Healthy Living in the North

Filling the empty vessel of potential in today’s youth

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

“I dunno, hangin’ out.”

I hear this a lot when I ask youth what they do for fun. It’s a regular part of my mental health assessment at the Foundry Youth Wellness Centre in Prince George. It’s a huge red flag for me. Conversely, when I hear things like, “I’m on the volleyball team,” “I go to youth group,” or “I play guitar,” I note these as protective factors that support positive health outcomes in youth.

Silhouettes of people jumping against a sunny sky.

The experience of being a teenager

The teenage years are a time of massive inner change and growth and the brain is beginning to lay down some serious tracks of development in areas that will define the rest of a youth’s adult life. It’s a time of self-discovery and identity formation; when youth begin to question what kind of a person they want to be, who they identify with, and what they stand for. It’s also a time when their brain is craving rewards in brain chemistry on a level that will never be surpassed in any other stage of life. And it’s a time when one feels invincible and invulnerable to accidents or physical pain!

At this stage, we tend to see high risk, adrenaline-producing behaviors, with apparent lack of regard for the dangers. The highs and lows of life are intense, and all-consuming. Most of us can relate to the music we listened to as teens as being the most impactful and moving music of our entire life. We feel the music more intensely then, than any other time in our life!

Playing an instrument, fine tuning a slap shot, or learning a new language are all examples of things that our youth are working in earnest to develop and master. They’re things that require focus, patience, vulnerability, and creativity. They help enhance one’s sense of self, provide a platform to stand on, and complete the sentence, “I am…” They provide places to both input passion and output frustration.

In the absence of more positive activities to fill the vessels of potential, youth wander into other things – or other things will find them. While harmless in many youth’s lives, social media and gaming can become obsessed over. Drugs are often first introduced at this stage of life. Gangs become more prevalent too, preying on young people who lack a sense of community or belonging, or a strong sense of self.

However, we know that the pathways youth take can veer in many different directions, and everyone, at any time is capable of positive change. We are also keenly aware that as the brain develops, it becomes familiar with what it experiences, and more deeply tied to both the positive and negative familiarities. It consumes what it is fed.  

Above all, parents want the best for their children, and for them to grow into healthy, happy, functional adults. See the side box for ways you can help make the transition from adolescence to adulthood as positive as it can be.

Here are some ways to help guide our children through adolescence into adulthood:

  • Get active! Try to involve your child in the activities that interest you, or that they show an interest in. The earlier the better, but it’s never too late to try something new.
  • Turn off the screens. If there is a screen to stare at, it becomes very hard to gather the motivation to get outside, or get involved in something active. Set up the house so that it is more fun to be out of it than in it.
  • Talk about what used to be thought of as taboo topics such as mental health, drugs, and alcohol openly. Be prepared to listen and hear the perspectives of children and youth without closing the door to conversation with advice or judgment. Portray the message that it is safe to discuss difficult things, and give youth time to come around. When they are ready, if they feel safe, they will talk.
  • Cheer them on. Though they don’t admit it, youth want to make their parents proud. Watch their games/recitals, bring the whole family, or become a coach/trainer/mentor.
  • If you know of a young person aged 12-24 who is struggling with mental health concerns, consider The Foundry as a resource.
Josh Van der meer

About Josh Van der meer

Josh is a Mental Health and Addictions Clinician who splits his time between the Early Psychosis Intervention Team and the Foundry Youth Access Clinic. He primarily works with youth and young adults. In his spare time, Josh likes to be somewhere outside with his wife, daughter and dog. Josh likes to speed skate in the winter, and play ultimate Frisbee and mountain bike in the summer.

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More than just body parts: connecting the dots between mental & sexual health

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

I recently read a statement that resonated deeply with me. In an article called Sex Ed, Broken Hearts and Mental Health, written for Sexual and Reproductive Health Week (2018), the first sentence read: “Sexual health is not just about our body parts. The youth I work with understand this inherently.”

