Healthy Living in the North

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 Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator 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. 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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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 Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator 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. 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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Invest in your mind – use that muscle in your head!

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!


Puzzle on a table

Puzzles, learning something new, being creative, and reading are great ways to exercise your brain! How do you invest in your mind?

I have to admit this was a frustrating morning. I couldn’t find my truck keys. When I get home from work, I always put my truck keys in the same spot. So why weren’t they there this morning? There are two likely explanations for this. Either I put my keys somewhere else and promptly forgot about that, or gremlins hid them on me. I blamed the gremlins, and as it turned out, I was right. They stole my keys and hid them in my coat pocket!

While not everyone may suffer the scourge of key hiding gremlins, one thing is for sure. As we age, our brains change. It’s normal to experience some changes in some cognitive functions such as memory or visuospatial abilities. While it’s true that conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are associated with aging, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help maintain a healthy brain.

The point is that investing in your brain is very important to healthy aging. So how can you do that?

Think of your brain as a muscle

Your brain is much like a muscle in the fact that regular exercise helps keep it healthy. Numerous studies have shown that “exercising your brain” has real benefits. For instance, a study at Stanford University found that memory loss can be improved by 30 to 50 per cent through doing mental exercises.

So how can you exercise your brain? Well there are the usual suggestions such as:

  • Taking a course at your local college or university.
  • Reading newspapers, magazines and books.
  • Playing games that make you think like Scrabble, cards, Trivial Pursuit, checkers or chess.
  • Engaging in creative activities such as drawing, painting or woodworking.
  • Doing crossword puzzles and word games.

Think outside the box

Sometimes, it can be helpful to think outside the box as well. If you like watching game shows, try to guess the answer before the contestants. Or the next time you’re at a social gathering, use the opportunity to engage in stimulating conversations.

While technology may be baffling at times, learn to use it to your advantage. Look into using apps or games for your tablet or smartphone that exercise your brain. Many offer a free version that let you try before purchasing a full version. If there isn’t a college or university in your community, look online for courses. Most post-secondary institutions offer many courses and programs online. Some websites such as coursera and edX offer free courses from various colleges and universities.

Manage lifestyle risk factors

Staying physically active, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, making healthy food choices and eating a well-balanced and healthy diet rich in cereals, fish, legumes and vegetables are all good investments in a healthy brain. While genetics certainly plays a role in the aging process, you do have control over how you live life. Choosing a healthy lifestyle will pay off with a better quality of life.

Manage stress

It’s also important to make sure that you manage stress. Stress wears us down both mentally and physically over time. Even a low level of stress can be detrimental to our health if it persists for an extended period. Look for more on managing stress in my next blog post!

So, what will you do this week to invest in your mind and keep the gremlins from stealing your keys? Remember to send us a picture or quick line about how you kept your brain engaged.

(What am I doing to stay mentally engaged? I’m working on a gremlin trap!)

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator 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. 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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Tales from the Man Cave: Stress

Cloudy skies

Stress can feel like there are storm clouds overhead.

Stress is an unavoidable part of our daily lives. It can motivate us to get things done, but it can also overwhelm us if we don’t know how to manage it. It is said that about 20% of the population will suffer from serious stress issues at some point in their lives. Pressure at work, trouble with relationships, and our own expectations can all lead to increased levels of stress. Chronic stress can lead to disease and therefore it’s important to learn to manage our stress in healthy ways.

Stress can lead to a number of physical problems and in the long term even damage blood vessels, contributing to heart disease, high blood pressure and various other ailments.

Stress can also really affect your thinking and feelings. We have likely all had stressful thoughts and feelings at various times during our lives, but if they persist, they can lead to something more serious like depression and anxiety, which will need professional help.

Below are some examples of thoughts and feelings that might be an indication that stress in your life is becoming unmanageable and that you might need help:

  • You may have persistent thoughts about things going wrong and can even have panic attacks. You may believe you have screwed things up in your life or feel like a failure. You might feel full of doom and gloom about your life and find yourself waiting for the worst to happen.
  • You may often feel unwell and tense.
  • You might feel as if you have no energy for anything. You slow down.
  • You might be more irritable and you may be quick to lose your temper.
  • You’re not able to concentrate like you used to.
  • You might not sleep well or you can’t “switch off”.
  • You may also feel worthless or hopeless. You cry a lot.
  • You find yourself drinking too much or using other substances to cope.
  • You might avoid certain places in case something bad happens. You escape from places when you feel tense. You retreat from life and try to protect yourself against the world.

