Anxiety, Family, Mental Health, Wellness

The Stresses of December

December is upon us. The move towards the end of the year can be exciting at times, but can also be a major source of stress.

The team at Whole Heart has identified some common stressors along with some helpful tips for coping:


Many students have not yet had the experience of writing in-person exams due to the pandemic. Preparing for closed book/in-person exams for the first time can feel overwhelming and cause stress. To help alleviate stress, having a plan that involves proven memory and learning strategies, good organization, and a schedule that includes breaks and adequate sleep and nutrition is key.

A supportive study group can also help. Whole Heart’s December Study Skills Group (beginning December 6) is designed to help students acquire the strategies and skills needed to feel ready for their in-person exams.

Holiday Gatherings

Social situations can make people anxious at any time, and the holidays can add a new layer!

How to cope? Try to shift focus from how things “should be” to how they are. Before the event: think about the things you have liked in the past when you see friends or family.

People tend to focus on what could go wrong, but what about the things that have gone well?

In the event: Use your five senses to calm a busy mind and shift focus into the present moment and stay grounded. Notice things you can hear, things you can taste, things you can smell, things you can touch, things you can see.

Take breaks from a crowded room if and when you feel it’s needed.

If you’re hosting a gathering, keep it simple; invite guests to take part by planning a pot luck.

Year-end at work

You may be counting down the days until your office closes for a holiday, but for many people calendar year-end is their busiest time of year. Getting to the holidays may feel exhausting as the pressure mounts to deliver on quotas or reports, meet the seasonal rush or wrap up projects.

This is an important time to practice self-care. Get sleep, limit caffeine and alcohol, shut screen time off well before bed, eat nourishing foods and get outside or exercise!

Prioritize the work that must be done before end of year and where possible, delegate, partner or look to your supervisor to help identify alternative strategies to manage what’s on your plate.

Set up your out of office auto response early, to let others know that you will follow up with any non-urgent needs in the new year.

Keep this time feeling more manageable by creating lists of what must be done and setting smaller goals among the large ones so that you can see your movement forward.

 Family Vacation

Some of you are staying home, and others may travel during the holidays. Travelling with anxious kids can be a challenge. Moving from structured to more unstructured time can be especially stressful for those children who function best with consistent routines.

Meditation and mindfulness during these moments can also help you feel more in control. Whole Heart offers drop-in meditation classes for relaxation and an Introduction to Mindfulness for Teens.

This may be a time where some flexibility with screen time can be helpful.

For example, new guidance from the Canadian Paediatric Society encourages parents to prioritize educational, interactive and age-appropriate screen time – a move away from previous recommendations that set a strict limit.

Remember that the shifts and changes that come out of breaking routine are temporary! Focus on the larger goal of spending time, building memories and enjoying being together.


Gift giving and gatherings can create new or added financial strain and it’s hard for some people to say “no” to participating in gift exchanges or other festive expenses. This year especially, Canadians are feeling the pressure of rising costs and recent news reports indicate consumers plan to spend less this season.

Alleviate stress by asking for or setting budget limits, or getting creative with handmade gifts, re-gifting or pot-lucks where possible.

Reflecting Back and Projecting Forward

It’s normal and natural to reflect back as we close out the year – and some people participate in making resolutions for the year ahead; the thoughts and feelings associated with both of these actions can impact your mental health.

Try to focus on and stay grounded in the present. Notice your breathing, notice your senses. You can also identify things for which you are grateful and focus on the feeling of gratitude.

Ultimately the stresses of the season may be with us, but remember that you have made it through another year and faced challenges successfully, learned and grown. Take a moment to be proud of yourself or tell your child or teen that you’re proud of them as well!

The team at Whole Heart wishes you and your family the very best this holiday season. To learn about our programs and services go to:

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Family, Mental Health, Wellness

Navigating Daylight Savings

November 6 marks the end of Daylight Savings, when we “fall back” – setting our clocks an hour earlier so that we gain daylight earlier in the morning.

