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.
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.
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.
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.