Healthy Living in the North

Stay connected and get involved to conquer winter!

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


 

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

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

Volunteer

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

Hello, neighbour!

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

Try something new!

Three adults carpet bowling

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

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

Share your hobbies

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

Why connect?

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

Start now for stress-free and golden years!

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

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

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

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Halloween: Candy, costumes and quality time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Contest

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

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

Danielle Munnion

About Danielle Munnion

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

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Psychological health and safety in the workplace

Stretch break in an office

Your work environment affects you and you affect your work environment. How do you feel when you start your workday? What about when it ends?

Everyone who has attended school (or who has a child who attends school) can probably think of examples of how the school environment can affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. A child attending kindergarten for the first time may have tummy aches which stem from anxieties around being in a new environment with new people. An older child or teenager may feel depressed or self-conscious about whether they measure up to their peers, or their ability to keep up with academic pressures. However, did you know that the workplace environment and our relationships within it similarly affect us as adults? October is Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month and it’s a great time to look at our workplaces.

Take a few moments to reflect or journal, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do I feel (emotionally/mentally/physically) as I’m about to start my workday? Do I look forward to going to work, or do I dread it?
  • How do I feel when I have finished my workday? (e.g., proud, stressed out, frustrated, energized)
  • What is it about work that makes me feel this way? (e.g., work tasks, co-workers, clients, physical work environment, work shifts or hours, pay, supervisor)
  • Do I notice similar thoughts, feelings, or actions in other people at work?
  • How do I affect my work environment and those around me in positive ways?
  • How do I affect my work environment and those around me in negative ways?
  • In what areas could I use some support? (e.g., conflict resolution skills, physical health, emotional health)
  • What can I do to make work a better place for everyone?

Your work environment affects you

If you are part of a healthy work environment, it probably contributes to your overall well-being. For example, if you enjoy work on a day-to-day basis you likely feel enthusiastic and energized about the work you do and have good relationships with those around you. As a result, when you come home at the end of your workday, you probably have energy to be present with your family/friends/pets, have hobbies and activities outside of work, and exude happiness to those around you.

However, if your work environment is unhealthy, it may be a stressor for you. You may feel tired, frustrated, or burned out and this, in turn, can affect your health and home life in a negative way.

You affect your work environment

You go to work with your own attitudes, patterns of relating to others, home-life stressors, and individual level of wellness. These affect others in the workplace. Return to your earlier reflection and choose one thing you’d like to change or follow up on. Plan one action you can take to move in that direction. Challenge a family member/co-worker/friend to do the same! Talking about mental health and wellness is one of the best ways to promote psychological health and safety in the workplace.

In the past few years, there has been increasing recognition that our work environments affect all aspects of our lives and well-being and that healthy, happy employees are more productive and do higher quality work. Canada is the first country in the world to create a standard to guide employers in creating psychologically safe and healthy workplaces. For more information, visit Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.

For personal mental health assessments and tips, check out the Canadian Mental Health Association Mental Health Meter.


A version of this story first appeared in the August 2015 issue of A Healthier You.

 

Courtenay Kelliher

About Courtenay Kelliher

Courtenay grew up in Vanderhoof, and completed her BScN at UNBC in Terrace. After a few years of travelling around Western Canada and living in the sweltering Okanagan, she has happily returned to the north to work as an Advisor with Workplace Health & Safety Strategic Directions. Living in Terrace, Courtenay enjoys spending her spare time on outdoor adventures with her fur children and volunteering with the Canadian Ski Patrol and local fire department. When indoors, she can usually be found destroying her kitchen while cooking up new creations to share with friends and social media, with the hopes of inspiring others to prepare their meals from scratch. Courtenay is passionate about occupational health and safety, and loves that her job allows her to work at keeping employees safe so that they can enjoy their hobbies in their spare time as well.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Know the signs. Start the conversation. Reach out.

Quote from article

Talking to a person close to you about suicide may be very difficult, but it’s an important step in helping your loved one get the support he needs.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and, according to World Health Organization, some 800,000 people die by suicide every year. There are also many more who attempt suicide but are unsuccessful.

