Healthy Living in the North

Planting seeds, fighting stigma, and growing community: Healthy Minds Community Garden

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Fox in a community garden

How can a community garden reduce stigma around mental health concerns? The Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James accomplished just that – promoting social connections and healthy lifestyles along the way!

The Healthy Minds Peer Support group in Fort St. James offers a safe and confidential venue for those impacted by mental and emotional health issues. The group aims to break isolation, promote healthy lifestyles, support integration into the community, and reduce stigma around mental health concerns. Healthy Minds Peer Support also organizes public awareness campaigns with speakers from the RCMP and local mental health practitioners. They meet every Monday at 7:00 p.m. at the Stuart Lake Hospital and welcome everyone to join them.

At first glance, one might ask how a community garden fits into this vision. For facilitators and Mental Health & Addictions Advisory Committee members Greg Kovacs and Sandi Taylor, there are so many worthwhile connections between a community garden and mental wellness. They highlighted these when they first proposed this project to the IMAGINE Community Grant program:

A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and mental health problems. We also know working with the soil, planting, and harvesting is therapeutic and conducive to those on their road to recovery and healthy living principles. Community gardens have proven successful in numerous communities worldwide in providing valuable educational tools and skills acquisition for those most in need.

For Kovacs and Taylor, there was a crucial social piece to this project, too:

Isolated mental health clients gain socialization skills, confidence, and practical life-affirming experience. [The garden] is a great way to keep fit, socialize, and an excellent form of therapeutic exercise for participants.

After a successful IMAGINE Community Grant application in 2015, Kovacs, Taylor, and the rest of the Healthy Minds Peer Support group got to work.

Empty lot

A look at the garden space before the Healthy Minds Community Garden took shape. Construction involved over 50 volunteers and over 1,500 volunteer hours.

How did the project go? Kovacs and Taylor provided an inspiring update:

This project exceeded expectations on many levels. The construction of the garden space involved over 50 volunteers, from children to seniors across all socioeconomic and racial divides. Together, we logged over 1,500 volunteer hours. This garden has provided socialization opportunities [and] improved the mental and physical health of many community members. Through these interactions, awareness of mental health, physical health, and environmental health has been raised.

Two classes from David Hoy Elementary School helped in the construction and planting of garden beds. The grade 9 woodworking class from the high school built two flower garden beds for us. We also had involvement from adult mental health service users. Friendships were made, and a sense of community bonding was achieved. We were able to produce many pounds of fresh, organic vegetables – from lettuce to corn and peppers. Also, with seven local newspaper articles on the garden project, mental health and community gardening has been highlighted, and these topics have become common conversations around all community events. Raising awareness of mental health is the first step in reducing, and eventually eliminating stigma around it.

Community garden

A look at the completed garden space reveals the transformation that took place. For the project coordinators, a similar transformation occurred in the lives of those involved in the garden as the “unifying space” helped them to develop social connections.

One of the most important goals of sharing projects supported by IMAGINE Community Grants is the opportunity to share the lessons learned from different projects. Everyone who has been involved in a big project – whether it’s a personal home renovation, organizing a local sporting event, or getting a project off of the ground in a community – knows that it’s not always rainbows and sunshine! With the benefit of hindsight, Kovacs and Taylor shared what they learned:

All in all, it has been a very positive experience. There were, however, some challenges. It was difficult to get people involved in the actual construction. A lot of skilled labour was required, and in short supply … Being the project lead, it was difficult at times to gauge the skill level of volunteers … Volunteers often require close supervision. It is important to allow people some freedom, while discerning what projects they can succeed at. We could have used some more help with the administrative duties … If we undertook this type of project in the future, we would not make funding applications, or commitments, until we had people committed to certain duties.

The takeaway for Kovacs and Taylor, though?

The successes greatly exceeded the challenges. We have been approached by many strangers complimenting the work our group is doing. The word is out, and most of our beds are already reserved for the 2016 planting season. This garden is poised to become a new standard in community gardening. With a focus on aesthetics, as opposed to just food production, our garden has become a popular lunch, and socialization place for local workers and all community members. There is a lot of pride in this community garden. It is known as a very tranquil and serene sanctuary, overlooking the beautiful Stuart Lake. Seeing the faces of people who see the garden for the first time—priceless! … Be prepared to get projects off the ground with a few dedicated and imaginative people, and once things begin to take shape, others will join.

Two people paint a sign.

Volunteers put the finishing touches on the sign welcoming gardeners, guests, and visitors to the Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James.

