away from school – which means they’re also away from their friends and this loss of daily connection can cause them stress. Parents may see March Break as time to spend time with their kids – those same kids that want to spend time with their friends – and these differing expectations can cause stress for both parents and kids. Especially after the experience of pandemic lockdowns, being home together for extended periods of time may also cause stress for the entire family.

How to remedy this challenge? This is a time to discuss feelings and set reasonable expectations. Kids can have designated time for plans with friends, and can also be expected to spend time at home for meals and/or taking part in some family activities.

2. Structure: Generally speaking, young kids, teens and parents all benefit from having structure in their day. During the school week, there is an established routine and everyone in the family knows more or less what is expected of them. March Break can mean a welcome respite from the daily rush and jam-packed schedules, but the lack of structure can cause its own stress. Additionally, addressing schedules among parents who are not living together can further complicate matters and increase stress levels.

This is a time to create some expected structure within the schedule for the week by planning special activities while also keeping bed times and wake up times reasonably aligned with what is otherwise the norm. Remaining somewhat flexible is also important as you navigate this temporary period of a different routine.

3. Financial: Not everyone can afford a vacation and some parents cannot take time off work. Activities or childcare may be needed. At-home and low-cost or free activities can be found in most communities during March Break. You can also look to connect with friends, family and neighbours to arrange playdates or visits that will support the need for social engagement and supervision.

4. Transition: Going back to school after time off can bring a rise of anxiety and resistance from kids as routines get back into place. Re-establishing the pre-March Break routine a few days in advance can help smooth the transition for everyone. That said, parents should expect it will take a few days of being back at school before the regular routine fully gets back on track.

To help ensure your March Break is a positive experience for the whole family, consider having a discussion about everyone’s expectations during the week. This can help you plan your time and activities in a way that achieves compromise and creates something for everyone.

However your family approaches March Break, know that one size does not fit all – your family and their needs are unique and there are many ways to make this time as supportive and positive for everyone as possible.

The team at Whole Heart are here to help support adults, teens, children and families both in-person and virtually as you navigate this time and beyond.

To learn about our programs and services go to: https://wholeheartmentalhealth.com/services/


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Couples, Family, Mental Health, Wellness

Short Month, Deep Feelings

We all know the seasons can play a significant role in how we feel, and each season can serve up its own emotional and mental health challenges.

We are in the middle of navigating the cold temperatures and darkness of winter and February is just around the corner. It may be the shortest month of the year, but it’s long on complicated feelings as it serves up both Valentine’s Day and Family Day – two holidays focused on relationships, the expression of feelings and the expectation of quality time. For many people these concepts may be complicated.

Valentine’s Day has long been touted as a day to celebrate romantic love. The day can conjure stress and anxiety for a variety of reasons:

For those in relationships, they may feel pressured to show love and appreciation in ways that could require immense creativity, significant expense, or extreme gestures needing resources or abilities that are not available to them.

Expectations around having or creating the perfect Valentine’s Day experience and the fear or reality of those expectations not being met can trigger feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt. For those struggling in their relationships, the holiday can also magnify their difficulties at a time when love, romance and relationships are unrealistically idealized.

Those who are single or struggling with a recent break up or the death of a partner may experience greater feelings of loneliness and loss as the holiday shines a light on relationships.

The Family Day holiday can also be a difficult reminder of loss or of the distance between loved ones. For those who have difficult relationships with family members, the day can create anxiety and stress, especially if there are expectations to spend time together.

For those who are estranged from their families or have had a challenging upbringing, Family Day can remind them of their difficulties and the emotional pain they have experienced.

Here are 6 things you can do to make Valentine’s Day or Family Day less emotionally and mentally challenging:

Make it your own

While Valentine’s Day and Family Day both ask us to show appreciation and connection with those we love, it is important to recognize that on the other 363 days of the year, we express our feelings or relate to people in our lives in ways that are unique to our relationships. You can choose to redefine how you acknowledge these days and create your own traditions that feel authentic for you. This can include connecting with people who are your chosen family members or for whom you feel gratitude and affection or perhaps redefining the days entirely by volunteering to help others in need in ways that make them feel supported and cared for.

Shift your perspective

Let go of the tendency to wish things were different than they are. Focus instead on the people and experiences for which you are grateful.

Keep it simple

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about expensive gifts or extravagant plans and Family Day does not require elaborate gatherings and activities. Spend time together, cook a meal, watch TV, play a game, get outside, opt for homemade cards. Keep it simple and focus on the connection you share and taking the time to appreciate the relationships that matter to you in ways that are meaningful for you.

Love yourself

If either holiday conjures difficult feelings or memories consider making the days about doing something that brings you joy, celebrates your journey and allows you to feel good or supported in your feelings. Consider a loving-kindness meditation, a walk in nature or a fun activity.

Take a social media break

Social media content will reinforce idealized versions of these holidays. Try to limit your time scrolling through content that will leave you comparing your situation with curated images.