Here are some facts:

  • More people in Canada die annually from suicide than from murder.
  • In Canada, 2,700 males die by suicide each year.
  • Suicide ranked as the seventh leading cause of male death in Canada in 2007.
  • In British Columbia, suicide is one of the top three causes of mortality among men aged 15 to 44, costing $209 million in 2010.
  • In Northern Health, suicide is the second leading cause of injury-related death.
  • There were 46 deaths, 263 hospitalizations, 323 ER visits and 55 people left disabled from suicide and self-harm in 2010 in northern B.C.
  • For males in B.C. aged 15-65, the rates were 3-4 times higher than death rates for females.
  • Men tend to report depression less often but also tend to engage more lethal methods for suicide.
  • Some Aboriginal communities have higher rates of suicide.

By the numbers, male suicide is not far behind prostate cancer in terms of death rates in Canada, but it is often a hidden thing and an uncomfortable topic to discuss publicly. Many people who lose family members to suicide are reluctant to acknowledge it because of the stigma. Someone else is always left behind to bear the costs of male suicide and these are largely costs that do not show up in the statistics.

There are many reasons that men decide that they have no other road out than to kill themselves. Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression can leave an individual looking inward and feeling isolated. They can then easily believe that there is no point to life. Depression distorts thinking and makes the irrational seem plausible.

The difficulty with male depression is that the symptoms are not what we expect and are easy to overlook. Anger, irritability and feelings of being overwhelmed can make talking with someone about these feelings difficult. At the same time, if someone is becoming increasingly irritable about lots of seemingly small things, then maybe depression should spring to mind.

It is time to open the windows and let in some fresh air. We need to build the support for men to feel safe in asking for help. Talking is a great place to start and the more we talk about it, the less difficult it will become. Talking to a person close to you about suicide may be very difficult, but it’s an important step in helping your loved one get the support he needs.

If you have ever thought about hurting yourself or someone else or have been feeling overwhelmed, irritable and not yourself, talk to someone – call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE). Getting help is the healthiest thing you can do for yourself and your family!

More information

Banner for World Suicide Prevention Day

Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

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

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Tales from the Man Cave: Stress

Cloudy skies

Stress can feel like there are storm clouds overhead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

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

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Tales from the Man Cave: We men can help each other cope with life

Numbers are funny creatures – or at least the way we react to them is funny.

Take prostate cancer mortality rates, for example. Roughly 4,000 men die each year from prostate cancer in Canada. Most are well over 50 years of age and each and every case is undoubtedly a tragedy. There are walks and talks about it and the message is getting out, which is great. There is a Movember fundraising event as well as Ride for Dad and Big Blue Ball. I have many friends who are currently being treated for prostate cancer and, as far as I am concerned, we cannot do enough to raise awareness and raise funds for research to improve their chances.

But there are other statistics about men and mortality, too, and they get less attention. Some 2,700 males commit suicide every year in this country. Some estimate that this figure actually hides the true number, in part because some motor vehicle accident fatalities, for example, are probably suicides. This number has remained more or less stable throughout the past several years.

In British Columbia, suicide is one of the top three causes of mortality among men aged 15 and 44. In Canada, suicide ranked as the seventh leading cause of male death in 2007.

It’s a tragedy that is hidden and taboo. Families who have lost loved ones in this way understandably don’t want to shout it from the rooftops but as a society, we should.

Culturally, men are at a great disadvantage for depression and suicide. We are not encouraged to talk about our “feelings” and, in fact, doing so is actively discouraged. It makes the guys feel a little awkward when someone starts going on about feelings. Most feel inadequate at dealing with it. What do we hear all the time? Boys need to “man up” and “suck it up” and “stay strong.” Vulnerability will not be tolerated!

This was probably an OK strategy when it came to the need to keep the tribe strong and fearless. In survival and war, there is not much room for talking about feelings. But in our modern world, it is a hindrance to health at best and a tragedy of enormous proportions at worst. Compared to women, fewer men report feelings of depression or suicidality but more men are likely to kill themselves, though women actually make more suicide attempts. The methods that men use are more lethal, resulting in 4 times more deaths. It is, therefore, really important that we change the way we think about men and talking about our feelings.

