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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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:
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: https://www.ontarioparks.com/parksblog/nature-self-care-toolkit/
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
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 https://wholeheartmentalhealth.com/contact/
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
The phrase “mind over matter” seems as though it’s a simple concept to follow. The reality is, is that the complexities that play out in our minds make it quite challenging to take an optimistic viewpoint in the situations we face.