Healthy Living in the North

Workplace burnout: How to avoid that stressful, sinking feeling

Raina Fumerton and her son posing outside.Physician burnout is a relatively common experience in BC and elsewhere. Life at work, and outside of work can be busy, chaotic, and stressful. It can, at times, feel overwhelming. I won’t pretend that I’ve got everything “figured out” or that I don’t have episodes of regression/remission to unhealthy habits, but I can share some strategies that have helped me to move in a healthier direction. As a physician, these help me – but can be just as beneficial for anyone!

As much as possible, stay positive. I know this sounds corny, but it’s true. It’s also hard to do and takes active effort (for me anyway). There are times, usually when I’m tired, when I tend to move to a negative outlook instead of a positive one. However, in my experience, cynicism can be very destructive and can lead to even more feelings of disempowerment and frustration, and can also be quite contagious. It’s been helpful to me to be aware of this tendency towards negativity, actively acknowledge it without judgment, and then trying to take a more compassionate and positive approach. Trying to see things from a different point of view and finding new opportunities from what might initially have felt like a failure can also be helpful.

Make realistic goals every day. Accomplishing small but realistic goals each day gives me the energy and motivation to stick with some of the longer term goals and projects I have on the go.

Be kind to myself and to others. A safe and respectful workplace is a culture that allows me to thrive. No matter the setting, saying thank you and showing gratitude to others for the many things that they do is a great way to ensure that I contribute to a positive and healthy environment that enables myself (and others) to thrive, both in the workplace and beyond. As a public health physician, I work on issues that can be quite controversial and divisive. As such, not having an expectation of myself to make everybody happy is also helpful. I take positions and make decisions based on public health ethics and on evidence; I have learned to accept that while people may disagree with me, I hope that they can respect and appreciate my process.

Posture. Sit up straight or stand up! I spend a lot of time at a desk and in front of a computer and am fortunate to have a sit-stand desk, which allows me some diversity/flexibility. I find when I pay attention to my posture, it has positive effects on me, both physically and mentally.

Exercise. I am not a morning person, and quite frankly I am not easily pulled away from the comfort of my home in the evenings either! However, I am lucky to have a workplace that is within walking distance from my home and a fabulous local fitness studio that hosts lunchtime exercise classes. I find incorporating exercise into my daily commute (e.g. walking to work) and/or daily lunchtime regime is far more effective than trying to find time in the early mornings or evenings, particularly now that I have children. The lunchtime classes really energize me at a critical juncture in the day which enables me to be more productive in the afternoon.

Spend time with my son (and soon to arrive baby daughter). Admittedly this can go both ways (there are definitely times where one’s children can affect one’s life balance in a negative way as well!). However, in general and overall, I experience a lot of joy in allowing myself to engage in his playful and curious ways and exploring the world through his eyes. He has the absolute best and most infectious (and therapeutic) laugh I’ve ever heard.

Spend time in nature. Living in beautiful northwestern BC, there is no shortage of highly accessible, stunning outdoor adventures and escapes to be enjoyed. I am fortunate to have a wide range of options at my fingertips for all four seasons. I try to make a purposeful effort to get outdoors every day, even if it’s just for a short walk, on my own, or with friends or family.

Raina Fumerton

About Raina Fumerton

Dr. Raina Fumerton is a public health physician and a Medical Health Officer in the northwest.

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Relating to the teen in your life

two women together hugging in a forest.The relationship you have with the teen(s) in your life is likely filled with moments of hope, joy, pride, challenge, frustration, fear, confusion, and everything in between. So how can parents and connected adults navigate these relationships and foster positive, mutually respectful relationships that can withstand a few bumps along the way?

There are so many changes in the adolescent period, including social, emotional, physical and cognitive. Social and emotional development is big at this time, and you can expect to see changes in the way teens interact and behave. Searching for identity, independence, responsibility, and adventure; placing more importance on friendships, peers, and dating; and communicating differently are all hallmarks of life during adolescence.