We men pay a heavy toll for silence and society as a whole suffers much from male mental health issues. It starts very early with alienation and isolation. The use of drugs and alcohol to “cope” compounds the issue and may result in addiction, violence, absenteeism, and increased road traffic accidents, to mention just a few.

Getting help is actually a sign of strength. The Crisis Centre is a wonderful resource.

We sometimes think that we need permission to seek help and support when things are tough. If that’s you, consider this your permission. May we men enable each other to seek the help we need. May we be the shoulder that supports a friend or workmate when needed.

Stay well!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

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

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I am not just the reflection in the mirror

Label on mirror reading: "Warning: Reflections  in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of "beauty"

“I am a whole person; I am not just a reflection in the mirror.” Mental Health Week is a great opportunity to share Darri’s warning label for mirrors and other suggestions for improving body image, self-esteem, and mood.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

This is a phrase I have unfortunately said to myself over and over, trying to talk myself down from a junk food ledge. My reasons for eating or overeating have never been restricted to one particular feeling – it’s a cycle of emotion, whether it be sadness, happiness or celebration. Feel, eat, guilt, restrict, repeat – for me, it’s a fairly predictable cycle.

The feelings I have about my body image at any particular time are also variable. I have always struggled with my weight, how I look to others, how I feel about myself. Placing value on who I am as a person solely on how I carry the weight of my body. Body image is complicated.

“I know that once I am thin enough, I will be happy.” These thoughts, whether rational or not, have been foremost in my mind most of my life. But I have been “thin” and I have still been unhappy. The thing is, changing my outside does not change how I feel on the inside. This is not a groundbreaking epiphany, yet it has taken years for me to accept that my value as a human being is not based on my weight.

So where did these ideas come from?

I could talk about my family and the emphasis that was placed on appearance. My mom and sisters were constantly riding the yo-yo diet train. The messages I received were subtle and self-esteem shaping. But where did my family members get these messages themselves? I can’t ignore the fact that we live in a superficial world full of glossy magazines and blockbuster movies oozing with sexuality. The basic message that we seem to hear all the time is that your successes in life can equate to how you look. The better looking you are on the outside, the more success, health and happiness you can attain.

In a 2004 paper titled The Impact of Exposure to the Thin-Ideal Media Image on Women, Hawkins and her colleagues found that:

Exposure to thin-ideal magazine images increases body dissatisfaction, negative mood states, and eating disorder symptoms and decreases self-esteem. Exposure to thin-ideal media images may contribute to the development of eating disorders by causing body dissatisfaction, negative moods, low self-esteem, and eating disorders symptoms among women.

The impact of body image on mental health and overall well-being is undeniable. How we see ourselves impacts how we feel about ourselves and how we interact with the world around us. What can I do to improve my body image and lessen the impact on my daughters? I can choose to eat healthy, not restrict, give myself permission to eat a variety of foods without shame or guilt; I can be active and do things that energize and motivate me to feel good about the body I live in. I can be kind to myself and all aspects of which I am.

I am a whole person; I am not just the reflection in the mirror.

As a mental health and addictions clinician for Northern Health, I see how body image directly impacts the mental health of the clients with whom I work. Here are some practical suggestions for improving body image, self-esteem and mood:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. You are unique and need to celebrate your positive qualities.
  • Practice self-care. Go for a walk in nature, have a bath, read a book, reignite an old hobby you once enjoyed, take time for yourself. Self-care should not be confused with being selfish, it is important for your mental health to take time to re-energize and refresh yourself.
  • Create a support system. Spend time with those who lift you up and support you. They have a positive impact on how you feel about yourself. It’s OK to ask for support!
  • Pay attention to lifestyle. Small changes over time can add up to a large shift in mental health in the future.
  • Seek help from community resources such as Mental Health and Addictions Services. You can contact us through the Northern Health website. For more information on body image, please visit the National Eating Disorders Information Centre or the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Darri O'Neill

About Darri O'Neill

Darri has worked for Northern Health in the position of mental health and addictions clinician for the past six years. Darri enjoys her work and also knows the importance of getting outside to enjoy time with her young family. In the summers, they like to camp at the local lakes and have recently purchased snowshoes which they hope to use to explore the trails around their home in the winter. Darri and her husband were both raised on Vancouver Island and moved to the northwest 10 years ago. They've grown to love the area and appreciate that they can raise their family in such a naturally beautiful part of B.C.