This is so true. There is much more to our sexual heath than just our body parts, but often when we think about sexual health, the first things that come to mind are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and contraception – if only it were so simple.

We don’t often think about the important connection between mental health and sexual health in our everyday lives. Youth are particularly affected by this vast list of connection points: puberty, crushes, relationships, first loves, broken hearts, coping, anxiety, gender identity, gender expression, value clarification, body image, consent, stigma, STIs, birth control, self-discovery… the list itself is overwhelming!

Young people have a lot of things happening at once; I saw this first hand while working in a youth wellness clinic at a local high school. Many students came looking for sexual health services and almost all of them had questions or concerns that related in some way to mental health. It’s nearly impossible to talk about sexual health without discussing mental health.

The green and blue sex sense logo.

Reducing stigma

It’s important to acknowldege that sexual and mental health are two sensitive health topics that people often find difficult to talk about. Because of a lack of awareness and misunderstanding, these topics are often surrounded by stigma – even with ongoing public education efforts to address perceptions.

Stigma can lead to negative mental health outcomes, feelings of shame, isolation, and negative self-image. These feelings can act as barriers that prevent people from accessing the care and support they need. How scary for a young person to be experiencing so much and not be able to talk about it openly and honestly without fear of judgment!

 So, how can we help reduce stigma and support positive sexual and mental health?”

Being “sexually healthy” requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.

Together, we can reduce stigma and help youth make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual and mental health. We can do this by building resiliency, increasing confidence, providing education, listening, and encouraging social connectedness.

Youth are entitled to positive and affirming health care that routinely and proactively meets the needs of their mental and sexual health. A big step towards achieving this is providing open safe spaces to talk about both. As parents and caregivers, we can help create this environment by becoming “askable adults.”

Talking matters: Be an askable adult

An askable adult is an approachable, non-judgmental source of reliable information for children and youth. This is a person that is easy to talk to, listens, respects a person’s right to privacy, and respects the right for a child or teen to feel the way they do. As children enter their teen years they start to turn to their friends for answers and information – often unreliable or inaccurate sources. Being as askable adult will help them know they can come to you whenever they have questions or curiosities.

While it may not seem like it at times, teens do care about what we say and do. Here are some tips to help make open, honest, give-and-take conversations about sexuality and mental health a normal part of family life:

  • Reflect on your upbringing. By thinking about the quality and nature of your experiences growing up, you may discover it is easier to respond to questions and find opportunities to start conversations about sexual and mental health.
  • Talk about sexual and mental health at an early age. And remember: it’s never too late to start.
  • Use correct vocabulary. By doing this, you will normalize the conversation and enhance the clarity of the discussion.
  • Watch for teachable moments. Talk about and help them understand issues as they come up in TV shows, movies, ads, music, social media, the community, and your (and their) social circle.
  • Provide resources. Provide information to youth about sexual health services and support so that they know where to go if they need help. Have resources like books in your home where your teen can get the right information.
  • Remember, you don’t have to know it all. Be an active learner yourself. Your teen will teach you just as much as you teach them. Look to your community for resources and information sources.
  • Encourage your teen to talk about their thoughts and ideas. An open exchange of ideas can help clarify the values you each hold.
  • When your teen asks you a question, do your best to answer it at the time. If you don’t know the answer, suggest that you find out together, or tell them you’ll find out and get back to them. Don’t put it off, as they might think that it’s not an okay topic, or not important enough to talk about.
  • Demonstrate responsible, health conscious decisions and behaviour. Show what healthy relationships and lifestyle choices look like by living them yourself.
  • Play the what-if game. Ask situational questions like, “What if you/your partner/your friend got pregnant?” or “What if your friends asked you to do something you weren’t comfortable with?” Do your best not to judge their responses, but do talk about the possible consequences of their choices and actions.
  • Stay away from scare tactics. Instead, encourage comfort and openness about sexuality; you want your children to experience sex as a positive, joyous part of their adult lives. Always be honest and open.
  • Speak to them as a mature person. Use correct terms to show that you respect their age and knowledge. Respect their views and feelings.
  • Recognize that you can’t control all of your teen’s actions. Assure your teen that there may be times you don’t approve of their actions but you’ll always support them and will always love them unconditionally.
  • Listen and stay calm. It’s important to deliver the message that they can talk to you when they need to and that you won’t get mad.
  • Repeat often and have fun! Repeating your information and messages serves several purposes. It helps to create normalcy around the subjects of sexuality and self-care. It also opens the door for clarification and more questions and reinforces your commitment to supporting and encouraging your child.