This time of change creates a fabulous opportunity for an adult to become a safe person to talk to, to create a safe environment, and to create a sense of freedom for exploration with the structure and support to do that safely. Building a solid foundation in the earlier years will certainly support this new challenge, but if this teen is new to your world, or your relationship has been less connected as you had hoped, don’t fear. With some energy, support, and information, you can become a meaningful person in the life of teens you care about.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Adult-teen relationships are NOT friendships, but they include components found in healthy friendships such as open communication, sharing, respect, and trust.
  • We want teens to talk to us and ask questions, so be ready and make time when they approach you. You want to be ready to talk when they are, we don’t want to miss the opportunity. Make sure you are completely present and listening.
  • Plan ahead and prepare yourself to speak knowledgeably about substances, mental and emotional health, sexuality, and identity. Leave the judgment and dramatic statements at the door, and have factual information to share in a context that makes sense for your teen.family on bicycles in a forest.
  • Encourage and support your teen’s involvement in a variety of activities, clubs, and groups that highlight their strengths, provide opportunity for building self-esteem and connections to youth with similar interests. Having a few different spaces and groups to connect to also provides social options for when challenges come up with one group of friends.
  • Be a part of your teen’s life. Get to know their friends, and welcome them into your home.
  • Remember to treat your teen like you want to be treated. And model the behaviour you want to see. If no phones or devices are allowed at the dinner table, put yours away too.

Creating a safe space for teens to ask questions without fear of rejection, judgment, or discipline is key. There are lots of resources out there to support your learning. Two websites to check for up to date information are:

While there is no guide or fool-proof plan to make these relationships successful, it is certainly worth the effort. Positive adult and teen relationships are linked with a host of positive outcomes, such as social emotional well-being, better academic achievements, and delayed or reduced substance use and risky behaviours. To learn more, visit Healthy Families BC.

 

This article was first published in the Winter 2018 issue of Healthier You magazine. Check out the full issue!  

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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Learning on the job: finding wellness as a professional physiotherapist

For Christina Conrad, a newly minted physiotherapist based in Prince George, life and wellness can be thought of like a tree.

“It’s important to have lots of different branches on the tree. If each branch represents a facet of your life, then it’s important to have more than one branch. If something upsetting or challenging at work happens (which can happen in health care!), it’s not your whole life and there are other things in life that balance you out. It doesn’t shake your tree that bad.”

I had the opportunity to chat with Christina about life in physio, and how she finds wellness as a professional and as an individual. Here’s what she had to say.

Tell me about life as a new physiotherapist.

woman riding a bike through a desert .I’ve been in my current role for a year and a half at the University Hospital of Northern BC. As a physiotherapist, I’ve worked in many different areas of the hospital. A lot of my day-to-day work involves helping people do the things they need to do daily. Getting out of bed, standing, walking, that kind of thing. It can be very hands-off or very hands-on with someone who is very ill or who has just had a major surgery.

What are your thoughts on wellness?

I learned during my student years about how not to incorporate wellness into your life. Being a student, you don’t necessarily take conscious breaks and I realized I needed to create space outside of work for myself and not necessarily fill that time with more work. I knew if I were to stay in this type of practice long-term, I’d need to be strong physically. The stats show that young workers are at the highest risk for injury, so it’s important to be conscious of that while working. The way I think of it is you need to strengthen your body outside of work so you can be strong at work.

Tell me about a time you had to focus on personal wellness at work.

There was a time at work where I was transferring a patient, when I realized that if I was going to do other transfers safely, I needed to be a lot stronger. In my profession we have a lot of equipment to assist so we’re less likely to be injured, but in that moment I realized, wow I need to join a gym!

After that experience, I realized that I needed to be well in order to help others. You’re not able to do your job well if you’re not taking care of yourself.woman skiing with arms raised high.

How do you incorporate wellness into your work and personal life?

At work I wear a pedometer that tracks my steps. If I haven’t met my step goal by lunch, I make a point to go for a walk. Sometimes I’ll walk or bike to work. Outside of work, I like to go running and mountain biking. We’ve got some great places in Prince George! In the winter, I like to downhill ski, or cross-country ski. I even took lessons this winter! I think living in the north, you have to find ways to enjoy all the seasons. From the physio perspective, there’s a big emphasis on exercise but community and creativity are also important for your wellness. I realized I was lacking creativity in my life so I joined the PG Potters guild. I think it’s important to develop communities outside of work.