The impact of the Healthy Minds Community Garden and the Healthy Minds Peer Support group really comes to light when you ask Kovacs and Taylor for one thing that they want to share about the project:

It is extremely difficult to list only one, as there are so many! … The greatest benefit, among many, is that of community bonding, or socialization. People that would not normally mix are working, laughing, and talking with each other. With so many phenomena dividing people in society today, the garden is a unifying space. One participant in particular, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been suffering from a life-threatening illness and has been isolating for over a year. We managed to get her out to the garden one day, and that resulted in her riding a bicycle to the garden every weekend to help and mostly just to socialize. She has reserved a garden bed for 2016. Largely as a result of stigma, many people experiencing mental health issues suffer in silence. Our objective is to reach as many of these people as possible, and the Healthy Minds Community Garden is accomplishing this. We also have to mention that the health benefits of growing and eating whole foods has not been lost on those participating in the garden.

Clearly unable to contain their excitement, pride, and desire to share more about the community garden, Kovacs and Taylor’s “one thing” continues to a list of community partners:

The involvement of the school kids, and the excitement in their eyes when they see what they have grown, is priceless. We believe that many of those kids will continue to garden and eat healthy throughout their lives. We also have to mention that the school this year is going to plant three beds as a result of the success of the program.

We have also reserved a bed for the Key Resource Centre in Fort St. James, and two beds are reserved for a local women’s wellness group. So far, we have two beds reserved for seniors as well. We have built two extra height beds for people with mobility issues. The entire garden is wheelchair accessible. We strongly believe that this garden will continue to grow and be of great benefit to all in this small community.

This project is, beyond any reasonable doubt, a resounding success.

Garden bed

Growing so much more than just healthy, local food, the community garden has become first and foremost a health-promoting gathering space where people can connect.

Do you have ideas to promote social connections, reduce stigma, boost healthy eating, and make your community healthier? Start gathering your team and brainstorming your project – the next round of IMAGINE Community Grants will start September 19, 2016.


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Can I have a moment of your time?

The present moment, if you think about it, is the only time there is. No matter what time it is, it is always now. -Marianne Williamson

Clock face

There are many way to be in the moment – Reg suggests breathing exercises as a great way to relax and reduce stress.

Time is a funny thing

Time has no wings, but flies occasionally. It has no feet, but sometimes drags on. We never seem to have enough of it, but there’s no way to store it for later. It’s not uncommon to spend time planning our future or reveling in our past glories, however, how often do you truly stop and savour the moment? To be honest, we have neither the future nor the past, only the present moment in time.

Now I’m not saying it isn’t important to plan for the future or look to the past for guidance or inspiration. What I’m saying is that it is important to slow down and appreciate where we are. Finding ways to be in the moment can have a positive effect on your health and well-being. It can help by promoting relaxation, reducing stress and narrowing your focus when needed. Learning to stop and appreciate the moments when good things happen can improve your mood and cheer you up.

Be “in the moment”

There are many ways to be in the moment. Activities like meditation, tai chi, and yoga can help ground you in the present. Even more intense activities like playing sports, cycling, or working out can have the same effect. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as it connects you to the current moment in time.

I know, you’re probably thinking that while those are great suggestions, they might not always be practical. In reality, you’re right. I know my employer wouldn’t approve of mountain bike riding through the office corridors as a way of being in the moment! Nevertheless, there is one thing that can be done almost anywhere and anytime. You’ve done it since birth and you’ll do it every day for the rest of your life.

Breathe. Yup, that’s it.

The best thing is there’s nothing hard about breathing and you don’t need any special skills, equipment or a facility to do it in. Breathing exercises are a great way to stop the whirlwind around you and connect with the moment. But as always, there’s a catch.

You really need to pay attention to your breathing. Take a minute and try the following:

  • Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose.
  • Breathe in and fill your lungs with air.
  • Feel your chest and belly expand as you breathe in deeply.
  • Make sure to breathe at a pace that’s comfortable and when your lungs are full, pause for split second and exhale. You can exhale through your mouth or nose, it doesn’t really matter.
  • When your lungs are empty, pause for a split second and repeat.
  • Focus on your body and the breathing process. Feel the air moving into your nostrils and down to your lungs. Feel your chest rising and falling.
  • Repeat until you feel a sense of calm.
  • Open your eyes and be in the moment.

That’s it in a nutshell. You can learn to do many different types of breathing exercises and they all have the benefits of relaxation and stress reduction. Best of all, they aren’t complicated and don’t require hours of practice.

I know that at times it can be hard to focus on your breathing. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you may want to look into downloading apps that have guided breathing exercises. You can also use music if it helps you focus on your breathing. It also helps if you get into a habit of daily practice.

Now, take a few deep breaths and enjoy this moment of your life. A single moment can hold the surprise of a lifetime, but you might miss it if you’re a day ahead of yourself or a day behind.

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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Loving yourself: Be bold, be beautiful, be brave!

This month, we want to know how you are preparing for the future by investing in your health! Tell us (or show us) what you do to invest in your body, your mind, and your relationships for your chance to win great weekly prizes and a $150 grand prize! To inspire you, we’ll be featuring regular “invest in your health” content on the Northern Health Matters blog all month long!