These things can come on either slowly over time or suddenly after a major life crisis. It can be like a vicious downward cycle that feeds on you – there is a close link between stress, anxiety, panic, depression, poor sleep, and substance abuse. Anxiety and depression are very commonly found together.

Like many things in life, these feelings and conditions can be either mild, moderate or severe. If you feel it is all too much, you need help and you need to talk to someone about it.

Did you know? Although women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, men are 3-4 times more likely to die by suicide.What can be done?

There are many things in general that can be done to defeat or manage stress symptoms.

  • Talking to someone is a great way to help yourself! There is no shame in being vulnerable as this can also help others to reach out to you.
  • Exercise has been demonstrated to reduce the effects of stress and has the spin off that it can make you feel healthier and feel good with the release of all those “feel good” chemicals.
  • Write down a list of stressors in your life. Often the very act of writing down the stressful things can give you a more realistic view and you might see ways to reduce your stress that you hadn’t thought of yet.
  • Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol as both can worsen stress and anxiety. Caffeine can increase jitteriness and anxious feelings and alcohol can make you feel depressed. In the long term, alcohol can make you anxious and even lead to panic attacks.
  • Healthy eating and good nutrition has also been shown to be helpful in combating stress, giving the body the energy and nutrients it needs to fight stress effects.
  • Take a “one thing at a time” approach to help you get through the tasks of the day and to stop you from running everything together and going over things again and again.
  • Focus on the positive and try to find at least 5 things each day to be thankful for. Gratitude works in changing the conversation from negative and self-deprecating to positive and grateful.
  • Try yoga and meditation. Maybe it’s time to join a group and change up your life and learn some new things. Research shows that meditation is very useful in helping people cope with stress. People can learn that they are ‘not’ their thoughts and that thinking and self are different. This can help combat negative thoughts.
  • Avoid isolating yourself and think about doing things for other people. Helping others helps us to feel better about ourselves. Join a group of some kind to give you an interest that is different from family and work.
  • Go to a counsellor. There are many well-researched thought and behaviour therapies that can help people re-imagine their lives for the better.
  • Talk to your doctor about your stress if you are having trouble coping. There are ways that your doctor can help with anxiety and depression.

Some people can become so stressed that they may even consider suicide.

If you have suicidal thoughts or thoughts about death you need to speak to your doctor and counsellor immediately. I know what you’re thinking: “But I’m a man, Jim, I shouldn’t ask for help.” I’m here to tell you that you can ask for help and that it makes you an even stronger man for doing so. You can call a crisis line and talk to someone there confidentially or seek emergency help by calling 911.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Heart Advice for Men’s Health Week

A healthy heart is essential to be a healthy man.

A healthy heart is essential to be a healthy man.

In honour of Men’s Health Week, I want to talk about things men (and everyone, really) can do to help reduce the risk of heart disease. To do the subject justice would require a book but for today I will mention only the briefest of actions that can be carried out.

Here is my list of factors you may be able to change which will help the health of your heart:

  1.  Smoking. Just quit. This is beyond doubt the number one thing you can (and should) do. It is the number one modifiable factor under your control which can help you have a longer life. About 30% of all deaths from heart disease in the U.S. are directly related to cigarette smoking.
  2. High blood pressure. Cigarette smoking injures the lining of the blood vessels and increases the risk of developing blood clots, which contributes to hardening of the arteries. Even inhaling others’ cigarette smoke has been shown to lower good cholesterol. Studies have shown that HDL levels often go up soon after a person quits smoking.
  3. High blood cholesterol. Fatty foods are a contribution to poor heart health. Check out Canada’s Food Guide for advice on eating well.
  4. Diabetes. I’m talking about type 2 diabetes which can come under your control somewhat by monitoring what you eat and engaging in physical activity.
  5. Physical inactivity. Plan to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity a week. If you work in an office make a plan to stand up many times during your working day. Remember our mantra “every move counts.” Decrease screen time and get outside as much as possible. Walk the dog or just walk.
  6. Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines

    From Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines

    Excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure and contribute to the development of heart disease and stroke, among other things. Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines can help you.