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Emotional regulation – why I’m pretty sure I’m a cat person

Puppy

Although hard to believe that anyone could get frustrated by this adorable face, Nick found grounding techniques really helpful when dealing with the frustrations of housebreaking his puppy, Keto. Grounding is a great tool to shake off negative thoughts before they get out of hand.

I’ve just gotten home for what used to be my lunch break. I’m standing outside in the rain. I’m tired, stressed, and I was already irritable before I got home. I am repeating a phrase loudly and evenly. A phrase that apparently only has meaning to me.

KETO, COME!

The puppy looks at me long enough for me to decide that she has heard me, decided that she wants to make me angry and waste my time, and then resume her attempts at inhaling the pine cone in front of her.

KETO, COME!!

I don’t have time for this. I have a bunch of emails to return, education to plan, and an errand to run before I scramble back to work. Keto has now approached me slowly, but right before she mounts the couple of stairs leading back to the house, she suddenly prances into the thicket in my backyard and starts to roll in what I’m sure will be an aromatic pleasure to remove from her fur and my carpet.

KETO, COME!!

It is decided. I already know the picture that my wife will choose for the “Missing Puppy” poster. I’m kidding, of course!

Here’s the thing: when Keto finally does listen and come to the doorstep, I need to be able to greet her and praise her and use positive reinforcement to help her learn to associate coming back to me with a positive memory. I need to be able to separate my busy schedule, work and life stressors, and frustration from the fact that this is a puppy just being a puppy. She is not deliberately trying to get on my nerves. In fact, most things in my life have not been set in place just to get on my nerves.

When it comes to maintaining my wellness and dismissing negative thoughts, generalizations, and distortions, I often find it helpful to use a tool called grounding. At its core, grounding helps to reorient me to the present and keeps me fixed in reality. It lets me shake off some of the negative thinking before it gets out of hand and I end up acting on thoughts that aren’t helpful to me.

My personal favorite way to do it is a simple exercise where I work my way through my five senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste) and list 3 things that I perceive with each sense. I deliberately focus on each item for a couple of seconds before moving to the next. I can work my way through this exercise in just a minute and nobody around me would have any indication of what I’m doing. When I’m done, I find that it helps me come back to reality and lets me be effective. Sometimes, I need to do the exercise a couple times in a row.

The great thing about grounding is that there are many different ways to do it. Some people like the exercise I described, other people will do things like run their hands under cold water for a few seconds. Others will keep a smooth rock in their pocket and run their fingers over it, focusing on the way that it feels, the weight, whether it is warm or cool. Essentially, you are interrupting yourself before you get carried away with unhelpful thoughts. By choosing an exercise and practising it before you’re in the midst of a really stressful event, you can add another tool to your coping skills that will help keep you well.

So, on days where the housebreaking is failing and Keto has decided to try to eat the only bee stupid enough to be outside this early in the season, I remind myself to be thankful for all this practice I get to have with my grounding and coping skills.

If you would like to try grounding, I would recommend looking at the links below or inquiring at a Northern Health Mental Health and Addictions office. I hope you find it as effective as I have!

Grounding info and exercises:

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

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

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The Stigma Stompers

Three runners

The Stigma Stompers just finished their half marathon in Vancouver. Along the way, they discovered that running had a really positive impact on their mental wellness.

Yesterday, Rai wrote about running to give her mind a little breathing space. Here’s my story of our road to running a half marathon:

It all began with the motivation to improve our physical wellness. What we found, though, was a huge improvement on our mental health as well!

As full-time working mothers with young children at home, time to enjoy extracurricular activities is limited so we started using our lunch hours and hiking up Terrace Mountain behind our office building. We would set out, huffing and puffing, until we reached the half-hour mark, then turn around.