While the sunrise may come earlier, the sunset does as well, as our waking hours in the months ahead are filled with shorter, colder days.

Daylight savings changes can create a challenging transition; from disrupted sleep at the outset to lowering our moods as the fall and winter draw on and we experience less hours of sunlight. Additionally, the darkness and colder temperatures may see us spend less time outdoors and become more sedentary – and sunlight and exercise are both known mood boosters.

So how can you ease the transition on November 6 and in the weeks and months ahead?

The team at Whole Heart offers these tips:


Getting an adequate amount of sleep every night is key and that starts with building habits to support that. While the clocks falling back might make us feel we’ve gained an hour and can stay up later, it’s best to go to bed at your usual time – which really becomes an hour earlier, to help your body adjust to the time change. Begin winding down earlier in the day, avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol, and limit your screen use before bed. You can also check out our virtual Pre-bedtime Meditation for Relaxation classes.

Healthy Diet

Food can affect the development, prevention, and management of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders. Food can fuel us or leave us sluggish as well. Alcohol, spicy, high fat and high protein foods that are consumed too close to bedtime can all negatively impact sleep. Complex carbohydrates however don’t take long to digest and trigger our bodies to release serotonin which helps us feel sleepy. Whole Heart’s nutritionist can help you learn ways to achieve healthy eating that’s right for you.

Time in Nature

Try to get outside in the morning to make up for the loss of sunlight after school or work. Sunlight is a mood booster and studies have also shown that time in nature can help improve mood and reduce stress. Our Virtual Guided Walking Meditation Class is an opportunity to get active and get outside while experiencing the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.


At a time of year when we tend to become more insular and introspective, learning to observe our thoughts without getting carried away in them is an important skill. Mindfulness can help us to calm our minds, gain clarity around difficulties and more easily identify moments of gratitude. All-important qualities when we may be struggling with our want for warmer temperatures and sunlight. Whole Heart also offer an Introduction to Mindfulness for Teens.

Active Lifestyle

Research confirms that regular exercise positively effects mood. Aim to have 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. If you find the colder temperature or darkness create challenges for outdoor exercise, get moving inside. There are many live virtual classes and instructional videos available online for all levels of ability.

Attempting to adjust to the change in time and season, but you or someone in your life is struggling with their mental health? Seek professional help. The team at Whole Heart are here to help support adults, teens, children and families both in-person and virtually.

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


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Family, Wellness

“Back to school”

“Back to school” for the whole family

September is just around the corner. It may seem like it was just yesterday that you were getting adjusted to a new summer routine and now it’s already time to readjust for fall.

Preparing the whole family for the start of a new school year doesn’t have to mean flipping a switch and completely changing everything. There are some things you can do to ease into the transition over the next couple of weeks. There are also some things you can do to decrease parental stress levels while the family heads into what is likely a more structured time; these involve continuing some practices that may have made summer feel more relaxed for everyone. Ultimately, getting into a rhythm for a new daily routine means ensuring important supports, making helpful connections and beginning the activities and interactions that help ease the transition. Here are a few top tips from the team at Whole Heart to get your September started on the right foot:

Support opportunities

Before the first day of class, ensure your child is connected to the supports/resources they need at school. Reach out to make contact, check in on programs and services and proactively arrange a call to discuss any specific needs with the Guidance/Wellness or Student Services department. For parents, joining a class or grade parent lists and getting to know others can also create another support system of shared tips or helpful reminders with other adults.

Social exposure

Plan play dates or support your child in arranging get-togethers with peers prior to the beginning of school to help with gradual exposure to social Interactions. This can also be a time to start thinking about and looking into opportunities for community engagement, such as school clubs and sports leagues or other extra-curriculars that tap into your child’s interests and passions. We often get caught in putting our own social time off until we get into a fall rhythm. If you’ve been getting out to meet up with friends or colleagues over the summer, be sure to hold space for your own socialization and get some dates on the calendar.