  7. Stress. The direct relationship between stress and heart disease perhaps lies in all of the above. If people have stressful lives, suffer anxiety and depressed mood, these can contribute to all of the other negative behaviours and at the same time make changing behaviour much more difficult. Increased alcohol consumption, comfort eating and watching more movies on TV, may provide short-term stress relief through self-medication, but in the long run will not work well for you. It’s better to go for short walks in nature and learn some relaxation strategy such as meditation. Decrease alcohol consumption and increase physical activity to release those feel good hormones and engage with the family and community. In addition to this guys need to talk about their stressors.

No one can guarantee the health of your heart in the future but by following some simple steps you can decrease your risk and feel less stressed.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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The Grizzly Truth: A good laugh for good health

Nick, with a goatee, holds his cat in a Christmas picture.

Nick’s photo entry into the Northern Health Mr. Movember contest.

“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”

I have seen this quote attributed to both Francis Bacon and to Oscar Wilde. To be honest, I don’t have the citation to prove who said what when (if you know, feel free to comment and share as I wasn’t able to find firm evidence for either party). This quote carries a lot of meaning to me, both in my professional life and my personal life. I feel that I have a pretty good sense of humor and that has lent itself to some rich experiences with practical jokes and certain Mr. Movember contests (pictured right).

Wellness research shows that people who laugh regularly are healthier than those who do not. I’m not just referring to mental health either. One study actually found that people who laugh regularly have a lower risk for heart attack and an increased pain threshold! In work environments, the appropriate use of humor can de-escalate tense situations and increase the rapport between staff and clients.

There have been a number of circumstances in which laughing about myself, or my situation, has helped me move past unhelpful and unproductive feelings of stress or frustration. For instance, my hair started thinning at the age of 21. I’m 26 now and that trend is continuing, despite my protests. I will admit that the first time my “bald spot” was pointed out, I didn’t laugh and say “thanks for bringing that to my attention!” In fact, a couple of threats were exchanged before I made my way to the nearest mirror. At first, having a sense of humor about the situation wasn’t easy, but, over time, it made me feel better to have a laugh about it, even cracking a joke or two at my own expense. Humour has helped me come to terms with something that’s completely out of my control.

On a more serious note, I recently read about a nurse who had been struggling with significant depression. He received support to enroll in a stand-up comedy course and, since beginning the course, has found that his outlook, self-esteem, and mood have greatly improved. You don’t have to get on the stand-up comedy stage like the nurse, but, to improve your health, it is important to practise allowing yourself to laugh and to put yourself in an environment where laughter is common practise!

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Freeing yourself from anxiety

A dark cloud representing anxiety's effect on a person.

Anxiety can cloud your thoughts if you let it.

People suffering from anxiety have to relearn how to trust their own thoughts. They have to trust that they can attain peace from within and stop running from their thoughts. One difficulty with this might lie with acquiring new thoughts, either in a state of anxiety or under the influence of medication.

The truth is that freedom from anxiety may indeed lie within.

The fear of fear itself can be crippling and isolating, leading to unusual behaviours that are aimed at keeping the fear from returning. Repetitive hand washing or staying indoors, self-medication, and /or substance abuse are just a few examples. Sadly, these behaviours can make anxiety worse. Anxiety and panic can also increase a person’s risk of suicide.

If the person knows what he or she fears, that person can unlearn that fear by letting the brain’s chemicals do their job and, after witnessing that they have come out the other side of it alive, eventually realize that an unusual feeling (like the state of anxiety mentioned above) will not harm the body because the body is acting normally. The scary thought will no longer have power over the individual.

I would make a bold statement and say that there are as many approaches to therapy as there are individuals and not all work for all people.

One well-researched, recommended self-help and cognitive behaviour therapy is the practice of mindfulness. The key to this is to become aware that:

Your thoughts and the you which observed them are not the same thing.