Three people in front of a decorated Christmas tree.

Taylar with family members at Christmas: “During the hard times, I surrounded myself with people who loved me for me.”

When we hear “invest in your relationships” – or even just the word relationship – most think that it involves a connection with another person. But have you ever thought about the relationship you have with yourself?

It has probably been some time since you “checked in” with yourself. In this busy world, it’s not uncommon to forget about you and how to care for yourself – even though it can be the most important thing you do since life begins with you!

I recently became single following a very long-term relationship. Through my healing, I have realized that I completely lost myself to my relationship and I didn’t even know who I was anymore, nor did I really like who I had become. I did not love myself anymore.

Loving yourself is essential to a healthy lifestyle and being able to maintain healthy relationships. Putting effort into yourself – investing in you – is just as important as working on any relationship! Loving who you are creates a whole new world for you. It allows you to accept you for who you are, gives you confidence, lets you look and feel better, improves self-esteem and makes you a happier person overall. Love starts with you and, from there, it can flourish into beautiful, meaningful relationships.

Over the past few months, I have been re-building me, learning to love myself again and finding happiness. This is what I have learned from it:

  • Believe in yourself. Believing in you creates opportunities for success, allows you to accept who you are, and builds confidence. A positive attitude of “I can do this” opens doors for achievements you may have doubted and it creates determination within yourself that anything is possible. This may sound scary as it forces you to put yourself out there, push your comfort levels and makes you vulnerable – there is a risk of failure or a setback. But that is what makes us stronger! By not believing in yourself, you may be holding yourself back. Trust yourself and be the best you can be. Know that you are beautiful inside and out.
  • Stay true to who you are. Stay true to what makes you uniquely you – whether that be a quirky trait, an unusual way of eating, singing in the shower or the way you do your hair. This is what makes you, you. Be honest with yourself, recognize what you value, and believe in your morals. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
  • Build support networks. Support is so important in life. Bring people into your life who you can trust: family, friends, health care professionals, community services or organizations. You also have to allow people to support you. Take them up on their offers, whether it’s a coffee date, a chat or a kind gesture. Your support systems are what hold you up in troubled times. They are a shoulder to cry on, ears that listen, and somebody who can just hold space with you and validate your thoughts, emotions and feelings. Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are.
  • Take time for you. Self-care is a staple to being able to love yourself. Practicing self-care is good for your emotional health, mind and soul. Self-care can improve your energy, efficacy and help you maintain a healthy relationship with yourself. Practicing self-care can be done in many ways such as taking some quiet alone time (think: going for walk, reading or having a bath), pampering yourself with a spa at home or at a salon, participating in a sporting event, treating yourself with a favourite food, or simply just spending time with you. Taking time for yourself also allows you to get to know yourself better and to be in touch with yourself more.
  • Get back to your roots. Do you still do the things you “used” to do all the time? Take some time to think about what used to make you happy, like an old hobby or tradition. Bring these back into your life and share them with family and friends. Bringing back these happy times reminds us of who we are and where we came from.

For me, this learning curve has been an adventure that has been scary, exciting, and so rewarding. It hasn’t been easy in any way but I believe that overall, it has made me a better person – to myself and to others.

A healthy sense of self is essential for your well-being. Take the time to invest in you: be easy and kind to yourself. You are worth it.


How are you investing in you this week? Tell us (or show us) for your chance to win great prizes!

Taylar Endean

About Taylar Endean

Taylar is a Registered Nurse working in Preventive Public Health. Taylar was born and raised in Prince George and studied at UNBC to earn her degree in Nursing in 2011. She's still living in the North where she tries to embrace everything it has to offer. In her spare time, Taylar loves being outdoors, spending countless weekends at Ness Lake, walking, snowshoeing and skiing. Taylar also enjoys spending time with family and friends, coaching skating, volunteering at community events and just started to learn to crochet. The north is her home, though she does like to take those sunny vacations!

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10 more ways that northern B.C. residents invest in their health!

Woman standing on logs.

Tracy in Vanderhoof has invested in her health by eating healthier, playing hockey, and hiking. She shared a great photo from a recent hike at Mount Pope!

We are now two weeks into our “Invest in Healthy Aging” contest and your stories continue to be nothing short of inspiring! From lunchtime exercise routines that get you moving to relaxing hikes with friends that pay dividends for your mind, body, and relationships, you are making great investments in your health!

Last week, I shared a few of the stories that you had submitted. The responses have kept pouring in so here are even more stories to inspire you from across northern B.C.! Remember that you can enter the contest once a week so keep the ideas coming! How do you invest in your body, mind, and relationships?

For Natascha in Prince George, goal-setting has been key (good luck in your 5 km run, Natascha!)!