Do you have any tips for those looking to enhance wellness on or off the job?

Wearing a pedometer or smart watch to track my steps has been helpful for me. It helps me measure my physical activity and gauge how I’m doing that day. Learning how to balance, the skill for separating work from the rest of life, has also been helpful. I knew starting out that if I wanted to be in this profession long-term, I’d have to learn how to balance. When there are challenges at work and you bring it home, it can carry over into the rest of your life. One of the things that helps me avoid this is walking home. For me it’s about a 30-minute walk. It gives me time to debrief and acts like a timer so that when I get home, I can move on with the rest of my day.

 

This article was first published in the spring edition of A Healthier You magazine. Check out the full magazine below! 

 

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

A Northerner since childhood, Haylee has grown up in Prince George and recently completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Northern British Columbia. During university Haylee found her passion for health promotion while volunteering heavily with the Canadian Cancer Society and was also involved with the UNBC JDC West team, bringing home gold as part of the Marketing team in 2016. Joining the communications team as an advisor for population and public health has been a dream come true for her. When she is not dreaming up marketing and communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Foundry: Changing how youth access health and wellness

(Interview with Josh Van Der Meer, Youth Mental Health and Addictions Councillor, Northern Health)

In any successful community, it’s important to take care of all populations, including our youth. That’s why I was so excited to sit down with Josh Van Der Meer, Youth Mental Health and Addictions Councillor, to learn more about a new service in northern BC; Foundry Prince George. This is a place where any youth in the community, or their families, can find quick and easy access to the help they need, when they need it. Foundry transforms how mental health and substance use services are delivered, providing early intervention, in the form of resources, info, and support to youth between the ages of 12 and 24. Van Der Meer helped share some more info with me about this exciting new initiative.

Where/why did the idea of Foundry come from? Were there recognized needs in the community?

Foundry piloted in downtown Vancouver. From its success in the lower mainland, more Foundry’s began to pop up around B.C., and fast forward to fall 2017, Foundry Prince George was established.

Largely, the concept was an effort to fill the obvious gap that had been recognized for mental health services for youth in communities. A young person’s life is always changing, and having a place they can receive mental health support and a variety of other services is important.foundry waiting room with chairs

What’s the most frequently used service at Foundry?

Although we have a variety of services available, our mental health information and services have been the most used – which is awesome. Mental health has been such a taboo subject in the past, and to have young people of all ages and ethnicities come in and talk to our team members… it’s pretty special.

A reason our mental services are so popular is because of their accessibility. If someone walks in through our doors, there’s no scheduling for an appointment later – you’re going to see a mental health professional that day, and probably within a few minutes.

When a person discusses what’s bothering them emotionally, it usually makes for a deep conversation, which in turn gives the support person an opportunity for a rich assessment. This assessment leads to a plan for next steps: whether that’s coming in for another discussion, or directing to resources from other health services.

What does a healthy relationship mean to Foundry, and what does Foundry do to help make this happen (staff approach, mindset, etc.)?

To us at Foundry Prince George, a healthy relationship is when people come together and get the support they need. We have the opportunity here to connect young people to professionals, giving them access to exactly that, including bringing in families as well (if needed and requested). We understand that the mental and physical needs of young people don’t stop at 18 years old, and we can be the gateway to better health and wellness for them as they transition into adulthood.

Services offered at Foundryfront desk of foundry

  • Primary care services (health care)
  • Sexual Health Services
  • Mental Health Information and Services
  • Substance Use Information and Services
  • Family Involvement Worker
  • Groups (to be developed in 2018)
  • Housing Support
  • Employment Information and Support
  • Education Information and Support

What makes Foundry unique or different from similar facilities?

The difference here at Foundry is that youth can get access to a huge variety of health and wellness services all in one place, almost immediately. If we don’t have the particular service the person requires, our staff does they best they can to find out where it is and how the client can get it.

Foundry is also unique in the fact that it’s the product of an awesome group of community partners, and the cooperation between several health and wellness agencies.