We know mental and sexual health are integral to overall health and well-being. We also know that health practices established in adolescence impact health into adulthood. Together, as parents and health care providers, we can influence the long-term health of our youth by being approachable, open, askable adults, and arming our children with the tools and knowledge they need to make informed and responsible decisions as they mature.

Shellie O'Brien

About Shellie O'Brien

Shellie grew up in rural Newfoundland and moved to B.C. in 2003. After graduating from the nursing program at Thompson Rivers University in 2007 she moved to Prince George to start her career. She has a passion for population and public health and is the Regional Lead for Sexual and Reproductive Health. After falling in love with the north she purchased a rural property and began to build her hobby farm and family. She enjoys the outdoors, animals, recreational dogsledding, reading, and healthy living. When not at work, she can be found happily doing something outside on her farm with her family.

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Time to take a second look in the mirror at our body image

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

Wristbands stating Love Ourselves and Love Our Bodies.

When we turn on the TV or run through our social media feed, we are bombarded with images of thin, fit, photo-shopped, “perfect” people. But is this the norm? And is this healthy? In a recent study, girls, ages three and five, who were presented with dolls of different shapes preferred the thin version, describing the bigger dolls as sad, tired, and having no friends. We think we are immune to media, but even young children are exposed to messaging that implies being in a bigger body is bad. 

The fat phobic society we live in contributes to a negative body image. Body image is our own perception of our physical appearance, including our thoughts and feelings about the way we look. It impacts self-esteem, mental health, and well-being. Negative body image may lead to unhealthy dieting behaviours, the development of disordered eating and eating disorders, and may also lead to feelings of shame, guilt, low self-worth, and unhappiness. It’s estimated that 40 to 60 percent of girls aged six to twelve are concerned about their weight. 

As parents and caregivers, we often encourage our kids to be their healthiest. This may come across in messages about eating, activity, or striving to be a certain body size. While the intentions are good, these types of messages can often be misinterpreted by kids – that there is something wrong with their body and they need to change their shape or weight. If you look around where you live and in your family, healthy bodies are very diverse. Weight is not the biggest, or only, indicator of health. Focusing on well-being and healthy habits is more important than any number on the scale!

It’s important to have age-appropriate conversations with our children about health and body image, and work towards fostering a healthy relationship with our bodies.

How can you support youth to promote a healthy body image?

Be a positive role model. Be aware of your self-talk around weight and food, and get curious about your own beliefs and attitudes about body size and eating. For example, let your child catch you saying one positive thing about your body daily.

Celebrate diversity. Help your child to focus on their own unique qualities and talents rather than appearance as a foundation for self-esteem.

Open up the conversation. Talk about how media can impact our body image, or invite your kids to share how they are feeling about their bodies.

Teach your kids to view media messages critically. Help create awareness of how images and slogans make us feel about our bodies, and talk about how these images do not depict reality. Check out this tip sheet from MediaSmarts to get started.

Eat together. Plan and offer regular family meals as a way to encourage family time and model healthy approaches to eating. Get your kids involved in cooking too – how about a build your own taco or pizza night?

Make meals and snacks enjoyable. Practice an “all foods fit” approach in your home, offer a variety of foods and create a shame/guilt-free space to make food choices.