Sleep Hygiene

If the summer bedtime hours have been a bit lax, now is the time for everyone to start heading to bed a bit earlier to get an adequate amount of sleep every night. Limiting screen use before bed, avoiding large meals, and having a bedroom that is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature is best. For parents, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime is also key for a good night’s sleep.

Physical Activity

We tend to be more active in the summer. While camps are ending or lessons may be coming to an end, identify ways for your kids to keep active through the summer to fall transition. Maybe that means park time, walks or bike rides as a family or with friends until other activities get underway with the start of school. Exercise has significant impact and benefits on physical and mental health. It lifts our mood by releasing endorphins that enhance feelings of well-being and fosters a healthy outlet for stress. As parents, it’s equally important to continue making physical activity a priority to support your overall well-being and in the process you are also setting an important example of self-care.

Connect with love ones to process their day

A family check-in activity that you can begin now at the dinner table or at the end of the day is “Rose/Bud/Thorn”: “Rose”: tell me something that made you proud today. “Bud”: tell me something you are working on. “Thorn”: tell me something that was tough. It’s a simple way to share your experiences, and with everyone taking part, it doesn’t have to be specific to school.

Mindfulness/Gratitude practice

Whether it’s a meditation, journaling or an end-of-day reflection, cultivating appreciation of the everyday and learning to be more present benefits the whole family. Meditation and mindfulness can help us to calm our minds, increase pleasure and joy in our day-to-day activities, build compassion and gratitude for ourselves and others and gain clarity around things that can be difficult. You can also start the morning with a simple meditation to begin the day in a calm and positive frame of mind.

Normalize and Validate

Initial school anxieties are normal for kids and parents. You can validate your kids’ experience and worries (and your own!) while reflecting on other nervous-making times when things went well. Encourage a growth mindset by inspiring curiosity with the challenges that may arise and replacing self-judgment with self-compassion. Remember, back to school isn’t only about the kids – you’re all going through a period of adjustment and it’s good to acknowledge together that things may feel challenging for the first couple of weeks, but by taking it one day at a time everyone will adjust.

Ultimately, establishing a good rhythm to the fall routine means a combination of preparation, communication and self-compassion for everyone.

The team at Whole Heart are dedicated to helping families live better lives. To learn about our programs and services go to:


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Family, Mental Health, Wellness

International Self-Care Day

The pandemic has amplified our very real and perceived stresses and caused us to re-examine how we care for ourselves; to revisit the idea that “self-care” is somehow self-indulgent rather than an essential act of self-respect.

Self-care is not about the occasional day of pampering. It’s about making a conscious choice to replenish and show gratitude to yourself. it’s about cultivating a habit of looking after yourself, making informed and empowered decisions for your health and seeking out the supports you need to ensure your holistic wellbeing.

It’s by nurturing ourselves that we are able to truly provide this same kindness and care for others.

Whole Heart’s Tips for Self-Care

Our experts have put together a list of tips and Whole Heart resources to help you get your self-care habits in check:

1. Sleep hygiene

Getting an adequate amount of sleep every night is key and there are habits that can be developed to support that:

  • Be consistent about going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning, even on weekends.
  • Get some exercise daily – physical activity during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Limit all screen use before bed.
  • A bedroom that is quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature is best.
  • If you’re practicing good sleep hygiene and still seeing sleep challenges in your family, family due to other concerns, it can help to talk to someone. Get in touch with our team here:

2. Healthy, balanced diet

  • What we eat affects our bodies and our minds, and research is increasingly showing the impact of food on our mood!
  • Food can affect the development, prevention, and management of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Studies are exploring the effects of food on organisms in the intestinal tract, neuroplasticity (brain’s ability to modify structure, wiring and function), oxidative stress (cellular damage) and chronic inflammation
  • You can learn more about the link between food and mood, as well as ways to incorporate healthier options into meals by consulting with a nutritionist. Whole Heart is offering a program in August to help teach parents and adults working with children and teens how to better support their relationship with food and exercise. You can learn more here:

3. Connection

The pandemic starkly revealed how much social connection impacts our overall wellbeing.