Six months ago, motivation hit me. I don’t know what exactly inspired me, but I knew I wanted to improve my physical health. I signed up as a member at the YMCA and started my journey to better health. I set personal goals and made a commitment to do what it takes to have what I want. What do I want? I want a healthy body, a focused mind, and I want to have the ability to run multiple kilometres – starting with 5 km in June! I feel amazing! Better is always possible, everyday is closer to my goal!

In Dawson Creek, Korena has taken advantage of a local program to try new healthy living activities!

This month, I signed up for the ‘Everybody Move Dawson Creek’ program and have been going to the various gyms and aquatic centres in Dawson Creek to learn what each facility has to offer. I am thoroughly enjoying the program as it allows me to try out a variety of activities that I normally wouldn’t try out for free. A super program which is promoting healthy living and incentives to be active.

Melanie from Saik’uz took a chance on an old favourite activity and decided to “just do it”!

I used to be an avid skier. It has been years since I skied (the last full day was when I was pregnant with my 13 year old son!). This past weekend, I was fortunate to chaperone our high school kids to the ski and snowboard zones in Jasper. Since I was on the hill, I decided to ‘just do it’, and went skiing. It’s hard to have been able to do something then not be able to perform – but you have to start somewhere and I am glad I did!

Apps and technology can be great tools for healthy aging! For Cailey in Prince George, an app has helped her invest in a healthy mind!

Sometimes day-to-day life gets so busy! To invest in my mind, I have downloaded a meditation app on my phone. This app allows me to practice 10 minutes of meditation to relax me and continue my day with a clear mind!

Woman on cross-country ski trail

Susan in Houston takes advantage of the outdoors to invest in her health!

The outdoors have supported Susan’s healthy aging investments in Houston!

Living in such a beautiful area with great recreational opportunities means the world to me. On any given day, I can snowshoe out my back door, drive ten minutes to beautifully groomed cross country ski trails, or just walk a few metres to join a network of town walking trails. There’s never a good reason to stay inside.

Delilah in Prince Rupert has found a nice balance and healthy activities to support healthy aging!

I engage in walking to work, drinking lots of water, ongoing learning to keep my mind active, help others where I can, relax myself with reading and keeping in touch with family members. I find a nice balance between work and time off. I also ride my bike and enjoy fresh air by walking outdoors as much as I can. Laughter is important to me and I try to read or watch funny things. I nap when I am tired and that makes a big difference in how I cope.

Joanna in Prince George has been counting her steps and seeing a connection between physical and mental well-being!

I’ve been investing in my health by making time for physical activity every day – ensuring I get my 10,000 steps on my Fitbit and going for a 5-8 km walk every evening. Not only does it help improve my physical health, but also my emotional well-being – endorphins are a powerful force for decreasing stress and improving mood!

Leanne in Terrace has chosen to be very active and wonders what else is in store!

Well into my 50s, I still play floor hockey and dragon boat in the spring/summer (really good as you climb up those years!). My daughter is doing a thirty minute exercise challenge with her peers at the school she works at. This will go on until April [and] I have decided to join her for encouragement and for my fitness. Curling on Wednesdays as well. Zumba … what else is in store?!

For Kim in Burns Lake, family is a big part of investing in health!

I enjoy the outdoors when I can – this week went ice fishing with the family. I do as much home cooking as I can for myself and the family.

Grandchildren and some creative improvisation created a fun and active time for Laurel in Swan Lake!

The grandchildren and Teddy and I wanted to go outside sliding but there wasn’t really enough snow for a long run this year so we had to improvise. We dug out the two children’s kayaks that we have and found a small patch of snow across the road that was deep enough to travel on. We had tried the driveway but I had to have a leash so they would stop before hitting gravel and destroying the bottom of the kayak! That meant Grandma had to run ahead of the kayak to start, then stop and hold the rope!

This list of great stories and insights could definitely go on! Thank you to everyone who shared their healthy living ideas so far! The contest runs until the end of February so enter today! You could win great weekly prizes or the grand prize of a $150 gift certificate to the local sporting good store of your choice!

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Tigers, tight timelines, and toddlers

This month, we want to know how you are preparing for the future by investing in your health! Tell us (or show us) what you do to invest in your body, your mind, and your relationships for your chance to win great weekly prizes and a $150 grand prize! To inspire you, we’ll be featuring regular healthy aging content on the Northern Health Matters blog all month long!


Forest path

Physical activity and quieting your mind – like by going for a walk in the woods – are great ways to manage stress. What tools do you use to manage stress?

I have a question for you.

What do battling a sabre-toothed tiger, juggling multiple responsibilities at work, and dealing with a house full of screaming toddlers have in common? If your answer is that they all cause a bit of stress, you’d be right! However, there’s more at play here.

Fight or flight

You’ve probably heard the term “fight or flight” associated with stress at one time or another. The more technical term for this is the stress response. The stress response came about a long time ago when humans, more often than not, faced situations (like bumping into a sabre-toothed tiger) that required fighting or running away. It helped our bodies “find another gear” that got us out of dangerous situations.