Favourite part about Foundry?

My favourite part about working at Foundry is that I’m the first person who gets to help people that come in. When a young person first comes in for mental health services, they’re nervous, they’re not sure, they’re scared sometimes. Opening up and speaking to a mental health professional often takes those feelings away, like a weight off their chest.

When I see that sort of relief on someone’s face at the end of a session, and they’re thankful and relaxed… I know they have left with something. And that’s pretty special.

 

This article was first published in the Winter 2018 issue of Healthier You magazine. Check out the full issue below!

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Mindfulness at work – a positive mental health strategy

I remember the day clearly. It was a snowy Monday morning, and I arrived at work only to learn that the company was being re-structured and the project I was working was cancelled due to budget constraints. Our team was given two weeks’ notice to leave.

As the words fell on my ears, my heart began pounding against my ribcage and my eyes glazed over. As a single immigrant mother of two young boys, things were, shall we say, a bit uncertain.

Fortunately, over the years I had learned some good mindfulness and breathing techniques which I continued to practice daily. I knew that now was a good time to use them to manage my mind and emotions. I went back to my desk, sat down, closed my eyes, and took several deep breaths in and out-my awareness on my breath only.

Those few simple minutes of awareness and slowing down my breath, saved me from a whole range of emotions. Later, it also helped me to see the situation from a more positive perspective.

Mindfulness is a mental state

So what is mindfulness? Very simply, it’s a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, often accepting and acknowledging one’s bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Through mindfulness and breathing techniques, we can actually influence our emotions which often control us.

Breathing can help give an emotional lift.

Emotions and breathing are closely connected

Emma Seppala Ph.D., Science Director at Stanford University, and a workplace wellbeing researcher, explains:

 One of the reasons why breathing can change how we feel is that emotions and breathing are closely connected.”

In her article, Breathing: the little known secret to peace of mind, Seppala discusses a research study by Pierre Phillipot. The study showed, that different emotional states are associated with certain breathing patterns. During the study, when the participants felt anxious or afraid, they breathed more quickly and shallowly, and when they felt happy, they breathed slowly and fully.

Try this simple mindfulness technique

This technique is by far one of the simplest mindfulness practices I know. Try out it the next time you need to manage your mind and emotions.

  • At your desk, sit with your back straight, feet firmly on the ground and your hands on your knees.
  • Close your eyes and bring awareness to your breath. That’s all, just your breath.
  • Notice the pace of your breath.
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, noticing how it fills your lungs and the temperature and texture as it passes through your nostrils.
  • Hold the breath for a second, before slowly breathing out through your nostrils. Again notice the sensations of the out-breath.
  • Continue to repeat this sequence, for 5 minutes initially.
  • When you feel comfortable, you can increase the length of time to 10, 15 or 20 minutes.

More on mindfulness

Jennifer Koh

About Jennifer Koh

Jennifer, an Organizational Development Consultant with Northern Health, is a Certified Professional Coach, yoga and meditation Instructor and an Equine Facilitated Learning & Wellness Coach. For the past 20 years she has been assisting organizations with change management, organizational culture, executive and team coaching, employee engagement, wellness and leadership development in South Africa, Asia and Canada. She has taught yoga, mindfulness, breathing techniques and meditation with the non-profit Art of Living Foundation since 2010. Jennifer immigrated to Canada in 2006 and lived in Calgary for 10 years before moving to Prince George in 2016. She was born in Swaziland and spent most of her childhood and adult life in South Africa.

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Mental wellness inside and outside of mental illness

During Mental Illness Awareness Week, we want to explore the message of hope, resiliency, and understanding that there is wellness inside and outside of illness. Whether you live with a physical illness, a developmental illness, an injury, a mental illness or no labelled illness or disorder at all, your mental health can be appreciated and supported to flourish by recognizing the pieces that you can influence.