Take a balanced approach to physical activity. Encourage physical movement that is joyful, and focus on the fun, social aspects of being active. Refrain from teaching your child that activity is punishment or used to compensate for eating.

Explore what health really means to you and your family. Recognize that health is more than the absence of disease or having a certain body size. Health is inclusive of emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, and physical wellness. Don’t let focusing on one (physical) compromise another (mental). Health may mean something different to you than your child.  Take the opportunity to explore. Plan family activities that promote a balanced view towards health.

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.

Rilla Reardon

About Rilla Reardon

Rilla is a Registered Dietitian working for Northern Health since 2013. Rilla moved to northern BC from the east coast to continue developing her skills as a dietitian in a clinical setting while enjoying all that the north has to offer. Outside of work, she can be found experimenting in the kitchen or navigating the trails around Prince George with her dog, Henry. Rilla channels her passion for nutrition into practice, inspiring others to nourish their bodies, minds and souls with delicious and healthy food!

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Back to Basics

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

What makes some youth thrive? What makes some youth struggle? Why do some youth flourish in the face of adversity while others grab on to higher risk behaviours and means to cope? While these questions are very common, their answers are very complicated and difficult to address. What we know for sure is that both youth and adults have some power to impact their mental health.

One of the ways we can foster positive mental health is by building a wellness plan that really has a back to basics approach. Key pieces include nutrition, sleep, social connectedness, and delayed or safer substance use practices – all of which we can empower youth to consider in their day-to-day lives. 

Nutrition

Adolescence is a time of significant growth. Youth need to fuel their bodies and minds to feel their best. Nutrition education and food skills training are a great way to engage youth in learning about fueling their body and how the foods we eat impact the way we feel both physically and mentally. Taking some time to build breakfast, lunch, and dinner plans into the schedule can have big impacts. Including youth in the planning and preparing of meals can support skill building and provide opportunity for connection.   

Sleep

A good night’s sleep is important for both physical and mental health. The amount of growing and developing underway in the body and minds of youth requires a great deal of rest. The Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines suggest youth ages 5 to 13 should strive for 9 to 11 hours of sleep, while youth ages 14 to 17 should aim for 8 to 10 hours. You know you are getting enough sleep when you wake feeling rested and ready to take on the day. Lack of sleep can lead to challenges with concentration at school, more aggressive or agitated behaviour, and even avoidance of usual activities. 

Social Connection

Youth benefit from social connection to peers, family, schools, and communities. Connectedness that remains intact as they move through the years help them gain a sense of self-identify. It can be valuable for teens to have different groups of friends (e.g. engaging with sports, arts, and education programs), so that if one peer group becomes inaccessible, there are still people around for youth to relate to.  Establishing connection to people and spaces that are diversity-welcoming and substance free goes a long way to support mental health and preventing onset of substance use. 

Substance Use

A primary piece of substance use prevention is delaying uptake of substance use by youth until later in life. We know that the earlier youth begin to use substances, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder later in life. Ensuring access to drug education, engaging in/with activities and environments that are diversity-welcoming and substance free, and have access to a full continuum of substance use services is beneficial. Youth should also consider their intake of caffeine or energy drinks along with alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco and consider safer ways to consume if substances are part of their lives. Reducing the amount of substance use, the frequency of use, and finding lower risk methods of consumption, using less potent products will all contribute to a harm reduction approach to substance use.

Resources

For more information on promoting positive mental health in youth, or to find information on specific mental health and substance topics, please visit Kelty Mental Health online at or Here to Help BC at or the Canadian Mental Health Association of BC.

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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Being a teen can be tough! Getting active can help

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

A dog with a backpack behind people snowshoeing.

When I was a teenager, my family used to tease me, lovingly, about riding a roller coaster of emotions. One minute I was flying high, giddy and unstoppable, the next minute I would be physically drooping, bored, and waiting for something or someone to pick me back up again. Everything that happened to and around me was a big deal, and I was deeply affected, positively or negatively.