It’s really all about how we see things

Today’s world is much different and most of life’s problems require a cool head and thinking, not running or flailing away with a wooden club. Often, stress can be a result of your perception of situations. When you perceive a situation as being more than you can handle or as being threatening, the stress response kicks in.

In the modern world, stress usually results from situations that have to do with work, family life or finances as opposed to truly life-threatening situations (no sabre-toothed tigers in Terrace!). However, human beings take time to evolve and the stress response is still activated in times of perceived threat. Sometimes these situations aren’t resolved quickly and it results in stress lingering.

Being “in another gear” for an extended period takes a toll on your health. Even mild levels of stress can have a negative impact on your health if they persist long enough. Sleeping problems, headaches, and an increased likelihood of getting sick are associated with stress.

Wooden hiking path

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in today’s world of deadlines and responsibilities. Remember to take time to quiet your mind!

Managing stress

Learning to manage stress is an important part of healthy aging. Here are some suggestions for dealing with stress:

  • Get to the root cause of your stress. Make sure you’re working on the real cause of stress.
  • Be proactive, be organized, and don’t let small things build up or multiply. Take care of small problems before they become too big to handle or so many that they become overwhelming.
  • Talk about things. Talking to someone you trust can help take the weight off your shoulders and could lead to a solution. If stress is having a negative impact on your life, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.
  • Have hobbies and activities that take you away from stress for a while and let you focus on something enjoyable.
  • Learn to quiet your mind. Solving the problems of today usually requires thinking. However, that can be hard to do when you’re stressed. Try techniques such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness or breathing techniques to quiet the noise and focus on finding a solution to what is causing you stress.
  • Don’t forget the physical connection. Getting regular physical activity and eating well help in managing stress and promoting overall wellness.
  • Monitor what you tell yourself. How you think about things has an effect on your response to them. Focus on solutions and watch out for negative self-talk. Look for the bright side!
  • Simplify your life. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in today’s world of deadlines and responsibilities. Learn to say no when you’re overwhelmed. Make your to-do list reasonable.

At the end of the day, everyone experiences stress. It’s part of life. However, it can be managed and it doesn’t need to impact our health in a negative way. Moreover, not all stress is bad. Stress can be a good thing if it motivates you to focus on a task or solve a problem.

So, what will you do this week to invest in your mind and deal with those annoying sabre-toothed tigers? Remember to send us a picture or quick line about how you kept your brain engaged for your chance to win!

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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Mirror, mirror on the wall: Body image impacts mental health

This post was co-authored by Marianne Bloudoff (population health dietitian), Sandi DeWolf (Eating Disorders Clinic), and Marta Torok (Eating Disorders Clinic). It originally appeared in the spring issue of Healthier You magazine, which focused on the topic of women’s health.


Body image and disordered eating resources

February 1-7 is Eating Disorder Awareness Week in B.C. If you think that you or someone you love has an eating disorder, please contact the Northern Health Eating Disorders Clinic at 250-565-7479.

What is body image?

It is the way each of us perceives our physical appearance, and includes our thoughts and feelings about how we look. Our self-esteem, or sense of self-worth, is often closely linked with body image.

There are many things that can contribute to a negative body image. The mass media is one that many women can relate to. The media often presents women with an idealized image of female beauty that is impossible for the majority of women to attain. The images we often see are of thin, tall, photoshopped women, who represent only one body type that few real-life women possess.

Body image is also influenced by family relationships, cultural beliefs, sports involvement, peers and past traumas. Women with a negative body image are more likely to suffer from depression, social isolation and low self-esteem.

Negative body image is a risk factor in developing disordered eating patterns and eating disorders. Up to 65% of women report engaging in disordered eating patterns and 10% of women display symptoms that meet the criteria of an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. The physiological and psychological effects of disordered eating can have significant impacts on a woman’s physical and mental health, interpersonal relationships, day-to-day functioning, and quality of life. Eating disorders are complex conditions that most often require professional intervention.

If you think that you or someone you love has an eating disorder, please contact the Northern Health Eating Disorders Clinic at 250-565-7479.

Understanding and awareness is important so women can understand how their own body image affects their life and others around them. Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors, such as food restriction.

Research has shown that daughters are more likely to have ideas about weight and dieting if their mothers participate in “fat talk” (self-degrading statements about one’s body, food, or eating) or dieting. Children pay attention to what parents say and do, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Parents are role models to their children, and can help support their children to focus less on their external appearance and more on overall wellness and personal successes.

There are many things women can do to improve their body image, such as:

  • Appreciate everything your body can do, not what it can’t.
  • Remind yourself that true beauty is not defined by your physical appearance.
  • Choose to wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good.
  • View media messages with a critical eye.
  • Focus your time and energy on positive things instead of worrying about food, calories, or weight.