4. Meditation/Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness can help us to calm our minds, increase pleasure and joy in our day-to-day activities, build compassion and gratitude for ourselves and others and gain clarity around things that can be difficult. Meditation and mindfulness allow us to cultivate amazing tools that we can carry with us wherever we go! Try this grounding technique that can help shift focus away a busy mind into the present moment:

While breathing in and out of your nose, identify in order:

  • 5 things I see
  • 4 things I am touching
  • 3 things I hear
  • 2 things I smell
  • 1 thing I taste

If you want to discover the benefits of meditation as part of your self-care, check out our Virtual Walking Meditation Group:

5. Get out in nature

Research shows that spending even 20 minutes a day outside can help reduce anxiety, lower depression and boost overall mood. Set a goal of trying to build this into your weekly routine; pick a new walking route, try a new trail, or just sit outside. For a great map of nature trails to add to your self care tool kit visit:

6. Exercise

Physical activity has a significant impact and benefits on mental health and is often part of an integrated strategy for management of overall health and wellbeing. Benefits can include:

  • Lifting mood by releasing endorphins that enhance feelings of well-being
  • Creating a healthy distraction from negative thoughts
  • Building confidence in achieving skills or goals
  • Creating social interaction
  • Fostering a healthy outlet for stress

Our Virtual Walking Meditation Group incorporates physical activity, meditation, mindfulness, socialization and getting out in nature:

7. Talk to someone

Self-care includes recognizing that we all need someone to talk to. Having support and connection is essential at the best of times. But if you are struggling or actively supporting someone in managing their mental health journey, taking care of yourself takes on an increasing level of importance. Not sure where to begin? Reach out and let us help guide and support you

At Whole Heart, we hope that on International Self-Care Day you’ll be reminded to check in with yourself regularly, ask how you’re doing, what you need, and prioritize the response. Remember: Self-care is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

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serene woman in flower mask
Mental Health

Pandemic Observations

The COVID-19 pandemic has ignited a Tsunami of mental health concerns, especially among kids and youth. According to Hasina Samji et al., Child Adolesce Ment Health 2021: “Individuals at risk may experience new onset of mental illness, while those with pre-existing mental health conditions may experience symptomatic worsening, especially if mental health service access is impeded ..” The impact has been tremendous, and is ongoing, and access to timely care is challenged by limited resources and extensive wait times. The following resources are meant to be a guide, and provide some support. It is by no means an exhaustive list.

If you have questions about these resources, or if you have some that you feel are helpful for us to post, please email

RESOURCE LIST (not all are specific to COVID-19)

If you are actively suicidal, call 911 or speak to a responsible adult, if you are thinking of suicide, please click here.


Toronto Distress Centre: (416) 408-0007

Kids Help Line: 1 (800) 668-6868

Distress Centres of Ontario



Anxiety: Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents – Ronald Rapee 

OCD: How to Help Your Child (A Parent’s Guide to OCD)

Talking Back to OCD – John March


FREE MENTAL HEALTH HELP (FREE Mental health support for Ontario Residents) (1 866 585 6485) This is a centralized phone line to access child, youth and family mental health and well-being resources in Toronto. (CBT therapy, delivered online).

Downloadable apps: (some applications may have a fee)







5 minutes Mountain Meditation for Children (teens) and Adults
How to cope with Anxiety and Stress





This is another method that you can use to cope with overwhelming emotions. ITIPP is an acronym that stands for the following four steps: temperatureintense exercisepaced breathingprogressive muscle relaxation.

Practice each of these techniques, so you know what they feel like. Then use them, when you feel overwhelming emotion and you feel like you need them.

T: Temperature

This works by changing the temperature.