Life as a teenager was not easy, and that was before smartphones and social media were a thing. Today’s teens deal with all of the same life changes and stressors people my age dealt with, and then some. There seems to be significantly more pressure to perform, in school, sports, socially… not only in person, but also virtually. While the pressure used to ease when we got home at the end of the day, there is no reprieve today; a person’s online presence never rests.

It’s no wonder anxiety, depression, and other related mental health concerns are so frequently mentioned while referring to today’s youth population.

Additionally, because today’s social life is quite often literally located at arms’ length (on our handheld devices), motivation to get out and engage face-to-face is low, which leads to increasingly sedentary (inactive) lifestyles.

The positive link between physical activity and improved mental health is well documented, but did you know that high rates of sedentary time have been linked to a greater risk of developing depression in adolescence? If we weren’t already concerned about rising rates of sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity, we now should be.

Here are a few ways making physical activity a priority can help improve youth mental wellness:

  1. Physical activity is a healthy coping mechanism. It can help clear the mind and decrease anxiety levels.
  2. Physical activity provides a “time out” from online pressures. Chances are, whether we’re doing something active solo or with others, we’re not bothering to check our phones for a while. Having a healthy distraction can help put whatever is happening online into perspective.
  3. Getting involved in an activity or sport with others helps build social connections, which are vital to our emotional well-being.
  4. Being physically active helps boost self-esteem – a key indicator of mental health! It also helps us build resilience to fight daily stressors.
  5. One word: endorphins! When we raise our heart rates, our bodies produce endorphins, or “feel-good” chemicals, giving us an immediate mental boost.

The physical and mental health benefits of being active can be realized in a variety of ways, which is why it’s important that youth are exposed to as many different forms of physical activity as possible to assist in finding something exciting and enjoyable. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete, or a “gym rat,” and there is no single “must do” physical activity to help you reach your full potential. Full potential is individual, and reached when you find that thing (or things) that makes you tick. Once you discover it, whether it’s running, basketball, hiking, foraging, snowshoeing, etc., you’ll notice how good you feel whenever you do it, you’ll want to keep on doing it, and you’ll continue to reap the benefits from it, in every aspect of your life.  

For more information on the links between physical activity and mental health:

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Catching up with Myles Mattila

“I am not a mental health professional by any means, I’m just a hockey player.”

Myles Mattila in his hockey uniform.

Myles Mattila may not have the credentials, but he’s got the passion – enough of it to be a heck of a mental health advocate. Founder of MindRight and a former Northern Health Community Health Star (see our original story on him here!), Myles now lives in Kelowna BC, playing with the Kelowna Chiefs of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. Although hockey plays a huge part in his life, so does mental health awareness. With Bell Let’s Talk Day coming up, it was the perfect time to catch up with Myles and see what’s changed in the past couple years.

Remind us, what is MindRight?

MindRight is a place where athletes who are experiencing any range of mental health challenges can visit and find support. Whether it’s professional resources for coaches or players, peer to peer support, or just having someone to talk to, MindRight can help.

What’s coming up? Anything exciting?

We’re planning for a MindRight app, which is great because it provides some more accessibility for youth athletes, and really can open up the door to other leagues. I think that’s the overall goal, to take MindRight and spread it into bigger leagues so more players have access to it.

What role do you think coaches, team managers, and sport organizers can play in mental health promotion/ prevention?

I think they play a huge part. If you watch my video on how MindRight sort of began, I talk about my teammate who was going through some ups and downs. I saw him acting differently, and I was worried.

“His smile was gone, but he kept saying, “’I’m fine.’”

So, I brought it to my coach’s attention, someone I looked up to at the age of 13, and thought had all the answers. Unfortunately, coaches don’t always know the best procedure, and my coach actually took hockey away from him. That was devastating.