If you can learn to observe and see your thoughts as just thoughts then they will lose their power to trigger the adrenaline rush into the darkness of fear. I would go further and suggest mindfulness or some similar form of spiritual practice can be helpful in experiencing wellness and illness prevention in an increasingly stressful world.

I made it sound simple but there’s a lot more to it. Don’t be afraid to approach a healthcare provider or counsellor if you are suffering from stress.

For more information, please visit Healthlink BC and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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The Grizzly Truth: Learning to identify stress

Learning to identify stressI hope that your holiday season went well; it tends to be a stressful time for people regardless of how or if you choose to celebrate it. Icy road conditions, increased family and social events, and the costs can be pretty staggering. Personally, I’ve just recently returned to work and I’ve needed to remind myself about my methods of dealing with stress. Stress, or at least referring to it as that, is something men have a more difficult time identifying or talking about than women. But it’s there.

I can distinctly recall a time where, having just experienced a car accident on the winter highways, I came to a realization about stress. I was navigating my work schedule, ICBC claims, searching for a new mode of transportation, and subconsciously coming to terms with my near miss. At the time, I was on the phone with my wife, and while she was trying to be helpful and supportive, all I could think about was how angry about the whole situation I was. I couldn’t really concentrate, I was exhausted, and if you had asked me if I was feeling “irritable” I probably would have started digging a hole in the backyard to hide the bodies. It was during that conversation I was lucky enough to realize I didn’t really have a reason for being as angry as I was, and that I needed to take a step back and think things over. Retrospectively, I can see all the stress sitting there. In the moment, however, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees (or the sleuth for the bears, to stick with that analogy. Seriously, a group of bears is called a “sleuth”).

As a generalization, men tend to report their stress less and some research has shown that the “stoic and silent” response may have some biological foundations. I took some time, after that conversation, to make some choices. What was I going to do about my stress? Shove it down deep beneath my chest hair where it can incubate and emerge later as a heart attack? Lash out at my family and friends? The challenging part is that we have to do something for ourselves in order to stay healthy in spite of stress. The encouraging part is that we are capable of changing the way we respond to stress and the way we manage it. How do you manage? Exercise, sleep, nutrition, confiding in someone – we know that these things are good for us, but do we make time for them?

If you haven’t made a New Year’s resolution yet, I’m challenging you to give this some thought and commit to doing one thing this month for your own wellness. Feel free to share your challenge in the comments. I’ve decided that this month I am going to focus on what I’m eating, as I’ve really let that slide over the holidays. I know if I eat better I will feel better physically, be more alert, and ready to tackle the bear by the horns! What are you going to do?

Resources about stress:

 

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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The age of stress

The sun shines behind dark clouds

The sun shines behind dark clouds

Stress is a big ticket issue these days. Billions are spent on stress-related illnesses like depression and anxiety. This does not count the amount spent on physical illnesses, in which stress is a major factor, or the substance abuse issues which are troublesome for society at large, as well as for the individual. There are smoking-related deaths, alcohol-related deaths and more. Need I go on?

Add to this the money spent on dieting due to our society’s obesity issues (in which stress also plays a part), and you almost feel that we are missing something as a society.

The bills for pills, therapy, self-help resources, wellness and other treatments to alleviate stress keep going up. YouTube is full of alternative videos, quick-fix remedies and relaxation music for those who can’t sleep and for those with post-traumatic stress disorder and other severe conditions.

So, what the heck is going on? Let me tell you what I think.

Stress is a normal reaction and there is, most likely, nothing fundamentally wrong with you.

I believe in the idea that stress is a normal reaction to a life that is out of whack. But fortunately, there are ways that we can bring balance back into our daily lives and, subsequently, our mental wellness.

Don’t rule out those relaxation tapes, wellness training or yoga. These are being shown to have good, lasting effects for some people.

The very important role that diet and exercise play in mental wellness cannot be understated. Nor can the equally important role of awareness of your daily routine. Ask yourself: What is unnecessary and anxiety producing? Are you drinking too much caffeine? Consuming alcohol for the effect? Talk about it with a loved one.

Get involved in community activities and be a part of something. The old adage “it is better to give than receive” still rings true – volunteering does lift the spirits. Spending time in nature or a walk in the park among the trees can help too.