Resources:

Poster with the phrase: Your weight is not your worth.

The Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign (PEDAW) is a great resource if you or someone you love needs support. (Poster artwork by Gillian Berry / Courtesy of PEDAW)

Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health's population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.

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Promoting mental wellness: 10 tips!

Quote from article over a background image of a snowy branch.

How can you promote mental wellness in your community?

I grew up in a household with parents who faced mental health issues at many points in their lives. To the outside world, they tried very hard at looking perfectly “normal”, even when they had their down episodes. They were very functional and had decent jobs.

Talking about and promoting mental well-being is important because one can be mentally unwell and not be diagnosed with an illness. This is a common issue in our society. The reality is that 1 in every 5 Canadians will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Despite this, there is huge stigma associated with mental health. For more information about the scale and reach of mental health issues in Canada, check out this report by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Evidence also shows that sustaining our positive mental health in rural communities appears to be harder compared to urban environments. This is not because there is more mental illness in rural communities, but rather because there are issues such as personal factors with stigma and low mental health literacy. In order to reduce this barrier, it is important to increase awareness about how to promote mental health. Talking openly about these ideas can also reduce the stigma of mental health issues.

So, I researched some ideas to promote mental wellness and here’s what I found. I’ve included a list of my research at the end of the article if you’d like to read more!

Healthy eating and physical activity

  • A daily intake of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables was shown to decrease psychological distress.
  • Exercising has been shown to increase hormones that make you feel happier like endorphins and monoamines.
  • Exercising can also act as a distraction from negative thoughts that may bring down a person’s mood.

Find an emotional balance

  • Balance your emotions through emotional expression of a range of emotions.
  • People who are firm and rigid about their opinion and refuse to change their views can develop mental health issues.

Make time for self and others

  • People who have healthy, supportive relationships are also able to balance how much they spend time with themselves and others.
  • Time spent at work, play, sleep, rest, and exercise, should all be balanced equally to avoid mental stress.

Reflect on your emotions

  • Having emotional literacy helps an individual to maintain mental health; this means that it is important to be aware of our emotional triggers, find ways to manage our emotions, practice self-motivation, and have empathy.
  • Try talking to a friend, counsellor or reflecting upon yourself to find out what brings out negative emotion, and make a list on how to reduce stress.

Have a positive lookout

  • Having a positive attitude is very important to mental health. Positive attitude and healthy thinking go hand-in-hand; it’s about thinking about something in a balanced way – looking at a situation in all aspects then deciding how you feel about it.

So … can you think of any other ways to support mental wellness?

If you want more information or the chance to talk with someone, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association. If you’re in Prince George, their office is at 1152 3rd Avenue.

Thanks for listening, cheers to happy thinking!

References

  • Austin, W., & Boyd, M. A. (2010). Psychiatric and mental health nursing for Canadian practice. Ontario: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  • Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K. M., & Christensen, H. (2010). Perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking in young people: a systematic review. BMC psychiatry, 10(1), 113.
  • Cattan, M., & Tilford, S. (Eds.). (2006). Mental health promotion: a lifespan approach. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
  • Mental Health Commission of Canada (2010). Making the Case for investing in Mental Health in Canada.
  • Paykel, E. S., Abbott, R., Jenkins, R., Brugha, T. S., & Meltzer, H. (2000). Urban–rural mental health differences in Great Britain: findings from the National Morbidity Survey. Psychological medicine, 30(02), 269-280.
  • Richard, A., Rohrmann, S., Vandeleur, C. L., Mohler-Kuo, M., & Eichholzer, M. (2015). Associations between fruit and vegetable consumption and psychological distress: Results from a population-based study. BMC Psychiatry, 15.
  • Stuart, M. (2004). Promoting a family’s physical and mental health and well-being. Promoting the health and well-being of families during difficult times. The University of Arizona Cooperative extension.
  • Talen, M. R., & Mann, M. M. (2009). Obesity and mental health. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice, 36(2), 287-305.
Grace Gu

About Grace Gu

Grace is a fourth year nursing student at the University of Northern British Columbia. Grace stays healthy by eating healthy, exercising daily and listening to music and singing in her car. She enjoys going to church and staying in touch with her spirituality to find deeper meaning of life. She likes to spend time with her cat and family and enjoys helping people out in any way possible. Grace wants to work in the mental health field as her nursing specialty focus.

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Go with the flow!

Boy with toy bow and arrow

When we were young, imaginative play could transport us to faraway lands! When’s the last time your leisure activities have had that effect on you?

In the past, I’ve written about tobacco reduction and tobacco free sports. However, this time I’m going back to my old recreation therapist days to talk about “going with the flow.”

Let me start by telling you a little story:

When I was a young boy, my friends and I had great imaginations. We spent hours in the woods, having grand adventures! Sticks became swords, and danger lurked behind every tree. Dragons and thieves ran amok, but they were no match for us, the brave knights of the realm.