Hopefully MindRight can be used by both coaches and players so they can find resources that help. I think coaches and organizations should let players know it’s ok to speak up, or even better, encourage mental health awareness. It can be as formal as having a speaker come in and present, or as easy as using green tape on your stick and gear to promote Mental Health Awareness Week.

In your experience do coaches, or peers, know how to support someone that does speak out for help?

Before, not as much, but now, yes, I think so. Older coaches can sometimes have different mindsets, probably because mental health wasn’t a well-known topic to them in their youth. They have that “old time hockey” mentality.

It’s kind of hard to ignore the issue now because it’s being recognized so often. Schools champion it, pro athletes speak to it. One in five people are affected in some way by mental health. Awareness and learning is key to changing how we act and fight the stigma attached to it. Coaches and organizations can change – my past coach changed once he heard my story!

Many sports organizations/clubs have zero tolerance substance use policies meaning someone can be kicked out or excluded from positive peer groups and social connections. Do you think there is a better way to handle substance use?

It’s tricky. In my opinion, I don’t think booting players from a team or organization resolves the problem, but I can also recognize the risk of substances within a team atmosphere. A person’s mental health has to be considered, but the team has to be protected as well.

I think best way to handle that sort of situation is to really dive into the team, figure out what’s going on and create a plan. If you can find out what’s wrong, and if that person is willing to be helped and looking for change, they should be given that opportunity.

“At the end of the day, a team is like a family. You don’t want to see your family go through hard times.”

Recognizing everyone has mental health, and that it is not a fixed state, how can sport contribute and foster to positive mental health in youth?

Sports provide an incredible atmosphere for growth. If you break it down, you’ve got a common goal, a team connection and lots of interaction – it’s a really underrated and cool opportunity to create a positive mental health support network.

Why is it so important for youth to talk about their feelings and experiences?

Honestly, it’s simple. You can’t get help without speaking to the right people. I think there have been cases where youth athletes reach out to the wrong people, and get shamed for talking about mental health. It makes them shut down and stop looking for help.

If you reach out to the right people who know how to respond and help correctly, people at places like Foundry, you can get the real facts you need and go from there.

What do you believe is the best way to educate youth on mental health and substance use?   

I’ve always thought that presentations play a big part in educating, but in my experience, the peer to peer network is the best, which is why sports and teams are so perfect for educating. If someone within a team atmosphere can be an ambassador, the guys listen.

I’ve always admired Kevin Bieksa and his advocacy for his friend and teammate who passed away, Rick Rypien. When young athletes see pros speaking about themselves and teammates, it’s relatable. We’re all playing the same game, so it’s not too hard to imagine that some of us may be going through the same problems.

Make sure to check out MindRight today. We wish Myles all the best moving forward with this hockey career and his mental health advocacy!

And don’t forget to nominate your Community Health Star now!

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Crafting for now, wellness forever

examples of craftsAlmost two years ago, I embarked on a transition from a front line registered nurse to that of a nurse manager. I remember the anxiety I felt knowing that there would be other nurses reporting to me and relying on my leadership skills. This anxiety was an experience I was not familiar with, and I wanted to ensure I could transform these feelings into something positive. I wanted to do well, and I wanted to feel well.

I’ve enjoyed arts and crafts since I was very young and this has continued into my adult years. I enjoy creating cards and scrapbooks, and documenting my personal accomplishments and memories. I took this passion and partnered with an organization that helps others be creative by ensuring their memories are preserved for generations. This side business has helped me encourage wellness in myself and in others through creative activities!

I hadn’t ever really considered what I was doing with crafting as a wellness activity until one day, it hit me. I came home from work, tired and overwhelmed, and immediately found myself in my craft room. I was putting my hands to work and my mind to rest through creating and relaxing. The worry and anxiety drifted away as I immersed myself in my creative space. In no time at all, I found myself at peace with the day’s events – relaxed and well again.