Living with a diagnosed mental illness or not, the reality is that every person on the planet will have moments, periods, or situations in which their mental health is or was, less than they would like it to be. Here are some examples of things to look out for – and things you can build skills to make changes to:

  • Trouble focusing attention.
  • Finding your thoughts stuck on one track – that just won’t stop running.
  • Struggling to tell what is real or not.
  • Feeling sad or vacant when good things are happening in your life.
  • Finding yourself isolating from friends or avoiding activities that usually bring you joy.
  • Sleep trouble – too much energy to get to sleep, or sleeping all night and not feeling rested.
  • Impulsively making decisions about money or activities that put you at risk.
  • Change in appetite or exercise patterns.
  • Feeling like you can’t make decisions when you usually make them with ease.

All of these things contribute to the overall experience of mental health, as do many other factors (jobs, finances, social networks, family breakdowns, life events, spirituality, etc.). The great thing about this list is that we can all learn to interrupt thinking patterns, practice better sleep hygiene, or adjust our schedules to promote balance in our days. We can invite new activities and people into our lives, we can change our environments and engage in our community, and we can seek help if we are struggling to make changes that can support growth. In doing these things, we can all see improvements to our mental wellness and in turn, satisfaction with our lives – dealing with challenges productively as they arise.

Have you checked up on your mental health?

Pieces of the puzzle, things to try:

  1. Have a look at your thinking patterns.
  2. Practice sleep hygiene.
  3. Recognize your strengths – try starting your day with writing out 3 things you are good at.
  4. Spend time with loved ones – build a social network.
  5. Volunteer.
  6. Exercise 30 minutes most days.
  7. Learn to manage and reduce stress.

Fast Facts:

  • Mental health, like physical health, has a range whether we live with a diagnosis or not.
  • We all have mental health and have days/periods where our thinking patterns, emotions, and behaviours are not at their best. We can learn skills to enhance our mental and emotional health.
  • Recovery is a journey, and there are many paths to get you there. Choose a route that makes sense for you.
  • Similar to physical health, mental health has elements we can influence to reach our wellness goals.

There is hope! Here are stories of recovery from around the world:

Looking to find some help? Head to your primary care home, local physician, walk in clinic, or check out:

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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It matters!

This blog was co-authored by Cindy Gjerde (Regional Nursing Lead Tobacco Reduction).

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!


Teens. How do we keep them safe, happy, engaged, and AWAY from tobacco, cannabis, alcohol and other drugs?  As a woman who has spent her career working in mental health and substance use services, and as a parent to two adorable little girls, I ask myself this question daily. While there is no script I can give you, there are some key considerations to tuck into your parenting/coaching/teaching playbook.

  • Self-esteem matters: Teens need to feel empowered, confident, and like they contribute and are important.
  • Resiliency matters: Showing, supporting, and guiding teens through tough times teaches them that tough times have an end point, and they have power in how they deal with the tough stuff.
  • Connectedness matters: Encourage teens to be and stay connected to parents, friends, neighbours, teachers, coaches, leaders, grandparents.
  • Safe spaces matter: Safe places are more than ones that are physically safe (although that’s part of it). Mental and emotional health promoting spaces are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, places that are substance-free, and encourage young people to be themselves.

    teens boxing

    Teens need safe places that are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, substance-free, and that encourage them to be themselves.

Prevent, delay and reduce use

We know that the longer we prevent teens from using substances, the better armed they are in preventing the disease of addiction. We also know that substance use during adolescence can interfere with important developmental changes. So what can we do to prevent them from using in the first place?

  • Talk to them about tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.
  • Respond positively to your child’s/teen’s interests.
  • Involve your teen in activities and chores that grow their abilities.
  • Encourage your teen to get a part-time job or volunteer.
  • Support them during their tough times – use comforting language, and affirming statements.
  • Model responsible substance use (if substances are part of your life).
  • Help them learn to make and keep friends.
  • Support them to try new things and keep active.

Resources to educate yourself and your teens:

Things to be on the lookout for:

  • Change in mood or behaviour
  • Change in friends
  • Isolating themselves
  • Dropping grades or loss of interest
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Signs of substance use: smell of tobacco, cannabis, alcohol
  • Skipping school or work
  • Need for money
  • Finding drug paraphernalia in the home

Where to get help:

Visit your family physician or health care provider for a referral/recommendation to local resources such as:

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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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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