Back then, we went wherever our minds would take us. The outside world faded away as our imaginary world took over. We became so involved in our games that we would be oblivious to people around us, especially adults who had no place in our kingdoms.

Often, we would forget the time and come home late for dinner, much to the dismay of our mothers. Not that it really bothered us that much. After all, great knights on an epic quest shouldn’t have to stop having fun because of a little thing called dinner!

So what do knights, dragons, and kingdoms have to do with leisure? To an adult, probably not much, unless you’re into Dungeons & Dragons. However, what’s important is the idea that leisure activities you take part in should enable you to become totally absorbed in the experience.

Now, about going with the flow.

Meaningful leisure experiences can result your mind entering what has be described as a state of “flow.” The concept of flow was developed by a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He described it as a rare state of consciousness where you pay complete attention to what you’re doing and forget about everything else.

This state of flow is characterized by a few things, such as:

  • Losing complete track of time.
  • Becoming so involved in what we’re doing that the outside world fades away.
  • Experiencing enough of a challenge to keep us completely involved and interested in the activity.

Getting into a state of flow can do wonders for your mental and physical health. Flow can help deal with the stressors that we all experience on a daily basis. It takes us to a place where you can just be in the moment. Entering a state of flow silences the noise of the outside world.

Sometimes, getting into a state of flow takes a bit of effort. However, it can be helpful to look at your past. Can you remember a time when you experienced the sensation of flow?

  • What were you doing?
  • How did you feel?
  • Did the experience have a positive effect on your emotional state?
  • Is this something you could do now?
  • Is there another activity that could result in the same sensation?

I wanted to talk about the idea of flow because this time of year can be very stressful. Christmas activities fill our calendars and presents need to be bought. Every now and then, we feel just as busy and tired as Santa’s elves. If there’s a time where we could use a bit of flow now and then, this can be it!

Just remember, there are, of course, times when you need to be paying attention to what is happening around you.

However, in those moments where you can get into a state of flow, go with it!

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play -Heraclitus (Greek Philosopher)

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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Stay connected and get involved to conquer winter!

Editor’s note: This article was co-written by Andrew Burton, Holly Christian, Danielle Munnion and Lana Vanderwijk. It was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Healthier You magazine.


 

Northern living presents a whole host of challenges that can lead to social isolation. The long, cold and dark winters can make it difficult to get out. Many people leave for work before the sun rises and don’t get home until after it has set. This can put a real damper on your mood, energy level and motivation.

But there are lots of things that you can do to prevent this! The key to conquering winter is staying involved and connected! Research suggests that having an active social life and staying engaged in the community leads to better mental, physical and emotional health. So let’s conquer winter together this year and come out even healthier on the other side! Here are a few ways that you can get involved and stay connected in your community.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to be involved in the community, and there’s no easier time to start since the holiday season typically offers many opportunities for volunteering! There are so many different organizations in need of help that you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something that piques your interest! Volunteering gets you up and out of the house, is a great way to meet new people, and is associated with better mental and emotional health. It’s also linked to greater resiliency – that is, the ability to bounce back and cope with unexpected change.

Hello, neighbour!

Volunteering doesn’t strictly mean giving your time to an organization, though. The word “volunteer” simply means to do something and expect no financial gain. There are other ways to benefit from volunteering that don’t require an organization for you to get involved. For instance, you could help a neighbour shovel their driveway, offer to walk their dog, grab their mail while you grab yours, or help them to put up their Christmas lights. There are many things you can do that would surely be appreciated and are great ways to get to know your neighbours or kindle new friendships. And it’s these types of social connections that promote healthy aging and lead to better health for both you and your neighbours!

Try something new!

Three adults carpet bowling

Whether you’re trying something new like carpet bowling at a community centre or sharing a hobby with a neighbour, staying connected this winter will help you to come out even healthier in the spring!

Another great way to meet new people is to try something new! Take up a new activity: try yoga, join a local curling team, or check out the local pool. Many pools offer activities like Aquafit – and what better way to meet someone new than to chat for a bit while soaking sore muscles in a hot tub after a good workout in the pool! Sports, especially team sports, and other organized physical activities are good for your health in more ways than one. They help you stay active and physically fit and during exercise, your body releases endorphins – chemicals produced by the body that can relieve pain and induce a state of euphoria – which make you feel good.

Share your hobbies

In addition to more organized activities like sports, hobbies such as a knitting group, an art or photography class, or a choir also keep you socially engaged. Informal clubs like these provide a great reason to get out of the house on a regular basis during those cold, dark winters. They also provide a place to meet new people with similar interests and make new friends. Many activities offered in our communities are free or have a low cost associated with them, making them easy to attend. The social interaction associated with attending these activities has huge benefits for your health, too, especially in terms of increasing your resiliency, giving you a sense of purpose, improving brain function and memory, and boosting your mood because you’re doing something you enjoy with people you enjoy!

