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:



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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:


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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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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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