Cooler temperatures decrease your heart rate (which is usually faster when we are emotionally overwhelmed). You can either splash your face with cold water, take a cold (but not too cold) shower, or if the weather outside is chilly you can go outside for a walk. Another idea is to take an ice cube and hold it in your hand or rub your face with it.

Higher temperatures increase your heart rate (which is usually lower when you feel depressed, sad, or anxious). You can take a hot bath, nestle up in a blanket, go outside on a hot day, or drinking a warm tea.

Note, be smart about it. Cold exposure can make your blood pressure drop, and heat exposure can raise your blood pressure. If you have a medical condition where this could be a problem, skip this step or consult your physician.

I Intense Exercise

When you have a built-up energy as a result of experiencing overwhelming emotions, it can be a really good idea to spend this energy by doing a cardio work-out. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – you don’t need special equipment or expensive membership in a gym. Simply get on your feet and do one of the following: go for a run around the block, do jumping jacks in your room, go outside and walk fast. You can also try jumping rope, dancing or lifting weights (if you already have them). Do this for 10-15 minutes but don’t overdo it. When you spend that conserved energy you will feel more tired and your overwhelming emotions will become more balanced.

P: Paced Breathing

In order to reduce the physical manifestation of the overwhelming emotions you feel (for e.g. increased heart rate, flushed face, dry mouth, sweating etc.) it helps to try to control your breathing so that its rate will eventually decrease. Try the following technique: breathe in deeply through your nose (abdominal breathing) for four seconds and then breathe out through your mouth (for six seconds). Do this for 1-2 minutes.

P Progressive Muscle Relaxation

In order to relax the tense muscles in our body while we are experiencing extreme emotions, you can try progressive muscle relaxation. You can do this from a seated position. Start with the top of your body – become aware of your muscles and the upper back and deliberately tighten them for five seconds. Then let go – you should feel the region loosening up. Keep doing this with your arms, your abdominal and back muscles, your bottom muscles, thighs and upper legs and calves. This is a great way for your body to let go of the excessive energy that has built up with the overwhelming emotions.


Situation: “Today when I woke up, I felt very empty and down. It didn’t help that the weather has been dull for days now. All of this reminded me how 2 years ago, this time of the year, I was feeling very depressed and was coping with the dysfunctional relationship I have with my father. This memory made spiral down, and in no time I didn’t want to go on with my day, finish the work responsibilities that I have, or do anything. As the morning went on I felt even more depressed and empty.”

T – Temperature: I chose to have a hot bath, something that will make me feel warmer, both physically and potentially emotionally as well. It felt like an act of self-kindness, and it really did help me not to fall even more into this sad memory lane.

I – Intense exercise: I put on some music since I could use having a little fun time, and I put the effort to get my muscles going and dance. I did this for 10 minutes, and I felt more energized after.

P – Paced breathing: I did two minutes of the paced breathing technique.

P – Progressive muscle relaxation: By step four, I already felt better doing the previous three. Nevertheless, I sat comfortably and did the progressive muscle relaxation instructions. I feel like the TIPP technique really helped me not to feel more empty and depressed, and I went on with my day.

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Depression, Mental Health

Rising Above Depression

For many, the battle with depression brings on a torturous cycle of hopeless thoughts and feelings of deep despair and isolation or disengaging from life.

The choices we make in the midst of this hardship can often reinforce the negative cycle or shift our experience to a pathway of healing and resilience.

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Self-care isn’t Selfish

As we get ready to begin our week lets remind ourselves about the importance of self care; an area that often gets missed. Today we live in a society that is so fast paced, so hectic and so future oriented that it can be difficult to take the time and nurture ourselves.

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Anxiety, Mental Health, Wellness

Dealing with Exam Stress

Its that time of year again and summer is hopefully just around the corner! For students, this time is EXAM time which brings along with it anxiety, doubt, pressure, excitement and joy. A functional amount of stress in our lives can help us to live well, meet deadlines, get out of bed in the morning, tend to our families and our own needs- this is healthy stress. However, for some this type of stress can be overwhelming and unbearable.

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