I often hear people say, “Oh, I’m just not creative.” I firmly believe that it’s not about being creative or not, it’s really about losing yourself in something that makes you feel good. What you create is your own work of art, just for you. There is no right way or wrong way to create; creativity is unique to each person.

Once I realized the de-stressing value of leveraging my own creativity, I looked for more ways to incorporate it into my day-to-day routine. One way I’ve started bringing creativity into the workplace is through the simple act of giving thanks. At the end of each work week, I schedule 15 minutes to sit and reflect on the week and all of the successes I’ve seen. I focus on one event or person that changed my week or was particularly helpful. I sit and write them a thank you note which is often one of my homemade created cards!

This process helps me remember that ultimately everyone in the workplace is just trying to do their best, and we all deserve a thank you once in a while. This wellness activity helps build stronger relationships and trust with my peers and direct reports. It’s through these simple acts that I am able to focus on wellness, both in my personal and work life, maintain a positive attitude, and keep balanced each day.

You can also view this article in Northern Health Spring 2018 edition of the Healthier You Magazine, Wellness by Professionals.

Lara Frederick

About Lara Frederick

Lara is a public health nurse currently working in Dawson Creek. She is currently completing her Master's of Nursing and enjoys volunteering for the Canadian Cancer Society and her workplace wellness committee. Lara loves to travel and one of her favorite places has been Turkey. She loves to go snowshoeing and cross-country skiing and also loves walking around exploring the outdoors with her two dogs.

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Life’s balancing act

small playhouseLife is challenging. Some moments are amazingly beautiful while others are just tough. This holds true for both our professional and personal lives. As the years pass, I have found it more and more important to ensure that time is taken each day for myself. When your profession revolves around helping others, it can be difficult to consider your own needs.

As a mental health clinician, whose job it is to engage with individuals who have experienced multiple traumas, I’ve found it’s imperative to be fully present while working. To do that, I need to be mindful that I do take that time and actively engage in self-care. If I make time and engage in self-care, I’m better suited to manage my own emotional responses and maintain a therapeutic connection.

Over time, I’ve incorporated a few rituals and routines into my workday that support my ability to be present for people I’m trying to help. During my work day, I read an affirmation from one of the three sets of inspirational cards that I keep nearby. I have a small dish of chocolate covered coffee beans and ginger near my workstation. The “feel good” Wednesday yoga class offered through the Northern Health Wellness program has become a part of my work week. I snack on whole, fresh foods at work, and when time allows I go for a brisk walk or a run during my break! I also have a bird feeder hanging outside my window and when birds appear I can’t help but take a moment and smile.

I try to utilize these same practices outside of work. Physical activity, healthy eating, spending time in nature, gardening, and practicing mindfulness are all very important to me. Also, I enjoy working on special projects with my other half in the shop; my latest project was a house bed for our two-year-old granddaughter. Sharing time with my grandchildren is definitely a feel good thing that keeps me recharged!

For myself, healthy living is about balance. I’m grateful I’ve found this in my personal life with my other half, and at work with my mentor and team lead. If I could give any advice for someone seeking that sort of balance, here’s what I’d say: Be present in the moment; sleep well; get active; take time to appreciate the moments that are enjoyable; and allow yourself to feel what you need to feel when the moments are painful. And, above all, remember that tomorrow is a new day and it will be different than today!

During a particularly stressful time in my life, I discovered The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, written by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book is based on principles inspired from the Toltec culture, aimed at creating the conditions for love and happiness in your life. The principles are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

The principles are challenging to put to work, but attempting to do so has generated an unmatched level of personal satisfaction for me. The lessons have reinforced my belief that when faced with stress, problems, and difficult situations, the way that we react is based on our attitudes and ourselves, not anyone else.

You can also view this article in Northern Health Spring 2018 edition of the Healthier You Magazine, Wellness by Professionals.

About Sandra Galletti

Sandra works as a NRMHST Clinician / Social Program Officer Supervisor with Northern Health.

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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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