Finally, if there is something major in your life causing anxiety and strain there is a prescribed course of action to reduce fear and anxiety. Face it, fix it, forget it. Sounds easy, but it could take a long time to fix and you may need some help to do that. Thankfully, there are many online resources that don’t cost anything.

Here are some resources for leading a happier life (note: If fear and depression are overwhelming, you should speak to your doctor):

Enter to win a $300 GC to help support your healthy habits for the new year by entering our photo caption contest.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Safe and Healthy Workplaces

psychosocial safety at work

Building socially and psychologically safe workplaces supports the mental health of the workforce.

Did you know: The average full-time worker spends approximately one third of their adult life on the job!

What comes to mind when you think about safety at work? Maybe the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulations spring to mind. These legislated requirements provide an essential foundation for a safe workplace. Exposure to physical hazards in the workplace significantly influences our risk of injury and illness. Building a strong OHS Program and Management System to address hazards and risks in the workplace creates a foundation for a safe and healthy workplace.

Within the growing body of workplace research, there is substantial evidence that the psychosocial impacts of work – that is, the impacts of work on the mental health of workers – are just as important as physical hazards. Recently, the BC government enacted legislation to recognize “significant workplace stressors, which may include bullying and harassment” within the Workers Compensation Act.

Embedding principles of psychosocial safety in the workplace involves going beyond regulatory compliance. Psychosocial safety includes aspects of the workplace (e.g. worker participation and engagement within the organization, social connectedness, respect and civility) and the work itself (e.g. job design, role clarity, recognition, fairness, workload, a sense of purpose and meaningful contribution through work). Building socially and psychologically safe workplaces supports the mental health of the workforce.

Results of a recent large scale study suggest that “reducing risks and hazards and establishing a supportive environment are among the best ways to improve safety.” (Nahrgang, Hofmann, and Morgeson, 2011)

What is a healthy workplace? Graham Lowe (2010) says: “We talk about healthy people as vigorous, flourishing, robust, thriving, resilient, and fit. The same words also describe healthy organizations.”

There are many ways employers can influence workplace health, including:

  • Set and communicate a clear, compelling vision for a healthy workplace.
  • Engage actively and lead by example in efforts to improve health, safety and well-being.
  • Focus on prevention rather than reaction.
  • Establish a fair and just culture.

The workplace is a collective environment, reflecting everyone in it. How we feel when we show up for work influences the workplace environment.  “The fact is, when people don’t feel good, they simply don’t perform at their best” (Hemp, 2004). Our physical and mental health impacts how we carry out our work and how we interact with our co-workers. This is where our personal health practices can really support us in our resilience and ability to cope with the inevitable stresses and strains at work.

So, as we think about investing the next three weeks to think about workplace wellness, we want to ask you a few questions:

  • Can a workplace be healthy if it does not have a strong safety foundation?
  • What do you think contributes to a healthy workplace?
  • How do you care for yourself so you are the best you can be in your personal life and your work life?

Nahrgang, JD, Hofmann, DA, Morgeson, FP. (2011) Safety at Work: A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Link Between Job Demands, Job Resources, Burn-out, Engagement, and Safety Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology Vol  96 (1): 71-94

Hemp, P. (2004). Presenteeism:  At work – but out of it. Harvard Business Review, 82(10), 49-58.

Lowe, G. (2010). Building Healthy and Sustainable Health Care Organizations.  Adapted from Graham Lowe’s book Creating Healthy Organizations: How Vibrant Workplaces Inspire Employees to Achieve Sustainable Success,  published in May 2010 by Rotman/UTP Publishing.

Helen Styles

About Helen Styles

Helen Styles is an Advisor with Workplace Health and Safety, Partnerships in Prevention for Northern Health and Interior Health. She has a keen interest in the linkages between organizational culture and workplace health, safety and wellness. Helen has a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Medicine and worked as a physiotherapist in numerous settings for 16 years before joining Workplace Health and Safety. When not working, Helen enjoys walking Quesnel’s beautiful Riverfront Trail, working out at the gym, swimming, doing volunteer work, and reading.

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