Seek help

If you are struggling emotionally or mentally, make an appointment with a professional therapist. They can help you navigate these holidays by providing support and guidance.

The team at Whole Heart are here to help support adults, teens, children and families both in-person and virtually as you navigate this time and beyond.

To learn about our programs and services go to: https://wholeheartmentalhealth.com/services/



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Family, Mental Health, Wellness

In Support of a Kinder New Year

January is a month filled with optimism. It’s also a month filled with inherent challenges that can cause us to feel pressure, disappointment and failure if we get too caught up in the idea of it being “a new year” and with it, significant changes and differences in areas of our lives that we are navigating.

What makes January a difficult month? A number of things:

  • The holidays are behind us: Connecting with people and celebrating the season has passed and there can be a sense of loneliness.
  • The darkness of winter: Our waking hours are filled with shorter, colder days and less hours of sunlight can lower our moods.
  • Work stress: Getting back into the post-holiday routine can mean playing catch up from vacation time or starting a new fiscal quarter with pressures to meet or exceed quotas.
  • School pressures: Post-secondary students may be feeling stress or anxiety around beginning new courses with new instructors, new schedules and new expectations.
  • Financial challenges: As January credit card statements come in from holiday or vacation spending, financial pressures can increase.
  • New Year’s resolutions: While many people make New Year’s resolutions, they may involve unrealistic goals or focus on negative behaviours or judgements about ourselves. This creates pressure and fear of failure.

Yes, it is a new calendar year, but how much meaning we choose to give that can make a big difference in our experience of this inherently challenging month.

Here are some things you can do to help create a kinder, gentler new year for yourself and your loved ones:

  • Set realistic goals: Ditch the big, sweeping resolutions. Set small, achievable goals based on manageable plans. That way you have clear steps and can feel a sense of accomplishment with your progress rather than focusing only on a final goal.
  • Practice self-care: Regular exercise, nutritious foods, adequate sleep, and activities that reduce stress and boost your mood, such as meditation, or spending time in nature are essential. These activities don’t have to be tied to specific goals, but are actions you can take to promote health and well-being, which are foundational to everything else.
  • Seek support: If you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling get help from a mental health professional.

There are many factors that can contribute to feelings of difficulty or stress during the month of January. Recognizing the challenges can be an important first step in creating a kinder and gentler month for you and those you love.

The team at Whole Heart are here to help support adults, teens, children and families both in-person and virtually as you navigate this time and beyond.

To learn about our programs and services go to: https://wholeheartmentalhealth.com/services/


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Anxiety, Behavioural, Family

Navigating Food and Festivities this Holiday Season

The holidays are meant to be a time of enjoyment and celebration that is generally also filled with traditional and festive foods. These joyous occasions can also cause stress and anxiety when it comes to navigating relationships with food, especially if you or your teen are recovering from an eating disorder. Setting goals and creating a strong framework to approach this time of year can be the best preparation for the weeks ahead.

Whole Heart offers these tips:

Shift the focus away from a food focused holiday and redirect your attention to your loved ones. As much as there may be an emphasis on what we eat when we are together, focus instead on ensuring you connect in some meaningful way with each of your family members and friends.

Stay present and do your best to not get stuck on negative thoughts. Trying a grounding exercise by actively shifting your attention to your other senses instead. You can focus on feelings of gratitude within the moment and feel joy this holiday season by actively noticing the people and experiences for which you are grateful.

Have support from a friend, family member or healthcare provider with whom you can check-in to help you navigate difficult situations. Knowing there is someone to support you can be a very powerful reassurance as you embark on the holidays.

Set boundaries by discussing your holiday expectations with those who you may be spending time. If friends or family know that you are recovering or may be struggling, talk to them about your concerns and identify strategies that they can help support through their actions.

Decrease body and diet talk by practicing ways to redirect the conversation and if need be, simply saying “I don’t want to talk about this.” and changing the subject. Aim to give others compliments that are not related to appearance to inspire them to do the same.

Keep your concentration on your plate, limiting comparisons. Everyone has different needs, and it is important to honour what works best for you and your recovery.

When it comes to food there are no good foods or bad foods, especially during the holidays. Remember that nourishing your body is the ultimate form of self-care and giving yourself permission to enjoy your favourite festive foods without fear is part of that. Mindful eating – taking your time and involving all your senses – can be helpful as well.

Try to be flexible when possible and allow for changes. While you may be following a particular plan, give yourself the flexibility to allow for unexpected changes. This will help you move through challenging situations.

Try not to over commit. There can be so many people to see and places to be. Choose the events that you feel most comfortable attending. Try to plan for these events by asking a friend for support or giving yourself an exit strategy if things become overwhelming. This is a time for relaxation and renewal, so ensure you are attending events that help you fulfill those needs and allow yourself to decline those that won’t.

The team at Whole Heart wishes you and yours the very best this holiday season. For support navigating dietary needs, contact Whole Heart’s Registered Nutrition Consultant Practitioner.


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