Why connect?

Winter, and the holiday season in particular, is a time of giving – but why do we do it? Because it makes us feel good! We get to spend time with our friends and family and enjoy the satisfaction of making others feel good, too. We enjoy knowing that we’ve made a difference in someone’s life because we’re social creatures. Humans weren’t meant to spend all of their time in solitude. We need those personal, social and spiritual connections and we need to be involved in order to be as happy and healthy as possible.

Start now for stress-free and golden years!

Engaging in activities prior to retirement makes us more likely to continue them after we retire (which is handy because that’s when we have more time to enjoy them, too!). Having activities and social connections in place is key to ensuring that you are happy, healthy and engaged once you no longer have co-workers by your side day-in, day-out to chat with. This fall and winter, make it your goal to try something new: volunteer, try a new activity or join a club! There are so many ways you can benefit from putting yourself out there and we want those “golden years” to be truly that: stress-free and golden!

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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Halloween: Candy, costumes and quality time

This is the third in a series of posts about social connections and healthy aging. Over the next two weeks, we want to see how you, your family, and your community stay connected. Enter our photo contest for your chance at great weekly prizes and a grand prize valued at $250!

Collage including a carved pumpkin, inflatable pumpkin decoration, and people watching fireworks.

In Vanderhoof, the annual Pumpkin Walk brings out people of all ages for a walk through thousands of carved pumpkins followed by a fireworks display. What are your friends’, family’s or community’s Halloween traditions? How do they connect people across generations?

October is one of my favourite months because of my favourite holiday, Halloween! I’m especially fond of it, but not just because of the candy (although the occasional candy treat never hurts!). Growing up, Halloween was a big thing in my family. To this day, I still love dressing up and jump at every opportunity to do so. I think that it’s because of the skills that my mother and my grandmother, Nanny, passed down to me.

My sister and I never had store-bought costumes; my mother always made our costumes — the same way Nanny did for my mother and her sister. She and Nanny would take us to the fabric store and together we would flip through the pattern books until we found the costumes we wanted. Then, we would select our fabrics (and then reselect our fabrics, because we had Vogue taste but definitely not a Vogue budget!) and prepare for numerous fittings, alterations and what seemed like hours of standing still — and being stabbed by pins because we weren’t very good at standing still! But it was always worth it because our costumes were always one-of-a-kind and looked phenomenal, which set the standard pretty high each year!

Now, as an adult — and for every Halloween since my adolescence — I sew and create my own Halloween costumes (and often those of my friends and pets), because I feel like it would dishonour my mother and Nanny’s legacy if I were to wear a store-bought costume. All through adolescence, I honed my sewing skills under the tutelage of Nanny and my mother. Those skills will remain with me for life. The time spent fostering the relationships with Nanny and my mother also benefited them as they were positive experiences where they were able to share their craft and provided us with a common hobby to talk about.

Each Halloween since adolescence, Nanny has called me to ask, “What are you going to be this year, Danielle? What masterpiece will you create?” It has become a part of our Halloween ritual: Nanny asking what I’m going to be and make, and me asking her and my mother for advice on how I can modify the costume to make it even more elaborate and unique. I truly value the time I spend chatting with my mother and Nanny about my costumes and, often, it leads to us chatting about other things and just socializing and enjoying our time together.

These relationships and rituals are a part of what keep us happy and healthy. Humans are social creatures, and staying socially connected is an important part of staying healthy. It is important to remember to stay connected with friends and family from multiple generations, too, not just your own. This helps to keep you engaged, balanced and well-rounded as an individual, at any age.

As Halloween once again draws near, I want to ask: what traditions do you and your friends and family have? Send us your photos that show your friends’ and family’s traditions that span the generations! We want to see how you spend time passing down your Halloween legacy to future generations to promote active and healthy living! Send us your photos as a part of our contest that supports healthy aging and you will be entered into a weekly draw to win a great prize and also have the chance to win the grand prize!

Photo Contest

From Oct. 12 – Nov. 8, send in a photo showing how you stay connected and healthy for your chance to win great prizes (including a $250 grand prize) and help your community!

The challenge for Week 3 is: “Show us how you spend quality time across the generations!” Maybe you’ll want to share your Halloween traditions? Submit your photo at http://blog.northernhealth.ca/connect.

Danielle Munnion

About Danielle Munnion

Danielle is a Public Health Nurse who works out of Fort St. John, where she enjoys working with families and children, helping them to make decisions that lead to a healthy lifestyle. When not at work, Danielle enjoys spending time outdoors exploring the north and taking full advantage of what the Peace Region has to offer. When not outdoors, Danielle can often be found either doing some form of arts and crafts or playing games with friends -both tabletop and video. (Danielle no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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