Gradually, we felt stronger and got a little bit further each week. Then we started running parts of the trail. From this achievement, we somehow made the leap to making the decision to train for a half marathon, choosing the BMO race in Vancouver on May 3rd.

Through the experience of training to reach our goal, we have done some research on not only good running form and technique, but also on the reasons why people actually run. It’s not always fun waking up early, running in all types of weather conditions (we do live in the north, after all!), or running during lunch hours and spending the afternoon at work feeling sweaty. With our eyes on the goal of running 21 km in May, we initially had to force ourselves to run longer and longer distances, but with time, we actually started to look forward to our training runs. The sense of accomplishment, camaraderie, and support we both feel from this endeavour is incredibly motivating, not to mention the fact that our community has really come together to support us!

We chose to run the BMO half marathon in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association and have named ourselves the “Stigma Stompers.” Two members of the community heard about us and also joined our team, and yet another community member is volunteering her time to manage our Facebook page and coordinate our fundraising efforts.

The positive effects this training has had on our stress levels and mental alertness throughout the day have (so far) surpassed any of the physical ailments along the way!

What are you waiting for?

Melanie Abbott

About Melanie Abbott

Melanie is a social worker, currently working as a mental health and addictions clinician in Terrace. She started out her social work career in the north in Prince Rupert with the Ministry of Children and Family Development before moving to the Okanagan where she worked for a non-profit organization supporting families and children. Melanie has also done international volunteer work and is a board member for Some Day Is Now International, supporting women and children in South Sudan. When she is not working or training for a half-marathon, Melanie is spending time with her husband and two young children, 1 and 3.

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Making a little breathing space

Three people running outdoors in the winter.

Mental Health Week is the perfect time to ask what you can do to invest in your mental wellness. For Rai, it’s about giving her mind a little breathing space – which she did while running at lunch time!

I think. A lot. In fact, my mind rather resembles the ticker tape along the bottom of CNN. Or, rather, CNN, Fox, CBC, Global, CTV, and BBC News 24 at the same time. All whirling with lists, schedules and responsibilities. It’s often overwhelming.

I had taken on a new health challenge about two years ago as a way of working out stress. It appears that it had not really worked since I think that I acquired at least another 2 ticker tapes along the way.

As team leader to a large, busy and vibrant team, I always talked about self-care and creating a healthy work-life balance. Yet I struggled to practise what I preached. I even found that trying to make time for exercise became a chore in and of itself. It was only when a new colleague started with the team and expressed a desire to get back into a fitness regime that I became inspired. We formed a partnership where we dedicated 3 lunch hours each week to exercise. Three hours of my time. Not work, not family, but time for me.

I’d never been a runner and when the hikes up Terrace Mountain developed into 5 km runs, I started to look at my form and asked myself why I often struggled to keep going. I discovered that not only do I think a lot, I talk a lot. I needed to be quiet.

To run effectively, you need to breathe, not talk incessantly. So when my running became more serious and I made the commitment to run a half marathon, I really needed to stop talking and start breathing – breathing properly and thinking about my breathing.

By default, I started to practice mindfulness. I quieted my mind (this is no small feat, trust me!). I focused on my breath and on my feet making contact with the ground. I managed to push my ticker tapes to the back of my mind for 30 minute chunks during the week and for 2 hours on the weekends. As a result, I came back from my lunch runs ready to tackle the afternoon. I had given my brain a break while my body got to work.

I just finished my half marathon last weekend and now I plan to continue using running as a way to improve my physical and my mental health. I’ll put new challenges in place and run in new locations, all the while giving my mind a little breathing space.

Rai Read

About Rai Read

Rai has worked for Northern Health for nearly 18 months, starting out as the CRU (community response unit) clinician in Terrace before stepping into the interim team leader position. She came to Terrace after working in as a geriatric nurse in Edmonton, AB and prior to that, working as a psychiatric nurse in Cardiff, Wales. She is passionate about promoting healthy living and nutrition, and thinks it’s key to understand how hard it is to fit everything in to a busy life. Rai is a strong believer is making lots of small positive changes and keeping a good sense of humor.

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